CRM is essentially a roadmap of connections between a firm and the people it knows – it illustrates the natural progression of the myriad relationships made by marketers, principals, project managers and more and is a great way to track opportunities. I know this now, but when I came to my smaller firm from the public relations sector of our communications industry, I wasn’t familiar with CRM – at all! Now, as we expand the CRM database at my firm, I’m learning as I go, but have had to learn the questions to ask along the way.
To better wrap my head around CRM, and research for this article, I sat down with my manager, Jesse Floyd, Goshow Architects and Kirsten Sibilia, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP, Managing Principal at Dattner Architects to discuss the similarities and differences in CRM usage at a smaller firm vs. a larger firm.
“CRM is not dependent on any one individual – instead, it’s a way for us to visually maximize the connections everyone has,” said Sibilia. “We can track how our contacts move, how the relationship has evolved, and coordinate accordingly so there’s no cross communication.”
So we see how it’s useful – it makes sense for A/E/C firms to have an established CRM in place. But when is it important for smaller firms or firms without CRM, vs. a larger firm, to put one in place?
“At Goshow, as we focus on breaking into new market sectors, we knew we needed a place to manage our mental Rolodex, somewhere to track and manage all the information we receive from the connections we make at events, conferences, communications and more,” said Floyd. “With CRM, we allow these relationships to be dynamic, to work for us in creating opportunity in the sectors we want to work in.”
“If a smaller firm is relying on repeat business, from city agencies or personal contacts, CRM is an important tool to use in order to break into a new sector,” reassures Sibilia.
For a larger firm, coordination between multiple offices is often required. People in one office may know someone that is unknown to another, from a previous project or networking event, so knowing who has the clearest path to a contact is of vital importance.
But who puts those connections into the system? We all know the difficulty in establishing buy-in from our technical staff – it’s the same at every corner of our industry. “We hold annual trainings for our technical staff in order to demonstrate effectiveness, but at the end of the day, it ends up being mostly us marketers that handle the bulk of the input,” said Sibilia.
“Mobile apps has helped us – especially when we attend networking events or at a site visit,” according to Floyd. “We can quickly add notes to each contact when we find out who that person knows within our firm, but getting our team in the field to engage is still a work in progress.” Let’s hope they all get there eventually.
But no matter where the information comes from, knowing which system will work for your firm is necessary. There are so many options out there, and I’m sure you could all recommend one over another. But knowing that there are endless ways to customize and tailor CRM for a firm, no matter the size, is reassuring – especially for a beginner like me.
I want to know what you think! What are some other benefits CRM has for an A/E/C firm? I don’t claim to know everything or be an expert, but as I learn the ins and outs, my perspective, like the technology available in our industry, is constantly changing.