Relationship Building

Choosing The Right Consulting CRM

Last Updated:
June 5, 2023

In the dynamic landscape of management consulting, the role of technology in facilitating operational efficiency and client satisfaction cannot be overstated. One key technological tool cornerstone in most consulting firms is the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform.

CRM platforms have evolved from mere digital repositories (Rolodexes) of customer information to powerful relationship intelligence platforms that integrate every aspect of prospect and client relationships, foster streamlined workflows, efficient deal tracking, process optimization, and improved decision-making for consulting teams and independent consultants.

However, choosing the right CRM platform is no small feat. With many options on the market ranging from niche startups to household technology names, each boasting a different value proposition, making an informed decision can be quite a challenge, especially for an organization without a dedicated IT or technology group. Here is where this comprehensive guide comes into play.

Designed to assist consultants in navigating the complex world of selecting the right CRM software, this guide will delve into why choosing a platform designed explicitly for deal-driven teams such as consultants is essential rather than opting for a generic sales CRM designed to close transactional deals.

So, whether you seeking to upgrade your firm’s CRM platform or a newcomer in the process of setting up your consulting business and making your first CRM choice, this guide aims to provide you with the insights you need to align your CRM system with your firm’s specific requirements, thereby enhancing your firm’s efficiency, productivity, and ultimately, its success. Let’s embark on this journey.

Understanding the Need for a CRM in Consulting

In the highly competitive world of consulting, firms must stay agile and efficient to keep pace with evolving client needs and industry dynamics. A CRM platform is not just a business tool; it is an operational framework that ensures smooth functioning by facilitating the management of your firm’s most important asset: its relationship networks, including clients, deals, and communication channels.

Consider the complexity of managing numerous clients and engagements simultaneously, each with distinct needs and characteristics. Multiply this complexity with the dynamic nature of consulting engagements, and you have a daunting task. A CRM platform aids in navigating this complex landscape, enabling consultants to keep track of their thousands of relationships, and client interactions, monitor project progress, and manage business deals in an organized manner.

Aside from the relationship management and task management capabilities, a CRM platform should allow project teams to access and update client information, project tasks, and other data to ensure all stakeholders are aligned, and deliverable timelines are met.

To differentiate themselves and stand out from the competition and excel at providing world-class services, consulting firms need a CRM platform that understands their unique business processes and workflows to:

1. Manage Client Information and Interactions:

At the heart of any consulting business are the clients. A Consulting CRM system allows your consulting firm to manage all client information and interactions in one central location, including contact details, communication history, project details, documents, billing information, etc. By centralizing all this information, you can easily access a client’s contact record, which includes all their automatically updated and enriched data, ensuring your team has the most current and comprehensive view of each client by automatically capturing every status and communication.

2. Track and Manage Relationships:

Relationships are the pillar of most consulting businesses. Knowing how to leverage your firm’s network can result in new business, higher client satisfaction, increased retention, and a better reputation within the industry.

The better you understand, manage, and leverage your relationship network, the higher your chances of closing deals, providing quality and timely services, and generating new opportunities for your firm.

3. Track Business Deals:

As a consultant, you often juggle multiple deals at a time, each at a different stage of the funnel. A CRM system can help track these deals, providing real-time updates on their progress and helping identify potential bottlenecks or opportunities. Although most generic sales CRM solutions excel at lead management and tracking a sales process, they are not as strong in other consulting-specific use cases, which we will explore below.

4. Enhance Client Service:

By providing a complete picture of each client, a CRM system enables your firm to deliver personalized service and manage client communication. This can include understanding the client’s needs and preferences before beginning a consulting engagement, recalling previous conversations or agreements, and proactively addressing potential issues before they arise. This is especially important for business consulting companies that must provide the highest level of service to foster client relationships and generate more business via referrals.

5. Facilitate Collaboration:

Consulting often involves teams of professionals working together on client engagements. A CRM system can facilitate collaboration among team members, ensuring everyone is on the same page regarding client information, project status, and assigned tasks. This allows teams to streamline their workflows, deliver a unified customer experience and build client relationships that will last beyond a single engagement.

6. Informing Strategic Decision-Making:

With their analytics capabilities and custom dashboards, the best CRMs provide consulting businesses with valuable insights into business performance, client behaviors, and market trends. In today’s competitive market, these insights can inform strategic decision-making, helping your firm optimize its services and operations, identify growth opportunities, and win more clients.

7. Increasing Efficiency:

A CRM system can increase your firm’s operational efficiency by automating various administrative tasks via workflow automation, such as data entry, notifications, report generation, etc., freeing consultants to focus more on delivering value to their clients and less on routine administrative tasks. Unfortunately, most generic sales CRM providers still require users to manually enter data, taking time away from your team’s core activities.

Why Consultants Should Not Choose a Generic CRM

Given the apparent importance of a CRM platform, why not just choose any CRM software solution available on the market? Here lies the crux of the issue.

Generic sales CRM tools, or those designed with a broad perspective targeting the business needs of an array of businesses, from small businesses and e-commerce retailers to manufacturing giants, are not ideal for relationship-driven professional service businesses such as consulting. These “catch-all systems” don’t align with a consulting firm’s unique needs and use cases.

While CRMs such as Salesforce, Hubspot, Microsoft Dynamics, etc., are undoubtedly robust and feature-rich, they incorporate many functionalities irrelevant to consultants you are still paying for and not using. For instance, a feature that helps track inventory or POS data or track customer support tickets might be crucial for retail and service businesses but redundant for a consulting firm.

At the same time, these platforms might lack the vital capabilities consultants require for efficient operations, especially around relationship intelligence and automation.

Most of these systems are also designed for sales teams to guide prospects down a traditional linear sales process, which differs from how a relationship-based consulting firm conducts business. In the consulting world, it’s all about fostering long-term relationships and not just trying to close a sale and find more prospects via direct response marketing campaigns to funnel down the sales pipeline.

To successfully engage in business development, you need a system that will allow you to understand, manage and leverage the hidden power of your firm’s relationship network. By unlocking the value within your network, you increase the chances of generating more opportunities for your firm.

Importance of a CRM Designed for Deal-Driven Teams

Consulting business development teams operate in a relationship-heavy environment. Their day-to-day work revolves around developing and tracking relationships and managing their pipelines. This process involves multiple players, diverse communication threads, tools such as LinkedIn, and distinct stages of the deal cycle, each requiring special attention and handling.

Deal-focused CRM platforms are attuned to the intricate dance of deal management. They come equipped with functionalities that allow tracking each deal at various stages, provide alerts for timely follow-ups, and offer insightful analytics to strategize the way forward and create repeatable success. Therefore, it becomes critical for consulting firms to opt for a CRM that understands and is designed to handle the dynamic and unique nature of consulting business development.

Consulting CRMs such as 4Degrees leverage the power of relationship intelligence algorithms to allow you to quickly understand who in your network knows whom and can provide you with a warm introduction. Thereby eliminating the need to ask, “who knows someone at company X?” or “Do we know any expert that can help us with X project”? Allowing you to find the best introduction path into a company while providing your clients with timely insights from the best experts.

On the other hand, a generic CRM that just serves as a contact management system is dependant on manually updating data and interactions and does not provide users with warm introduction recommendations.

Consulting CRMs are also efficient automation tools designed to empower your project and business development teams by automating all repeatable processes, such as manually entering data and generating reports. By centralizing information and getting manual work out of the way, your team can spend more time building relationships and pursuing more opportunities.

Many cloud-based modern CRMs tout their analytics capabilities, and they are not wrong; unfortunately, most of these analytics systems have been created to track sales activities and pipeline management. Firms providing consulting services need a system that allows them to analyze their deal pipeline, referrals, team performance, and the overall health of their consulting business.

Aside from the key features outlined above, there are other essential CRM features you should look for when evaluating CRM products for your consultancy.

Essential Features Consultants Should Look for in a CRM

A CRM platform should be more than a utility tool; it should be a strategic ally that aligns closely with the firm’s operational processes and objectives. Here are some key features that are table stakes in any CRM for consultants.

  1. Deal Tracking: This critical function allows consultants to monitor their deals at various stages. It provides real-time insight into the progress of each deal, identifying bottlenecks and enabling timely interventions to ensure a smooth deal flow.
  2. Customizable Data Fields: Every consulting project comes with its unique set of requirements. A CRM that allows customization to fit these specific needs is vital. For instance, custom data fields can capture the unique attributes of each deal or client, enabling better data organization and retrieval.
  3. Advanced Analytics: The ability to generate detailed reports on various metrics is invaluable. Advanced analytics can provide insights into deal trends, client behaviors, and team performance, enabling strategic decision-making, forecasting, and continuous performance improvement.
  4. Integration Capabilities: A good CRM should seamlessly integrate with tools that are part of a firm’s tech stack, including email, calendar, and project management software. This compatibility ensures a smooth workflow, reduces data redundancy, and enhances the user experience.
  5. Email Marketing Capabilities: As part of your lead generation and relationship-building efforts, your CRM should allow you to create email templates and send marketing campaigns to your contacts. With mass email capabilities, you will not need to invest in an expensive marketing automation system.

Evaluating CRM Options: What to Consider

  1. Cost and Pricing: While budget constraints are a reality, the focus should not just be on the upfront cost but also the return on investment. It’s not about finding the least expensive or the highest-end solution but offering the best value for money. Does the platform improve efficiency or save time in a way that justifies the cost? Will there be extra customization work required? Will users need to undergo an expensive training program to learn how to use the system? All these are factors that should be considered when evaluating CRMs.
  2. Customizability: A good CRM should not be a rigid structure but a flexible tool that adapts to your firm’s unique needs. It should allow you to add custom fields, create personalized workflows, and adjust the user interface to align with your work processes, ideally without hiring expensive consultants.
  3. User-friendliness: Even the most feature-rich CRM will be useless if your team finds it challenging. An intuitive user interface, easy navigation, and simple processes are essential for ensuring user adoption and effective utilization.
  4. Vendor Support and Services: The reliability of the CRM vendor is another crucial aspect. They should offer excellent customer service, including comprehensive onboarding, training, timely support, and regular software updates.
  5. Mobility:  Consulting work can often take you to client locations, so having a CRM with a mobile app is crucial. This will allow your team to access relationship and client information, update project details, and perform other CRM tasks on the go.

Finding the Best Consulting CRM

In an industry where relationships are your most valuable assets, you need a CRM backed by a team that understands your firm’s unique needs and workflows. By having access to your team’s collective network, you can close more deals faster.

Spending time and resources adapting or customizing a generic CRM platform designed for a transactional sales process does not make sense for your consulting business for the reasons outlined in this guide.

If you want to leverage your firm’s most valuable asset by fully cultivating and harnessing the power of your team’s business network while having access to all the CRM functionality you need, consider a CRM created by former consultants for consultants.

Request a personalized demo of 4Degrees, the only Relationship Intelligence CRM built for consulting teams to learn more.

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