Managing client relationships without complex CRM technology

There are many challenges associated with successful Customer Relationship Management (CRM), among them the fact that CRM is generally viewed as a software purchase/technology acquisition and, because it has been bantered around for a long time, CRM, again in the software sense, has suffered from “feature creep.” Many firms, especially the ones not part of the Am Law 100/200 ranking (a/k/a BigLaw), do not need the entire suite of functionality that now comprises CRM. With more software functionality comes the firm’s struggle to access the necessary skills and resources, in-house and otherwise, to properly implement the modern CRM solution.

Compounding this is the fact that CRM is a strategic, process driven initiative that requires high level, on-going, committed champions. Given the traditional nature of firms regularly changing their management structure, this is challenging in all but a handful of instances.

So what are firms to do that don’t have these prerequisites but still have the business need for driving effective marketing communications? How can legal marketing harness the power of CRM without the inherent system complexities? Fear not — alternate, proven solutions do exist that address these practical challenges:

  • Spreadsheet chaos
  • Bad/duplicated data
  • Inflexible communication templates
  • Compliance with modern privacy and spam legislation
  • Measuring the impact of firm communications
  • Let’s explore each of these in turn along with how they can be handled.

Spreadsheet chaos

This is the bane of almost every firm – how do we manage our lists. Without a solution we have multiple copies of a list floating around. Some managed by marketing/business development, others by lawyers, still others by assistants and in some cases by the document management team. Essentially anyone that is involved in sending a communication may have a copy of the list(s).

This is exacerbated when the list actually gets used because it is circulated and each participant starts adding to the version they have. Before we know it, the list can spiral out of control even with our most attentive efforts.

Affordable modern collaboration tools can help alleviate some of these challenges, as multiple participants can update a single list. Cloud-based apps like Google Docs move in the right direction but still leave us wanting more.

The next step up involves Contact Management Systems or firm-created databases that centralize contacts and associated lists (campaigns) and ensure data integrity. These can be very powerful and easy to implement but generally are missing a key element – integration to an e-marketing platform. Thus, an ideal solution is a centralized repository that is directly connected to an e-marketing platform.

The central repository (i.e., database as opposed to disconnected lists) houses all contacts, the lists that they are associated with, any associated list information (e.g., event data, targeting criteria, firm information, etc.) and gives users the ability to add new contacts, edit contacts, associate contacts to lists and view all lists a contact is associated with. The e-marketing platform provides a closed loop method of sending communications to the contacts and capturing their responses in the central repository while providing deep analytics.

Bad Data

Bad data is one of the most significant challenges any firm faces and is often attributed to:

  1. Lack of data ownership. Traditionally “ownership” (i.e., who is responsible for making sure we have the information needed about a contact) is left to the marketing/business development team which generally does not know the contacts and has no line of business visibility.
  2. Lack of data standards. This results in data gaps that prevent effective segmentation/ targeting and even more basically being able to build a list with valid, current, accurate email addresses.
  3. Lack of control. Building on the lack of ownership and standards, we end up not having the proper controls in place to make sure our contact data is effective for our marketing and business development needs.

Eliminate bad data through the following:

  1. Create line of business ownership, meaning that key people within a practice group, i.e., a relationship lawyer, key assistant or dedicated business development person, are engaged in making sure their contacts are present and accounted for.
  2. Create data standards. Know what a complete contact looks like, including information that helps identify and segment your contacts for marketing needs such as defining what a name is, key fields, how to identify them.
  3. Establish a process to review, update and verify your contact data including the use of technology that enables contacts to provide the firm with their most current information.
  4. Have a solution that allows you to easily see all your contacts, do searches for missing / key data and make updates.

Inflexible Communication Templates

We have all experienced this: a great low cost email package is offered that allows us to quickly build and send our communications. However, at some point we are going to want to go beyond the pre-packaged “out-of-the box” offering.

We might want to tie the templates tightly to our brand, ensure the URLs used match the firm’s URL, or personalize the message based on information in our central list. The solution here it to have a flexible message building tool that enables easy template creation regardless of our eventual marketing communication needs.


Compliance and email security are rapidly becoming information governance mainstays so legal marketers need to be aware of and comply with current SPAM regulations and understand evolving opt-in practices.

Existing email solutions need to enable users to build clear and transparent messages and track each person’s consent and unsubscribe requests against their contact record in the central contact repository.

Measuring Impact

This is the reporting side of any solution focused on metrics that answer business questions including:

  1. Is my message having an impact – what is my click to open ratio?
  2. How engaged are my contacts with the message?
  3. Do our readers suffer from email fatigue or saturation?
  4. Is my readership going up or going down?
  5. And the Holy Grail, are my messages driving business activity – are more people coming to events, are the webinars better attended, is traffic being driven to key areas of our website?


By removing spreadsheet chaos and replacing it with a central repository, we can deliver compliant, data driven, closed loop communications that drive deeper understanding of our contacts while attaining a more transparent and successful marketing communications strategy.

That is quite a mouthful but in reality quite achievable because we are focusing technology and process on the core marketing needs of knowing our clients and communicating to them. This eliminates getting side-tracked by bigger and less well defined business wants typically lurking in all-in-one CRM systems.

By focusing and delivering on the marketing communication needs versus wants, we are able to achieve the benefits that CRM promises with minimal effort and resources. That is a win-win for all involved.

Jeff Hemming is a client advisor and product manager at Tikit North America, part of BT Global Services. Jeff brings 15 years of CRM and email marketing experience to the company’s roster of global legal clients. His focus is on helping clients maximize the value and the impact of using Tikit’s eMarketing solution in the changing technology landscape. Jeff can be reached at