I feel like our firm needs a mechanism to "collect" information about all of our opportunities so that we are certain to do the appropriate follow up. What should we use?
The best way to achieve this is with a customer relationship management (CRM) system because such a system will prompt you (or anyone else) to actually DO the followup item: make the call, send the letter, etc. When you go through the CRM implementation process, your firm would develop the optimal "lists" (specific to you) as to what information you want to collect and how you want to categorize it. (more on this below)
The problem, though, is that a CRM system takes big commitment from--I'd say the majority of--the firm in order to be effective. But then again, so does the effective implementation of a paper or electronic form to capture feedback. The biggest challenge of all is getting people to consistently fill out either paper forms OR enter their communication results into a CRM.
It takes a culture change.
The CRM is infinitely more powerful than a "form" because other people can access/read the info and, when it is used for customer information/interactions too (HIGHLY recommended) it enables you to dramatically escalate customer service through increased internal communication.
Capturing information on customers, I'd argue, is even more important than capturing info about leads. This is the case with one of my client firms who implemented a leading, high-end CRM program (over $120K) because "we can't afford not to" after nearly losing a $100K/yr client due to a communication glitch about what the customer expected and when.
But don't be put off by that price. A CRM, even at a low price-point such as ACT!, Maximizer, or Goldmine, can help you immensely.
Beware, however, because I find that partners and others don't often "get behind" the contact documentation process unless they spend a lot of money on it (where they have lots of skin in the game) and, even then, the key influential people in the firm have to really understand and BELIEVE the value of capturing and USING the information so they can appreciate why they are taking these extra steps. The good news is, the steps become habit pretty quickly for most. Enforcing the need to use the process is important.
The above firm actually dismissed a 40-something partner for reasons that included the fact that he wouldn't enter his activities as required. Failing to do so hampered the firm's ability to capture and meet customer expectations.
The hidden benefit of using a CRM to track activities is that marketing activity/result reports are a snap to generate without having to painfully (manually) extract information from people individually--a process subject to much unintentional omission.
The activity info outlined below *creates* your criteria for report generation and can easily be tailored to tie to your firm's individual, practice group, and/or firm level marketing plans. My experience shows this can save you (the marketing department) weeks of report creation time at the end of your tracking year, plus you can generate interim reports to see progress.
Again, though, the key is getting stuff entered. As they say, garbage in, garbage out. That's why a cultural change is paramount to success. The dozen or so CRM companies can cite hundreds of "failure to implement" stories--though most probably won't bring them up in the sales process!
Below are specific activity types and information we've tracked using both sophisticated systems and "over-the-counter" packages.
When actual activities are documented by members of your firm, be sure to have people note what was promised to whom, and by when, as well as any significant circumstances and information/tasks pending from others in order to complete task.
- appt (scheduled mtg)
- drop-in (unsched mtg)
- note (no action req'd)
- task/action item
- Existing customer interaction:
- engagement management things like: EL, sched request, entrance/exit conf, expectation management, problem resolution, board meetings, report/product delivery
- spontaneous marketing such as: new issues, management letter f/u, change orders, advice given
- New customer interaction
- Referral source interaction
- Referral source interaction (each other!)
- Product development/improvement
- Process improvements
- Knowledge improvements (customer/prospect industry, etc)
Each Activity Purpose has the following options:
- Engagement activities and opportunities
- Firm marketing plan item
- Practice group/niche team plan item
- Individual marketing plan item
- Problems, internal
- Specialty development/industry commitment
This ought to be a good start for your own CRM whether using a low or high priced product.