When it comes to CRM, there is no system out there which is perfect for accountants (yet).
Many accountancy firms use different systems, and some have created their own combination using multiple systems. Many firms use nothing at all. Smaller firms have different requirements than larger ones.
To help me write this post, I’ve asked for input in my Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook communities – and wow, is this a powerful topic. Clearly it’s a challenge area for many accountants – and I sympathise with those challenges, because I got a small idea of the range of CRMs available, the wildly differing opinions about which ones are or aren’t best, and of course some sales pressure to “pick me! pick me!”
The main thing I want for my accountants is for you to be able to have some idea of the differences between systems, and talk to other accountants who are actually using the systems.
No matter what you use, no CRM system will solve all your marketing problems.
You know how this goes with your clients. Some of them think that signing up for Xero or an integrated app is going to solve all their problems (cash flow or time management or inventory or something else). You know how much customisation and integration and work is required on a regular basis to ensure this is the case.
Perhaps you’ve finally nailed the brand and website, and you’re posting on social media and even generating some of your own content. You want to step it up a level, ensure lead nurturing and some automated follow up. You’re even ready to invest your own time (and money). You know there is no perfect system.
But you don’t want to waste your time. Of all the systems out there, which one is best for you?
I’ve got some thoughts on a few of the systems our team is familiar with, because we or our clients are using them. But before I get into that, it’s critical that you understand this.
You have to get your processes right in a very simple way first.
I’m talking Word documents, emails, Mailchimp, Gsheets.
This is where all the best systems and tech come from. A very simple process that helps you define what it is you’re actually trying to do and say, and then developers are hired or investment is obtained to turn that into something that works more smoothly, and is available to more people.
No CRM system will solve your core marketing issues
One of the reasons “CRM” is so confusing is that it covers both prospects and clients. Both lead nurturing, and client experience.
Some systems are brilliant for one side of the CRM coin, but not so much the other. Many systems do both, but not perfectly well.
It’s critical that you get your manual system working right first, because tech is not going to solve your core issues, which include things like:
1. Is your database segmented properly? (clients, prospects, niches, etc)
Having a good lead nurturing system means that you have all the information you need about every segment of your clients and prospects. One of the first things you’ll do with any CRM is tag your contacts in some way – so it’s critical to have strategically thought about this first.
2. What niches do you have? Are they identified as separate segments?
Having a niche is the single best way to help your content stand out amongst the content being shared by all the other accountancy firms. What niche or focus areas do you have? Can you “ultra-niche” – ie a niche within a niche? This means that instead of simply focusing on dentists, you have dentists segmented into principals, associates, corporate dental, hygienists, etc.
The more segments you have, the more powerful your marketing will be.
3. Do you have any campaigns planned?
Creating a one-off marketing campaign (for a particular target audience) needs to be strategised before you start entering anything into a CRM.
I suggest using our progression model to plan this out. How will you build awareness? What free stuff will you offer? What smaller paid things can they sign up for before they decide to go all in?
4. What is your ‘buyer journey’? What happens from the moment someone gets in touch to the proposal and beyond?
This is the part many accountants haven’t spent time on. The buyer journey for someone considering accountancy firm services can be very similar across the board, but you want to consider how yours will be different.
Consider things like:
- How do you want them to get in touch? A phone call? A contact form on your website? Be in control of your buyer journey – make them go the route that you want so you get the best prospects. Don’t simply presume you have to go a certain way. (For example, although our phone number and address are findable on the PF site, we don’t even have a Contact page. That’s on purpose, because we want firms to fill in our Diagnostic first, to get some information about where they’re at in terms of marketing.)
- What happens after they enquire? What steps are followed, from a return phone call to a chasing email or series of emails, to reminders to get in touch with them in a month or two months or six months or a year?
- How do you send the proposal? What tool do you use, and what emails are sent and how do you follow up?
- What content will you share if they don’t go ahead? How will you stay in touch when they are still deciding – even if that takes years?
- How are they onboarded if they do decide to work with you? Initial phone call or meeting? Forms to fill in? Where are those forms? Do you use Google forms or Typeform or Gravity forms on your website?
- How do you get information and share information? Do you have a client hub or login? Do you have introductory videos and helpful information to get them started?
You see, all the fancy tech in the world isn’t going to help you nurture leads if you haven’t addressed all this first.
Accountancy firms get enquiries all the time. But what you’re doing here is planning out your lead nurturing so that the enquiries come to you from a variety of places. So that you send emails and run events and be present on social and eventually someone says, “Oh yes, I keep meaning to get in touch with them”.
Once you have your manual system working as smoothly as possible considering its limitations (not perfect but done), THEN you can invest big in a CRM to make it easier and faster.
This is particularly true if you have a small database. Do you really need to invest big in a full scale CRM if you only have 50 contacts to talk to anyway?
Most accountants have told me that they couldn’t find a single CRM that does everything under one roof with no limitations, and so far that’s my findings too! Having tried the “everything under one roof” systems in the past, my experience is that one solid system with integration capabilities (so you can pick and choose your own system elements to add) is far better than one system which does everything but not quite as you want it.
An example is our clients Farnell Clarke, who are building a system for accountants to use. Their goal is to turn practice management into client experience management – taking clients from onboarding through to all the monthly work such as payroll and bookkeeping and accounts prep. Instead of building an all-in-one system, they’re creating a core system that will then integrate with Xero, Mailchimp, GoProposal, and other systems. It’s launching at Accountex London in May, but we’re keen to see how it comes out! (You can stay notified about its progress here.)
Infusionsoft? Hubspot? Capsule? Boma?
Now that you’ve evaluated all those things and given strategic thought to all those questions, here are my thoughts on a few specific CRMs that our clients use.
There really isn’t a CRM that I can say is used across the board by the firms we work with, but the top runners so far are Infusionsoft or Mailchimp. (I realise that Mailchimp is not a proper CRM, but it can fill a gap with tagging and basic automation until you’re ready for a proper CRM.)
(PLEASE NOTE: this is not an exhaustive list and I’m not leaving out other systems for any reason other than that they don’t immediately spring to mind or we have no personal experience with them. Our philosophy at PF is to recommend systems and tech that get rave reviews from the accountants we know and trust. We never accept referral fees from anyone, and we listen to accountants’ experiences, not sales messages. This way you know that if we do actually make a recommendation, it’s because there are rave reviews telling us so – not because we’re getting paid to say it.)
This is what we’ve used ourselves at PF for over six years, and I’m seeing a remarkably fast growing trend amongst accountants to use it.
We love it, even though it’s not easy. (Nicknamed ‘Confusionsoft’ for a reason.) I will say that their support is second to none – they have almost 24-7 support with instant live chat and they will walk you through what to do in any area of it.
They require a kickstart programme to get you going once you sign up, but you can even choose your own Infusionsoft coach to do this if needed.
Many accountants who use GoProposal are moving to Infusionsoft, partly because the firm My Accountancy Place (who created GP) have used it to develop an entire client delivery system within Infusionsoft. At one time James Ashford (co-founder of GP) was looking at creating an offering to do Infusionsoft implementation for accountants, but he’s put that on hold because of the incredible levels of detail and customisation required for every firm.
The key with Infusionsoft is to be prepared to learn a lot, to get your hands and brain using it daily, and to invest in hiring someone (insourced or outsourced) who will be able to do the nitty gritty for you.
I used to think that Infusionsoft was too complex and heavy for many firms to use, but I’ve changed my mind now. I’m really excited to find more and more accounting firm owners getting so passionate and enthusiastic about using tech well, and doing marketing well, that they’re making a great go of it. Either learning it themselves, or addressing the strategic side and hiring someone to do the actual IF work.
Every and any system you choose will be far more confusing and difficult than you think it will be, so use what you’re willing to dedicate a lot of time and effort to.
Here’s some of the feedback I’ve seen from accountants using Infusionsoft:
“It’s awesome. Complicated but awesome. Make sure you have the end game before you start building things as it becomes a huge task to amend.” Phil Ellerby, Northern Accountants
“We did use Infusionsoft for a while but stopped. It was yet another database we had to keep up to date and, after our initial enthusiasm, it was another job. The automation is very powerful and with great power comes great responsibility. On the plus side I’ve not seen anything better at doing what it does. I would use it again if I was looking for a smart CRM.” Jonathan Ford, Jonathan Ford & Co
“We’ve been running Infusionsoft for about a year but trying to get away from it as we just don’t have the time (or skills) to set up and maintain it properly. I was prepared to swallow the relatively high cost in the hope that it would pay for itself but I underestimated how much work was involved.” Alex Redmond, Artisan Accounts
“It’s not an off the shelf solution. I know none of them are but Infusionsoft really is a blank canvas. James has brought the intelligence. Infusionsoft is just the technology enabler that’s saved us from having to invest in expensive development to create an application that does everything we need. The smartest thing we’ve used it for is definitely getting clients to do what we need them to – doing their bookkeeping and providing information – using automated emails, forms, shared folders and tasks dropped on the dashboards of our client co-ordinators at exactly the right time when the automated chases haven’t worked.” Paul Barnes, My Accountancy Place
Initially, my experience was that most of the accountants we know who have used Hubspot ended up cancelling and moving to another system after 6 months or so.
Feedback is that it looks beautiful, seems simple to use, but it’s too difficult to make it do everything you need as an accountancy firm. There is at least one firm in our Marketing Masterclass group who uses the free Hubspot system but still integrates other systems with it.
However, in researching this article I have heard from several firms who are making Hubspot work for them, and it’s reminded me that no system is perfect for accountants, and there’s great potential within Hubspot as within all CRM systems. The experience has some similarities to Infusionsoft: it’s tempting to buy into the “this will solve all my lead nurturing problems” message that you’re sold on when you explore the CRM initially, and then once you get into it you realise it’s a lot of work.
Here are some comments from a firm who started with Insightly and Hubspot, and later moved to combine everything into one Hubspot offering:
“We invested lots of time into Hubspot Marketing so having it all in one place was the natural bigger picture. Hubspot Sales about 18 months ago vs now is a very different product and we get it FOC as part of the marketing package we have so is a win, win. The change for us was nothing against Insightly: we started with a cheap stepping stone to get everyone working at pipeline management and using the iphone app.” Darren Wingfield, Harlands Accountants
I’ve heard of it, and a few firms in our Marketing Masterclass group use it, but I have no personal experience with it.
Here’s what one of our Masterclass members says:
“I’ve used it for over a year. More cost effective than other systems used in the past. Reporting could be better, but it’s simple to use & customize. We use a zap to integrate with Practice Ignition and it works well. I also used to track our customer onboarding in the system before switching to Asana. Sales used to track opportunities, leads and pipeline. We also use as our main CRM. Overall, pleased enough not to switch.” Beth Speckman, MA Accounting
This is a simple CRM which integrates with Xero, GoProposal, and Mailchimp to name but a few (all integrations here).
We’ve had a few firms we know use it, and the feedback is that it is simple and does the job well. It’s not as powerful as Infusionsoft or some of the other “big CRMs”, but that may not be what you need at first.
“For the very small practice like me Capsule CRM worked wonders when I moved to cloud CRM in 2014 – beautiful and simple and revolutionised the way I worked (well before that was looking through past emails for telephone numbers, so not saying much!). I found it through many days CRM research and it was an add in for Xero so can see all your total ledger and individual bills with each client. Works well for prospective clients as well and can be any number of distinguishing tags as you like (eg won by website / telemarketing). Does a simple projected pipeline as well. Links with Mailchimp of course for the marketing side. Nowhere near as powerful as Infusionsoft or something similar but at £8mth/user it was perfect for me! Plan to offer it to small business clients as a great CRM solution.” Douglas Quinton, Quinton Chartered Certified Accountants
This is not actually a CRM, but more a practice management software. I’m including it in the list because so many accounting firms have asked me about it in the CRM/automation conversation.
A number of firms use it and I know that GoProposal now integrates with it. I hear good things, although I also hear that it is fairly simplistic and has a ways to go still (rather like the reviews we hear about Boma).
This is a reminder that no system you choose will do everything you want. Once you choose, make it work for you.
They run regular webinars on how Karbon works and how it integrates with GoProposal, too.
“You want to split it in two. So have Infusionsoft to manage the client acquisition, sales process and reselling to clients. Then have Karbon to manage the delivery of your service.” James Ashford, GoProposal
“After trying lots of them and picking faults on them for one reason or another, Karbon was the best one we found and works amazingly well with jobs, emails, contacts etc. Just lacks integrations but nothing we’re missing too much. For email and automation, we use other systems that connect together – mainly Pipedrive for sales and email marketing software for mailers, automation etc. Once a sale becomes final in pipedrive, it ends in Practice Ignition and a signed proposal. At that point, they go into Karbon for jobs and support. Couldn’t find a single CRM that does everything under one roof with no limitations.” Ben Nacca, Cone Accounting
Boma is also not a true CRM. It includes Xero-provided content for Xero partners, and is a fairly simplistic system that will help you send content via email and social media.
The feedback we’ve had so far reflects our original advice, which is that it’s a great system if you’ve got nothing right now, and your requirements are not complex. It’s easy to use, includes content you can adapt and send out (we strongly recommend that you edit it, because otherwise it’s simply generic content), and you can figure it out really quickly.
We’ve done a few webinars with Boma to help you understand how it works.
Create your own combination of systems
Many firms – particularly smaller firms who are keeping systems costs low – use a combination of systems to deliver a base level of automation without breaking the bank. The ones we’ve heard the most about are listed below.
Remember that Zapier is a great tool for integrating just about anything with anything.
- Workflow Max/Xero Practice Manager
Proposals/letters of engagement
- Practice Ignition
Emails & CRM
“I’m looking to systemise processes as far as possible. At first I felt that I couldn’t justify the cost of Infusionsoft so I explored other options, using AccountancyManager for practice management (which has been working great), GP for proposals and LoE, plus MailChimp. Having three separate pieces of software was clunky and more than I’d ideally like, but I felt constrained by budget. I’m now looking at Infusionsoft after being offered a free onboarding training and a reduced subscription for the first three months!” Sarah Sallis, The Accountancy Office
“I had a stack of apps with Workflowmax at the core before moving to Infusionsoft and it was right for the first stage in my journey. For some it may be too soon for Infusionsoft, so it’s best to talk it through with an expert or someone who’s been there.” Paul Barnes, My Accountancy Place
But is there a system that will unify all my accounting and marketing data into one?
As accountants, one of the biggest challenges you face is the level of information you store on existing clients – you’ve got everything from birth dates to National Insurance numbers or SSNs, company accounts filing information, documents, emails…the list goes on endlessly.
So is there a system that will be an “all in one”? Which will store all your prospect information from the second they show the smallest bit of interest (like registering for an event or downloading a PDF or signing up for emails) all the way through to the day they become a client and beyond?
I’m happy to be wrong on this one, but as far as I can tell this system doesn’t exist perfectly yet. The team at My Accountancy Place have made it happen with Infusionsoft for their firm, but they’ve also been very clear that it’s taken a lot of work to set up and maintain, and it’s by no means a simple solution.
Some CRMs have told me that their system, more than others, does actually do all of this: and maybe for this firm or that firm they do. But we’re back to the same message: no matter what system you choose, it won’t do this perfectly. And the system that works for you at first might not fit you later.
You won’t sign up and do importing and exporting and click a few buttons and suddenly find your entire lead-to-sale system working seamlessly.
There’s a lot of work involved, and you personally have to put it in. Look for the system that does as much as you could ask, and if you have to do some duplication, so be it. If you need to have a “prospect system” and a “client delivery system” for a while, so be it.
Plan your buyer journey.
Put the work in.
And tell me how you get on!