Boosting sales, profits and performance with automation
by Jeanne Urich and Dave Hofferberth, SPI Research
In many professional services organizations (PSOs), the sales force appears to operate on an island, with a go-go-go attitude and minimal communication as to what each salesperson is selling, to whom and at what price.
During times of economic uncertainty, many professional services executives focus on two core areas of business:
- Increasing revenue generation by adding more sales personnel and bidding on more work.
- Reducing headcount in non-billable overhead to meet future margin requirements.
SPI Research’s 2102 Professional Services Maturity Model Benchmark shows that most executives spend more time on the former — working to increase sales.
Service tends to react to sales, but unfortunately cannot optimally staff and execute because it doesn’t fully understand the personnel requirements, time commitments and costs until sales officially sells the work.
While there tends to be executive-level communication between sales and service delivery, the sales force is just so busy, and with so much uncertainty, continual communication generally suffers.
To improve communication and sales visibility, many professional services (PS) executives invest in client relationship management (CRM) solutions to provide some level of visibility to executives. However, SPI Research found that very few of these organizations actually integrate the CRM solution with core financials, or the professional services automation (PSA) solution. This lack of integration creates inefficiency within the PSO, as resource managers and consultants alike do not have the visibility into future work in the skills required to assure they can deliver quality services on a timely basis.
For PSOs that do integrate both CRM and PSA with the core financial solution, the benefits are both quantifiable and lucrative. Taking an integrated strategic approach to core information systems within professional services organizations benefits both the PSOs and their clients.
Client generation takes center stage
During economic uncertainty, PS executives increase their emphasis on client retention and new client generation. They typically expand their services offerings to expand billing opportunities. Even when times are good, these executives spend a good deal of time wining and dining existing and potential clients.
New client generation — and its overall importance to organizational growth — is a main driver of client relationship management becoming widespread in the professional services sector. CRM is the second-most popular business application behind core financial accounting in PSOs.
Client generation is just the beginning of the professional services lifecycle. As a PSO finds new prospects and subsequently generates new bids for work, the PSO must plan for potential project execution if the client accepts the bid. Staff with the specific skill sets necessary to complete the work must be available and ready to go. If resource unavailability delays project initiation, the work might go to another firm, or go away.
A smooth transition between winning a bid and beginning the work is paramount in the development of long-term client relations. Ideally, the PS sales force works closely with the service organization. The communication between the two organizations must involve sharing client information that will help improve the odds of a successful engagement.
As the PSO initiates work and begins invoicing, the project scope must be well-defined and approved by both the client and the PSO. This communication increases the assurance that the client will pay invoices in a timely manner.
Lack of communication creates a cycle of inefficiency
Informal lines of communication have existed within the professional services market for decades. In smaller firms, this communication usually does not cause any major issues. However, as a firm grows, SPI Research sees “cracks in the armor” of communication as the PSO bids with greater numbers of people on more projects.
At a certain point in time, inevitably the PSO makes a mistake, and with too few or too many resources available, projects start off on the “wrong foot” and never seem to get on track. This scenario creates unnecessary tension between the PSO and clients. Unfortunately, having projects not run efficiently usually shows up in reduced future business opportunities with the client.
Ideally, both the sales organization and the service delivery organization see the same information and, therefore, understand the resource requirements and timelines for new service projects. If not, the potential for under-staffing, confusion and ultimately frustration tends to lead to employee attrition.
Apply a holistic approach to the information infrastructure
Professional services executives continue to look at their information infrastructure to determine if their application strategy meets the needs of the organization in terms of improving the core business processes, and offering greater visibility and transparency across the organization, along with information that will hold up under the scrutiny of regulatory audits.
Ideally, information flow mirrors that of the organization’s business processes, beginning with client prospecting and going through the subsequent business processes from bid through sale, resources, execution, invoicing and project close. It is critical during each of these project lifecycle phases that the PSO tracks information associated with costs, time and quality, and flags and moves any projects with issues to a higher level of visibility.
CRM and PSA integration drives performance
Over half the PSOs surveyed by SPI Research use both CRM and PSA solutions. However, fewer than 10 percent actually integrate both with their core financial solution. To better understand how the integration of CRM and PSA increases organizational performance, SPI Research analyzed 118 billable service organizations with between 30 and 700 employees. These PSOs are large enough to need CRM and PSA technology, but not so large as to deploy it selectively across different regions and practices.
When comparing those organizations that had both CRM and PSA but did not integrate them, versus those that did, SPI Research found significant improvements in overall performance, including:
- Annual revenue from new clients: 49 percent with integrated CRM and PSA, 41 percent without integration — meaning the firm sells to a larger client base.
- Bid-to-win ratio: 6.19 (integrated CRM and PSA) vs. 5.25 (no integration) — meaning a greater win ratio.
- Billable utilization: 81.4 percent (integrated CRM and PSA) vs. 70.2 percent (no integration) — meaning more hours billed and subsequently greater revenue.
- Earnings before income taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA): 28.2 percent (integrated CRM and PSA) vs. 26.9 percent (no integration) — meaning increased profitability.
These results, and many others, show the integration of both CRM and PSA makes a dramatic impact to bottom-line operational and financial results.
Add CRM and PSA to your repertoire
Connecting sales and service makes sense, but unfortunately rarely happens due to cultural and incentive clashes. While direct communication is desirable, in many cases, PSOs have little time to provide sufficient information to accurately convey potential project needs and personnel.
At a high level, PS executives should answer important questions associated with sales and service, some of which include:
- What is the expected of margin of the work?
- How long will it take to complete the work, and at what points will the firm generate invoices?
- Is the work on time, and is the client happy with its progress?
Executives and other relevant personnel should track the information from the initial bid through the project completion and invoicing. With this information, both management and consultants can monitor the projects to assure high levels of client satisfaction with acceptable profit margins.
The integration of CRM and PSA has created a channel of communication where both entities can stay informed and up-to-date on potential and current work. This direct communication not only yields higher productivity, but also shows up in higher profits, a more satisfied workforce and content clients