As a consultant, you need to be focused on providing top-notch consulting services to your clients while also building your network.
Relationships are the pillar of most consulting businesses. Knowing how to leverage your 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 and generating new opportunities for your firm. Enter the consulting customer relationship management (CRM) system.
Like Excel or PowerPoint, CRM software has become a critical component of a consultant’s toolbox. The right CRM system is crucial to helping consulting firms with business development, managing client interactions, storing contact information, and streamlining the firm’s processes so you and your team can spend more time delivering value to your clients.
This article will discuss the functionality consultants should look for when evaluating a potential consulting CRM system while exploring some of the best CRM options available.
These are some reasons why every consulting firm should have a CRM system in place:
Serve as a Centralized Client Management Hub
Consulting firms usually deal with multiple clients, engagements, and stakeholders simultaneously. As such, you need to keep all your client-related information in one central system and be able to quickly retrieve this vital data to ensure follow-up, make informed decisions, and ensure you are spending the majority of your time adding value to your clients instead of looking for information and doing admin work.
A shared CRM platform allows the rest of the project team to access and update client information, project tasks, and other data to ensure all stakeholders are aligned and deliverable timelines are met. Ideally, your CRM should provide flexibility by allowing you to access client relationship data on the go or at a client’s location via a mobile app.
Not only will having all your client data in one place make you a more efficient consultant, but it will also allow you to provide a high-quality service and customer experience, which will help your brand’s reputation, enabling you to grow your referral business and improve profitability.
Unlock the Power of Your Firm’s Relationship Network
Unsurprisingly, the world of consulting is all about who you know.
By implementing a relationship intelligence CRM, you and your team get all the core functionality of a CRM plus the power to leverage and harness your collective network by scanning your firm’s network and instantly determining the best path into a company via a referral or warm introduction.
Relationship intelligence CRMs provide visibility into who on your team has the strongest relationship with someone from a specific organization you are looking to reach.
Having visibility into your firm’s collective network is a powerful tool for business development and quickly accessing your network’s expertise to provide your clients with the highest levels of services.
For example, suppose you are looking to work with company X since you know they are a good match for your services. In that case, you can open your relationship intelligence CRM and find who in your team knows someone at that company and can facilitate a warm introduction.
On the project front, If one of your engagements requires a particular skillset or expertise you don’t have in-house, you can use your relationship intelligence CRM system to surface potential experts within your firm’s network by filtering by area of focus. Allowing you to find and message someone in your network focused on the category or type of expertise you are looking for.
A CRM with relationship intelligence will also provide real-time alerts to help you build stronger relationships and reach the right contacts at the right time. For example, suppose you receive a notification that your contact just started a new C-level position at a new company. In that case, it’s probably a good time to reach out and start a conversation to discuss your firm’s services.
The best CRMs for consultants combine CRM functionality such as pipeline management, automation tools, and contact management with relationship intelligence, empowering consultants to find more business and better service their clients while having more time to spend on high-impact client work.
How many emails do you receive every week? How many meetings and calls do you attend? Do you remember everything that was said? Or, if you are using a CRM or spreadsheet, are you diligently logging all interactions? Are your team members logging all their interactions into their CRM?
If the answer is no, you need a CRM that automatically logs and tracks all your interactions with clients and prospects—freeing you from the drudgery of manually entering data.
Having a CRM platform that serves as the central source of truth will enable you and your team to have a clear understanding of your client’s needs and preferences while making sure you are adding the most value to the project without having to spend hours entering data, looking through your inbox, notes, or asking your colleagues.
Having access to the complete history of all interactions helps build trust and rapport with clients, as they can see the consulting team is well-organized and coordinated in their interactions.
From a business development standpoint, a CRM with mass email capability empowers your firm to send out thought leadership content or other email campaigns to potential clients to support lead-generation efforts and grow your brand.
Save Time and Automate Manual Processes
As a consultant, you aim to provide every client with top-notch advice and personalized service; unfortunately, you still need to take care of repetitive, time-consuming administrative manual tasks that can be automated, allowing you to redirect that time to working with your clients and building more relationships.
By implementing the right CRM system, you can automate time-consuming processes such as manual data entry, sending out mass emails, logging interactions, creating reports, etc. The best CRM platforms automatically sync with your email and calendar to eliminate data entry and allow you to create customizable reporting dashboards. They can even send mass email marketing campaigns to streamline client communications.
Integrate With The Rest of Your Firm’s Tech Stack
Your consulting tech stack includes various systems, from project management tools like Asana and Trello to document storage systems like Google Drive and Dropbox, and even some use case-specific tools such as e-commerce. To be efficient, you want to integrate all of your tech stack systems to have a complete and accurate picture of your firm and your clients.
Most cloud-based CRM providers come with robust integrations, allowing you to connect with other systems to view your business processes better and automate your firm’s workflows. Fortunately, tools such as Zapier will enable you to connect multiple systems and help you build a more integrated tech stack, resulting in increased productivity and fewer technical headaches.
How to Choose Your CRM
With dozens of vendors providing numerous CRM solutions with various functionality and price points, you must choose the right type of CRM for your consulting business needs.
Each CRM is different, with some focusing on workflow automation and helping relationship-driven teams build long-term relationships. In contrast, others cater to small businesses and provide more basic functionality like contact management. On the other side of the spectrum are CRMs with customer support, marketing automation, social media, and other advanced capabilities that most business consulting firms do not need.
Traditional, well-known, sales-focused CRMs such as Salesforce are not always the best choice for your practice since they are primarily designed to manage a linear sales process. As a consultant, you are focused on building long-term relationships, and systems designed to lead prospects down a traditional sales funnel might not make sense for your relationship-driven business model.
These sales automation platforms, or what most people traditionally think of as CRMs, are for teams focused on lead management, sales activities, and empowering sales teams to close more business.
When evaluating CRM vendors and their offerings, it is essential to ensure their key features and functionality align with your business processes and what you want from customer relationship management software.
For example, Suppose you are a consulting firm that values the power of relationships and is not in the business of selling a commoditized product or service. In that case, we recommend a relationship intelligence platform designed for relationship-focused and deal-driven industries such as consulting. On the other hand, if you are looking for a more basic system to help you with pipeline and task management, you can consider a more generic sales CRM software solution.
Major Players in the Consulting CRM Space
With dozens of vendors offering similar features, navigating the CRM market can be overwhelming. Here are the top CRMs you should consider.
4Degrees is a relationship intelligence CRM platform built for relationship-focused industries.
Designed to make you a more efficient consultant, 4Degrees eliminates busy work by seamlessly integrating with your firm’s existing workflows while automating time-consuming processes, including data entry.
By automatically capturing all your interactions by syncing with Microsoft Exchange and Gmail and enriching contact data with 3rd party datasets, 4Degrees serves as your firm’s source of truth, ensuring effective collaboration and keeping your whole team on the same page.
As a system designed with consultants in mind, our onboarding and support teams understand a consulting firm’s processes and workflows and will ensure you are constantly getting the most value from your CRM.
Designed for Deal Driven Teams: 4Degrees comes loaded with workflows and vocabulary that match your firm’s existing processes.
Dedicated Customer Support and Success Teams: Our teams are available via chat, email, and phone to provide you with the best support, troubleshoot issues, and ensure you are getting the most from 4Degrees.
Competitive Pricing: Compared to other players in the space, 4Degrees is priced competitively and offers annual and monthly subscription options.
Multiple Integrations: Integrate with other pieces of your tech stack, including time-tracking software, business intelligence, and data storage systems.
Not a Transactional CRM: There are better options if you are looking for a sales CRM with sales functionality.
Salesforce is the largest and most well-known CRM platform. Its ease of use and customizability have made it a favorite among organizations of every size and industry. As a one-size-fits-all CRM with thousands of integrations and apps available through their Salesforce App exchange, Salesforce has become the “go-to” CRM for many companies across industries. However, upon further scrutiny, a consulting firm may have better CRM options.
There are various reasons why consulting firms should avoid implementing Salesforce as their sole CRM. Firstly, out of the box, Salesforce is a transactional CRM designed to manage a traditional sales pipeline and sales cycles. Additionally, Salesforce still relies on manual data entry to manage its deal and contact management modules. When using Salesforce, consulting teams must spend hundreds of hours per year entering data into the system instead of focusing on building relationships and servicing their clients.
Salesforce is a highly customizable engine, and it might make sense for your firm if you have a specific niche use case that other CRMs cannot solve. However, this will require hiring a Salesforce consultant to configure the product to fit your firm’s needs.
If your firm is already using Salesforce and is looking to augment its capabilities by activating the power of your relationship network, consider the 4Degrees Salesforce module.
Highly Customizable: allowing consulting firms to tailor the platform to their needs and workflows.
Scalability: As a firm expands, Salesforce can be expanded to accommodate more users and data.
Integration Capabilities: Salesforce can integrate with hundreds of other products a consulting firm might use, including the 4Degrees Relationship Intelligence CRM.
Cost: Salesforce can be expensive for small consulting firms or those with a limited budget. Licenses, customizations, consultants, and ongoing maintenance can make it cost-prohibitive.
Complexity: As a feature-rich platform, its complexity can be a drawback for companies that do not require all their functionality.
Implementation: Due to its complexity, implementing Salesforce can be cumbersome and expensive. Some enterprises rely on full-time Salesforce developers to implement the system.
Hubspot is a popular CRM system known for its user experience and advanced marketing capabilities. The software starts at $0, but this basic version lacks most functionality, and it is mainly for startups or early-stage companies that do not require a robust CRM.
Similar to Salesforce, Hubspot is a sales-focused CRM, which is not ideal for consulting firms looking to leverage their relationship networks to grow their business. On the other hand, if you are looking for a marketing automation platform alongside your CRM, Hubspot is your best bet. If you are considering Hubspot, look at their Professional tier, which starts at around $100 per user per month.
Ease of Use: With its intuitive, user-friendly interface, Hubspot is easy to learn without requiring much training.
Free Version: If you only need the most basic CRM features, Hubspot offers a free version that can be used by smaller consulting firms or those with a limited budget.
Analytics: Hubspot provides a robust built-in reporting and forecasting engine that will allow you to keep track of metrics and KPIs.
Email: Hubspot includes a very powerful mass email system where you can create email templates and set up powerful email marketing campaigns.
Cost: While the most basic version is free, more advanced tiers or adding additional modules to the Hubspot CRM can be expensive, especially for smaller consulting firms on a budget.
Limited Customization: Hubspot does not offer the same level of customization as other CRM systems. This can be a drawback since it’s hard to adapt the sales-focused, out-of-the-box CRM version to the use cases of most consulting companies.
Limited Support: Hubspot does not provide the same support and resources as other CRM providers, especially with their lower tired versions. There is an extra cost if you want access to premium phone technical support and onboarding.
Not Designed for Consulting: Hubspot is a sales-focused CRM tool to guide prospects down a sales funnel. It is not designed to manage long-term relationships.
Zoho is another popular and affordable CRM vendor that caters to businesses of various sizes and industries, including consulting firms. The Zoho product suite includes other types of productivity software, such as meeting software, accounting, and project management tools that you can also incorporate into your tech stack.
Affordability: Zoho CRM offers multiple pricing plans, including a free version with basic features.
Customizability: Zoho can be customized and tailored to a company’s business needs and workflows.
Integrations: Zoho integrates with various tools, software, and other products within the Zoho suite, allowing users to create workflows.
Sales CRM: Zoho is a generic CRM created for sales teams, not consultants. Consulting teams must spend considerable resources and time customizing the product to get the most value.
Implementation Complexity: Zoho is not an easy CRM to implement, and customization can be time-consuming and challenging for non-technical users.
Limited Support: Their customer support is known to be less responsive than other CRMs. Additionally, their support staff is not well-versed in the specific use cases of a consulting firm. This will result in hours trying to fix or troubleshoot minor issues.
Pipedrive is a well-known player in the CRM space used by consulting firms and independent consultants with varying degrees of success. As with the other products in this article, Pipedrive excels at taking deals down a sales funnel, but it’s not ideal for relationship-driven businesses such as consulting.
Easy to Use: This system has a visually appealing user interface, making it easy for consulting firms to navigate.
Customization Capabilities: Pipedrive allows users to create custom fields and pipelines that can be customized to your firm’s specific needs.
Integrations: Integrating with over 250 third-party applications, such as Microsoft Outlook, Gmail, Slack, accounting systems, etc. Pipedrive can work well with other systems in your tech stack.
Reporting: Pipedrive does not offer advanced reporting or in-depth analytics.
Sales Focused: Pipedrive lacks relationship intelligence capabilities and is not ideal for managing long-term relationships and finding referrals.
Capsule CRM is an affordable cloud-based CRM that includes basic CRM functionality and is easy to use. Capsule CRM is a good option if you are looking to organize your pipeline, manage your contacts and have a task management system.
Unfortunately, it does not have relationship intelligence capabilities, and its mass email and marketing capabilities are minimal. This could be an option if you are a solo consultant or a tiny firm with a small budget. However, if you are looking for a more advanced option, we recommend you look at other CRMs.
Affordability: Capsule offers a competitively priced paid plan.
Integrations: Capsule integrates with a variety of 3rd party applications such as Google Suite, Outlook, and Mailchimp
Limited Advanced Features: Capsule CRM lacks many of the CRM features that are considered must-haves for consultants, including reporting analytics, relationship intelligence, and mass email.
Limited Mobile App: Their mobile application does not provide the full functionality of the desktop version. Compared to the other players on this list that have more robust mobile apps.
Limited Customer Support: As a lower-tiered CRM, customer support options may be limited, especially for busy consultants.
Keap CRM is known for its user-friendly interface and effective marketing automation capabilities, making it a good choice for smaller consulting firms . Its ease of use and straightforward setup can be particularly appealing for solo consultants or smaller firms who require basic CRM functionalities without the complexity of more advanced systems.
User-Friendly Interface: Keap CRM is known for its intuitive design, ideal for those who may not be tech-savvy.
Marketing Automation: For consultants looking to boost their marketing efforts, Keap offers tools for email marketing and lead capture.
Basic Client Management: It adequately handles basic client information management and follow-up tasks.
Keap CRM may not be ideal for all consulting firms, especially those that rely heavily on relationship intelligence and advanced client management features.
Lacks Advanced Relationship Intelligence: does not offer the advanced relationship intelligence features often crucial for consultants. It falls short in providing deep insights into client networks or leveraging existing relationships for business development.
Limited Customization for Consulting Needs: While sufficient for basic needs, it may not offer the customization required for larger consulting firms’ complex and varied needs.
Absence of In-Depth Analytics: Consulting firms that require detailed analytics and reporting might find Keap CRM’s capabilities limited in this aspect.
Freshworks CRM, formerly Freshsales, has gained traction in the CRM market for its simplicity and all-in-one capabilities. While it offers several attractive features for consultants, it’s essential to weigh its strengths against its limitations to determine if it fits your consulting practice.
User-Friendly: Known for its intuitive interface, Freshworks CRM is easy to navigate, even for less tech-savvy users.
Integrated Support: It offers an integrated customer support module, which helps manage client queries efficiently.
Sales and Marketing Tools: Provides robust sales automation and marketing tools, useful for lead generation and client engagement.
Limited Relationship Intelligence: It does not offer the in-depth relationship management needed to find warm introductions.
Customization and Integration: While versatile, it lacks the customization and integration depth required by larger firms.
Sales-Focused Features: Primarily geared towards sales and support, which might not align with specific consulting needs.
Salesflare is a customer relationship management tool tailored for small to medium-sized businesses, emphasizing automation and ease of use. Its design suits small consulting firms or independent consultants who prioritize efficient lead management and simplicity in their CRM software.
Automation of Data Entry: Salesflare shines in automating data input and pulling information from communication channels and online profiles, thereby minimizing manual data logging.
Simplicity and User-Friendliness: The platform’s straightforward interface is a boon for consultants, especially those in smaller practices or solo practitioners, who need a no-fuss CRM solution.
Basic Relationship Management Features: While efficient at handling leads, it lacks relationship intelligence features essential for consultants focused on nurturing long-term, complex client relationships.
Limited Scalability: For larger consulting firms or those with complex client management needs, Salesflare’s scalability could be a constraint due to its focus on smaller business scenarios.
Finding The Best CRM For Consulting
In an industry where relationships are your most valuable assets, you need a CRM backed by a team that understands your unique needs and workflows. Spending time and money trying to adapt or customize a CRM platform designed for a transactional sales process does not make sense for your consulting business.
If you want to leverage your firm’s most valuable asset by fully cultivating and harnessing the power of your team’s business network, you should request a personalized demo of 4Degrees, the only Relationship Intelligence CRM built for consultants.