An A to Z of Professional Services Marketing: CRM

Professional services | Nigel Clark | 14 February 2020

There is no three-letter acronym (TLA) in marketing more likely to generate debate, disagreement or even dismay than CRM: client relationship management. I believe CRM should lie at the heart of any firm’s marketing, so why then does this humble TLA drive marketers to distraction?

The cause of the dismay is that CRM has become synonymous with marketing systems or client management software. In an industry where there is frequently poor data on and measurement of client performance, particularly beyond anything related to single year financial measures, a CRM system has often been hailed as the ‘Holy Grail’ to help a firm move from zero to hero on client management. 

CRM systems have frequently been acquired and implemented at some considerable cost but lack planning, equivalent business processes and, most importantly, the required leadership and behaviour change needed to generate any business benefit. In these instances, the system is used, at best, sporadically and only in pockets of the firm. More likely it sits unloved and distrusted within the firm’s suite of business tools, while the marketing team fights valiantly to increase its take-up and impact; all the time knowing that they are fighting a losing battle to benefit from more than a smidgen of the system’s capability.

As with any IT system, the problem lies not with the CRM but with the lack of planning, purpose and processes needed ahead of any such investment.

If we return to our TLA, CRM should - like the Ronseal woodstain advert – do ‘exactly what it says on the tin!’ (apologies to any non-UK readers - feel free to google how this product and phrase has entered popular British culture) CRM should be about ‘clients’, ‘relationships’ and ‘management’. So, lets talk more about the C, the R and the M:


It seems a statement of the obvious, but the starting point of your CRM should be clients i.e. you need to sort the ‘who’ first. You need to decide who you want to work with and what you have to offer them. Do you want to focus on a few big clients or a wider portfolio or smaller clients? Are you focussing on clients you know now or do you need to attract some new ones? Do you want to sell a basket of services or concentrate on a narrower set of expertise? 

From my experience you are best off starting with a few – one or two handfuls at most – of clients you know well and have the potential to grow from good to great relationships. You can then build on that success, but make sure you have built your foundation first.


You may have some good clients, but do you have great relationships? Understand and map out what a great relationship would look like not just for you but also for your client. And if you don’t know what ‘great’ looks like then go and talk to the client. How much they are willing to tell you will be a good indication of how far you’ve still got to go. Make the achievement of that ‘great relationship’ the objective or your CRM. 


Like any successful project or programme your CRM needs management. It needs leadership, resources, investment, measurement, plans, commitment, perseverance, a timetable, regular reporting…. And yes, if you put all of these elements in place it probably also needs a business system to nit everything together.

So do think about a CRM system, but first think about Clients, Relationships and Management and do exactly what it says on the tin!

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