Seven Things to Consider When Evaluating Sales Reporting & Data Management Solutions

by Matthew Franey

The process of purchasing or evaluating your current sales reporting and data management solution, be it a formal offering or home-grown process, need not be as daunting as it may first appear.  Although such solutions can be inherently complex, establishing a framework for evaluating their various aspects can simplify the process and ultimately provide assurance that decision makers select the proper solution for the right reasons. Based on our experience, we identified the following seven items as the most critical points in the decision making process:

  1. Accuracy and Timeliness of Flow and Asset Data

Data is only valuable to decision makers if they are able to draw the correct conclusions and react to it in a timely fashion.  The process through which your data is obtained and cleansed warrants close attention, as today’s omnibus accounting environment introduces a multitude of complexities to managing fund sales data that are not common to other industries.  Significant reconciliation requirements can be prevalent in a complex trading environment, so be sure that your current or prospective vendor understands industry standards and has a process to deal with them.  Additionally, reporting mechanisms and standards frequently change, so your provider needs to be aware of potential hurdles these changes represent and react accordingly.

The potential ramifications of making decisions based on inaccurate or outdated information can be profound for a company in any industry, let alone distributors who operate in an environment of increasing investor scrutiny and regulatory oversight.  The extent to which your sales reporting solution helps or hinders decision making translates to real dollars and directly impacts your bottom line.

  1. Efficiency and Scalability

In most cases, the primary goal of obtaining a sales reporting solution is to systematize manual processes and, when successfully adopted, organizations should expect a number of tangible benefits:

  • Freeing up valuable human capital to perform more value-added tasks
  • Significantly reducing, or eliminating, human error
  • Realizing economies of scale as your firm expands its distribution footprint

As expanded distribution and/or external market forces can result in a significant uptick in trading volume with little notice, home-grown processes or less sophisticated solutions will not keep pace with the sheer number of producer records and could be of no value to you at a critical juncture in your business cycle.  Make sure your solution and resources supporting it are up to the task.

  1. Robust Data Mart and Reporting Options

Even with the most state-of-the-art data warehouse and highest quality data stewardship processes, your sales and asset data will be useless unless it can be easily accessed and consumed. Your firm will realize the most value from a system with an intuitive interface, dashboards customized for your unique view of the distribution landscape, and reporting that is functional out of the box or easily created.

Flexibility is key, as consumers of the data might operate in a variety of capacities within your organization and require that the reporting be consumed outside the tool, for example in Excel or PDF.  Report delivery options also need to be considered as well, as your stakeholders will benefit from a diverse set of options through which they can receive or view reporting and analysis.  Finally, users should expect a solution that not only permits on-demand access to relevant data, but also the ability to distribute that data on a scheduled and/or periodic basis, or based upon certain system triggers.

  1. Integration to CRM

The power of sales and asset data in the context of a CRM endpoint cannot be understated.  Such a tool empowers wholesalers and other marketers to correlate sales activities to results and nimbly react to new trades as actionable data automatically shows up in client account and contact records.  Native integration with leading CRM platforms, for example Salesforce.com, permits sales, asset, and contact data to be further leveraged with other applications in their ecosystem, multiplying the potential use cases.

  1. Extensive Product Support and Resources

Distributors evaluating sales reporting solutions also need to consider what resources vendors put behind their product, as post-implementation support can ultimately make-or-break your experience. Your data and reporting needs can change quickly, and both the system and the personnel supporting it need to be diligent in engaging with their clients, as well as their clients’ service providers, to ensure these needs continue to be met as they evolve.  Also, consider what level of investment the vendor has in their solution:

  • What does the product roadmap look like for future enhancements and functionalities?
  • What other solutions are offered and how will that impact support for the data management solution specifically?
  • Does the vendor offer ancillary services such as consulting to facilitate adoption and customization?
  • What forums exist for knowledge sharing amongst the client base?

All of these factors, while not individually significant, together can significantly impact the long-term value distributors realize from their decision.

  1. Bench Strength and Expertise of Team

Data management applications in fund distribution are highly specialized and require a partner with industry experience who understands your goals and concerns.  You should not need to expend scarce time and resources educating potential vendors on the intricacies of your industry.  Likewise, home-grown solutions can present a learning curve that can prove costly to an organization whose core competency is investing and distribution, not data management.  It is therefore imperative that you select a vendor that can rely on its own individual expertise to speak the same language, understand your unique business model, and successfully deliver a solution that achieves what you are trying to accomplish.

  1. Flexible Pricing Arrangements

Asset management and distribution organization business models are becoming increasingly diverse.  As a result, one-size-fits-all sales reporting solutions often miss the mark because they do not reflect the intricacies of the firms they support, resulting in a client potentially paying for features they do not need.  Vendors should be able to quickly assess the needs of their clients, tailor the solution to meet these needs, and price it accordingly.  ROI is a critical metric in any investment situation and applies equally in this context.

In summary, opportunity costs for asset managers who fail to consider how their firms produce and consume sales data will continue to  rise as the industry becomes increasingly data driven and more dependent upon omnibus accounting.  Make sure your firm is equipped to handle this new distribution necessity.

Matthew Franey
Director of Business Development
262-834-0080 x218
mfraney@celerasystems.com

 

SalesStation™ from Celera Systems provides accurate and timely reporting of sales and asset data as an efficient, scalable solution for any distribution organization.  We developed SalesStation™ around a sophisticated data warehouse and reporting tool that seamlessly integrates with Salesforce.com, and our clients enjoy highly responsive support provided from a team of industry experts at an affordable price.

Mother Merrill Capitulates: Good News for Fund Distributors?

by Matthew Franey

As distribution organizations in the asset management industry are all too aware, navigating blind-spots in sales data can be a tricky proposition.  “Know your customer” remains a fundamental tenant of any effective marketer regardless of the product or service being offered, and achieving this level of understanding depends almost entirely upon accurate, timely, and actionable data.  In an industry famous, and sometimes infamous, for its lack of transparency, acquiring such data can prove to be especially vexing for even the most seasoned sales and marketing executives.

This situation does appear to be changing, however, as evidenced by a recent watershed announcement from the new head of Bank of America-Merrill Lynch’s mutual fund platform.  Merrill Lynch, or “Mother Merrill” as it has been affectionately nicknamed, remains the single largest broker on Wall Street, reporting over $2 trillion in assets under management across their 16,000+ advisers according to their 2014 annual report, and has traditionally been viewed as an especially challenging platform for data transparency by both the fund industry and the data management companies that support it.  As the consumption habits of investors continue to evolve, Merrill Lynch and other large asset allocators seem to be getting wise to the fact that the advisers driving their fee-based businesses can be most impactful in raising assets when provided with enhanced tools and resources direct from the asset managers, as together they can most effectively “tell their story”.

An absence of transparency makes identifying and executing upon such collaborative opportunities between managers and advisers both difficult and inefficient.  Indeed, asset allocators only serve to benefit their bottom lines from an increased level of transparency, as permitting the fund companies on their platforms ready access to sales and asset data serves the dual role of not only enabling nimble execution of sales opportunities but also reducing the carrying cost of assets held under management by minimizing turnover as managers are better equipped to insert themselves at critical points in the investment cycle.

While it remains to be seen exactly how Ms. Bolton will execute on her vision, and pockets of opaqueness still remain in other channels of distribution, asset management executives should view this news as a positive sign that the new, data-driven environment in financial services is slowly breaking down the traditional paradigm of protecting access to advisers.  Enhanced data transparency with respect to fund distribution seems to be an all too rare win/win for both managers and intermediaries alike, and will ultimately prove beneficial to both the financial services industry at large and the investors they serve.

For more information on how enhanced data transparency, and our data management solution SalesStation™, could potentially impact your specific distribution efforts, please get in touch with us.

 

Matthew Franey
Director of Business Development
262-834-0080 x218
mfraney@celerasystems.com

Celera Facilitates Hands-On Participative Workshop at NICSA Strategic Leadership Forum

Harnessing Data & Technology to Propel Distribution Efforts Written by Beverly Dube, Vice President of Client Services, at Celera. This post is a recap from the Celera Systems sponsored breakout session at the 2015 NICSA Strategic Leadership Forum. Celera’s Monday afternoon breakout session at NICSA’s Strategic Leadership Forum in Fort Lauderdale used a participative, hands-on style, which allowed attendees to home in on the data issues that challenge distribution executives day in and day out. The session highlighted that there are many ways to interpret the same data. The major takeaways and “big ideas” from the session included: Strategy should drive structure, which should drive staffing….too many firms, even smart ones, start with trying to retrofit their existing staff into their emerging or refined distribution strategies. Smart distributors understand and adhere to a core marketing principal: Effective communications is all about getting The RIGHT message, to the RIGHT people, in the RIGHT way, at the RIGHT time. Integrating sales reporting into your CRM is really the key to empowering sales and marketing professionals to focus their outreach efforts where they will have the most impact. Profiling advisors, using CRM platforms, is a combination of quantitative data (sales reporting, assets under management) and qualitative data. (Does the advisor like to fish? Does he/she rely upon a home-office developed asset allocation model?) The overarching take away from the session clearly was that harnessing data can truly take a firm’s distribution efforts to new levels of effectiveness.

Do You Know Who’s Taking You to the Dance?

Omnibus sub accounting , which makes the puzzle of which advisors are recommending and redeeming a company’s fund shares at best challenging and at worst entirely overwhelming has been known to bring seasoned sales and marketing managers “to their knees” in frustration. One veteran distribution exec reports that he literally “started pulling out his hair” trying to crack the omnibus account puzzle; another reported “omnibus account nightmares.”

Seasoned sales executives generally recognize that among all the clients who do business with their firm, a subset of their total roster of customers almost always represents a disproportionate amount of total business. In wholesaling circles, Pareto’s Principle is often interpreted and applied by directing wholesalers to concentrate their efforts, to the exclusion of all others, on their “top 100.” The 80%/20% rule sometimes proves out when data is analyzed, but more often than not, “who’s taking you to the dance” is more complicated than intuition or Pareto would suggest.

In a recent analysis, a fast-growing mutual fund distributor learned that the bottom 40% of advisors who had placed a trade in the past 12 months (in descending rank order of production) represented just 11% of total inflows for the year.
Particularly in the asset management business, when, for some mutual fund companies intermediary customers can be counted in the thousands (hundreds, on a territory by territory basis), analyzing data and considering sales trends is the only fact-based approach to matching up and aligning sales and marketing resources to effectively exploit the highest potential sources of business going forward.

If you’re not certain about who’s taking your firm to the dance, we have some ideas about how you can gain the critical insights you need to optimize your firm’s distribution effectiveness.

Preparing Unruly Digital Data

A “gut sense” that an unexpected sales or marketing obstacle or challenge may be lurking beyond your immediate perspective, but don’t have enough hard data to support your intuition?

Data scientists say that they spend half or more of their time mired in the mundane labor of collecting and preparing unruly digital data before it can be explored for useful nuggets reports , The New York Times.

Without CRM technology it’s likely that your communications efforts will be hit or miss

In their must-read marketing primer, Maxi Marketing, Stan Rapp and Tim Collins emphatically describe that:

“A profound change is taking place in the way goods and services are advertised, promoted & sold. Yesterdays hit‐or‐miss “shotgun” approach of mass marketing, directed to anonymous consumers, is giving way to a new more accountable, more cost effective, more personal mode. A rising tide of technological change has brought this golden moment of opportunity.”

Asset management companies who do not recognize these profound changes, and do not accordingly embrace the technology tools that define industry leaders, are destined to fail. It’s that straightforward.

In the past, maximizing eyeball‐to‐eyeball face‐time with financial professionals was the surest way to distribution success. Asset managers with large nationwide wholesaling organizations had a distinct advantage. Not so any more. For many kinds of information and communiqués, getting wholesalers in front of financial professionals to deliver “boiler plate” investment briefings, or interpret a portfolio manager’s current take on the yield curve, won’t be the most practical or cost effective communication strategy. And more important, it may not be the most impactful or preferred communication approach for many of the financial professionals with whom you want to do business.

In today’s digital world, keeping track of and accommodating how your customers and prospects prefer to receive information and “talk to” you, and targeting your communications on a segmented basis (to increase the relevance of each communication), is every bit as important as how frequently you meet with them in person. Without CRM technology, which is designed specifically to enable mass‐ customized communications, targeted on a segment by segment basis, it’s likely that your communications efforts will be hit or miss, and your scarce distribution resources misallocated.