Getting digital right is harder than it first appears. Multiple, yet siloed projects and technology over-complicate quickly. Without the balance between clarity of purpose and high-level technical knowledge, the gap between strategic intent and practical delivery is almost impossible to bridge. Matt Stevens explores.
Magellan’s 2021 Distribution Barometer found that 59% of Distribution Heads think technology investment to aid distribution has been inadequate, at a time when many articles indicate the sales process is moving increasingly online.
Yet digital adoption has been a well-versed strategic intent for some time, and technology investment budgets have been meaningful (at least comparable with other sectors).
So why is there a disconnect?
As a marketer I am fortunate to have worked both strategically and in the detail with digital and to have sponsored implementation projects within asset management, financial services and other sectors.
Below are some tips based on my experience for approaching digitalisation. Some of these may appear fairly obvious, however I make no apology for this as it is surprising how often these points are overlooked or get lost in noise.
1: Talk objectives, not technology
2: Remember there are two clients
3: Digital success is data ownership
4: Develop one digital roadmap
5: Identify the key points for prospecting
6: Travel light on client journeys
7: Digital adoption is people change
8: AI won’t solve your problems yet
Tip 1: Talk objectives, not technology
Digitally, what do clients want to know from us, and what do we want to know about our clients? A simple question that requires no immediate consideration of technology. Yet many conversations quickly fall into the trap of discussing legacy systems, software, configuration and ecosystems. Listing a series of basic user objectives at the outset will help to measure progress and ground choices. For example:
- I want each sales person to receive a weekly report of their clients / prospects web visits and downloads
- I want a process for identifying new prospects from online users
- Can I identify unknown active users who work at my client’s company?
- I want all of my client digital interactions shown to me in one place
There are many software providers for CRM, automated marketing, digital assets, client reporting and digital tracking. Knowing which to use and to what extent should always follow user objectives.
Tip 2: Remember there are two clients
The purpose of digital is to serve both external and internal customers. For example at high level isn’t the purpose of a website (a) to provide visitors (public/prospects/clients) with information they want, where it’s easy to find, and (b) to provide sales teams with new leads or intelligence on existing clients, to enhance relationships and drive revenue?
The focus for many projects is rightly to improve client experience and meet their needs. However, each interaction also creates knowledge and opportunity to enhance in-person client touch points, which should be captured and used. A key objective for every project should be consideration on how external activity data will be valued, shared and used internally. Digitally, this is the return on investment.
Tip 3: Digital success is data ownership
For technology to provide automation and insights, there must be consistent client data.
Often big investments are made in the software, but fail to deliver the expected outcome and ROI not because of system capability, but due to issues of data quality and consistency that get overlooked in the business case. The weakest link in this aspect is human interaction.
The main area of focus is the anchor CRM system, where everyone needs to complete the same required fields, based on the same definitions, and adhere to the rules.
A regular issue in decentralised structures and multiple languages are that requirements are very different. This needs to be explored using data and local team input. There are nuances, however if the sales stages and model are broadly the same, then key client data and field definitions should match regardless of language, and governance should centrally align.
Sales teams lead the relationship with clients and qualified prospects, however without consistent data entry the added user insights provided from other systems will fail, and the opportunity to understand overarching client trends, account based activity, and segmentation is lost.
Client data needs to be owned centrally within distribution, and will require governance and curation. I would recommend creating a central role responsible for client data architecture and quality, who works with local teams to ensure data continuity. Ideally this person should provide the user perspective (so not from IT). The role should sit across all distribution functions, and perhaps own the roadmap.
With software costs regularly starting at six figures, I believe this would be a sound investment.
Tip 4: Develop one digital roadmap
How many distribution digital projects are running concurrently in your firm right now? I bet at least three, and each project will have a business case, sponsor, a team managing delivery, and most likely will be implementing or upgrading different software.
But what is the end state for these projects? How do they fit together? Where is the firm trying to get to? By when? What will that end state look like?
A digital roadmap provides central oversight and direction across distribution based upon client journey, which aids investment, prioritisation and software procurement.
It is one comprehensive plan orchestrating digital activity across Sales, Marketing and Client Reporting, that moves siloed project-based assessment into a holistic framework, and supports greater collaboration as teams consider the whole puzzle before assessing a specific piece.
The key elements for a digital roadmap are i) defining the digital client journey, ii) identifying what distribution believes is in or out of scope, and iii) how to centralise useful data into an accessible place (it’s often useful to start with this and work backwards).
Based on client journeys, does your digital remit include social media, websites, marketing software, DAMs, CRM systems, client reporting?
Agreeing scope can get complicated. If distribution is responsible for all client data and touch points, then projects such as client portfolio analytics and client reporting will go to the heart of firm data systems, with the potential to become all encompassing. Having the mechanism to identify ownership and priorities is hugely beneficial.
The fundamental question to establish in a roadmap is do you want a central view of a client’s digital footprint? The key to success is knowing where the various touch point data will come from, and how systems will integrate to provide it centrally in a timely, useable fashion.
Understanding client data integration directly impacts software selection and costs. Most providers offer modules that overlap with other digital functionality. It is not uncommon to have purchased the full package from each software provider only to find another system already provides the solution. Mapping data integration means you only buy what you need.
Tip 5: Identify the key points for prospecting
One of the most important factors is being able to recognise the key points at which a contact moves from interested-to-prospect-to-client. Capturing contact information and defining that change is again something an asset management firm should already be able to prove using their own techniques and data. It can be achieved in ways that are fully compliant, and it plays into the role of content.
These conversion opportunities are important to identify because a proportion of visitors to your public platforms are interested parties who will never be prospects. All visitors are important from a brand awareness perspective, however with automation you need to be able to filter out non-commercial opportunities from your CRM.
Tip 6: Travel light on client journeys
Client journey mapping can get complicated quickly, especially when the operating model involves a number of country websites and local teams. Typically at the scoping stage a high volume of user cases identify every client type, sector and segment possible. But how often is this based on existing data?
I would suggest starting client journey mapping with high-level client groups (Retail, Wholesale, Institutional) and using existing data to identify trends and understand the role of each digital channel in the sales process (e.g. track the touch points of new clients in the last year).
The data should establish the level of difference or similarity in client journeys by type, segment and country, and the best way to approach local teams to discuss future activity.
There are always nuances, however when a firm’s products, thought leadership and sales models are broadly the same (translated / recycled), it is likely that client journeys will have many similarities too. Prioritise digital activity where it will have most impact and then refine towards greater personalisation.
Tip 7: Digital adoption is people change
Never underestimate the people and culture challenges that come with digital.
Any implementation project will require a change in working practices, and success will lead to a change in operating model. For example digital should lead to re-balancing the marketing mix and with it marketing teams. Many projects fail due to neglecting the people issues involved.
Adoption of new digital processes and systems is possibly the hardest aspect. My view is that successful approaches start by identifying the key data required, communicate benefits and expectations, and focus on user concerns.
There are successful trade-offs in reducing the expected levels of user data entry in return for compulsory fields. For example, CRM client data fields are reduced to only those deemed necessary, reducing input for sales people, but ensuring that the remaining required fields are used consistently.
Internal communication is also crucial, especially describing the expected benefits at an individual and group level (answering “why”), along with setting some expectation that a cost for these benefits are adjustments to the way people work.
Once in place adoption methods can also be hard-wired into user standards as part of job descriptions, and data quality analysed via reporting dashboards as part of compliance reporting. These activities should be well communicated in advance and follow proactive implementation activity.
Ideally, every digital business case put forward should include consideration and cost allocation associated with people issues. This can range from training to some element of customised user design. Identifying these issues is easier once a roadmap and data rules are in place.
Tip 8: AI won’t solve your problems yet
Artificial Intelligence is fast becoming the buzzword across industries and asset management is no different. However AI adds most value when it has a narrow and specific focus, it requires large volumes of highly curated data in order to learn, and it has no EQ.
There are great opportunities to adopt AI in areas such as fund commentaries and client reporting / portfolio analytics, and more will expand over time. However for distribution, a greater focus on data quality and aligning existing systems around client touch points will maximise digital performance and current investment in the short to medium term.
I hope these tips will help your digital journey at a time when distribution is facing many challenges across client origination, relationship enhancement, fee compression, converting products into client solutions, global / local operating models, competition and regulation.
If you would like to discuss any aspects of this in more detail please get in touch.
You can access Magellan’s 2021 Distribution Barometer here: https://lnkd.in/dp6Qmjc
This article was first published by Matt on LinkedIn.