Guide to CRM Software for Consultants

Guide to CRM Software for Consultants

Clients and relationships are the lifeblood of an independent consulting firm — and knowing the best Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool to track your contacts, opportunities, and projects is a vital aspect of your practice.

Umbrex conducted a survey of more than 300 independent consultants to gain valuable insight into how they manage their CRM. In this resource, we share those findings along with the benefits of using a CRM system — whether that is a simple list, a spreadsheet, or paid, purpose-built CRM software.

We also provide an overview page of the top 18 CRM software systems used by the respondents in our survey.

Contents:

You can click any section to jump directly there:

The purpose of CRM for independent consultants

The fundamental purpose of a CRM system for independent consultants is to win new projects.

The goal is to generate new project opportunities and increase your close rate — with an efficient method that minimizes extra administrative work.

For consultants who only undertake one or two projects at a time, or have fewer than 10 clients, keeping track of this is easy — it can even be done with a simple list.

When consultants begin to take on more clients and projects, or bring associates into their firm, CRM requires a more robust tracking system. Depending on individual needs, at this point CRM can be managed with either a spreadsheet or a paid, purpose-built software system. 

CRM systems used by independent consultants

Umbrex conducted a survey of more than 300 independent consultants and professionals, who told us what CRM systems they use (or if they don’t use one at all).

CRM Pie Chart

The results of our survey indicate that many consultants are leaving money on the table. More than half report that they don’t use a CRM, with 38% who have never used one and 14% who used to but stopped. Adopting a CRM system will increase the chances of winning more projects.

One-fourth of the consultants we surveyed said they use a spreadsheet for CRM. One-third use a purpose-built CRM system, as listed below:

CRM systems used by independent consultants & professionals

Whether you use use a spreadsheet or a purpose-built CRM system, there are three main types of entities that independent consultants typically track these three types:

Contacts

The basic building block to keep track of all the people you know.

  • A simple list of names might be sufficient if it is a short list
  • You could include just people who are current or potential clients, or everyone you know, or some subset
  • You may want to track contact info
  • You may want to track other info about the person, such as employer and title
  • Record your history interacting with the person and notes

Opportunities

Track opportunities separately from individual contacts.

  • Past projects
  • Current pipeline

Companies

There are multiple ways to track and view organizations.

  • Companies where a contact works or has worked
  • Who else works at the same company
  • All the projects you have done for the company
  • Who else you might speak with at the company

Using a spreadsheet for CRM

One-fourth of respondents use a spreadsheet to track their CRM. It’s free and simple to use without a steep learning curve or set-up time.

We’ve put together some guidance on how to use a spreadsheet for CRM, along with a template that you can adopt for your own needs.

While we recommend that independent consultants use a purpose-built CRM system, a spreadsheet is a good place to start as a first step. 

  • A spreadsheet helps you identify the features and functionality you would want in a paid software system.
  • If you upgrade to purpose-built CRM software, you’ll be able to upload your spreadsheet directly in to populate it.

Below, we offer a CRM spreadsheet template (Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel formats) that you can adapt for your own uses:

Microsoft Excel CRM Template: Download here

Google Sheets CRM Template: Access here

Note: In the Google Sheet, click File > Make a Copy. You can then save the Sheet as your own to modify.

Once you have your spreadsheet, you will have three tabs that are the same as outlined in the section above:

  • Contacts
  • Opportunities
  • Companies

We’ll take a look at each tab and its data in detail.

Contacts

Name: You may want to also have fields for nicknames, middle names, maiden names, and/or pronouns.

URL: These fields can include the links for the contact’s website, LinkedIn profile (and whether or not you are connected), and other social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

Email: Work, personal, other.

Phone: Work, mobile, home, other.

Preferred communication method: Does the contact prefer email, text, or a phone call, etc?

Address: Physical address, mailing address, metro area, state/country/continent.

Categories: These might include how you know the contact, who introduced you, the type of contact (client, subcontractor, professional, etc), the strength of your relationship, the contact’s level of decision making, and industry.

Job: Employer and title.

Interactions: Your date of last contact and time/date for next contact.

Tracking: Items such as whether the contact has subscribed to your newsletter, whether you send them a holiday card or gift, topics of interest, etc.

Executive Assistant: The name of their EA (and you’d want a contact row for the EA as well).

Notes: Any notes from your interactions. You may need another system for keeping discussion notes.

Next actions: Description or drop-down list for your next action, and its due date.

Opportunities

Project ID number

Title of the opportunity

Company or organization

Client executive: Key point of contact

Client: Other points of contact

Description of opportunity

Stage of opportunity: See detailed section below

Size of opportunity (in $)

Likelihood

Source: Past client, referred by X, found online, met at conference, etc.

Won: Reason

Lost: Reason

Dates: Identified opportunity, context discussion, submitted proposal, won/lost

Willing to serve as reference?

Case study written?

Sanitized work product?

Added to project list?

Next actions: Description or drop-down list for your next action, and its due date.

Companies

Name of company

Website 

LinkedIn page 

Industry

Service agreement in place

Service agreement termination

Payment terms

Any other key contractual terms

Invoicing instructions

Stages for project opportunities

Whether you use a spreadsheet or purpose-built CRM you can typically create multiple, custom stages for projects — using the structure recommended by David A. Fields:

  • Identified Opportunity: You’ve been alerted to the opportunity (received an email or text inquiry, etc.) but have not yet had a call.
  • Completed Context Discussion: This is the discovery phase, where you’ve had a discussion with the potential client to delve into their needs and desired outcomes.
  • Submitted Proposal: You have submitted your proposal to the client for the project.
  • Won, Active: The projects you won and are actively working on.
  • Won, Completed: The projects you won and have completed.
  • Lost: The projects you did not win.
  • Other stages: These might include “Holding Pattern”, where you submitted a proposal and the client responded that the project is on hold for the time being. The opportunity was neither lost nor won, and you don’t want it jamming up your submitted proposal phase.

You can also attach documents to your opportunities, such as project descriptions and discussion notes. In some CRM systems, the opportunities can be in a list format or they can show up as tiles that you can move from one stage to another.

If you lose an opportunity, you can track the reason why, which can be helpful to look back to over time. Likewise, when you win an opportunity, you can track the deciding factors for that. You can also capture feedback on projects you have completed.

Upgrading to a purpose-built CRM system

Upgrading to a paid, purpose-built CRM system such as Hubspot or Pipedrive provides a number of rich features and benefits above what a spreadsheet can provide.

Documents

A true CRM system offers the ability to upload documents and associate them with an individual contact or company.

Notes

It allows you to add notes from a discussion. In a spreadsheet, you probably will have a Contacts tab with one row for each individual. With at least some people, you may have more than one conversation over time, and you’d like to keep track of them. You could consider setting up another tab with a row for each individual conversation, with the name of the individual, the date, and notes. However, that can quickly become unwieldy.

LinkedIn import tool

Most major CRM software systems offer a number of integrations, including LinkedIn. This offers the possibility to import certain information from a contact’s LinkedIn profile, such as:

  • Name
  • Photo
  • Employer and title
  • Education and school
  • Location 
  • LinkedIn profile URL
  • If you are connected on LinkedIn

Email sync

A CRM can sync with your email, allowing you to look at a contact and see all the emails from that person. You might think big deal — you can already do that in your email system.

However, think about it over time. Let’s say that over the course of eight years a contact changes jobs three times and uses two different personal email addresses. A CRM system gives you the ability to have all those emails grouped together instead of looking across multiple places.

Relational database

When viewing a contact, you can see all of the Project Opportunities you’ve ever had with that individual, and whether you won the opportunity or not. When you have multiple items attached to one contact it begins to get unwieldy in a spreadsheet, which can’t accomplish this as well as a purpose-built CRM.

For each opportunity, you can go in to look at the project description. If you won the opportunity, you can see the fees charged, and store the proposal document you used. You can also track any feedback you received on that proposal.

CRM software also allows you to easily track other people, in addition to the key client, who were involved in a given project:

  • Various team members on the client side
  • Multiple members/associates of your consulting team

You can also track various elements of your relationship with each contact:

  • If they are a subscriber to your newsletter
  • Clubs the person belongs to
  • Maybe you serve three different types of clients — you could have those as options, to let you quickly filter
  • Track who introduced you to that person — so you can remember to go back and thank that person who made the intro
  • Other custom fields – either free text or with predefined options

Tags

Add a set of metadata or tags, such as:

  • Tag by industry
  • Tag by function
  • Tag by if the person is a decision maker or an influencer
  • Tag if the person is a strong tie or weak tie

Tasks

Add tasks such as reminders to yourself. For example, get a pop-up on June 1 to reach out to follow up on a project that is on pause, or if an executive says, let’s reconnect in early summer when we’ll be ready to discuss this initiative.

Manage opportunities

Opportunities are far easier to manage in a true CRM system. If you are only working with two or three opportunities at a time, it’s not really an issue to manage it in a spreadsheet.

However, if you are managing multiple opportunities at a time beyond that, it becomes more of a challenge to adequately track and stay on top of.

Activities

For example, when you make an outreach to a client or potential client, that can be tracked as an activity such as:

  • Had conversation
  • Met in person
  • Reached out
  • Scheduled meeting
  • Sent connection request

Reports

A CRM system is incredibly helpful for generating reports that help you see the big picture:

  • How much outreach you have done each week
  • How many discussions you had each week
  • The long-term conversion rate of outreach to discussions, of discussions to opportunities, and of opportunities to closed deals

Users

CRM software is also set up for multiple users who can all work in concert with each user’s activity tracked. This is helpful if you have an assistant (virtual or in-office) or a support team.

While multiple people can use the same spreadsheet, its integrity can start breaking down soon and there can be confusion over who did what.

The 18 most popular CRM systems used by independent consultants

In our survey, those who do use a purpose-built CRM system (rather than a spreadsheet) reported using the following tools:

CRM systems used by independent consultants & professionals

For the CRM systems used by two or more respondents, we have created a page for each one with information about that system, as well as comments of experiences the professionals we surveyed reporting having with it.

You can click on each CRM below to go to its page: