Which CRM is right for you?
Practice Management & Professional Services & Strategic Issues

Which CRM is right for you?

August 17, 2020

by Tony Vidler  CFP logo   CLU logo  ChFC logo

I am losing track of how often I get asked “which CRM do you recommend?”  It is a huge decision for a professional service business, and an area where every solution offered seems to fall a little short in one aspect or another.


The problem is that for a financial advisory firm a CRM system isn’t just a “Customer Relationship Management” system.   A great CRM is something which introduces safety & business efficiencies in the way of workflow and allows leverage to be introduced into a firm as work is pushed down the cost line.  It is a task manager which can help drive down the cost of delivering advice, improving profitability.  It is (or should be) the marketing hub.


More importantly though it is a store of meaningful customer data and intelligence.  It is rarely meaningful for a CRM system to be an in-house store of readily accessible information such as unit price data for managed funds, or minutely detailed breakdowns of clients insurance premiums to the point where we can isolate $4.50 administration charges from looking at our database.


Meaningful data is information that provides insight into customer needs and desires, their motivation and relationships, and their professional advice journey.  It is the human insight which is truly valuable, not technical details on particular products.  The technical details on particular policies or portfolio components are a couple of clicks away online with virtually every provider – and will be as current as your are going to get on the product providers system.


The insight into the customer is where the value is in a CRM.  There is unrealized opportunity in every client base.  There are unfulfilled needs…key relationships which form natural introductions and expansion of business opportunities….changing desires and motivations….there are triggers for further advice which can be identified and utilised.  Any given client base is dynamic by definition: clients age, change jobs and relationships, suffer gains and losses of all sorts in their lives….and within that dynamism is opportunity for a professional to create and deliver further value.


A great CRM identifies changes & opportunities, and that is worth a LOT of money to a service business.


Even if an adviser does not personally want to (or cannot) take on further work a CRM which can identify latent opportunities increases the capital value of a business.  Any future owner of that firm will be very interested in the yet-to-be unlocked additional business.


But here is the catch.  As they say in the IT world: “Garbage In, Garbage Out


This is the basic reason for disappointment in many CRM offerings really.  If the CRM will only be something which creates value if valuable information is put into it and advisers are busily doing data entry on garbage that doesn’t really matter, then the CRM will not be a terribly valuable addition to the business.


So to get more out of a CRM system and make it produce the business benefits which most are capable of, first consider which functions or data are going to deliver the greatest benefits and prioritise those features when considering CRM choices.  Creating efficient workflows and task management would be right up there for sure….that’s way more important than storing unit prices I’d say. Getting deeper knowledge of the customer and their relationships and plans is a lot more important than gathering all the details on a miniscule insurance policy their parents set up 25 years ago and which doesn’t even cover the cost of a funeral today.


The point is begin by figuring out what your real priorities are.


Then consider what the various experts in this space (of which I am definitely not one) get excited about.  They tend to suggest there are a number of essential areas that one should look for, like:

  1. Ease of use
  2. Depth & Personalisation of Contact Data
  3. Marketing, or sales, functionality
  4. Ability to integrate seamlessly with other software to utilise data
  5. Technical capacity, or features supporting the storage of technical data.
  6. Cool features and sexy bits


I’ve put these in the order of importance to me of course….but that is not usually the order th software vendors promote. In fact the sales pitches for CRM’s usually work completely in reverse…starting with my number 6.


Items 1-3 go to the heart of creating business value by minimising cost of integration and training, or they create value by assisting with the creation or unlokcing of future opportunities.

Item 4 is where I get super interested in what a particular CRM system can or cannot do….the ability for a program to integrate or work with all my other software that I do use for marketing or day-to-day communications is where CRM choices really start to diverge.

Item 5 is questionable to me, as outlined above.  Naturally one needs to be able to store essential technical information…but only essential.  Valuable, but just perhaps not as valuable as the techies think.

Item 6 is where usually the developers are really excited, but I’m nonchalant. It tends to be fringe stuff which rarely adds anything substantive to the operational benefits of a great CRM.


So to expand upon “Item 4” above, other areas where we use software in our practice and where I’d really like the CRM system to be able to share data or import data include:

  • integration of financial management information (e.g. client value tracking; ratio’s and hard data to support segmentation and servicing strategies) to work with my accounting system that is tracking money
  • integration with external communications systems.  The branded email platform I choose to use matters.  As does my selected social media networks – and then being able to extract basic data from those connections (i.e. the way Nimble does) to my CRM.
  • communications dashboard.  A step beyond integration, we are now talking about the ability to use the CRM as the key driver for sending information out to a variety of digital mediums.
  • mobility and security.  Inevitability intertwined is the issue of being able to access data from a variety of devices via cloud-based solutions with total client data security.
  • accessibility.  Moving beyond the professional’s requirement to be able to access data, there is undoubtedly value in the client themselves being able to access some of data we store….perhaps even use some of the planning tools that we use…and for us to add their use of those tools and the scenarios they created to our store of client knowledge for future conversations.


Management reporting; sales and marketing functions; data collection & storage; communications hub; on a portable, mobile and secure platform…..all of these will ideally work in with a great CRM system.


It is unlikely that one software solution will tick all of these boxes at a price that you are happy with, but the important thing is to be aware of what it is that you expect from a CRM system and to have prioritised the functionality.  Only then can you hope to get close to answering the question as to which CRM system is right for your practice.


You might also be interested in this related article:
5 Ways To Make Smarter Use Of Your CRM
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