Should financial advisors be using Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software? Absolutely! The larger you grow your business, the more imperative it is to invest in technology. And if you’re a financial advisor, an online CRM is essential.
The applications for a good online CRM system include:
- Storing customer’s personal information
- Keeping digital copies of policies and applications
- Keeping a log of contact and activity history
- Storing email correspondence
- Customer/lead statuses and workflows
- Quick access to customer information outside the office
The barrier most financial advisors face when choosing an online CRM system is customizing it. I have personally used 12 different CRM solutions for our agency, and I can say with confidence that a perfect solution does not exist. As an owner who often wears the hat of the tech guy, I have been in the technical inner workings of every CRM system we have used. Setting up and personalizing a CRM system is a time-consuming process that can also become expensive — depending on how much customization you require.
I consider myself technically inclined, and I have been using the same online CRM system for the past three years now. This specialty CRM tailored to insurance agencies is called Vamdb. The most important thing to understand when choosing an online CRM solution is that better options will come along. You need to be able to change systems to suit your needs.
Over the past 18 years I have used:
- Radius Bob
- My own custom-built CRM
- Aliss (a custom CRM provided by my upline General Agency)
- Active Campaign
My continuing search for the best online CRM shows how valuable a good CRM system is to our business.
Some of essential features of a good online CRM
A good online CRM must have certain features to keep your business running smoothly. Here are a few important ones.
Ability to export ALL the data
There are several online CRM solutions on the market that have limited export functionality. I can only think they do this to keep customers handcuffed. I don’t want to be stuck or lose data when transferring CRM systems. At the very least, there must be the ability to export all data to a .CSV or Excel file.
Third-party software integrations
Many online CRM systems try to be an all-in-one solution for their customers. But many CRMs are expanding outside their core competencies. If you want to grow your business, you need to be able to integrate with the best software solutions in multiple categories. The best online CRM systems have robust API’s (application programming interfaces) that allow them to communicate with other software.
For example, many of the top CRM systems have a plugin or app marketplace that will enable you to sync data with other software products. If what you need is not available in the app marketplace, many CRM’s connect to Zapier, a service that can act as a go-between for an immense amount of software services.
Cloud-based CRMs have come a long way. You can now access customer data from anywhere in the world. If you have a team, you can quickly set them up with user accounts to have the whole crew using the same system.
If you own a computer, you will inevitably lose your data at some point. Even if you own a server, I still recommend utilizing the hosting services of your online CRM. They have multiple redundancies and backups in the case of any hack or catastrophe.
A robust partner network
When an online CRM has an open API, it enables outside developers to customize just about anything. Many CRM systems have recommended partners to contact for customization projects. You also can post a project on a freelancer site to find inexpensive customization options. Generally speaking, the more extensive the partner network, the cheaper it will be to hire developers and programmers for customizations and maintenance.
As financial advisors, we need to be careful with customer data. There are compliance and HIPAA regulations we need to follow. All connections to your online CRM should be over a secure connection or https URL. Firewalls and virus protection are required to stop hackers, and advanced server intrusion detection protocols need to be in place. Servers also need to be in secure facilities with 24-hour security and video cameras. When choosing an online CRM, make sure they are HIPAA, and better yet, PCI (payment card industry) compliant.
So which online CRM systems are best for financial advisors?
So now that you know what to look for, let’s go over some of the options I’ve tested over the years.
Salesforce is excellent, although it needs customization to work best with financial advisors. Many companies provide pre-customized Salesforce versions, and they also have a vast partner network. Salesforce has an enormous plugin marketplace so they can grow with your agency. For a mature agency, Salesforce is the best solution. The downside of Salesforce is that they are a bit on the expensive side.
Zoho’s online CRM has been growing at a furious pace, and I am impressed with their features and resources. Customization is needed to make it work for financial advisors, although it is a far better value than Salesforce. Zoho is very customizable, secure, has a considerable developer network — and integrates with just about every third-party software application. If you are just starting out or are price sensitive, Zoho is the best option.
SugarCRM is worth checking out on a free trial. The thing I like about SugarCRM is that all they do is online CRM. They don’t try to offer an all-in-one solution and instead focus on what they do best. They have an extensive partner network and app marketplace, so the possible customizations are endless, and the price is moderate.
Hubspot started out as a full content management system (CMS) focused on helping companies market their businesses. The solution included creating and hosting everything from your website to your email marketing and SEO. They have done very well for themselves financially with substantial profits and outside investments.
They built a robust online CRM solution to work with their system — and it’s free to everyone. I am surprised at how useful the functionality is, and if you are looking for an inexpensive solution, Hubspot’s CRM is a great option. If you want to use their marketing and sales software, the prices soar.
I got lucky finding an industry-specific online CRM with a talented developer running it. I believe all CRM’s for financial advisors need customizations. Finding a great developer is a huge factor in determining your success. If I were starting out today as a financial advisor and looking for an affordable CRM, I would choose Zoho. If I decide to move again to another online CRM now, it would be Salesforce. The good thing is that both CRM’s allow you to move easily. Whichever online CRM you choose, I wish you luck in growing your business.