Data is great when you can easy produce a report or quickly retrieve the information you are looking. Data can also be very overwhelming and useless. Tracking information about clients and prospects project opportunities helps businesses with projections both from a sales and accounting standpoint. Whether your firm has a customer relationship management (CRM) tool or an excel spreadsheet, it makes no difference. As long as you are tracking the information in the same place where everyone in the firm that has their hand in marketing, business development, and sales has access to it, the software/tool isn’t as important.
For smaller to medium sized firms, utilizing a spreadsheet will probably be the best solution. You can save this spreadsheet on your server but I would recommend using Google Docs. You can access Google Docs from anywhere that has internet connection and be able to pull up information on your phone. Should someone be in an area and wanting to call on a client or prospect, they would be able to access the information through a Google document. You can create as many columns as you need, too. It does get a little clunky but it’s the most cost effective way to track information.
There is a contractor that utilizes Google Docs and the sales person keeps all his client and prospect information up-to-date. When a mailing list or customer list is needed for marketing, sales, or operations, the information is easily obtainable. Through this spreadsheet, we can mark who would receive an invitation to an open house, newsletter, or invited to a lunch and learn. There are several columns of data that can be sorted and organized. Notes and follow up emails and phone calls were documented along with being able to sort by the different service they provided. This has been a cost-effective way to keep track of sales calls, invitations, and contact information.
As a larger firm, a customized customer relationship management system that integrates with accounting would be recommended. It’s especially important if you have multiple offices and many people responsible for business development and sales. There is a lot more data to keep with a larger firm, so having a true customer relationship management system helps produce reports and keep everyone informed.
There are many customer relationship management systems available for businesses. My suggestion would be to utilize one that integrates with your accounting software. This makes it much easier, because you are only maintaining ONE database vs. multiple databases. When accounting updates a contact, then operations is aware of the change when they go to that customer’s information. It’s also important for operations, marketing, and sales to update the information for the same reason. Again, you have one place to update data. The importance of integration of the accounting software is so the business development and marketing departments don’t market to non-paying clients or not profitable clients. It allows business development and marketing people to see history and where the billing cycles are for that client.
There are options for CRM that are specific to architecture, engineering, and construction firms, so make sure you do your research. Many of them will do demos for you, but make sure you find out other firms in the industry who have implemented and used the software. If the vendor can’t give you that information, then it probably hasn’t been successfully implemented. These firms may even allow you to see how they have implemented and how they currently use the system that aren’t in your marketplace.
Regardless of how you track information about your clients and prospects, it’s an important piece to having a successful marketing and business development plan. The software won’t help your problem if you haven’t already set up a system for tracking client and prospect information. Ask the employees who will be using the system and find out what is really important to capture. One can spend countless hours gathering data that no one will ever use, so make sure what you are capturing will help move your firm forward.