HOLLYWOOD, Fla. -- Trent Witthoeft, director at Pershing Advisors Solutions, greeted the attendees at the "Creating Growth Through Customer Relationship Management" session at the INSITE conference here by saying “When I stated out, CRM was a bunch of business cards.” 

Witthoeft noted how the industry has come so far from those days and they introduced Spenser Segal, chairman and chief executive officer of ActiFi, Inc. to help advisors better understand this mission-critical piece of technology.

“Adoption of CRM has been good,” said Segal, but he pointed out the need for advisors to take it to the next level, telling the crowd that 48% of advisors said they need help in at least seven of the eight areas of CRM.  In case anyone was confused, he also said, “Outlook isn’t a CRM."

CRM can help in many ways

Segal questioned, “How do you get from where you are to where you want to be?”  He pointed out benefits of CRM that included increased revenue, scale growth, improved service, increased practice value, effective delegation, increased efficiency and building relationships.

Segal challenged the crowd saying, “You want to be able to go on vacation and not worry things will fall through the cracks.”  Advisors see these benefits, but the problem has been that CRM has been more technologically driven than business driven.

The basics

“Contact management is the foundation of CRM,” said Segal.  “If you don’t have a foundation, then you can’t get anything else right.”  He gave an example of an advisor noting a client’s grand kid’s name in his CRM and then tracking his baseball results on Google Alerts.  This gave the advisor the ability to send a nice note to the client when the 15-year old has a good game.

Segal doesn’t think CRM stops with clients though.  He said, “Advisors should use it as a prospect relationship management tool too.” 

It is important to get the data right, or Segal says, “It is garbage in garbage out.”  He recommended having customized fields to track unique information, but to also have accountability for entering the information.  “You need a mechanism to keep your act together,” said Segal.

By tracking the right things, advisors are using history more effectively, which can help with categories like risk management and compliance.  Things like the last discussions, emails, etc. should be captured.  Segal’s mantra is… “If it is not in the CRM it never happened.”

Is using CRM extra work?

Yes, it is more work to do the task and record it, compared to just doing it.  As a result, Segal often hears advisors say, ‘I don’t have time.’  However, Segal pointed out, “You don’t personally have to do the work, you can hire someone.  You do have to attain the accountability though.”  He recommends making CRM a key part of incentive structures.

Segal advises, “Determine the power users [within a firm to learn how they are using it.]”  He then thinks advisors should integrate CRM with email and calendaring, where possible.  “Automate it or get it down to one step,” added Segal.

He stressed the importance to creating a plan to get everyone to the level of the power user.  To do this you cannot just tell someone they have to do it.  Instead show them how it drives a business outcome.  Segal said, “Provide a compelling case study.  It is not just because I told you so.  Say something like, ‘I look like an idiot if I don’t know what is going on with the customer.'"

Segal recommends using CRM templates.  He believes they can deliver many benefits, including:  business growth, consistent service levels, delegation of tasks to others, assurance that best practices are followed, and they are a great mechanism to train staff. 

Examples of templates are:  Client meeting agendas, follow-ups, meeting preparation, onboarding, thank you letters, discovery packages, internal meeting agendas and more.  “Make them so that they can be used,” said Segal.  “Also, reward and recognize the people that institutionalize the knowledge in your CRM, like giving a $10 gift card each time one is created.”

A business portfolio of tasks

A workflow is a breakdown of a routine process, noting delegation of tasks.  They can help with delegation and scalability.  Segal believes you need to first figure out where is the best place to start.  He said, “You don’t have to boil the ocean.  People can bite off more than they can chew.  Discourage super ambitions plans.  Pick two and get those right.  With complicated workflows, you will not get them right the first time.  Also things change – just like how you need to rebalance a portfolio from time to time.”


Segal said, “Pershing is helping, the vendors are working on it, and standards have matured, all resulting in integration becoming easier.”  He believes the final level of integration is where one can access functionality from another application and might not even know it.  As great as integration is, Segal believes its use should really be where it creates the most business value.

A management tool

Segal shared 5 great categories for reporting:

  1. Define your sales goals
  2. Define key performance indicators (KPIs)
  3. Determine the tactical steps and associated metrics that will lead to goal achievement
  4. Track progress via CRM tasks
  5. Create graphs and more

Increasing sales

CRM has advanced from workflows to technology integration to dashboards and reporting to sales and pipeline management.  When tracking prospects in the pipeline, Segal says, “They need to do something that moves them from one stage to another, like handing in a statement.  If you can embed that, you can run a real-time report in a minute.”

Segal explained that this process can show when contacts are in the overdue bucket, where someone in the firm is late getting back to a client or prospect.  The focused attention helps change and improves human behavior.

Advisors can fail with poor planning.  Segal says, “Advisors should ask, ‘Do we have the right resources?’  Everyone here has a full-time job.  Advisors can forget this is incremental work.  Thus, they should ask, ‘What are we doing to motivate staff?  Is the will there?  Is the skill there?  Do they really have the time?’”

Segal’s last message about CRM was, “It is about creating business value.”

Mike Byrnes founded Byrnes Consulting to provide consulting services to help advisors become even more successful.  His expertise is in business planning, marketing strategy, business development, client service and management effectiveness, along with several other areas.  Read more at www.byrnesconsulting.com.