Software programs can make client relationship management easier.
Defining your relationship with a typical client is the most basic and fundamental aspect of your practice. It is necessary to define your relationship so that you can fairly assess your value to the client and determine your fees for such things as a financial plan. Some broker-dealers set fee structures so that you may not have much flexibility. Nevertheless, it is important to ascertain the services you provide to your clients so that you can develop a value proposition that justifies those fees, no matter how they are determined.
But client relationship management (CRM) is about more than just fees. It is about how you are perceived by your clients, and how satisfied they are with your services. There is an old saying in the profession that goes, "Underpromise and overdeliver." Leaving your clients with the impression that they are getting much more than they are paying for leads to higher levels of satisfaction, higher client retention rates and higher numbers of referrals. Everyone likes to be treated specially, and that is what the client-centered model is all about. Developing a client relationship strategy that embraces the client-centered model is an excellent way to improve your financial practice and, at the same time, increase the efficiency of your operations.
The client-centered model is a simple concept: Your practice is set up so that the client is at the center of everything you do. The illustration above shows a simplified model of this idea. All aspects of the practice revolve around how they will affect the client. In this article, we focus on managing the client relationship.
If you have any number of clients at all, you may reach a point at which you realize that you cannot commit to memory every detail of all your clients' situations. It may also occur to you that constantly referring to a physical file may be an inefficient means of retrieving the type of data referred to as "recurring need" information. Sooner or later, using some sort of client database becomes an obvious solution. The question at that point should be: What kind of database fits the specific needs of the practice?
The answer may lie in what you are trying to do and/or what sort of functionality could most benefit your practice. Many software packages tout client relationship management capabilities. Depending on your situation, one or more of them could fit the bill. Before rushing to buy a client relationship management software package, consider to what extent you need to have this software communicate with software you already own. For instance, if you already own a financial planning software package, you may save a lot of keyboard entry work if you can share data between your CRM software and your financial planning software. Some of the most popular CRM software packages can share data in one way or another with various other software. Let's take a look at a few examples:
Microsoft Outlook (www.microsoft.com/Outlook) typically is thought of as an e-mail software platform, but actually has a robust set of database features. When used in concert with Microsoft's new Business Contact Manager (bundled with Microsoft Outlook 2003 and newer), it becomes an effective suite of business tools (using other Microsoft products in the Microsoft Office suite) that can automate various communication and database functions needed by your financial practice. Its focus is on sales tracking, reporting and forecasting. It helps to keep your contact information and track communications efficiently in one place, using an interface that you may already be familiar with if you are currently using Outlook. Microsoft offers its bCentral service as a business portal for such things as newsletters and other client communications. The effectiveness of this system relies on using Microsoft products (i.e. MS publisher can be used to generate a newsletter that is then distributed to clients and prospects through the bCentral service).
The drawback is that Outlook's database and the new MS business contact manager are not customized for use by financial advisors. All the customization must be done by the end user. This might involve considerable time and resources to get the programs to work the way you want. MS Outlook can export its contact data to other programs, provided those other programs can accept comma delimited data. One method is to export your contact data to an Excel spreadsheet and then import it into another program, but the methods are not necessarily user-friendly. The new MS Business Contact Manager touts easier data-sharing with other programs.
You might find a simpler solution with Goldmine (www.frontrange.com/goldmine), which offers client data management that, as with Microsoft's Business Contact Manager, is sales oriented. The difference in the two may lie in the ease of setup and operation. Goldmine does not expect you to be a software wizard to understand how to operate the system and get good value out of it. Goldmine's interface is simple, straightforward and easy to learn and use. Goldmine is preconfigured to work with MS Outlook and more than 30 other programs. Goldminei, their Internet-based solution, can access your database of clients and prospects on the road. Goldmine also offers industry templates, including financial services, so you can optimize software for your practice.
Beyond the templates though, Goldmine has limited customization features, and you may at some point wish to have more robust database functionality that is specific to your practice needs. For this there are at least three software packages that may work. The first is Act for Advisors (software4advisors.com), which is actually a customized template for the ACT! program that has been preconfigured for financial advisors. It still maintains all the power of the ACT! program, but provides a custom interface for financial advisors. This saves you time and effort in customizing the program.
A second choice is Junxure-i (www.junxurei.com). Junxure-i uses a custom database and interface originally designed by a financial advisor. It has powerful data conversion features and can share data with many other programs. It has database features specific to a financial advisor's practice such as insurance information, estate documents, investments, financial goals, etc.
A third choice is Protracker (www.protracker.com). Protracker is similar to Junxure-i in its customized use by financial professionals. Additionally, it offers the capability of managing employee tasks and managing compliance-related responsibilities. Protracker has data conversion capabilities as well.