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Basics for Client Relationship Management

Client Relationship Management (CRM) helps companies manage leads and client business opportunities necessary for growing your business.

‘CRM’ is the abbreviation for ‘Client Relationship Management.’ Professional services firms require special features to nurture relationships with potential and existing clients.

Why have a Client Relationship Management solution? Because it overcomes the inefficiencies of post-it notes and spreadsheets, which leads to missed conversations and lost opportunities to grow your firm.

With a CRM, all information about a potential client is in one place and available when you need it. As you converse with the candidate, you document their pains and problems and everything you learn about their situation. During the days to months-long process, everyone involved in the process (including staff, managers, and partners) will have access to the CRM, saving time and, frankly, impressing the candidate with how organized you are.

Critical Features Needed in Your CRM

Before you sign up for an all-in-one CRM system, there are a few critical features you need to be on the lookout for. We’ve outlined those below.


Marketing is a plan, and its execution requires a series of tasks. Supportive marketing activities inform and persuade potential clients about the quality of your services, your reputation, and other aspects of who you are as a firm. Common examples are:

  • Your website

  • Blogging

  • Social media

  • Public speaking

  • Reviews and testimonials from clients

  • eBooks

  • Links in your email signature to your firm blog, social media sites, and website

Other marketing actions involve marketing “campaigns” that target specific groups. For example, say you’re an accounting firm that specializes in architectural and engineering firms. You would focus your marketing campaigns on A/E firms in your area—whether through a free webinar, a speech at an association meeting, or marketing emails. Through common marketing campaigns, you want the groups to know:

  • Who you are,

  • That you understand their unique pains and situations, and

  • That you can alleviate their pains and improve their operations.

From your marketing campaigns, you will generate a list of candidates for your professional services. Some may be ready to discuss their situation and learn more about how you can help them. But most will not be ready. You will continue marketing to these candidates by sharing, for example, insights and expertise that’s important to them. You’ll also periodically email them and post information from your blog and eBooks on social media to keep your business at the forefront of their minds until they are ready or until they decide they will never need your services (this is called “unsubscribe”).

Of course, your strong client relationships will result in candidates too. These are called Referrals. Also, new project candidates may come through a formal “Request for Bids” process.

Business Development Lifecycle

Your business development staff, managers, and partners interact with candidates to determine whether they are ready, willing, and able to become a client. Here’s a simple flow for the lifecycle stages:

Lead > Prospect > Opportunity > Won/Lost Project

At any stage in the lifecycle, a candidate may drop out. Perhaps they aren’t able to pay for your services. Or the people most in pain cannot persuade the decision-maker to move forward yet. It might be as simple as a candidate that is not ready to accept they have a need. They require more acclimation with your company through blog posts, emails, and other content.

Below are explanations for each of the lifecycle terms and stages.


Referrals, bidding instances, and candidates resulting from marketing campaigns are called Leads. They show interest in your firm and its services. ‘Interest’ is demonstrated by the contact information they share—names, companies, phone numbers, and email addresses. How interested they are is the big question. It can range from distantly interested to very interested. Where a lead falls along the spectrum will vary by:

  • The nature of your potential customers

  • The types of services you offer

  • Their immediate pain or problem

  • Recognizing the strength of their needs

  • Source of the lead

  • Other factors

For example, a client referral will normally be a stronger lead than one that just attended a webinar. Your client helped you tremendously. The pain or problem is already determined. That your client recommended your firm carries enormous weight.

NOTE: It is critical to nurture your clients. Service quality is extremely important. However, do not neglect calling clients periodically and emailing them when they reach a milestone (e.g., birthdays, anniversaries, awards).

Just as a Client Relationship Management solution includes marketing capabilities, it should also include Lead Management capabilities. Using these features, you will:

  • Track phone conversations and emails

  • Document information from conversations and emails

  • Schedule follow-ups

  • Learn about their company and its pains and situations

  • Provide information about your services and why your firm is best for their needs

  • Prepare quotes and proposals

Over time, the characteristics will change. This is the Lead Status. Here are common lead statuses (you can create your own in a CRM):

  • No Contact

  • Left Message

  • Contacted

  • No Response

  • Qualified

  • Not Interested

  • Dead/Lost

Most of the statuses are self-explanatory. Every lead starts as No Contact until an attempt is made to start a conversation by telephone, email, or text. Most conversations start by trying to be helpful:

  • Do you have any questions?

  • Can I provide them with more information?

  • Was the webinar, blog post, eBook, or other content useful?

Be prepared to leave many messages and send many emails. Each contact effort should provide some bit of value. You want to emphasize that you understand their needs and have the expertise to help. Your business development process should include standard emails and voice mails.

Also, expect to never get a response from most leads. Even after making contact, many leads will go silent. Others will tell you they are Not Interested now or they will never be interested. Your firm should establish a policy for the volume of voice mails and emails that are considered appropriate over a period before changing the status to No Response, Not Interested, or Dead/Lost.

Say you make contact, and the conversations move forward. You shared information about your firm and the lead showed reasonable interest in your services. You now have a Qualified Lead or Prospect.


When a lead is Qualified, they move to the Prospect stage. Now your business development people are smiling. Not yet ear-to-ear, but they are happy they have someone interested in talking to them. Their persistence and no-response frustration has been rewarded.

Some firms continue to have business development staff continue the conversation. They might bring in a manager and partner for special discussions. Other firms assign managers and partners to work with prospects because of their superior experience and knowledge. When insightful questions arise, if the prospect’s senior managers were not involved before, they will usually join the conversation. Having your firm’s managers and partners involved in the conversation is immensely powerful.

Whoever steers the prospect conversation needs to learn a number of critical items:

  • What is the pain or problem?

  • What is the pain or problem costing the prospect?

  • Who feels the most pain?

  • Who is the ‘internal champion’ pushing to solve the problem or relieve the pain?

  • Is the need new (e.g., regulatory) or long-felt?

  • Who is the decision-maker?

In short, you need to collect information to determine whether you can relieve the pain or solve the problem. Through your questions and discussion, you should help the prospect understand the seriousness of their situation and that your firm can help them. You make the pain or problem more acute.


When the conversation turns to specific services and your fee, the Prospect becomes an Opportunity. You will likely discuss fees and prepare a quote for the prospect. Your CRM should handle preparing a quote easily.

This opportunity does not mean you will gain a new client and/or a new project. In most situations, the probability of winning the new business is low. If the quote is rejected, you may lose the opportunity. Perhaps the prospect cannot afford your fees or are unwilling to pay. You might say the “pain” is less painful than the fee.

A rejected quote or one accepted “with hesitation” could also represent a starting point for negotiation. The conversation is not over.

  • Services may be redefined.

  • Your solution to the problem may be staged over time.

  • You may offer a payment plan.

  • You may offer a discount in exchange for a testimonial later.

As you negotiate, the fee amount and probability of winning the opportunity will change. At the right time, the prospect will request a proposal (or accept your offer of one). What is included in a proposal depends on your firm’s decisions, the nature of the groups to whom you provide professional services, and the requirements of the prospect (e.g., legal, regulatory, etc.). For example, a proposal might include:

  • Firm background information

  • Key managers and partner experience

  • Professional accreditations and certifications

  • Detailed project description

  • Services to be provided

  • Quote

  • Contract or engagement letter with an e-signature link

  • Invoice (retainer, first payment plan amount, full payment)

Won Client & Project

Ultimately, the opportunity is won when the prospect signs the contract. Typically, a new project is scheduled when the invoice is paid. Your CRM should be able to integrate with your time, billing, project management, and accounting software, making the new client and project set up automatic. You save more time.

Metrics & KPIs

For short-term as well as long-term success, you need to track all of your activities. There is always a refining process to improve everything from marketing to business development to proposals.

Some of the metrics and KPIs that will help you improve include:

  • How many leads were generated by each campaign?

  • What is the quantity of leads, prospects, and opportunities in the “pipeline”?

  • What percentage of leads become prospects?

  • What percentage of prospects become opportunities?

  • What is the total value of opportunities based on the probability of being won?

  • What percent of leads resulted in Won and Lost opportunities?

  • How much revenue was generated from leads for each campaign?

  • What was the cost of each campaign?

  • What is the trend for leads generated by month?

NOTE: “Pipeline” represents the stage of all your candidates. It is typically shown as a funnel.

A CRM is Essential to Client and Firm Success

What is most important is that your CRM should automatically provide metrics and KPIs. The information may be in reports. For busy business development managers and partners, a dashboard with key information should be available.

Now you are ready to adopt a CRM, adapt it to your firm, and begin to gain the efficiencies and profits from the all-in-one solution for growing your firm.

Ready to take your CRM insight to the next level? Watch the webinar recording on BQE CORE CRM for a step-by-step, how-to demo for winning more clients! 

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