As a consulting firm, clients are the lifeblood of your business. It’s not just about acquiring them, you also need to make sure they’re delighted enough by your services to retain them.
However, if you have a piecemeal sales process without a clear view of all the deals in your pipeline, you won’t achieve the best results. If you’re using a hodge-podge of Excel spreadsheets and documents to track deal flow and new leads you could be missing out on dozens of opportunities—which means missing out on hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.
The solution to this mess? Get yourself a CRM system. In this guide, you’ll learn what you should look for in a CRM for your consulting firm, and how to use it to create a better sales and business development system.
Why you need a CRM for your consulting firm
As a consultant, you’re juggling several clients and prospects all at once. This means that, depending on the complexity of your service offering (and sales cycle), you need to stay in touch with opportunities on a regular basis.
While it has its challenges, there are certainly rewards for your hard work. The consulting market is booming, as shown by a massive increase from $54.8 billion in 2015 to $68.5 billion in 2018. New business is ripe for the picking.
So how do you stay organized and stay at the top of your selling game in such a demanding job and growing industry?
When it comes to consulting, sales is involved throughout the customer journey, but you can separate this into two main parts:
- New business: Opportunities that have come from your sales, marketing, referrals or business development efforts
- Client development: Upselling or cross-selling clients on further services and retainers
Keeping up on these two areas without an organized system can be daunting. First of all, as a consultant, business development exec or account manager, you must know what activity you’ve executed with each contact.
Secondly, the process for each is different. If you’re not tracking your customers, clients or leads properly, you risk missing an opportunity to bring in more revenue for your business.
This is where a consulting CRM can be invaluable. Let’s run through some of the common benefits and why you should pay attention to them.
1. Automated sales processes
Your firm needs new business in order for it to survive and thrive. If you can’t answer the following questions then you may have a sales process that leaves money on the table:
- What happens when a new lead is referred/captured?
- What’s our follow-up process?
- How long is our sales cycle?
- What are the common objections/questions we hear from prospects?
- What are the individual sales stages in our sales pipeline?
With a CRM, you can automate many areas of your day-to-day activity. For example, when a referral is generated, you can notify your sales team and assign the lead to a specific rep or account manager.
2. Structured pipeline
Every organization relies on a sales process with specific steps along the way. For a consulting firm, these pipeline stages might include:
- New lead generated
- Discovery call
- Solution development/proposal
- Deal won or lost
Using a CRM, you can map out each stage and keep a high-level view of where all your new potential clients sit within that pipeline. Here’s an example of how that looks in Pipedrive:
As you can see, it’s clear where each opportunity lies within the entire process. This means you can forecast sales and capacity every month or quarter based on how close a lead is to closing.
3. Email templates
When dealing with several leads, it’s likely you’re sending the same emails over and over again. Instead of writing them from scratch, use a CRM that allows you to store and send templates on the fly.
As you can see in the example above, the email is personalized with the recipient's first name and company name. But it also allows for further personalization where necessary, allowing you to amend certain areas of the copy.
4. Keep on top of sales activities
A common challenge for salespeople and account managers is keeping on top of all of the tasks that nurture leads and clients. It can be like spinning plates: without an efficient way of visualizing when one needs some attention, you’ll end up with shattered crockery.
Metaphors aside, a good CRM for consultants must include the ability to track and plan activities and tasks at every stage of the process. From the nature of the task to when it must be completed (and who must complete it), you’ll be reminded of what needs taking care of when.
For example, here’s how activity management looks like in Pipedrive.
These features allow you to keep on top of everything you need to do over the course of a week, month and quarter. When a lead needs following up with, you’ll know exactly when to do it.
5. Reporting & forecasting
Keeping your finger on the pulse of activities, opportunities and results can be time-consuming. Especially if you’re copy-and-pasting all information into a spreadsheet.
A good CRM system will have all reporting and forecasting functionality built-in, allowing you to create high-level dashboards and in-depth reports on how well your sales function is operating. Here’s what a revenue forecast looks like inside Pipedrive, which shows sales opportunities and potential revenue segmented by individual sales reps.
For someone looking to grow their consulting firm, having this high-level view will show you the health of your consulting business. It also helps you communicate progress and results with senior management, justifying where you place your budget.
Common sales activities you can streamline with a CRM
Here, we’ll outline some of the common sales activities you can automate using a good CRM platform. Not only that, but we’ll show you ways to make those activities even more effective.
1. Mapping your sales process
Every organization has their own sales process. These processes are usually visualized as a pipeline, which is made up of stages. The great thing about a CRM system is that you can lay out these stages and track the progress of each opportunity along the pipeline.
But before you can do that, you must first figure out what those stages are. The best way to do this is to first sit down with your sales teams and account managers to brainstorm. Ask them (and yourself) questions like:
- What happens when a lead enters our sales pipeline?
- What’s the first step that turns a lead into an opportunity?
- What does the discovery and solution process look like?
- How do we communicate with prospects throughout the process?
- What does the negotiation process look like?
- How long does the sales cycle typically last for?
These basic questions can help you understand what the individual stages of your sales process look like. Again, this all depends on the complexity and individual aspects of your offering. Once you have these defined, you can set up the pipeline for your CRM system.
Now, whenever you make contact with an opportunity and guide them to the next step of the process, you can assign that lead to the appropriate pipeline stage.
2. Email outreach & follow-up
As mentioned above, a CRM can help you automate various areas of your email outreach processes. Instead of having to write out emails every single time, you can use email templates right when you need them.
A good CRM will integrate with your existing email client, which means you can grab these templates without having to constantly open up your CRM system. So, what email activity can (and should) you automate with your consulting CRM? Here are a few examples:
- The first touch-point: When a new lead comes in, you’ve got to strike while the iron is hot. Send an email thanking them for getting in touch, and include a call-to-action to book an initial appointment or discovery call with you.
- Sending information: Sometimes, prospects will need some additional information before agreeing to jump on the phone with you. Use email templates to send the right information at the right time, including any attachments and images that help visualize your solution.
- Follow-up: Not heard from a lead? Worried they’re going stale? Don’t worry, by setting reminders and using email follow-up templates, you can re-engage with leads without having to pen a single “Did you have any thoughts?” email ever again.
- FAQs: You likely get lots of emails that ask the same questions. Start collecting these into a document, along with the answers that make your leads happy. Then, create email templates for each of those questions.
On the topic of following up, we recommend you create templates for every stage of the sales process. A follow-up email after a proposal has been sent will be vastly different from a reminder to make a calendar appointment.
With the right CRM, you can also integrate email marketing and automation tools to make your client and lead engagement even stronger.
Outfunnel, for example, is a sales-centric marketing automation tool that integrates with Pipedrive.
This sales-centric marketing automation tool enables consultants to automate their email marketing and give the sales team context about leads.
Here are some of the benefits of using Outfunnel:
- It gives the sales team information about a lead’s activity on their business’s site and which emails they’ve opened and clicked. This helps them to prioritize who to talk to.
- With the tool, consultants can start and end email campaigns based on information being updated in Pipedrive, e.g. a Deal moving to a particular stage or the contents of a custom field being changed.
“Pipedrive and Outfunnel are super affordable and as a small company our marketing budget is pretty slim so I appreciate that!” says Liz Courtney, Business Development Manager at BBMG.
3. Nurture existing clients
Your existing clients present the best opportunities for new business. As you develop solutions for them and begin working on projects, you’ll undoubtedly identify new problems that you can help them overcome with other products.
Record these opportunities against each contact in your CRM platform.
Existing clients also present favorable circumstances for cross-selling. If played right, you can significantly drive up revenue by encouraging the purchase of additional items in conjunction with their primary purchase.
According to the book “Marketing Metrics: The Definitive Guide to Measuring Marketing Performance”, you’re up to 14x more likely to make a sale to an existing client over a new one, so if you’re not investing in cross-selling, you’re missing marked opportunities.
If you know you’re going to struggle to engage existing clients and attract new ones at the same time, consider using an automation platform like ActiveDEMAND.
ActiveDEMAND integrates with Pipedrive and enables you to create:
- Drip campaigns
- Appointment scheduling
- And more…
ActiveDEMAND also has a number of specialized platforms for different industries. With ActiveDEMAND’s Marketing Agency Portal, for example, you can create a single marketing portal to manage all of your clients.
From the portal, you can execute your email marketing campaigns, deliver your results to clients and customize communication so that it has your brand’s look and feel.
Read how consulting agency Flowbird uses ActiveDEMAND and Pipedrive in our case study.
4. Create time for cold calling
For many consultants, cold calling can still work wonders. Especially if you have narrowed down your target market and understand why they’d want to listen in the first place.
Using a CRM, you can streamline much of the cold calling process to not only make you more efficient, but get better results. And if a CRM platform doesn’t come out of the box with these features, most will allow you to integrate with phone solutions to get the job done.
Here are a few practical tips to help you get the most from your cold calling efforts:
- Click-to-call: Using a platform like CircleLoop, you can call prospects and leads over VoIP with the click of a button, no need to manually dial.
- No-hardware phone systems: Instead of complicated infrastructure and hardware, you can use a digital platform like CircleLoop to get set up without a fuss.
- Record your calls: Listening back to sales calls with reps can help build better training material and guidance. Use CircleLoop to make it seamless across your entire sales function.
The phone can still be a useful sales tool if you use it the right way. Coupled with the right technology, and an understanding of your target market, you’ll connect with new prospects and generate a sales pipeline in no time.
CircleLoop could be that technology. It’s easily accessible while on the go (via mobile and desktop) and is a great solution for individuals who act as consultants for companies.
Consultants are often working for or on behalf of multiple clients, which requires multiple phone numbers or destinations, multiple integrations (depending on the CRM the customer is using) and often multi-layered menu structures.
CircleLoop (especially when integrated with Pipedrive) simplifies communication management for consultants and is designed specifically with integrations in mind.
Here are some cold calling scripts to get you started on your new calling strategy.
5. Ensure your leads are a good fit
If you’re not qualifying leads before pursuing them, you’re wasting a tremendous amount of time and effort. This can often be a manual process, requiring you to peruse the prospect’s website and LinkedIn profiles.
Unless, of course, you have a CRM on your side. As new leads enter your pipeline, you can use data enrichment technology (such as Prospect.io) to fill in any gaps—such as company size, industry, years in business, LinkedIn profiles and even the technology they use on their website.
With this data at hand, you can make a decision as to whether you:
- Guide the lead to the next stage of your sales process
- Send a (templated) email that asks them for more information.
Data can give you a clearer idea of whether a lead is a good fit, but you may not have the full picture until you ask.
Read how Nirmal Web Studio uses Prospect.io and Pipedrive to qualify their leads in the case study.
How to evaluate & choose a CRM platform
By now, you should be teeming with ideas to automate your sales process and make your consulting practice more efficient. The question is, how do you evaluate and select a CRM vendor?
Here, we’ll outline a simple process to get you started. For a more comprehensive approach, check out our complete guide on what is CRM.
Step 1: Define your requirements
The first step is to find something that fills your goals, processes and requirements. In other words, don’t choose a CRM for its features. Find one that helps you do what you’re already doing more efficiently.
Consultants, especially smaller firms, often lack established methodologies within their business. They prioritize the actual work over organizing it, which leads to wasted time with manual systems—like inputting data into Excel. Procuring a CRM at the early stages of a business is a smart idea, but it’s also never too late to streamline your existing process.
Consultants can also benefit from tapping into the well from the Internet of Things (IoT). CRM systems can help consultants collect data on every call, email and task, and then create reports that help to formalize activities.
It’s wise to create a statement you can use to summarize your needs when speaking with potential vendors. Something along the lines of:
“We’re looking for a CRM that helps our consulting firm qualify the best leads, streamline and personalize outreach activities at scale, and provide reporting which allows us to strengthen our brand and client interactions.”
This will help you come up with a list of features you need to achieve your goals. Required features might include sophisticated reporting, email templates, pipeline management or phone calling capabilities.
Furthermore, you should also take into account what happens when you become a customer. When speaking with vendors, ask questions like:
- What’s your onboarding process like? Do you guide us through the process or do you provide a self-service platform?
- What’s your training material like? Do you provide hands-on training or just the documentation?
- How will we import our existing data into your solution? Can you help us with this?
- How do you integrate with other business-critical platforms, such as our customer support system?
Remember, your chosen CRM must work nicely with other systems and processes you use in-house. This should be a careful consideration when evaluating CRM systems.
Step 2: What’s your budget?
Now you have your requirements clearly defined, it’s time to calculate general costs and how much you can invest into a CRM platform. This is key as, if you’re aiming to implement this on a low budget, you may need to sacrifice some advanced (maybe even “nice to have”) features to get a solution implemented.
However, a better approach is to look at the potential ROI a CRM can bring. Sure, it might require a heavy investment upfront. But if a new system makes your team far more productive, it’s easier to justify the cost.
It’s also important to consider that consulting firms are constantly threatened by new competition, making it that much more important to gain a competitive edge.
According to one study, 40% of firms said that their biggest concern was increased competition.
Investing in a CRM tool that frees up admin time, enhances sales, and streamlines processes may be just what you need to stay ahead of the game.
It’s important to measure all activities your sales and accounts team are conducting on a day-to-day basis. Define what these activities are, along with the number of hours spent completing them. You can then figure out not only how to free up time, but scale your sales function in the process.
Step 3: The vendor selection process
With your needs laid out and budget clearly defined, you’ll have a better understanding of the type of solution you need. Do you need something lightweight (like a SaaS platform) or a more bespoke, enterprise solution?
If you’re a smaller business, finding a SaaS solution for your needs is the best way to go. The evaluation process will be simpler, and you can usually get started in a matter of weeks.
When speaking with vendors, ensure you cover the following:
- Business goals: What are you hoping to achieve? What are your revenue goals for the next 12 months? Show them you’re looking for a solution that helps you reach these goals.
- Information about your company: Talk about who you are, your mission and the problems you help your clients solve. Share the benefits you can bring to vendors, too.
- Timelines: Set milestones for each step of the process. When are you hoping to implement your new CRM system? What do you need help with and when do you expect that help to be executed?
- Ask for references: FInd out if vendors work with other consulting firms like yours and ask for an introduction. This is the best way to get an impartial perspective on the solution you’re looking into.
View this process as a way of communicating your needs. Sales teams behind the best CRMs will guide you through the key features that will help you achieve your goals and meet these needs.
Step 4: Evaluating and making the decision
Once you have several options, you’ll need to “test drive” them to get a feel for the potential each can bring. Trialing each CRM will also give show you the overall experience they deliver.
As well as references (see step 3 above), you can get third-party perspectives by searching for queries like “[crm name] review” in Google. You can also look to directories like G2.
Here’s a simple process you can follow to get your teeth into each CRM platform:
- Demos: Request reps to run you through the features of each CRM on your shortlist. If they do their job properly, they should clearly tie your needs to how the product can fulfill them.
- Collect sales material: Read through case studies to see the value other organizations (especially consulting firms) get from each CRM system. Use pricing sheets to compare the costs across each potential platform.
- Try before you buy: After the demo, get your hands on each platform by asking for a limited trial. There’s no better way to get a feel for software than giving it a test drive.
- Negotiate: Finally, start negotiating on price and discuss your timelines.
Using this process, you’ll have everything you need to make an informed decision. Make sure to get input from other members of your team, including those in other departments. They’ll help you identify areas you may have missed throughout this process.
CRM technology isn’t just something you should use to “keep up with the times.” When used properly, it can enhance your sales process and skyrocket your business development efforts.
To get this right, you’ve got to start with your sales processes. Make sure you have a system that delivers value to prospects upfront, and shows them how you can solve their problems.
Most importantly, use your chosen CRM for more efficient communications. From the first touch-point to the follow-up, your sales reps and account managers won’t need to think about when (or how) to reach out to prospects again.