Three years ago, to support Pinsents' 'Chosen Market' and excellence in client service strategy, help its lawyers manage their client relationships more effectively and make its direct marketing more effective, the law firm invested in a client relationship management (CRM) IT solution. The results have been greater than anyone expected. Simon McNidder, their CRM database manager, who ran the project, tells the story so far.
For the last three years, Pinsents has had a clear and distinctive 'Chosen Markets' strategy and a structured approach to the delivery of superior client service. It has therefore been a strategic imperative for the firm to develop an outstanding approach to client relationship management (CRM). To support these investments, Pinsents invested in and fine-tuned a CRM IT solution, and developed a new direct marketing strategy - based around key clients, key targets, targeting, and data integrity best practice.
Like many professional firms, with mergers and increasing size, there were many 'mailing lists' in use. Business development did most of the mailings from a centralised list, but it didn't have everyone in it, wasn't used by all parts of the firm and data was duplicated in other lists - within business development and the individual legal teams. Fee-earners couldn't get a holistic view of their clients - information was in numerous areas, or just wasn't available. Getting everyone's input and preparing a new mailing list would often take hours or days to put together, and were frequently based on lists that had been used for five years with resulting data quality issues and complaints.
Fee-earners now get a complete overview of their contacts. They can quickly see who else knows their contact, who has met them, what mailings they have been sent, what events they have attended, details of work the firm has bid for, given or received referred work, and what preferences the contact has told us they are interested in. Fee-earners also receive automatic e-notifications from the system whenever these activities happen to contacts they know.
By moving towards 'opted-in' mailings, and with the data having been verified and enhanced, clients now receive less incorrect, irrelevant, or duplicate mail. More importantly, they receive information (seminar invites and briefings) on subjects they have expressed an interest in.
Data integrity is the best it's ever been. Targeting, tracking responses and personalised e-mailing is now possible. Direct marketing is now cheaper, less of an admin burden and quicker to prepare and send. Mailing response rates now average 10% (previously 3%-5%) and have hit 25%.
Knowing the statistics about many CRM programmes failing, preparation was key to success. A major task lay ahead - not only to update the IT system, but attitudes and processes. It took a year to prepare, ask lawyers what they wanted, test, fine-tune and develop the database, data and direct marketing strategies before there was any visible sign of things moving forward. It looked like it was going to be a long struggle.
Finding suitable database solutions amongst the plethora of options was mind boggling. Small, large, out-of-the-box, bespoke, sales, and legal systems were all looked at. An off-the-shelf sales solution - E1 Metis (from SAGE SalesLogix and E1 Business) was chosen (selection criteria being features, support and quicker return on investment), and fine-tuned to our particular needs.
Launching the database to the firm involved a series of flyers and e-mails, supported by office, team and one-to-one demonstrations to boost awareness. Use was quite good at first, but continual communications and peer pressure from early adopter fee-earners soon increased use dramatically. Only the most successful of laggards are still 'out in the cold'.
Achieving 'good' data was one of the hardest parts of the project. After collating as much data the business development database team were aware of, it was clear it needed to be de-duplicated, cleaned, verified, and enhanced. A huge amount of time and effort was needed to combine all the lists and remove duplicate contacts, with the resulting list a mere 30% of the original.
The data then needed cleaning. This was managed centrally, writing to the contacts themselves. The approach of contacts verifying and enhancing their own details (rather than going back to fee-earners), and employing the services of a data-capturing company to capture the responses helped speed up the project considerably. It saved thousands of pounds, months of work, and guaranteed a better quality of data than doing it ourselves or hiring a team of temps.
There was resistance to asking the contacts their details directly. "Shouldn't we know this information already?" or, "our clients will be insulted" were often heard. But responses from clients were positive. One even sent us a few pages of photocopied jokes and pictures with their response - with a message "to keep your data inputting spirits up".
With the new data, changes to direct marketing were possible. Out went relying on lists which could have been five or ten years old, in came fresh lists based on contacts matching the search criteria wanted. This approach halved some lists and increased response rates by nearly ten times in others. Fee-earners needed convincing that 'a large list isn't necessarily a good list' - some still do - but a 25% response rate the first time the new targeting data was used has helped. That seminar had to be split into two and moved to a new venue, simply because the numbers booking onto it were so much higher than expected.
To limit resistance, the database initially started off as a business development tool. Simply showing fee-earners 'marketing' things about their contacts, like who the contacts were, what mailings they'd had, and what events they were coming to. But the database would never have been the success it is today if it was only going to be a 'much better' mailing tool.
Since then, the system has really taken off, with new features designed to help fee-earners manage their client relationships continually being launched - often a result of internal feedback. For instance, the number of 'buttons' now on the screen has doubled. If the database had started like that, it would have been a significant barrier to use. Being simple to use and needing only a little training were the key reasons 1,000 potential users didn't balk at the new system.
Other than improved direct marketing, lawyer-use is the best measurement of success for a project like this. Three quarters of the firm are active users of the database so far, with more than half using it very frequently.
If readers are looking to take on a project like this, what can they learn from Pinsents' experiences? With hindsight, more of the early stage data management would be outsourced. Only verified data would be input into the system (verified by the contact themselves - as this was such a success), and data verification would be repeated on all new contacts added into the database. Comprehensive data management has a significant resource implication, but that's what's needed for a really good system.
But it has been a success - probably because:
- Fee-earners were originally asked what they wanted and regularly communicated with,
- New features were only added after most users were familiar with the basics,
- It's useful without much effort in return (eg. auto-notifications),
- The centrally held data is more comprehensive than Fee-earners' own data,
- There was considerable 'key' partner buy-in,
- It covers every 'business development' activity a fee-earner needs,
- The database was re-named to match current internal systems,
- The responsibility of the data (and control of it) is still with fee-earners,
- Fee-earners have basic access which reduces a need for training,
- There are reminder e-mails, flyers, memos and demonstrations about its benefits,
- Initial data cleaning and enhancement was managed centrally,
- There is a dedicated central database team (who have chosen a 'database' career).
- It was thoroughly planned and closely project managed.
There will never be a finishing line to stop and judge the project, but looking back on the three years so far it's been hard work but a significant amount has been achieved, and it's been fun. Users find it useful (nothing beats the positive feedback they give), it's revolutionised our direct marketing activity and, at time of writing, Pinsents have been finalists for every 'implementation of CRM' award they have entered.
There are also plenty of new developments in the pipeline that will push the boundaries further. Features and processes to help fee-earners manage their client relationships even more effectively, improve the firm's direct marketing abilities, and reduce the admin burden of data maintenance even further. It's a never-ending process of continual development that will help stand us apart from our competitors in the eyes of our clients, giving our lawyers a significant competitive advantage.