Maximizing CRM Utilization for Executives

Business Relationships: A Team Effort

In today’s complex business world, relationship building is not just the responsibility of business developers. Every employee has a role to play in establishing and maintaining relationships. To maximize the potential of your business network, it’s important to view everyone as a relationship builder. In continuation of the series, we’ll be talking about the third part of unlocking your CRM’s potential by diving into utilization. A big part of utilization is consistent training.

Invest in CRM Software Training

To fully utilize your CRM, training should not be a one-time event. While sales and marketing teams use the CRM regularly, other employees may only access it occasionally, depending on their role. To ensure a successful CRM adoption experience, provide tailored training options based on your team’s role within the organization. Consider incorporating in-person sessions, 5-minute training videos, and written documentation to cater to different learning styles. Providing frequent, shorter training sessions is more effective than a single long session. Or, you may want to check out a few ideas in CRM or Die.

Build Accountability Into Your Plan

Encourage your team to view using CRM software as part of a collaborative effort to better serve clients and win more work. Reframe the CRM as a tool to help the team work together, not as “big brother” monitoring. If you encounter resistance, it’s important to address it and convert that individual into an ally. By committing to regular training and holding your team accountable, CRM utilization will become a cultural norm.

Utilizing a CRM in Conjunction with AI

Chat GPT and other AI platforms have recently come into play and their impact will be immediate and change the way businesses do work: marketing and sales departments included. Consider AI to be your partner in performing the tasks you do in your day-to-day easier. With a CRM, and one that integrates AI functionality, the possibilities are endless. The better the data in your CRM, the more likely an AI tool can predict trends, reduce repetitive tasks, and increase the general productivity of your team.

The Bottom Line

How firms manage and use their data will continue to be a huge factor in growing revenue. If firms cannot control how data moves in and throughout their organization, they will be at a huge competitive disadvantage. A CRM like any tool can be powerful IF it is supported by people who understand the importance of the data and work within a system and process that can leverage the power of that data. As AI enters the mix, it will help those who already have strong systems in place to manage their client data effectively.


Preparing to Implement or Improve Your CRM

In this four-part series, I’m walking through the four parts of unlocking your CRM potential. In this post, we’re going to focus more on the preparation phase of the process. Before you implement a new system or re-implement an existing system, you want to make sure 90% of the effort should be spent on planning and preparation, and 10% on implementation and maintenance. Although this is what we should strive for, a lot of times, it ends up being a little more 50/50.

Why Don’t We Plan or Prepare?

A lot of firms want to try and avoid the planning and preparation phase because it leads to a lot of difficult conversations with different departments. In some cases, firms try to implement a technology solution, like a CRM, to fix an internal political problem between departments. Unfortunately, this won’t solve the problem and can make things worse.

We stop planning when we realize some of these conversations and new workflows are going to cause some initial friction at first. A lot of these problems can be worked through by building a process map and have these internal discussions during the mapping phase so that when a new technology is introduced, the teams involved have already had a chance to review the revised workflows and add feedback. In many cases, just allowing time for all stakeholders to review the process and give feedback, can alleviate friction that may be caused by proposed technology changes.

5 Steps of CRM Process Documentation

Five Steps of Process Documentation

When documenting your client lifecycle process, the key thing to remember this should be an active document. A process document should be revisited and reviewed on a consistent basis to make sure it’s accurate.  In the five-step process I’ve outlined below, the revisiting and revision part is built in: 

  1. Map your current process
  2. Identify gaps in that process
  3. Review the process
  4. Improve the process
  5. Monitor the process. 

Mapping the Current Process

Do you and your firm know what happens from the prospecting phase of a client’s journey with your firm all the way through to a completed project? During the mapping process, the goal is to understand each step of the process. For example:

  • Is everyone clear at your firm what a lead is? 
  • Does each person at your firm understand the difference between a lead and an opportunity?
  • What happens with an opportunity? 
  • What happens to that opportunity once it converts to a project? 
  • Who kicks off the project with the client? 
  • Does the business development person go into that meeting? 

Identify Gaps in the Process

Sometimes there is a general idea of how this process works, but it’s not clearly documented and some information can be falling through the cracks. It’s important to delineate in your mapping discussions which department handles what. So when an opportunity closes and accounting starts setting up the project, what is the current process? Do you have a process that loops marketing back in once the project is wrapped up? Many firms can struggle with notifying marketing when a project is closing out so that marketers can take care of final photography and wrap up the final project description so they can perhaps submit the project for an award.

Review and Improve the Process

Next, make sure to document your process in a way that you can share with others. You may use Microsoft Excel, PowerPoint, or Word documents. I like Lucid Chart and Miro for process mapping as well. During this part of the documentation process, it’s critical that everyone at your firm can see the document, make comments, and give feedback. This part of the process also helps to gain overall buy-in and adoption for any changes to a process.

Monitor the Process

After your firm’s client lifecycle process is documented, you’ve reviewed it with the team and made improvements, it’s now time to monitor the process you’ve captured or created. Now, when you hear issues along the lines of clients not getting properly communicated to prior to a project kick-off, you can review the process map, and make sure that everyone that should be notified after an opportunity is closed-won is notified. At this stage in the process, it’s more important to look for ways to improve, than to assign blame when an issue is uncovered. As you continue to monitor and work on improving your process, you may need to refine your data entry into your CRM to ensure a better process and analytics. 


Planning and preparation of your team and processes are a huge factor in the ultimate success of your CRM implementation or re-implementation. Prior to implementing a CRM, make sure you’ve taken the time to document your process and make that process a living document that is revisited on a regular basis to make sure all key information is finding its way back into your CRM. Now that we’ve touched on planning and preparation, the next post will focus on utilization. Stay tuned!


Building A CRM Foundation

When Courtney and I came up with the title for our book, “CRM or Die,” we knew it was pretty dramatic, but we also believe that if we as marketers, business owners, and executives, don’t pay attention to what’s happening with our clients, or manage our client data appropriately, then yes we’re going to fade into irrelevancy with our clients. So how do we avoid that? How do we achieve the best results with our CRM? You can achieve better results by building your CRM implementation (or re-implementation) off of four key parts: 

• Foundation

• Preparation

• Utilization

• Thrive. 

In this blog and the next three, I’m going to dive into each of these key areas. Let’s start with building a good foundation. Part of building a good foundation is first documenting your CRM process as it is today. If you don’t have a CRM, start drafting out how your firm manages your client relationships. No matter where you are in your CRM journey, it starts with having a good process and great documentation to back up that process. 

Unleashing the Power of Your CRM Starts with the Why

When building a strong foundation, it’s important for you and your firm to understand the why. We’ve all been victims of a bad implementation where something’s just rolled out and we’re just kind of told it’s time for you to do the CRM thing, or it’s time for you to use this new project management software, or whatever it is. Usually, the why is not included. At the core of implementing and using CRM software, is the desire for an organization to serve its clients better. To leverage information across departments, cut across silos, and serve a firm’s clients in a way that is seamless. Great data makes nourishing and serving those relationships easier and that’s where a CRM can help. 

The reason knowing your why is so important is because it defines how people will interact with your CRM. If people understand why it’s important to capture good data, the employees doing the data entry to get information into the system will get better because they’ll understand why they’re doing it. 

In a Ted Talk by Stacey Abrams, Stacey does a fantastic job of outlining three questions she asks before going after anything she wants:

1. What do you want? 

2. Why do you want it? 

3. How are you gonna get it? 

If you’re not sure where to start on your why, I think these questions can help you get there. 

In addition to having a good why, having leadership buy-in is critical. If you or anyone you know has ever tried to implement a system before when senior management wasn’t on board, it tends to go nowhere fast. After working on hundreds of CRM implementations, this has been proven to me over and over again. One of the key factors for a successful CRM implementation was leadership buy-in. If this was present, the implementation went smoother and adoption was faster. 

Attitude is Everything When Implementing or Improving Your CRM 

Using a CRM is more a lifestyle than a diet. We’ve all tried a diet program, and as you know you can get a nice result for a short period of time. But for a long-lasting health strategy, you have to work a little harder at creating some good habits. The same goes for your CRM and the process you use to manage it. If you and your firm want to do a good job of capturing that data it has to be a lifestyle change. It has to be something that you as an organization decides is important. It must be something that you can commit to and you all work on it as a team. 

The Big Psychological Shift: A Culture of Data Stewardship

When a firm commits to using a CRM, the next step is to look for ways to incorporate or create a culture of data stewardship. When a culture of data stewardship is present at a firm, every single team member has a data role. Some of you may find yourself having several roles (it depends on the size of your organization). The key is, making sure that everyone at your firm is aware of what their role is. 

The Roles and Where to Find Them

  • Editor – This person is generally good at finding mistakes in the information. May already have an administrative role at your firm.
  • Auditor – You may have another person that is really good at running reports and they are great at finding issues with data on a large scale. This person might be in an accounting role at your firm.
  • Consumers – People who are just using the information. Might be the CEO or a Business Developer.
  • Analyst – This person has an aptitude for finding trends in data. This person may be a CFO at your firm.
  • Leader – The leader makes sure that everyone understands the importance of using the CRM and holds people accountable for using it. Can be the Marketing Director or the CEO. In a perfect world, it would be both.
  • Officer – Supports and upholds the leader’s focus on company data. Can be a CEO, CFO, or any executive leader within the organization.


Carly Fiorina (the former CEO of Hewlett Packard) says it best, “The goal of a data-driven leader is to turn data into information, information into knowledge, knowledge and insight and insight into a competitive advantage.” When everyone at your firm is working as a team to gather client data, turn it into knowledge, and then insight, then you can confidently say your team is well on its way to becoming a leader in the AEC industry. If your firm focuses on developing a why for your firm before beginning your CRM journey and identifies roles within your team of how each member can contribute to a culture of data stewardship, then you will be well on your way to creating an effective strategy to unlock your firm’s CRM potential. 


Creating Your Strategic Marketing Plan

Recently, I did a presentation with SDA. SDA is “a professional organization that has promoted education and best practices in management and professional standards of design firm administrative personnel for 60 years.” At their yearly online conference, I had the opportunity to speak about strategic planning. Although planning can sometimes be something people dread doing, I think some of the best planning sessions happen when they start with a lot of great questions. In this post, I’ll focus on four key elements of strategic planning for marketing which include: research, SWOT analysis, the marketing plan, and reporting.

Take Some Time To Do Research for Your Strategic Marketing Plan

Research is so critical to a plan, but a lot of teams choose to skip this activity due to time constraints. Research typically falls into two categories: Primary and Secondary.  

Research is key to a great plan.
The Key to a Great Plan is Research

Primary Research

Primary research is research the firm performs itself.  I think one of the best ways to conduct research is to debrief potential customers after a win or a loss and for marketers to speak to existing customers and learn more about why they chose to work with a particular firm. Reach out to your top five to ten customers and find out why they buy your services. Are they currently happy with you? Are there things that you could be doing better? Are there opportunities your firm is missing to address the needs they have? These questions are a great place to start your research. 

Does your firm do a lot of public work? If so, there is typically a plan for such expenditures. Researching the Capital Improvement Project plan for specific municipalities may be a good idea to get a gauge on how many opportunities might be available to you in the upcoming year.

Secondary Research

Secondary research is typically research conducted by another entity other than yourself. Prior to planning, I try to make sure I have stayed informed of industry trends through professional journals and economic thought leaders. Have you been keeping up with the trends? Do you know where the economy is headed? Depending on your specialty, here are a few resources that I’m a fan of for keeping track of trends in the AEC industry: Zweig Group and PSMJ have some great resources.

If the topic of research interests you, you may want to check out the AEC Marketer’s Podcast Episode 50: Demystifying Market Research with Sarah Kinard. I think Sarah does a great job of helping listeners understand market research so they can tackle some of their more challenging business questions. I think one of the best features of the podcast is Sarah’s three questions to respond to those who might ask, “Why do marketing research and why do marketing research right now?”

1. Did last year change how your firm looks at its markets and services?

2. Did your markets’ behaviors surprise you?

3. Are you having difficulty recruiting?

Most executives and marketers would answer yes to all three of the questions above to which Sarah proves her point that marketing research is a critical component of any strategic plan, “We live in a world where change is a constant, and information has to be compass on how to manage that constant. You simply can’t rely on the past anymore.” 

SWOT Analysis

Analyzing a firm’s SWOT or Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats is also a key component of marketing research. It is essentially your GPS and gives you an idea of where your firm is starting from and the direction it’s trying to go. 

Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats


What are your firm’s strengths? Are you a firm that chases a majority of public work and is a women-owned firm? That could be a huge asset. Do you have a great culture and are currently attracting great talent out of universities? Fantastic! Do you have an innovative process or approach that sets you apart from competitors? Great! Make sure you document all of these strengths. You can document this information by pen and paper, an excel sheet, or a platform like Miro.


We know what your strengths are, now let’s think a little more about your firm’s weaknesses. Although no one likes to admit that they may be struggling in a particular area, every firm has weaknesses and it’s important not to pretend that they don’t exist. Some examples of what a firm’s weaknesses might look like are:

• “Our staff is pretty young and we don’t have as much depth on our team as some of our competitors.”

• “We’re a small firm and don’t have extensive resources.”


Opportunities are externally focused. Does your Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) research tell you that several municipalities have projects coming out in the next year that would be a good fit for your team? Make sure you jot those down here, as those could be great opportunities. 


Threats pertain to external issues affecting your organization. Is there a new competitor in your area that is starting to do similar work? Is there an economic factor that may affect future opportunities? Possible threats may be things like the port closing down if your firm does a lot of work for a nearby port, labor shortages, and new regulatory issues that may impact your firm’s business. Make sure you write down these threats and don’t avoid discussing them with your team.

Marketing Plan

After you’ve done your research and SWOT analysis, it’s time to work on creating your plan. Your marketing plan should contain tactics and goals for achieving success in each of these core areas:

• Business Development; 

• Pursuits;

• Public Relations;

• Digital Marketing and Social Media; and 

• Traditional Marketing.

The Marketing Mix as part of your overall marketing plan.

Business Development

In AEC, relationships are the foundation for achieving your revenue goals. The business development components of your plan should include which clients you’re targeting, professional organizations you’ll engage with, conferences you’ll attend, lead generation, and prospect meetings.

Sample planning sheet for Business Development.


In this section of your plan, you want to identify how you’ll qualify for opportunities, what kinds of proposal materials you’ll need to support your efforts, how many opportunities you’ll need to pursue, and what your shortlist rate will look like. Again, you can use your baseline growth number as an estimate of what these efforts will look like but take a look at what your shortlist and win rates were like last year. If they were low, or you were shortlisting on 30% or less of the proposals you went after, you may want to actually look at reducing the number of projects you are going after and doing a better job of qualifying opportunities. If you’re looking at streamlining your proposal efforts and improving the quality of your proposals, you may want to look at a tool like ProjectMark’s Design+.

Sample planning sheet for Pursuits.

Public Relations

The public relations components of your plan should include which professional organizations your firm will pursue and any boards members of your team can serve on. In addition, setting goals for press releases is a good idea. Also, depending on the growth strategy for your firm, it may make sense to look into hiring a consultant to help get your firm more media attention.

Sample planning sheet for Public Relations.

Digital Marketing and Social Media

Depending on what market you’re serving, your approach to digital marketing will vary. If you’re working for a civil engineering, architect, or general contracting firm, there may be a little misunderstanding about the benefits digital marketing efforts can have for your company. Most digital marketing strategies have long-term benefits despite needing a day-to-day effort to manage. You always want to make sure you set goals for website content improvements, blogs per year, and the number of social media posts you’ll target for the year.

Digital Marketing and Social Media Planning Sheet
Sample Digital Marketing and Social Media planning sheet.

Traditional Marketing

Traditional marketing includes all the “stuff” you usually think about when it comes to marketing: job signage, business cards, brochures, advertising, employee and company swag, and client appreciation gifts. It’s important not to forget about the client appreciation gifts as these usually come up at the end of the year….” thanks for being our client and here’s a notepad with our logo.” Company swag is not the best idea for a holiday gift, so it’s usually best to start planning earlier in the year for what you’ll give to your best clients.

Sample Traditional Marketing planning sheet.

Metrics and Reporting

When you work on the marketing plan, your goal is to create a document that communicates marketing responsibilities and goals for the firm. To set these goals, we want to try and use SMART goals when possible. SMART is an acronym for:






Metrics and Reporting slide.

Revenue Goals

Although we can sometimes get overly ambitious when it comes to a revenue goal, it doesn’t hurt to start with what was achieved last year and add a percentage growth for what the AEC industry as a whole is projected to do for the upcoming year as a baseline. This approach will not give you a glamorous goal (unless your firm’s last year was an amazing number), but it gives you a good idea as to what is achievable. With that as a baseline, go ahead and add your lofty goal as a stretch number. 


After walking through the steps of building a marketing strategic plan, it’s taken some of the fear or anxiety out of doing your next planning session. Taking the time to work through the tough questions and think strategically about where your firm is headed, will only lend itself to a productive and less frustrating year. If you enjoyed this post, you may want to check out my book, Sink or Swim Faster: Making a Splash in Marketing Professional Services.


5 Common Questions About CRMs

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems are a hot topic of discussion among AEC executives, seller-doers, and marketers. There are five common questions that commonly come up when discussing CRMs and this post will provide answers to each of them.

Which CRM Should I Use?

The short answer is it’s not the CRM it’s more about where the data currently exists and the internal processes in place. Many firms will go down the path of creating a requirements document and trying to find the right CRM software. However, a better approach is to first look at the firm and its data. Which department has what data? Are there silos? Are there reasons some data is harder to track down than other types of data? For example, the accounting department may have project numbers for all the projects completed, but the marketing department has a separate numbering system and naming convention for the same data in the marketing drives. If an executive decides to buy an integrative CRM solution that can connect with the ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) or financial system the firm uses, this won’t really matter if there is not a standard numbering and naming convention for the project data accounting and marketing use. It would serve the firm better to create an internal team or hire a consultant to review the data for the firm and map out the processes a firm currently follows and how once the CRM is implemented, documentation on how the processes will change.

Do We Really Need a CRM?

If your AEC firm is between 3-5 people, you may not need a CRM yet. However, as a small firm, one of the best things a firm at this size can do, is to begin organizing their data for the day when they grow large enough to need a CRM. Microsoft Outlook, Excel, or Google spreadsheets are perfectly acceptable ways to organize data at this early stage of a firm’s growth. Once a firm grows beyond 5 people, a simple CRM solution with a good mobile app and email plugin would be a good way to go. When a firm is at this stage of growth, typically everyone is a seller-doer. So, a solution that offers multiple ways to enter data as easily as possible is a great way to go. Insightly, Pipedrive, and Tiny+ offer great solutions for firms at this stage.

Are We Ready to Implement a CRM?

Many firms jump into implementing a CRM before they are truly ready to do so. Implementing a CRM solution takes quite a bit of time and resources to ensure the process goes smoothly and training is rolled out in a way that maximizes a return on the initial investment made. However, many firms skip the necessary steps to ensure success during their implementation by not having clean data to work with from the start and not having clear documentation of their internal processes to support the CRM once it’s implemented. The best way to implement a CRM solution is to reduce the amount of data a firm intends to bring in from the very start. Company data should be consistent and scrubbed for consistency: Able Contracting, Inc. should not have any other variations: Able Contracting or Able Cont. should be changed to the same version otherwise it’s possible to have multiple duplicates once the data is imported into the system. Contacts should be scrubbed in the same way or Samantha Davis and Sam Davis will be brought in as two different contacts even though they are the same person.

Another factor to consider before implementation is the process used to capture and modify contacts and companies. Is one person going to enter all the companies and contacts? Is everyone responsible for modifying existing companies and contacts? Is there a naming convention for companies and contacts? Are all company and contact addresses to be spelled out completely or will the firm use abbreviations? All these things seem tiny, but when you multiply every variable of a company or name, you can see how duplicates happen. And when your data isn’t clean and there are a ton of duplicates, system users start to doubt the integrity of the information. When users start to doubt the integrity of the system, they stop using the CRM and that is exactly what you don’t want to happen! Make sure you clean your data first!

What Data Do We Need to Bring into Our CRM?

If the steps above to clean your data prior to implementing a CRM seem impossible due to the current state of your data, you may want to consider starting from scratch, to begin with. Nowadays, many CRMs offer plugins with Gmail and Outlook, so contacts can be added easily with a few clicks. In addition, many of these plugins have duplicate checking built-in, so you can make sure that your users only add new contacts and companies to your CRM (and no duplicates).

If your CRM features a module for completed projects, you may want to consider only bringing in the last five years. Most proposals in the AEC industry request projects that have been completed within the last five years.

Do We Need to Change CRMs?

After reading the responses to a couple of the questions above, you may realize why your firm is now at a point where you may need to change CRMs. Perhaps when your firm first implemented a CRM, the onboarding team tried to bring in too much data, or employees were not careful when they created new data and a lot of duplicates were created. There are many reasons why your current CRM may not be working anymore but many of these reasons go back to messy data and a lack of process. If your firm doesn’t take care of these two issues prior to changing CRMs, your firm will find itself back in the same predicament.


A CRM is a powerful tool that can help many organizations leverage the power of their relationships to win new projects and maintain strong client partnerships. To best utilize a CRM at your firm, start with clean data and a great process so that your executives, marketers, and seller-doers have a head start on your competition.