With integrations all the rage, you might be wondering if they can benefit to your firm. The answer is most likely yes. ContactEase’s Director of Client Services, Amber Elliott, and ORBA’s Director of Marketing, Joy Long, discussed their experiences integrating ORBA’s website with CRM and its content delivery system, Constant Contact, at the Legal Marketing Association’s Tech Midwest Conference in Chicago earlier this month.
Ask Joy what she thinks of technology and she’ll tell you, “I appreciate and understand the benefits of what technology can bring to a firm. But, I also know that it’s a team effort and I need to have a right hand tech professional who understands the specifications.” So, when she began looking into integrating her website with other marketing technology tools, finding that right hand took priority. And a right hand is just what she found in Amber at ContactEase.
When Joy joined ORBA, a Chicago-based accounting firm, one of her first projects was to phase out the old paper client newsletter and implement regular, timely electronic communications. She was also tasked with purchasing a CRM. At the time, the firm had a fledgling blog, one paper newsletter and one mailing list. The process for publishing the blog was cumbersome and time consuming. Joy knew there was a better way. As anyone who has tried to effect change in a professional services firm knows, change doesn’t come fast or easy, and this is especially true when it comes to integrations. Some firms attempt to do this too early. When it comes to integrations, go, but go slow. Amber recommends thinking about the integration as the second phase of an implementation. Implement the individual systems and allow your professionals to become comfortable with the workflow in order to identify areas for improvement.
Since implementing a CRM system about five years ago, the firm has grown from one blog to a content platform that includes nine industry and service blogs, eight quarterly newsletters and approximately two dozen client alerts. In addition, the firm sends an annual holiday card, firm announcements and is looking to add another new blog by the end of this year. Needless to say, integrating ORBA’s website with ContactEase and Constant Contact has greatly simplified the process to get each piece of content out the door and has saved the marketing department several hours each month, which they are redirecting toward other marketing initiatives.
Some things to remember when making the case for an integration:
- Go, but go slow. Think of the integration as the second phase of implementation.
- Show the value. When you can demonstrate how much time your department spends completing manual tasks that can be automated (e., show how much time you’re wasting), it’s easier to show the value an integration between two systems would bring (in other words, you can do even more).
- Involve your technology partners from the start. Understand their capabilities and how they integrate with your existing systems.
- Use your team to outline existing processes and test new ones to work out the kinks. They can identify redundancies and areas for potential automation.
Joy knew what she wanted to accomplish with her integration, but she also reaped some unexpected benefits. She knew that her content manager would save a good deal of time using the new process, but it ended up being more than she expected. As a result, she’s been able to refocus this time on driving the SEO process and has seen a marked improvement in the firm’s SEO scores and other analytics. Joy has some advice for those considering an integration:
- Work backwards. Identify your goals, your end game and then figure out how to get there.
- Know your budget, but build in some flexibility for the unexpected.
- It’s a team effort. Find and identify your internal and external team (IT, marketing, technology partners, etc.) and include them from the beginning of the project so they understand what role each must play.
- Understand your technical capabilities and make sure you have a good working relationship with your IT department.
- Get it all in writing. Ask for a Statement of Work. Develop steps and best practices to help you identify strengths and weaknesses, as well as gaps in your existing processes.
- Be patient. Sometimes it takes time to work out the kinks.
As a result of working on hundreds of successful CRM implementations, Amber stresses the two things all successful implementations share: a scope of work and clearly defined team responsibilities. In addition to the considerations listed above, Amber recommends that anyone considering an integration should:
- Ensure that the expectations (for the integration, your firm and your technology partners) are documented for clarity and agreed on by all parties involved. It is important that the objectives and desired outcomes are accounted for by everyone.
- It must be a team effort. Programmers won’t understand your business processes and you shouldn’t expect them to. Integrations are still systems development.
- Look for vendors who understand your workflow. When you’re selecting products, consider your team – you’ll be working closely with them for the duration.
- Identify an internal project manager. Ideally this should be someone who has the time and ability to shepherd the process and oversee each step.
Following these best practices paid off for Joy and her firm. Joy’s experience shows us that, with a little effort, integrations can improve a firm’s internal processes and deliver a return on investment as well. Now the real question is what does she do with all that free time?