I spent the past four days meeting and networking with advisors and and industry vendors at the 2010 T3 conference at the Torrey Pines Hilton in La Jolla, CA. My initial expectations for the event were based on the lineup of sessions and vendors, but found out quickly the true conference happens outside the structured agenda. Whether it was meeting an advisor at lunch, continuing a discussion after a session, or with new friends at dinner, I gained more specific knowledge for our firm than in all the sessions combined.
So what did I come away with?
Like most businesses, we all seem to struggle with finding a balance between the cliche of “working in your business vs working on it”. The common theme here was that better technology, or better adoption of existing tools will lead to dramatic improvements in productivity, and therefore more time to spend on higher ROI activities. The catch is prioritizing which solutions to adopt first, but more importantly, getting the “buy in” from all employees to use it effectively. Ultimately, if I had to sum up my key takeaway or buzzword, it’s integration. The “gold standard” for firms is finding the right solutions ranging from CRM systems, document and workflow management, to planning software, and then getting it all to integrate together.
Although I went into the conference secretly hoping to learn about a new or groundbreaking product (think new Apple announcement hype), I was pleased to see strong competition in each category our firm would consider adopting. On Thursday I spent most of the day talking with vendors about CRM’s and document management services. It seems most firms are either in the “cloud” or desktop based, but I and most attendees prefer a virtual setup over desktop software in most instances. I spent most of the day Thursday & Friday talking to these and other vendors about their solution. While this was helpful to learn about what is possible, I figured I wasn’t getting the whole story.
For the unbiased story, I listened to several people that I trust.
Industry leaders like Kristen Luke, Matt Peterson, Gary Davis Jr, and Laurie Gripshover. Each of them work with advisory firms in different capacities, and have a sense of what firms are using, but more importantly, how the technology actually works in practice. Which products are great in theory, but far too complicated for firms to implement. By describing our current situation, number of employees, and current struggles with technology, they were all able to give me great advice about areas we should consider. Kristen works with firms as an outsourced marketing department, Matt designs great websites specifically for advisory firms, and both Gary & Laurie consult with firms from an operational perspective.
Having said all that, there were several sessions I came away with new ideas or new perspectives on things I’m already doing. Here is a brief recap in the order the sessions were scheduled:
Ethics session – In one of the more interesting sessions, considering the Tiger Woods press conference scheduled the following day, Patrick Kuhse spent two hours detailing his research and personal history of struggles with ethics. As his website says, he became an expert on ethics the hard way. During a career as a successful, and legitimate stock broker, Patrick slowly took one bad turn after another before he was in deeper than he could cover. He illegally raised commissions as an advisor to the State of Oklahoma’s multi-billion dollar investment portfolio, and then paid “kickbacks” to the friend who got him the job. After fleeing the country and living for four years in Costa Rica, he was arrested before spending years in Federal prison. Take a look at his site, for his incredible story, and a few videos. Don’t miss the chance if you ever have the opportunity to hear him speak.
Quantuvis Consulting – Stephanie Bogan, CEO of Quantuvis spoke on business development best practices in the first session of the week. Stephanie covered a variety of ideas, but the key takeaway for me was advisors should make a list of the five to ten ideas you have for development, narrow it down to two, and then DO THEM. Although one advisor might be successful meeting new clients through golfing (for example), if that isn’t your thing or you don’t like golf, DON’T DO IT! Find something that you naturally enjoy doing, and do it with other people. Sounds simple, right?
What’s New in Document Management Software – This session had panelists from competing firms. Two of which operate in the “cloud”, Net Documents and Laser Fiche, and two operate as desktop systems, CEO Image and a fourth I can’t recall. It didn’t get heated, but this was by far the most awkward if not CONTENTIOUS pairing of the weekend. Although the session was about “what’s new” it turned into a debate over whether a desktop solution or one in the cloud was best. Fortunately I did get a sense of how advisory firms are using this technology, and that it is truly effective if it integrates with your other systems. If you can’t link a clients documents to their record in a CRM system, it doesn’t seem as helpful beyond managing your documents. Clearly that is a critical solution, but without integration, it doesn’t appear complete efficiencies would be gained.
Fidelity – Social Media Trends & Opportunities – Fidelity provided a general overview of the top 3 social sites, Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin, how they are currently using them, and what advisors should be thinking about. They started with a humorous look at the roughly 15 year history of the internet as we know it (think AOL CD’s and phone lines to Al Gore jokes). They used examples of their use of Twitter – mainly as a customer service portal and to search for rollover opportunities – to the StockTwits site and how traders use it to find up to the moment news, & rumors about a company. The main takeaway was that your clients are quickly adopting some form of social media, and if you want to communicate with them where they are, you need to consider maintaining a presence. Again, like the Quantuvis takeaway, if it fits what you naturally do or enjoy, do it. I.e., don’t get on Twitter because you think you “have to”. Having said that, time spent on Facebook has surpassed email use, so it might be something you want to consider.
Webinars and Blogging – 2009 seemed like the year of the webinar for me. Most weeks I watched 1 or 2 lunchtime webinars on social media, or blogging among other topics. By no means do I know all there is to know, but I felt like it was time to “do” instead of looking for more ideas. Then again, we all heard more about “Google Juice” than I care to recall!
This session was different though, because Rick Kahler gave several insights into his process and the results he has seen. Rick is well known online among the advisory world as he has consistently been active with his blog for several years. The amazing thing to me was that he attributes 50% of his new business from his online efforts! HALF! Rick generally posts twice a week, and uses this content to educate his clients, feed his blog, produce his email newsletter, as well as for multiple newspapers. Although writing is not easy, he is clearly leveraging what he produces in a number of mediums. Furthermore, he records all of his webinar’s, and provides video & audio recordings of certain articles..
David Druckers Technology ROI white paper – David had put together a compilation of other studies, surveys, and white papers from 7 of the sponsors for the conference. The statistics were impressive, but only truly so if implemented by all employees at a firm. Because this paper is available for a fee, I’m hesitant to list details of the report here. If you are interested in learning more, you can find the paper here.
I’m sure there are many areas I’m overlooking, but these were my takeaways from the sessions I was able to attend. There were generally 4-5 sessions per time slot, so I clearly missed other areas. If you attended and can add something from other sessions, please do so in the comments below.
What solutions are you using for your firm?
Are you pleased with your current CRM, or other solutions?
I’d love to hear your ideas or details of what you’ve found to work well here or on the contact form.