Customer relationship management systems, or CRMs, are a critical tool for independent financial advisors to keep track of their clients and prospects, monitor their sales pipeline and perform many routine administrative tasks. Using a CRM system effectively can boost your firm’s efficiency, capabilities, and ultimately your profitability.

Yet the journey to get to this ideal state can have a number of speedbumps, or even be derailed, by the CRM’s implementation. One advisory firm ran into a roadblock because the new application was dumping data into the wrong input field of the existing CRM system. As a result, valuable staff time was taken up with manual adjustments to what should have been an automated process.

Proper implementation is essential to ensuring the CRM system is well utilized to create lasting efficiencies and prevent future headaches.

Start With a Solid Plan

Ensuring a successful CRM implementation requires careful upfront planning. First step: Form an implementation team. For most firms, this team can consist of a project champion, an application expert, and a product manager.

  • The role of project champion is usually filled by the top brass. Many times the CEO or president will have the strategic vision for the CRM’s goals and design.
  • The application expert is the person who is adept at all the technical aspects of the system. If you don’t have someone on staff who can fill this role, you may need to hire an outside consultant to help with implementation.
  • The product manager will handle day-to-day system administration once the CRM system is implemented. He or she may receive training from the application expert, especially if the expert is a hired consultant. Your CRM product manager should possess the technical skills needed to manage the system, as well as understand your firm’s business processes and how the CRM system will integrate with them.

Get Staff Cooperation and Buy-In

In most instances, it’s the people, not the CRM technology, that determine the ultimate success or failure of a CRM system implementation. While they may understand its benefits, some staff may not want to adopt it because they’d rather stick with what they know. The importance of getting cooperation and buy-in from staff members who will be working with the new CRM system cannot be overemphasized.

This starts with getting staff involved in the process early on — including giving them input into the selection of the system itself. Include staff members who will use the system regularly in the testing and review process leading up to system selection. This will give them a greater sense of ownership and familiarity with the system, which will help ease implementation. Even if these folks do not engage in the testing at this phase, the fact that you offered it will be appreciated.

Also make sure staff members understand why the new CRM system is being implemented. Explain the practical benefits of the system in a way they can understand — not only how the system will benefit the firm, but also how it will make doing their jobs faster and easier.

Set SMART Goals for Your CRM System

The implementation team should work closely with senior managers and other stakeholders in to set manageable goals for the new CRM system. Focus on the easy-to-remember and aspirational acronym SMART:

  • Specific: Provide access to client and prospect contact information for all firm employees and make it easy to update this information. Enable tracking of critical tasks by employees throughout the firm.
  • Measurable: Enable timely review of the firm’s key performance indicators (KPIs), tracking of financial performance, and monitoring of client satisfaction levels.
  • Achievable: Have your team identify and agree on two to three specific goals that you believe your CRM system can help you achieve. Examples of achievable goals might include client retention, cross-selling, referral tracking, onboarding, account management, etc.
  • Relevant: For prospecting, your CRM should provide visibility into the firm’s sales pipeline. For client service, your CRM should enable you to deliver a consistently high-quality client experience, from onboarding to ongoing account management.
  • Time-based: Resist the temptation to pursue all your CRM goals at once. Break goals down into realistic milestones, set dates for achieving each step, and review your progress regularly.

It can be easy to get overwhelmed with all the features and functionality of a new CRM. So start small: Concentrate on a few features and functions first — ideally, the ones that are most critical to your firm. For example, you may begin by importing contact information for all your existing accounts and uploading prospect leads to populate your sales pipeline. You could then start tracking customer issues and marketing initiatives as your staff gets more comfortable with the system.

Create an Implementation Plan

Once you have set SMART goals for your CRM system and decided which features and functions to focus on first, you can dig into the nitty gritty of the implementation plan. Start by documenting and clarifying each step in your business processes. For example, your sales process may look something like this:

  1. Leads are entered into the CRM system.
  2. Initial prospect meeting is scheduled and due diligence begins.
  3. Follow-up meeting with prospect is scheduled if interest is shown.
  4. Proposal is created and delivered to prospect.
  5. Proposal and other documents are signed by prospect and authorized firm representative.
  6. Prospect is entered into the CRM system as a new client.

Each business process followed by your firm should be detailed similarly so it can be incorporated into your CRM system.

Your plan should also identify which specific CRM reports need to be generated, based on your goals and priorities outlined above. A wide range of different reports is available with most CRM systems, including revenue, profitability (by client and/or industry), client demographics and tiers, and sales pipeline. Carefully decide which reports you need, and which you don’t, to avoid drowning in a sea of data.

Provide Solid Training and Support

Once the system is implemented, be sure to provide adequate training, support and follow-up to all users. Ask for feedback on how the implementation went and whether the system is working as advertised. Be responsive in addressing any complaints or concerns they have in a timely manner.

Be prepared to provide customized and individualized training to help every user become comfortable with the system. Don’t rely on organic adoption just because the CRM system is advertised as being simple and easy to use. Sidestepping adequate training can result in frustration and inefficiency The extra effort and cost required to implement proper training can pay off in the long run as staff members increase their productivity. As part of the training, you may want to develop a custom user guide for staff that is specific to your company’s practices and roles.

Maximize Your ROI in CRM

A CRM is a big ticket item to say the least — it will be a major investment of both your time and money. But it’s worth it: According to a study by Nucleus Research, every dollar spent on CRM implementation returns as much as $8.71 in new revenues. Nailing the rollout is the key to realizing its full potential.


James Capps is vice president of technology at E-Trade’s advisor services business TCA, responsible for its technological vision and strategy. TCA by E-Trade is an RIA custodian offering integrated real-time technology, consultative services and back-office support custom-built for RIAs. James enjoys mountain biking in his free time and lives in Denver with his wife and children.