15 January 2024

A Conversation with an Expert in Advisory IT Operations

By SS&C Salentica

Joe Metcalf (MS, MPAS) serves as the IT & Operations Manager for Vestia, an RIA focused on providing wealth advisory services to physicians nationwide. He also serves as a consultant to other RIAs and financial services firms to help optimize their client relationship management (CRM) systems. As a specialist in CRM, Joe has seen a lot of challenges when it comes to firms getting the most out of their CRM investment.

We got a chance to chat with him about CRM challenges he sees when working with firms, and his approach for advising firms in need of a CRM transition.

Why has CRM become part of your focus when consulting for RIAs?

Joe: "That's a good question. When it comes to the firms I work with we provide a broad array of tech stack consulting services. In my professional opinion, CRMs are the most dynamic of the core text stack tools that firms use (such as Microsoft Office, your internal messaging system, portfolio management, financial planning tool, etc.).

CRMs being so broadly customizable give us the ability to tailor the solution(s) to each particular client. Of the dozens of clients that I've worked with, all being registered investment advisory firms, CRMS have the most demand, and is the platform where there's the most individuality. And individuality is great!

But if you think about it, none of these firms have the exact same tech environment. They work with different custodians, have varying tech stack platforms, have different roles and seats, different org structures, etc. CRMs as dynamic as Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics present firms that we work with a lot more customization firepower.

I like to refer to Salesforce as a creative and proactive tech stack item, and what I mean by that is we can take Salesforce and turn it into one of your most reliable associates. If I want to weaponize a brand-new associate with the same skill set as a senior CSA who's been in the industry for 15 years, I can do that with a CRM that gives me the ability to guide a teammate through any given process.

I've found that CRMs, probably because of the way my brain is wired and how I like to creatively solve problems, give me the tools that I need to never say no to a client, and I love that. When I collaborate with clients, I’m able to take the approach of, 'What do you want to do? Let's whiteboard it, let's bring it to life and then track to see how we are impacting the team' just like that. Those are the feel-good moments, and I get a lot of feel-good moments from optimizing CRMs, which is probably why I lean more into that area."


When do you typically tell clients it’s time for a new CRM solution?

Joe: "It's really a mixed bag depending on the situation. I have six-person firms that are on Salentica's CRM products, and then I have 30 plus firms that are still on more rudimentary CRMs. It really depends on how a firm wants to operate.

Some firms are more averse to change. Others are growing rapidly, and their goal is to not have to worry about all the small things that they do on a routine basis. Instead, they’d prefer to tell their CRM to instruct teammates to do it depending on where a workflow lies. When I ask most firms about why they’re moving CRMs, they talk about workflows.

Most of a CRM’s usage is task management. To me, that’s what’s driving a lot of change. I often hear from clients that they don’t want a linear workflow, but rather a robust workflow that is able to deviate depending on the need. A good CRM is going to let you loop back and assign tasks to different people dynamically.

When workflows are mentioned, that's typically when I jump into the Exploration Stage, which is Stage 1 of the 'Core Four' stages of CRM transition which we use at Vestia."


You just mentioned the “Core Four” stages of CRM transition. Can you describe these stages in more depth, and how you move a client all the way through a CRM transition process?


Stage 1: Exploration

"The first stage is typically exploration, which is early due diligence. It's really exciting, but also daunting as you really want to get deep into figuring out challenges.

I use a template with each of my clients to address their concerns and bring up considerations they need to make before moving forward:

  • What do you need your CRM to do that it currently can’t?
  • What criteria does this new tool needs to meet?
  • Are there integrations with other tech stack platforms to consider?
  • What do you want your workflow tools to look like?"

Stage 2: Implementation

"Implementation is almost always the most stressful stage in CRM transition. CRMS don't speak the same language, so 'translating' one CRM to another can be a cumbersome and complicated process.

Most firms I work with don’t have a large tech team that they can solely rely on for these kinds of transitions. They look for a consultant to assist with implementation, or just hope for the best, and I don't like to leave folks simply hoping for the best. I know once we get past stage two, it's time to have fun."

Stage 3: Incubation

"Users have to spend some time getting to know their new CRM before the firm can really start to hit it with customization. I advise firms to give their teams two or three months to incubate and acclimate to the CRM. They just took a big leap and need time to learn new features and a new layout. Their day-to-day is going to feel a little bit strained at first. Once they get used to a new CRM, they know where to look for their tasks, events, how to log interactions, etc. Then we start to think about customization."

Stage 4: Customization

"We ask our clients, 'What did you envision back at Stage 1, and what can we bring to life now that you know the CRM?' By the time we get to Stage 4, I know these firms intimately from the CRM to their org structure. That gives me a lot of bandwidth when it comes to bringing these custom workflows to life.

I’ve seen firms get to Stage 4 with minimal setbacks, and I’ve seen firms get there with a lot of frustration. But once they get to Stage 4, they really enjoy customizing the CRM in the way that their firm is going to use it best."

What are other considerations to keep in mind during each of these four stages?


  • "Avoid a major upset to your firm's ecosystem by adding too much tech all at once (and that’s coming from a tech person).
  • Communicate clear deliverables, timelines, and expectations for each team member and execute accordingly.
  • Be flexible in the reality of the situation, because implementation's going to be tough regardless."


What are the most common challenges you see financial services firms facing when it comes to their CRM? 

Joe: "I often find that firms underutilize so much of the native power their CRM has to offer, it's like most firms have a Ferrari in their garage and they're just driving it to the grocery store and back. That’s not why you get a souped-up sports car, and not why you invest in a superior CRM solution. I encourage clients to bring their CRM to life to get those full benefits out of the system. One way to do this is with integration, which I find is another tool that firms potentially underutilize. Using API integration across your tech stack and allowing programs to communicate to each other is a game-changer for data efficiency (Black Diamond does this well through the Data Broker integration).

Another big struggle for firms is data management. There are generally two times when a firm’s data is most accurate: after CRM implementation, and after a major audit. So, what happens in between? Data drift, which is a major frustration for firms. It results in inaccurate data, duplicate records, orphan data, etc. When firms put components in place to keep data consistent across systems, drift reduces. Employees don’t have to do as much work to input information and they can trust the data within their CRM more reliably."


Are there any glaring successes or failures that have occurred upon implementation that you can share and any insight into why they did or didn't work?

Joe: "Having overly aggressive implementation expectations is something that I caution firms away from. I did have a firm that wanted all their customization (workflows, fields, automation, etc.) available at go-live. This is hard to accomplish without properly going through an incubation stage before setting up customizations to a CRM platform. As I mentioned earlier, firms really need to get into their CRMs first to learn the system and not rush into building customizations. We can start to bring these to life one at a time, and that will get firms to the end-state they desire.

Firms should pick their core 3-4 workflows to get started (money movement, new account opening, new client onboarding, maybe client review). Once a firm gets comfortable, we can start to broaden their workflows. I’ve seen firms that want around 90+ workflows to start. No consultant is going to be able to have those available at go-live and even if they do, firms still won’t be able to use them without first getting comfortable within their CRM.

One firm that I saw absolutely crush implementation did so because they gave themselves proper time. They set very clear expectations and followed the timeline that we drew together. They did not miss a deliverable mark. They gave themselves proper resources for training and education, and I worked alongside them to communicate between the firm and implementation team. After implementation, they allowed themselves a 3-month break window to allow associates to get acquainted with their new CRM system (which I didn’t even have to tell them to do). This group was really receptive when it came to understanding some of the common pitfalls we’ve discussed today, and we were able to form a great working relationship because of it. Now, this firm is loving their CRM."


On that note, how do you ensure that your clients are ultimately going to be happy with their CRM upon implementation once they reach Stage 4?

Joe: "Unfortunately, common struggles in the implementation stage are broadly unavoidable. However, if we stick to our implementation strategy and hold each other accountable, it will be well worth it. Once we get past Stage 2, firms can really start to have some fun and build more effective workflows.

I talk about the importance of an effective service team all the time. Often, I will hear clients ask,

'We’ve looked at other overlayer packages for Salesforce/Dynamics. We’ve looked at customizing Salesforce out-of-the-box. What sets Salentica apart?'

My answer would be the service team. The quality of service is 10x better than what I typically see from other providers, and I think they're receptive to feedback from users like me who are continually asking for more functionality. A proper service team is something that you absolutely must consider if you're a firm that is going with a Salesforce/Dynamics overlayer because you probably don't have a big tech force to support you before/during/after implementation. The way a service team is structured is critical to success, and Salentica does it right."

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Advisory Services offered through Vestia Advisors, LLC DBA Vestia Personal Wealth Advisors and Vestia Advisors, LLC DBA Vestia Retirement Plan Consultants, a Registered Investment Advisor. Financial Planning Services offered through Vestia Advisors, LLC DBA Vestia Personal Wealth Advisors, a Registered Investment Advisor. This material is intended for informational purposes only. It should not be construed as legal or tax advice and is not intended to replace the advice of a qualified attorney or tax advisor.