Practice management vs CRM? What do you really need for your small accountancy firm? With the advent of many new exciting cloud based practice management systems such as SENTA, Glide, Accountancy Manager (and others) are the days of all-singing-all-dancing software suites such as IRIS or CCH now number? In this blog, written by Ashley Leeds, we’ll explore the origins of Practice Management, the WHY, the future, and what you need for your practice to be organised.
How did Practice Management evolve?
Most software packages that accountants use, such as Tax, Accounts, Co Sec, Payroll, and Bookkeeping etc started life as a humble spreadsheet in a pioneering practice at the advent of the PC. Some enterprising individuals built complex spreadsheets that evolved into commercial ventures. Conversely many have fallen by the wayside, some have been purchased and others are the basis of huge software houses who now do a full suite of compliance software for the masses.
While all this development was going on some software houses brought the information together to give a Practice Management solution. The idea is that you could look at one central module to get information quickly and efficiently rather than trawling through different packages. Thus Practice Management was born. Not to take the place of the person who actually manages the practice, but more to give anyone a handle on what is happening day to day.
The buzzwords at the time were integration and the software suite. Fast forward another 15 years and with cloud-based technologies coming through, the humble Practice Management package is now a little outdated and lacking some must-have features, but what features should your Practice Management solution have right now?
What does Practice Management do?
Your traditional Practice Management solution would enable the user to easily see all the clients and possibly the prospects in the practice. It would also have contact details and room to write some notes. You get this with all the packages currently sold as a ‘suite’ package, and to most small practices this can be enough.
However as time went on the packages became more complex and now we demand much more from our software partners as we want to know much more, and are constantly pushing the boundaries of what's possible. Our expectations are also so much higher and with the push for automation and technology doing the grunt work, our demands are much higher too.
Exciting Entrants to market.
New providers are coming to the fore with exciting new offerings and with other tools for onboarding, quoting and tracking the work. A decent Practice Management product today is much broader and offers so much more to ensure that the busy practice keeps an eye on everything. You can do workflows, send and manage emails, import from Companies House and integrate with products like Zapier to onboarding tools, quoting tools and other clever add-ons. You are no longer confined to your one central hub.
Practice Management vs CRM: So what is CRM then?
CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management and goes much further than just keeping an eye on your client's compliance work. With a decent CRM package, you can have many kinds of processes working for you to ensure that a great relationship with your clients is maintained. But it isn't just for your clients. A properly implemented CRM package will nurture leads for you, aid with prospecting and help deliver new customers in a more automated and systemised process.
A fully fledged CRM system, that is properly implemented (this is key, see below) will capture leads from your website, automatically drip feed emails to the prospect, score the prospect on the interaction that they have with your firm and alert you when the time is right to engage more. You can set up sophisticated workflows to manage all this automatically and run all kinds of reports to keep on top of things and work out your KPI’s, your ROI and the cost to acquire a new client.
Large corporations such as BT, Sky, John Lewis etc all use powerful CRM systems to run their business and spend huge sums on their IT infrastructure. So why do I need this in my little accounting practice I hear you ask?
I’m just a small practice, do I need CRM?
If you are going to grow your practice then you need to have some sort of system in place to manage the processes for acquiring new clients. This can be as simple as a spreadsheet (I have seen some really clever uses of spreadsheets in my time) or some workflow in a basic Practice Management solution, or if you are really serious you could consider using a CRM package. The bottom line is that it has to work for you and you have to be able to manage the process and keep on top of your clients' needs.
Correct implementation is key.
There is no point in having the best CRM system in the world if it is not configured properly. I have seen many installations of differing software packages that have been so poorly implemented that they would have been better off keeping their spreadsheet. A Practice Management or CRM package can only do so much on its own, it is down to the setup, configuration and staff training and the more time that is put into this, the better. Many practices seem to skip on training because they do not see the value in this, or are bamboozled by the sales persons’ pitch saying that it is easy to use and intuitive.
You’ll need to spend time with your software supplier to scope out what you actually want from the software and ensure that they can deliver. Then spend the right amount of time and energy ensuring that is it set up and that your users are fully conversant in the use of the package. Be prepared for lots of training, handholding and tweaking to ensure that the system works for you. The CRM or Practice Management solution is going to run your practice, so you cannot scrimp on the work or the costs involved to get it right.