Back to Basics: CRM Database success factors

Published by PSMG - date tbc

If you need a good CRM database, the last thing you need to do is focus on a CRM database.  Sounds an odd thing to say, but Simon McNidder has spent fifteen years with marketing databases, and PSMG caught up with him to offer his hindsight for those of you just starting out.


PSMG: So Simon, where do you start?

Simon: Let me start with the worst news you could possibly hear.  There is no 'end' to your CRM project – as you will always want to go 'one more step forward'.  Your new CRM database will sap far more of your manpower than you plan and you'll suddenly see that your data is in appalling condition.  And if this hasn't put you off, keep on reading as your gains will far outweigh any hurdles.  There are three areas you need to focus on; 1st) people, 2nd) data and 3rd) the database itself.


PSMG: People? But this is a technology article?

Simon: You're right, it is technology.  But humans have to use it, and they are the hardest thing to get right.  Other than a project manager, you won't get very far without a sponsor - a board member, to influence staff and show it's an important project.  This will get key influencers from around your firm on board with the project.  Once they are onboard, others will follow.  You'll always get a few unco-operative people – just make sure they are not too vocal!

Make sure you know what you are trying to achieve, and also ask your users what they need, and what they currently do – no system is going to succeed if it solves the wrong problem.

Whatever you do, don't refer to it as marketing's database.  Refer to it as the system that will help fee earners create work leads and manage their client and contact relationships…. which marketing will also use to send mailshots and run events from.

Users will also want to put nothing in, but get everything back out.  It's just human nature.  So you need to be aware of this.  You'll probably have to do everything for your staff so that they can get something from it in the early stages.  Cleaning up the details held on their contacts is one of the main areas. You would also be wise to pre-populate the 'history' on contacts before launch - like who has previously met the contact, what events they have attended, and which mailings they have been sent.  It all helps to build up a picture of a contact for your fee earners – and make the database more use than their own 'stand alone' system.


PSMG: Data?  Isn't that just boring stuff that's always wrong?

Simon: You are right there! Data is the least sexy part of marketing databases – but vital to its success.  To be fair, not many people can put their hand up and say "I love data, it's the best thing since sliced bread"?  It's boring, often incorrect, just sits there doing nothing fancy, easily overlooked in favour of more interesting activities.

But good data has enabled me to achieve a 300% response rate increase, a move from 'snail mail' to eMarketing, has given our fee-earners an 'activity history' of their contacts and organisations, and enabled them to be alerted about future activity with their contacts.

To get these results yourself, you need to collate all your data into one central data source and ensure there is only one record for one contact.  There will be too much data to manage, so focus your efforts on your best clients, prospects and work referrers. Make it easy for your fee-earners to update the details on their contacts.  But don't trust them to do this!  Verify and enhance the data you hold on your contacts centrally.  How?  Simply write to them (or email if you have emails) and ask them to verify the details you hold are correct.  Ask them to indicate their business interests as well – and you'll then be able to do really easy targeting with your database.


PSMG: Arh, the database – you finally got to the important bit?

Simon: Oddly, the least important bit of the three areas of databases!  Yep, I didn't believe that either until I started. You of course need to find a system that does everything you need, at a reasonable cost, that's expandable for when your firm grows.  There are plenty of databases to choose from.  Don't worry that they all do things slightly differently to how you do things now.  You'll need to change to their processes, not vice versa though.  Short list your favourite three systems and look at them in detail.  Seek out references and users to get a balanced picture.

Your ideal basic system will allow marketing to do mailshots, emailings, and manage events. Fee earners need to be able to add past and future meetings, pitches, referred work and introductions and use some sort of work lead funnel. Fee earners need to get more out than they put in.  For instance, they should be alerted to activity when it happens to their clients and prospects – rather than having to delve into the system each day (which they won't do).

Once you've got it live, get some quick wins.  Show fee earners what is happening to their contacts.  Generate some work leads by targeting the right people with your mailings.  That sort of thing will get you off to a flying start.

PSMG: OK, that was a quick overview, where can our readers go for more help?

Simon: To discuss the issues raised in this article, log onto (the online professional's network), and find the discussion group called "CRM databases in professional services".

For detailed plans on how to implement a CRM database, sort out your data, or to find a list of suppliers, visit  It's an independent advice website with no ties to suppliers.