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The potential ramifications of making decisions based on inaccurate or outdated information can be profound for a company in any industry, let alone distributors who operate in an environment of increasing investor scrutiny and regulatory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 Systems Re-Engineers SalesStation

CELERA’S NEWLY TIERED SALESSTATION SOLUTION MULTIPLIES MARKETPLACE APPEAL

June 8, 2015 Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Following over a year of R&D and beta testing, Celera Systems, a leader in innovative software solutions for asset managers, has announced the official roll out of its newly-conceived and significantly re-engineered SalesStation platform. Celera now offers the SalesStation platform as a multi-tiered platform of data management, business intelligence and CRM solutions that provides added flexibility and choice for asset managers. Celera first introduced the SalesStation platform in 2001 as an all-in-one solution and gained widespread adoption among fast-growing mutual fund distributors and their service providers who realize added value from Celera’s specialized expertise in supporting smaller asset managers.

Drawing from almost fifteen years of client feedback and internal utilization data, Celera’s product development and systems engineering teams collaborated closely for several months to identify and prioritize the specific sales tracking, reporting and business intelligence functionalities most often used and most valued by the company’s numerous SalesStation licensees.

Beverly Dube, Vice President of Client Sales and Support, played a key role in the redevelopment and reengineering project: “What we’ve learned over the years is that our clients represent two distinct user groups. Several clients with large and established wholesaling organizations have built the internal technology and operations expertise needed to take full advantage of the sophisticated and complex functionalities of SalesStation. These generally-larger firms prefer direct access to our SalesStation data warehouse and want to retain the ability to fully customize their own reports and business intelligence data in order to support both back office operations and distribution. In contrast, many of our fastest-growing clients strategically elected to eliminate the need of diverting scarce capital and staffing resources to build and manage complex asset and sales reporting systems and analytics tools in house and to outsource those operations to Celera. These clients are drawn to the “out-of-the-box” package of key sales and asset reports and business intelligence tools we developed to help them manage their distribution and sales support efforts.”

Celera’s new tiered solutions have been developed to multiply the marketplace appeal of SalesStation by matching each solution to its specific use-case:

  • SalesStation Core features an “out-of-the-box” library of critical sales and asset dashboards and reports with the vital metrics needed to manage distribution. Celera developed SalesStation Core specifically to suit the needs of sales, marketing and other business professionals who are charged with distribution responsibilities.
  • SalesStation Explore enables do-it-yourself functionality, maximizing flexibility for customized reporting, including either omnibus or detail data. Celera developed SalesStation Explore to meet the needs of operations, financial and accounting professionals.
  • SalesStation CRM features seamless integration to Salesforce.com, the world’s leading CRM platform, with a template customized to suit the needs of asset managers. Celera designed SalesStation CRM specifically to meet the needs of front line sales and marketing professionals.

Matthew Franey, who heads business development for Celera’s SalesStation solution, reports that the broadened appeal of SalesStation’s tiered offering is being well received in the marketplace: “Many of our fastest growing clients, while always appreciating the sophistication and power of SalesStation, have reported back that largely because of internal resource constraints, they were unlikely to utilize the significant ‘horsepower’ available to them. We’ve heard numerous times that Celera ought to develop an out-of-the-box package of key reports with the metrics critical to managing distribution efforts, and to identify opportunities that may otherwise be overlooked. SalesStation Core and SalesStation CRM are solutions that meet that need.”

Franey went on to observe: “Not only did we tier our solution to offer greater flexibility for licensees, we also restructured our pricing to reflect the distinct functionalities associated with each tier of service. SalesStation always represented a tremendous value relative to price for asset managers. Our differentiated and tiered pricing structure enables our licensees to pay for the functionalities that they most need and value.”

Since its founding in 2000, Celera Systems, a Milwaukee-based software development firm, has been recognized as an innovator in information technology solutions for financial services companies: mutual fund and institutional managers, insurance companies, retirement plan providers, banks and broker dealers.

For more information contact:
Matthew Franey
Director of Business Development
262-834-0080 x218
mfraney@celerasystems.com

Optimizing Literature Fulfillment in Financial Services

Celera Featured in Big Data Newsletter in April

Google Search for the Financial Services Industry

Background

Celera Systems, an IT solutions company based in the Midwest, is a recognized innovator in information technology solutions for major financial services companies. Celera provides comprehensive products and professional services to this market, including a literature fulfillment platform called MerrillConnect, which is used by some of the nation’s largest insurance companies. Celera provides the search and verification software that allows MerrillConnect to efficiently and accurately fulfill customer requests for documents.

Challenges

The distribution of documents is typically subject to legal regulations, so document-level security is critical. MerrillConnect must provide an accurate fulfillment solution that ensures the right product materials are displayed and delivered based on a user’s query and profile.

  • Ease and efficiency of use is critical. The solution is used by a variety of busy professionals who must respond to their customers’ requests quickly, and accurately
  • Ability to handle both electronic documents and hard copy only
  • Support the use of “sales notes” from the originator’s marketing team

Solution

Celera turned to Search Technologies’ Search Application Assessment service, as part of a program to update and enhance this offering. This is a fixed price service that delivers a detailed report, and clear recommendations on search application design, implementation, and improvement. The Assessment Service can be used when a search software license is already in place, or when the customer is looking for guidance on search product choice, including the applicability of open source alternatives.

Following the initial assessment, Celera Systems, along with one of their largest customers, agreed to a recommendation for the Google Search Appliance (GSA), as a match for their requirements for fast, accurate search, and solid document-level security. Other recommendations included:

Creation of a Data Model Design (“DMD”): The DMD is a reference document for the enrichment and normalization of data attributes. The DMD guides content preprocessing strategy, prior to indexing, and ensures that user features which rely on metadata can be delivered.

An integration between the existing security service and the GSA: The previous search function for MerrillConnect took advantage of an authentication server. Search Technologies worked with Celera to utilize the GSA’s forms-based authentication capabilities, and integrate with this security service.

Handle numeric searches specific to financial documents: Many financial documents have identifying numbers, as well as a high percentage of numbers within their main body content. Support for substring numeric search was added to the solution through query parsing, before submission of the query to the GSA.

Collaboration on UI design: Celera implemented the new user interface, with input from Search Technologies’ engineering team.

Improve relevancy based on ordering patterns: In many search uses cases, it is important to know which document or product was ordered most frequently and incorporate this frequency into relevancy rankings. Historical data from the operational order fulfillment database was used to populate a metatag describing the order frequency ranking for each document. This was used to drive GSA’s result biasing to boost the scoring of the most frequently ordered documents. According to Gary Maradik, Director of Business Development, “The use of this feature is key to our ability to provide our clients with the results they’re looking for.”

Benefits

As a result of this project, Celera has a solution which:

  • Is based on one of the leading search engines
  • Continues to fully support the document security to the required level
  • Greatly improves relevancy, reliably providing the best documents at the top of the first page of results
  • Has an improved user interface, based on the latest search user experience principles
  • Provides a more powerful, and supportable search platform for the MerrillConnect fulfillment solution

 

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.