How did Grant Thornton roll out an international CRM solution?

Rick Stow ran the global CRM collaborative at Grant Thornton, global accountancy and tax advisory firm, and now focuses on the US.

I caught up with him at Microsoft Convergence 2014 in Barcelona. Here’s what he had to say about the large project of rolling out a CRM system.

The beginning 

What’s interesting is that we’re a member firm, we operate in 120 countries, we have 38,000 employees and each country is very autonomously operated. They can decide what they want to do and what they don’t want to do. So, rolling out CRM, it has to be compelling.

Three years ago the US was looking at new CRM and we could have done it ourselves, but we asked other member firms, ‘are you interested in CRM?’ And sure enough it was a hot topic. Some had a CRM, some didn’t, but certainly people were interested.

International requirements

In choosing a system, we had to decide what we wanted out of a CRM. We obviously didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a solution and then have no one use it.

Ease of use was a key requirement. It was also important to be able to operate the CRM online or on premise, depending on what member firms required. In the US we’re very comfortable with cloud and an online solution, but different countries have privacy rules and regulations that made it important to do it on premise.

We picked some software and we could have stopped there, but we kept the collaboration going to come up with a base template.

What are our base processes and key terminology? We put together a solution that also has sample implementation plans, tips and tricks to help each country to jumpstart the implementation.

grant thornton offices

Customisation and adoption

We then, in US and Canada, embarked on our own programme. We knew it would be a big project. The approach was to engage with our users.

We started with a focus group with about 150 people and looked at every functional area of the US firm (7,000 people). We carefully picked 150 people to be representative of the 7,000.

But the US is big so we had to run workshops to really dive into the subject and engage users. We did that in five different cities, to make sure we got our focus and perspective of what CRM means to our users.

We asked ‘what’s going to differentiate the system and increase use?’ I took all those ‘whats’ and took them back to the lab and configured the global template to meet these requirements.

Evangelists and more training 

Then we played that back to users. We did it virtually, showing how these questions had been answered. People said ‘wow’. ‘You’ve taken what we said and implemented it and now it doesn’t just look like any CRM, we see our company in there. We see our service codes etc, this really looks like our business.’ And they felt good about that so we now had 150 evangelists.

It was important to take a good engaging approach like that, to make sure we got the adoptions rates we wanted.

Then we took it further and trained 1,100 people when it went live, in 40 locations over two months. We purposely made those people come to the classroom for training, we didn’t allow dial-in through the web.

We wanted people to participate, and if they didn’t come to training, they couldn’t have access to the system. Because we didn’t want people to get frustrated when using it.

We took a topdown approach, we wanted to make sure leadership of the firm was using it and showing-by-doing. So it represents sales and marketing as well as partners.

By doing that, we weren’t allowing delegation of using the system. And that was important because the leaders often have the most important relationships.

John the Evangelist

john the evangelist

Measuring adoption 

We put in a measurement programme, so after people had left the classroom we wanted to know – are these people now in the system?

And more than that, are they actually creating records and owning contacts and connecting to people? It’s as important to add contacts as to know who has connected with each contact.

And we want to know how well users know contacts. How many meetings? How many engagements? etc.

What we want to avoid, by tracking engagements, is the nightmare scenario of a client telling us ‘well, didn’t you know Jim came to see us last week?’

Keeping it personal

What it allows us to do is walk into meetings and say ‘I know Jim was here last week’. That’s important to us because we have much bigger competitors, but we like to have deeper relationships.

That’s what we hear from clients and we don’t want to lose that. We don’t want to lose that as we grow and add accounts, so it’s important we have tools to help us.

Ensuring salespeople are happy to give away their ‘black books’

I do see resistance in professional services, but that’s why I took the approach that I did. I got people in and I got them engaged.

People might say ‘I’m not not going to add that contact, because if I do, that sales guy might call them’ and I would say ‘Well if you don’t put the contact in there, you’re almost guaranteed that sales guy is going to call them and you’ll look silly.’

If you have a really good relationship with a customer and you don’t say you know them in the CRM, it’s fair game for anybody else here to call them and it’s ‘too bad’. 

But if you add the record, it’s owned by you and other salespeople will see that. Then this might allow a warm introduction to be made, versus just calling someone.

Those kind of stories, talking about them in workshops, made people more comfortable with sharing their contacts.

If we hadn’t engaged with salespeople, we would have got a backlash.

black book

Mature contacts and data cleansing

All contacts are not connected equal. One doesn’t want to say some clients are more important than others, but there are differences.

Many contacts in the US are created when someone comes to our website and signs up to a newsletter. They’re not a client, they’re not a prospect, which is fine. The more the merrier.

That contact is in the system but there’s not a lot of information added. However, over time, there may be more communication and that will be added and the relationship may evolve.

Particularly on the accounting side, relationships take a long time to evolve. Someone might take a newsletter and then two to three years later an audit comes round. 

When you first roll out the solution it’s about getting information into the CRM, but then over time the value becomes clear as information is built up.

But you do have to cleanse data. Our legacy system in the US, we had never purged it in 11 years, and in the end we didn’t bring all of that data into the new system. If the record hadn’t been touched for three years, we deleted the record. 

When CRMs were first implemented it was amazing to have access to a phone number. Nowadays, with the internet, you can find that anyway, people’s emails change, too. [So deleting some records isn’t as big a deal].