Published June 6, 2018
Client Relationship Management systems (CRMs) have been around for over 20 years and while most financial advisors use a CRM of some kind, many are missing the true power of the technology. At the very basic level, advisors use CRMs like Salesforce and Redtail to get organized by entering client profile information, and tracking client meeting notes or client life events like birthdays and graduations. And clearly, the more data that is collected, entered, and stored, the more valuable the CRM becomes. While this is all very useful, it is actually a static “101” approach where advisors are really just maintaining an electronic file cabinet. The good news is that the competitive landscape of CRM vendors has created an arms race of such, creating ever better functionality and pricing.
Where is CRM technology headed?
First, a few thoughts. The concept of a CRM is that it should be considered a business strategy, with an associated ROI, not simply a project that you install and then move on from. The universal goal of a CRM strategy is to increase client engagement, build brand recognition, improve the client experience, and drive new business. This is all effectively achieved through the next level (“102”) of technological advancement currently being adopted by advisors and third-party vendors of all kinds. The technological “enabler” bringing this all together is referred to as an Application Programming Interface or API, which is essentially the “middleware” that allows programmers to integrate with different vendors in the cloud. APIs enable software applications to “talk to one another” and seamlessly share data and information flow. This higher level of functionality has, for a few years now, been thought of as the “holy grail” of advisor technology. The idea is that through the automation of repetitive workflows, single point data entry (elimination of duplicate data entry), integration with other down & up-stream systems and databases (aka “straight through processing”) and other process driven advancements, will provide advisors a platform ensuring scalable growth and a consistent client experience. In reality, while some custodians and broker-dealers are early adopters of API technology, most are at different stages of implementation – in any case, all good for our industry.
That said, the CRM should dominate every desktop in an advisor’s practice and be at the core of every task, routine and service execution. However, while the basic 101-approach noted above is a good start, advisors need to keep educated on what is available to them and be thoughtful about evolving. Imagine logging in to your CRM, pulling up a client account and in that record being able to access statements, trading history, performance reports, RMDs, ACH links, financial plans, estate documents, social media interaction, life stage information, alerts, etc. Further, imagine you push a button and data populates in other applications, tasks are triggered and sent to various staff members, etc. This is a good representation of the integration effort currently underway and is becoming easier to adopt as vendors and broker-dealers evolve turnkey solutions.
For advisors looking to the next stage of functionality here are three best-practice ideas that can be reasonably implemented today to provide a meaningful outcome.
- Enable a CRM culture. Get buy-in from all staff members; train them and start modestly. Staff need to be trained on new systems and empowered to adapt their routines into their daily CRM experience. Give them the bandwidth to define their unique requirements and streamline their workflows with system refinements and re-designs. You should also consider assigning a single person as the CRM “owner,” responsible for creating a CRM culture. Another thought is that many CRMs have white label versions provided by broker-dealers and custodians that have pre-built workflows, libraries of on-demand video tutorials and courses and live WebEx presentations. This is a great starting point, but the theme is to get staff in the habit of treating the CRM as their primary workstation and operational hub.
- Look to automate mundane, repetitive workflows wherever possible. For example, meeting with a prospect and the account opening process for new clients can be streamlined with a workflow which will automatically create a schedule of next steps and alert appropriate staff with assigned tasks. The process of automating a workflow literally starts by structuring the process on a whiteboard, listing out the necessary tasks and subroutines in progressive order until the process is complete. Once designed, you have a roadmap.
- Leverage data reports and data mining to prioritize business strategy and optimize the customer experience through engagement. CRMs are designed to collect, organize and manage massive amounts of data providing advisors and their staff the ability to monitor activity, trends and opportunities. If you’re not leveraging your CRM for business analytics, then you are not really using the CRM in any meaningful strategic way. Most CRMs have easily accessible canned reports that can be generated on demand. For example, you can run a report showing the last client communication date or activity. Further, customized reports can be designed for campaigns or other purposes. One thought is to develop a report to track your clients’ lifecycle milestones, such as when they reach 55 years of age. Such information could be used to pivot the dialogue around social security and drawdown strategies. Another report can be used to segment you A, B & C list clients, and so-on.
In closing, as CRMs become more sophisticated, advisors will develop ever more holistic 360-degree views of their clients enabling them to optimize engagement with tailored solutions, providing a world-class client experience. While this is the ultimate purpose of the CRM, the idea is just to get started, even with small steps. Following a path of continuous improvement to automate workflows and create a process-driven practice will protect advisors from ever-increasing competition. Client Relationship Management is already a proven strategy and CRM systems are the tool to execute. Without a doubt, CRM systems will continue to be the single most important technology investment advisors can make.