When investing in solutions to enhance your business, it’s important you’re not just choosing the shiniest new tool, but rather, selecting products and services that align with key criteria and will enable key outcomes, with cost and time efficiency in mind.
This is no more important than when assessing advice automation solutions. Integrating systems and change in any business requires an investment of time and resources. Clearly understanding your core requirements before delving into features is paramount to finding a solution that will deliver a material return on investment for your business.
Apps on your phone are a great example. How many apps do you have on your phone? How many do you use daily, weekly, monthly, or not at all? They say the average mobile phone user has more than 80 apps, however only 9 get used each day. While downloading a free app doesn’t have a detrimental impact, the same can’t be said about software solutions for your business.
The best way to make smarter decisions about which tools to employ in your business is to start with your outcomes in mind. Some of these will be about the running of your business, but mainly, they will be about the outcomes you want to deliver and increasing the value of your relationships with clients.
In our last article, we talked about how an outcome focus for your clients ensures the value of your services is clear, compelling, personalised and scalable. The article underscores the crucial shift from the traditional focus on selling features, such as routine meetings and financial products, to embracing an outcome-focused approach that allows you to truly fulfil the client’s desires.
Too often features are utilised that deliver little benefit and are in fact counter-intuitive to the outcome-focused approach. When assessing advice automation solutions it’s important, no matter how compelling the pitch, to take them with a grain of salt. The following is a simple process you can use to clarify real business value, and ultimately mitigate the risk of investing in the wrong technology tools.
1. The Foundation:
Defining Client Outcomes
Start with Client Conversations:
Don’t be afraid to engage your clients in conversations about your business and how you are looking to evolve your offering. Of course, you don’t want to promise and not deliver, however, having open conversations with your clients about how you achieve their objectives is generally received as positive by them and will more than likely allow you to discover insights you wouldn’t have been able to uncover without asking.
In our business, we do this routinely with our clients and we see it as an absolute imperative in terms of continuous improvement and constantly delivering value to our customer base. If you don’t do this, others will, and you’ll likely lose customers and open up opportunities for your competitors.
Clarify and Document Objectives:
Once you have these conversations, it’s imperative to clarify and document your objectives to address customer pain points. By articulating what your clients want from your service, you lay the groundwork for your selection process.
Prioritise and Set Realistic Expectations:
Not all goals can be met instantaneously. So you will need to consider all of the outcomes uncovered in your discovery phase and apply a ranking of importance. Doing this before you engage in conversation about technology is crucial as vendors will likely suggest areas that their technology excel as the ‘most important’, with minimal consideration of your unique needs.
Defining Business Outcomes
Define your business case:
When integrating a new tool into your service offering, defining your business case becomes pivotal. Will this tool leverage its capabilities to provide enhanced, premium services that justify increased fees? Alternatively, does it streamline operations and automate tasks, allowing you to maintain your existing fees while offering improved efficiency and quality to more clientele? Identifying the intended benefit that the tool is supposed to provide to your business model, will prove useful in quantifying its success down the line.
Set your budget:
Prior to engaging in conversations with vendors, estimate a budget that aligns with the outcomes you aim to achieve. By diminishing the influence of fluctuating market prices and vendor pressures, you can ensure meeting your objectives within your set budget.
2. Selection Time: Knowing Your Needs and Seeing Past The Sales Pitch
Once you have a firm grasp of your clients’ desired outcomes and your business case, the next step is to find the right tools to help you achieve those goals. The technology landscape is vast, with a multitude of solutions and features. To ensure you select the right tools, follow these steps:
Create a Vendor List:
Simple desktop research, as well as engaging your broader network via Ensombl and LinkedIn will help you put together a vendor list. Depending on the type of solution you are after there are also reports from the likes of Gartner and G2 that can provide high-level insights, helping you to distinguish between different solutions. None of these should be used to find the specific tool, rather, help you create a short-list.
Write a Brief:
Before you engage vendors, be clear on your brief. This will force you to be ultra-specific and give you a uniform way to measure different vendors against one another. Remember, you’re not assessing them against one another, you assessing them on meeting your specific needs.
Match Outcomes to Features:
Start by matching the defined client outcomes to the features offered by various SaaS vendors. Determine which features are essential to achieving these outcomes and which are secondary or unnecessary.
Avoid Feature Overload:
It can be tempting to opt for software with an abundance of features. However, be cautious of feature overload, which can lead to complexity and confusion. Stay focused on the features that directly align with your client’s outcomes. More features aren’t always a good thing. In fact, the distraction of unnecessary features can become a burden on your resources and not add any material impact on your clients. Avoid getting roped into those ‘bonus’ inclusions unless they are truly relevant, as they likely only benefit the vendor, not your business.
It’s often necessary to work with multiple tools and platforms. Ensure that the chosen technology can seamlessly integrate with your existing software stack, preventing data silos and inefficiencies.
Demo and Trial:
Don’t commit to a solution without testing it thoroughly. Most reputable financial technology providers offer demos and trials. Use these opportunities to evaluate how the software aligns with your client’s desired outcomes. However, don’t try and boil the ocean on day one, as implementation of tools can require a big investment in time. You might have specific use cases you want to trial and the vendor may even have demo accounts set up for you to interact with these.
Considerations for the Onboarding Process
Vendor salespeople will often promise the world and then once you’ve committed, go quiet on you. In the selection process, it’s important to meet the team who will guide you through the onboarding process. Make sure you get a clear roadmap for what that looks like so you can manage a timeline, as well as other aspects of your business that might be impacted by the change.
Skills and Readiness
Once you have clarity on the onboarding journey from a vendor perspective, you then need to consider what it will take to get it operational in your business. Do you have the right expertise short term to implement it and in the mid-long term to support it? It’s important to understand how simple or complex a tool is and ensure that it aligns with the skills within your organisation. This is especially important if the tool you’re employing requires customisations or specific configurations for different users and customers.
End Customer Support
If your clients will interact with the tool, it’s also important to understand how they will be supported. Are there support resources from the vendor for the end customer, or will your business need to play a conduit role between both parties? Successful onboarding of your clients will be crucial to the success of the tool, so make sure there are clear support guidelines in the Service Level Agreement (SLA) for both you as the direct customer and your clients as the end customer.
Look at the cost structures and lock-ins
When you enter into an agreement, your intention is for it to be a successful partnership. It is therefore important to consider what success looks like, how the costs scale as your implementation progresses, and whether these costs align with the parameters of your business case. However, you should also consider the possibility of downsizing, and make sure you’re not locked in unnecessarily until you have successfully integrated the software into your business, and proven its value.
3. Continual Improvement: Revisit and Reevaluate Client Needs
This last phase exists for one simple reason – client goals and circumstances are constantly evolving. It’s vital to keep the lines of communication open to regularly reevaluate their objectives, and obtain feedback on their use of your service offerings. After all, we all know flexibility and adaptability are key in the world of financial advisory.
Give your vendors regular constructive feedback
Establishing a feedback loop with your vendors is pivotal. Continuous and constructive feedback ensures that the tools align with your evolving needs and expectations, giving you more value for your money. It’s a collaborative process, allowing vendors to fine-tune their services and features, resulting in a more tailored and effective solution for your business. This ongoing communication not only enhances the tool’s performance but also fosters a stronger vendor-client relationship built on responsiveness and improvement.
Remember, technology isn’t a solution, it’s an enabler.
A technology provider doesn’t give you a unique and compelling proposition, as they are providing the same solution to many others. However, the right solution, used in your own unique way, can enhance your existing proposition and supercharge your success.
In our industry, the best software is designed to allow you, the adviser, to deliver your style of service in an efficient and scalable way. This benefits your clients through greater insights, control and empowerment over their financial situation.
Businesses that have the most success in utilising customer-facing software are those that prior to using it, have a well-defined and repeatable value, service and process in place. This should shape how you choose and customise software and how it ultimately adds value to your clients.
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