While Salesforce.com and its cloud-based CRM solution is found at several financial giants, including Schwab, E*Trade and TD Ameritrade, Salesforce has had only limited success in wooing independent financial advisors to its platform, and trails category leader Redtail by a wide margin. Yet it would be a mistake to take Salesforce lightly - many factors could boost its relatively low market penetration in the next two to three years.
Although Salesforce has been slow to take off in the independent RIA space, it's clearly a leader in enterprise cloud computing, particularly in cloud-based CRM. The company has more than 100,000 customers who execute 36 billion transactions on the Salesforce cloud.
As last month's annual Financial Planning Tech Survey revealed, some locally installed CRM applications once popular with advisors, such as ACT! and Goldmine, are in decline, while others, such as ProTracker, appear to be stagnant. One of the main beneficiaries of advisors shifting preferences has been Redtail, a low-cost, cloud-based solution. Redtail's 32% preference among advisors who participated in the survey is indicative of its popularity, particularly among small- to midsized RIA firms.
As I see it, Redtail is a leading indicator for cloud CRM among RIAs because it's generally easier and less expensive for a small firm to change CRM software. Nonetheless, change is coming to larger firms: Among Tech Survey respondents at firms with more than $3 million in revenue, Salesforce logged a 15% share. The evidence is compelling that firms large and small are increasingly selecting a cloud-based solution when they deploy a new CRM solution, and Salesforce, one of the premier providers, is sure to win its fair share of clients.
It's no coincidence Schwab selected Salesforce to be the exclusive CRM solution for its outsourced, turnkey solution, Schwab OpenView Integrated Office. And it's no surprise Salesforce is being offered by all four major RIA custodians (Schwab, Fidelity, TD Ameritrade and Pershing) in most cases as a custom, custodian-branded solution in addition to the standard Wealth Management edition available directly from Salesforce.
Why are custodians and third-party vendors such as Orion Advisor Services choosing Salesforce? Interoperability. Salesforce fosters integration across a wide range of operating systems and devices. Information it receives from other applications can be used in Salesforce, and vice versa. For custodians, Salesforce is a solid platform to work with because many already use it internally. Also, Salesforce is built to foster integration, has a large base of users and many third-party developers, and custodians can obtain volume pricing. Of course, advisors will have the final say and not all will pick Salesforce, but it seems custodians will make it one of the top choices.
SOCIAL ENTERPRISE PLATFORM
While Salesforce is known as an enterprise, cloud-based CRM company in the planning industry, Renny Monaghan, the company's vice president of industry solutions, says his firm offers much more than CRM - he touts its social enterprise platform. If you believe, as may RIAs do, that social media will change the way planners do business, Salesforce offers a platform few can match.
The case for a social enterprise platform is compelling. Social network users overtook email users in 2010, according to comScore. As of June 2011, there were about 1.1 billion social network users; they tend to spend most of their online time interacting with social media.
Mobile devices are also driving the social media revolution, and usage is exploding. Gartner Research estimates there will be about 1.6 billion mobile devices in use by next year, dwarfing PCs. According to a Morgan Stanley survey of CIOs, 71% prohibited tablet use in2010. But by last year, 51% had purchased tablets for their employees.
What are the implications of the mobility and social media revolutions? Most firms have been slow to adapt, but if your employees and your clients are savvy about social media, doesn't your firm need to be, too? Salesforce's social enterprise platform allows users to better know, engage, service, listen to and analyze prospects and customers in a more comprehensive fashion.
The Salesforce CRM solution is a subset of the new, larger social enterprise solution. Both share the same multi-tenant, cloud computing environment. This means there is no hardware or software to buy up front - it's pay as you go.
The Salesforce social enterprise platform is comprised of many components. At the core is Salesforce CRM. Another piece is Data.com. This offering combines business-to-business information on clients and prospects. In addition to accessing traditional sources of information, such as Dun & Bradstreet, Data.com accesses crowdsourcing technology that monitors social networks.
Data.com can help users identify prospects and stay current on what clients and prospects are doing. If they post a change of job, email address, or even a comment, on a social network, Data.com will alert users to the change. Good advisors know that the more you know about a client, the better you can serve them; Data.com allows users to know more about their clients.
For employee collaboration, Salesforce offers Chatter - an employee social network that's a cross between Facebook and Twitter. It is private and secure. Using Chatter, you can follow employees, but you can also follow accounts or households. On average, according to the company, Chatter customers reported a 34% increase in productivity. They also reported a 30% drop in email and a 27% drop in internal meetings, and said they were able to find information 52% faster.
Most independent advisory firms field customer service requests by phone or email, but large firms are interacting with their clients on Twitter, Facebook and the web. The Salesforce Service Cloud makes the same tools that large firms use available to independent RIAs.
With the Service Cloud, advisors can interact with their clients through both traditional channels and new ones like social networks. All service interactions are consolidated in one place, allowing firms to monitor cases by channel and the employee servicing the request. You can also track metrics such as the nature of the request/complaint.
If a request requires input from more than one employee, you can connect and collaborate with others with a mouse click by routing the request through Chatter. In addition, the Service Cloud works with Google, so if a client has a question that's answerable on your company's site, the client can search for the answer, or the firm can create a link to the information and reply to the client within the channel.
Service Cloud can be linked to your phone system, so you get a screen pop when a client calls. This screen can contain traditional client demographics as well as any additional information captured from social networks. You can even initiate a video conference through FaceTime with a single click, so you can view what the client is looking at, if necessary.
YOUR OWN APPS
For developing your own apps to extend the reach of what Salesforce offers, look at Force.com, a platform for creating and deploying applications in the social enterprise without the necessity of servers or software. It is unlikely most RIAs will build their own apps, but they might hire specialists to do so or buy offerings on the Salesforce AppExchange.
Force.com is a proven platform with more than 220,000 apps deployed. Since it's part of the Salesforce social enterprise platform, it includes collaboration. In addition, all apps built on the platform can be adapted to run on mobile devices, creating a unified user experience.
Heroku is a cloud platform owned by Salesforce for building and deploying social and mobile customer applications. There are about 180,000 apps on the platform. As with Force.com, individual RIA firms are unlikely to build their own apps, but may hire developers to build them or underwrite the development of an app and market it to other advisors.
There are 60 million Facebook updates, 200 million tweets and 3 billion YouTube views every day. How can advisors keep up with what's said about their firm, their competitors, their custodian, their broker-dealer and their clients?
GETTING IN EARLY
Radian6, a social media monitoring tool, can provide users with the same technologies deployed by large enterprises. You can monitor what is being said and by who. You can also engage those talking about subjects you monitor in the channel they are in. Since Radian6 is integrated with Salesforce, you can pull the interactions into the social profile.
The full suite of social enterprise tools is hardly a fit for every RIA. For solo practitioners and small firms, the full toolset is most likely overkill. But larger RIAs can likely accelerate their growth and establish a global social presence using these tools. As the Salesforce offering grows, it's likely some tools will be offered in a slimmed-down version, making many available to even the smallest firms on a cost-effective basis.
Think all enterprise social media is not applicable to you? Think again. If you don't use it, your competitors will. I checked out adaptu.com, now in beta. Built on the Salesforce platform, it's a personal finance website that incorporates social media and crowdsourcing. The site is free, but it's easy to imagine a firm developing a similar, for-profit site with professional money management.
Social enterprise software is still in the early stages of development, but there is clearly a social media revolution taking place that advisors can't afford to ignore. Salesforce may not be the platform all advisors choose, but it's an excellent example of the power of social enterprise software and its potential to propel growth in the independent RIA sector. And soon enough, social enterprise software may be as necessary as email, websites and smartphones.
Joel Bruckenstein, a Financial Planning editor-at-large, is co-creator of the Technology Tools for Today newsletter and conference series, and president of Global Financial Advisors in Miramar, Fla. For details and contact information, visit JoelBruckenstein.com.