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A Popular CRM Gets an Upgrade

Redtail attempts to leap ahead of the competition.

Bill Winterberg, 05/12/2011

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One core technology of most financial advisory practices is CRM software. CRM is used to store important client information such as contact details, relationship status, activity history, and future opportunities. Most CRMs also offer the ability to define workflow processes to establish standards for back office procedures and client service activities.

A CRM that has quickly grown in popularity with financial advisors is Redtail, created by Gold River, Calif.-based Redtail Technology. Redtail is a web-based CRM that, according to Redtail President Brian McLaughlin, is now in use by more than 7,000 offices every day representing more than 30,000 users.

Over the last 12 months, Redtail product developers and engineers have been working hard to prepare a new version of its CRM, code-named Project Leapfrog, scheduled for official release in January 2012. A beta version of Project Leapfrog has been available to Redtail users since last year, and just recently the company upgraded the program's status to release candidate in advance of the official release. I had the opportunity to spend a day at a recent Redtail University event to evaluate Project Leapfrog and explore the new features and design of the popular CRM.
 
Redtail's Success
Redtail first released its web-based CRM, now referred to as Redtail Classic, to financial advisors in 2003. At the time, it was among the first advisor-specific CRMs to be entirely web-based and not require any software installation to a local computer. The timing of Redtail's release was fortuitous, as access to broadband Internet connections was on the rise, allowing advisors to implement virtual offices and not maintain any hardware in order to run their business applications.

By 2010, Redtail use had grown significantly. According to the 2010 Financial Planning Magazine Technology Survey, 23% of over 3,100 advisors surveyed responded that they use Redtail, placing it in the top spot among all CRMs. Microsoft Outlook also received 23% of advisor responses, but the e-mail management tool lacks many of the essential features present in CRM software. According to McLaughlin, Redtail's month-to-month growth in new users averages 20% as a result of its relationships with broker-dealers, integrations with third-party providers, and custodial partnerships.

Leaping Ahead
Project Leapfrog is a completely new rewrite of the design and layout of Redtail Classic. The first thing users will notice is the increased speed of the new system. Pages now support dynamic updates of information in real time, requiring fewer full-page refreshes that previously slowed down performance.

Navigation to frequently accessed pages has also been simplified, so fewer mouse clicks are needed to drill down to view specific data. The traditional left-hand navigation menu of Redtail Classic has been replaced by navigation bars at both the top and bottom of the browser window. The change results in a much more effective use of on-screen real estate used to display selected information.

The top navigation bar is used to access the CRM dashboard, calendar, contacts, reports, resources, tools, and account management functions. To the right of the navigation bar is a search field to quickly look up contact records by name. The bottom navigation bar provides one-click access to the CRM's home page, a list of most recently viewed contacts, saved searches called QuickLists, and Internet bookmarks called WebLinks. In addition, the right-hand portion of the bar shows the number of current alerts for upcoming activities, integrations that Redtail supports with other partner companies, and a "What's New" item listing important information regarding CRM program updates.

The new dashboard layout provides users with a summary of recent notes that have been added to Redtail, making it a great way to view a snapshot of all client activity in a firm. Each note can be clicked to open the related contact record to view all of the contact's detailed information. Contact records contain standard client information and now support the addition of a client photo.

One nice feature of web-based CRMs such as Redtail is the ability to use web browser plugins by third-party voice over IP phone providers. Such plugins add hyperlinks to phone numbers displayed in Redtail that are used to place outgoing phone calls to contacts. Using this feature eliminates the need to manually dial ten-digit phone numbers to make a call to a client.

Advisors will also appreciate the new calendar in Redtail that now offers much of the functionality of calendar tools in Microsoft Outlook and Google Calendar. Appointments can be moved with a simple drag and drop, and event start and end times can be clicked and dragged to be changed. Calendar activities can be color-coded depending on their type, such as in-office meetings, phone calls, or tasks, making it easy to distinguish upcoming events at a glance.

Nearly all text data fields in Redtail have an autocomplete feature, making it much faster to select data in search fields and dropdown lists. Simply type the first few letters of a contact or phrase and Redtail automatically brings up a list with the best matching results from which to choose, just like the autocomplete feature present in popular search engines.

These are just a few examples of the many enhancements present in Project Leapfrog, but I hope the overview provides a sense of how much faster and easier the program is to use versus Redtail Classic.

New Integrations
Redtail features a number of integrations with popular advisor software, including financial planning programs, portfolio management software, and marketing resources. A number of Redtail users have been using Jott, a transcription service integrated with Redtail to automatically add transcribed messages into contact records. But as of May 3, Jott discontinued its service, leaving users to find an alternate solution.

Redtail continues to support its integration with the CopyTalk transcription service and just released a new integration with Mobile Assistant. Integrations with these services allow advisors to efficiently document notes on client activities, and Redtail's efforts to quickly integrate Mobile Assistant soon after Jott's shutdown demonstrates the company's commitment to continue to provide choices among its integration partners.

Redtail is also adding integrations with popular e-mail campaign management services. An integration with MailChimp is available today and one with Constant Contact is under development. E-mail campaign services send broadcast e-mail communications using tools that are much more sophisticated than the traditional mail merge process. They feature tools to create attractive, HTML-friendly messages and include analytics that advisors can view for e-mail broadcasts, including the message open rate, click-through tracking, and subscription activity.

Other CRM programs feature proprietary e-mail campaign services, but Redtail made a conscious decision not to design its own.

"A lot of people asked us to add e-mail campaign management to our CRM. We responded, 'No, we don't want to manage that. We want to help you easily get your data there [to professional services],'" said McLaughlin.

Need More?
McLaughlin and his team are not suspending development once Project Leapfrog is officially released.

"A big feature of Leapfrog is how rapidly we can develop updates, new features, and integrations. Redtail is updated almost every single day," said McLaughlin.

To provide desired features, Redtail implemented a community feedback system where users submit feature requests and vote on their favorites. Each user is given 10 "votes" to allocate to one or more feature requests. Those with the most community votes receive priority attention from Redtail's developers and are often added to the software shortly thereafter.

In addition, Redtail is planning to release a new version of its mobile app designed for iPad this summer that, according to McLaughlin, will be a dramatic improvement over the existing app. Use of the new app will be free to all Redtail users.

I believe advisors will appreciate the updated layout and functionality of Project Leapfrog. The company made a conscious effort to focus on simplifying interactivity within the system, and it shows through the reduced clicks and full-screen page refreshes. Overall, the system provides quick access to important information needed to address the unique needs and planning opportunities of each client without the overhead of maintaining servers and manually installing software updates. These enhancements make Redtail's Project Leapfrog a strong candidate for advisors interested in a web-based CRM for their financial advisory practice.

Get practice-building tips and information from our team of experts delivered to your e-mail inbox every Thursday. Sign up for our free Practice Builder e-newsletter.

Bill Winterberg, CFP, is a technology and operations consultant to independent financial advisors. His comments on technology have been featured in a variety of financial industry publications. You can view more information about Bill and see his schedule of upcoming speaking engagements at his Web site, FPPad.com. The author is a freelance contributor to MorningstarAdvisor.com. The views expressed in this article may or may not reflect the views of Morningstar.
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