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Professional Services Are Catching-up With CRM

Written By: Kevin Ramesan
Published On: May 28 2003

Event Summary

The CRM market is shifting. Instead of looking for an all-purpose and horizontal oriented CRM application, customers are seeking a more specialized and industry specific tool. From the larger organization to the smallest customers, CRM buyers are expecting their applications to follow their business model with limited need for customization. As the overall services market is projected to grow significantly by 2006, vendors have a propensity to cater this niche more than ever.

Illinois-based Interface Software, one of the few CRM application providers that have strongly focused on the professional services market, faces challenges inherent in going for a niche market. The challenge for a niche player versus broader range providers is not only to determine that its niche market will embrace its technology but also that the overall potential is large enough to sustain future development.

Since 1996 the Oak Brook, Illinois-based Interface Software, Inc. has been an important player in Relationship Intelligence solutions for the $500 Billion professional services industry. Interface Software addresses the CRM needs of professional service firms such as accounting, financial services, management consulting and legal. Specifically, these firms leverage experience, expertise and relationships to market services. During a recent interview with Rick Klau Vice-President vertical market and John Lipsey Director of communications, TEC was able to assess Interface's market strategy and InterAction 5, the latest version of the company's market-leading CRM solution for professional services organizations. InterAction is internet-enabled, allowing professionals to view information however they choose. For more information please visit Interface Software's website at: www.interfacesoftware.com

Product Definition & Market Impact

The idea of customer relationship or relationship marketing is not new, but some professions have considered it to be more or less related to the nature of their business. Accordingly, traditional fortune 500 companies including banks, Telco's, retailers and manufacturers were among the first lucky organizations to attract the attention of the CRM vendors. With the exception of financial services, the interest of CRM vendors is shifting and the service market is becoming their new center of attention. Worldwide CRM services are expected to grow by nearly 18% and reach close to $45 billion by 2006. The services market is crowded, competition is fierce. Professional services now understand the need for CRM philosophy and applications.

But not long ago, professions such as lawyers and doctors didn't see themselves as selling entities - they were professionals and clients came to them. Those professionals have viewed their profession as above the commercial melee of trade and they promote values such as public service, service on the basis of need rather than ability to pay and citizenship.

Increasingly they are finding it tougher to win new clients and keep existing ones through increased competition and many other factors. Now the perception is shifting and even vendors are seriously targeting the market of professional services together with many new verticals. It is not yet clear whether this change in service environment and the growing enthusiasm for CRM is the result of a maturing CRM market or the fact that vendors are increasingly marketing to those new territories. Nonetheless, the outcome has turned to be rather positive to the benefit of their customers.

The need for CRM in Law Firms is now well established and systems have emerged to help them keep track of existing and forthcoming clients, market to them, and track the activity against business won. As the culture of the market changes and the potential for changing competition increases, the need to understand the criteria by which clients choose their professional services and assess their satisfaction with the service product becomes imperative.

In principal there are 3 main issues professionals like lawyers have to deal with:

  • How can we keep our existing customers satisfied and avoid attrition?

  • How can we increase the potential for cross-selling opportunities?

  • How can we attract new customers?

CRM can help Law firms analyze their past trends and how they can cross sell services. In conjunction with the Practice Management Systems it can also help lawyers balance the portfolio of services they offer.

There are certainly loads of CRM vendors that are eager to serve the professional and law firm market but only a handful have strongly focused on catering to this market. Many vertical offerings however, are considered to be flavors rather than perfect fits.

Interface Software is among those specialized CRM vendors that have gone out of their way to understand professional services business processes and their specific needs. For law firms, Interface Software provides features that match the way lawyers share their information and serve their clients.

Interface Software is a forerunner in the professional services CRM space with vertical functionality targeted to financial services, legal, management consulting, accounting and other relationship-based industries.

Functional and Technical Specifics

InterAction 5 dissociates itself from the traditional, sales-force-automation- and call center-based CRM solutions designed for the manufacturing economy. InterAction 5 goes beyond Customer Relationship Management and into the realm of Relationship Intelligence, which is designed to track and manage the complex relationships that are critical to revenue generation at professional services firms.

Relationship Intelligence empowers professionals to leverage their contacts by tapping into the wealth of connections and cardinalities that exist between people, companies, relationships, experience, and expertise. Relationship Intelligence enables professionals to generate new revenue streams and alleviates their collaborative tasks.

Rick Klau explains that the company has spent a considerable amount of time interviewing professionals and gathering insights into the way relationships are established within those circles to find out the importance of both instant information awareness and privacy issues. Another important discovery was the professional's hesitation in adopting unknown environments.

InterAction 5 is fully integrated to the Microsoft outlook interface which professionals are seemingly familiar with. Users would navigate smoothly between Outlook Contact manager to the fully HTML, zero footprint Interaction GUI (graphical user interface) either to complete a task or to access a 360 view of their client. InterAction provides a centralized repository for storing client and prospect information. Users can create fields, classifications and otherwise customize the system to their unique environments.

The system integrates with other enterprise applications and the user's email, fax and phone systems to facilitate easy communication with clients and prospects. But beyond those basic CRM functionalities, InterAction is a system that is set to leverage relationships in professional environments where information is scattered between people and companies. To achieve such capability, InterAction relies on 4 functionality pillars:

  • Relationship Discovery allows users to collect contact information from a firm's existing systems and to present it in a way that would reduce the need for the consultant to enter contact and relationship information into the system.

  • Relationship Management provides a unique interface where client contact information and all his or her relationships are stored, shared and managed. Like a knowledge base it empowers professionals to search on existing expertise and hierarchy links between internal resources and clients. InterAction offers sophisticated database management functionality that minimizes the likelihood of duplicates and facilitates a single instance of any contact within the centralized database.

  • Client Service Automation is a toolset that allows professionals and other internal resources to serve the client's inbound and outbound communications for the purpose of the client's relationship management or business developments, including Contact Management, Client Management, Opportunity Management, Deal Profiling and Tracking, Referral Tracking, Skills/Experience Tracking and reporting.

  • Knowledge Delivery uses an XML-based application server to distribute the Relationship Intelligence content to the consultant's platform of choice including Web browsers, intranets, portals, wireless devices, Outlook, Notes and GroupWise.

User Recommendation

InterAction 5 is undeniably a nice fit to the Professional Services environment but particularly to a Law firm working environment. Its integration and synchronization with Microsoft Outlook makes it convivial and almost self explanatory. Compared to the more traditional CRM applications, it does not offer as much functionality; nevertheless Interface Software is capitalizing on the fact that Professionals are less inclined to embrace convoluted technologies and therefore provides functions as they are needed. Interface Software is also keen in developing Internationalization to be able to penetrate a broader international market.

 
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