Operations & Management

Unlocking Growth: How to Optimize CRMs and Operating Procedures with Kate Guillen of Simplicity Ops

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We talked with Kate about:

  • How to sustainably implement CRM changes 
  • How to loop in the whole team
  • Tips and tools she loves with Redtail and Wealthbox

About Kate Guillen:

Kate Guillen is a seasoned operations professional with over a decade of experience in the investment management industry. Her journey began as a client service associate for a broker-dealer and she later became the operations manager at a registered investment advisor. There, she was given the freedom to solve operational issues with technology and discovered her passion for AdvisorTech. In 2020, she founded Simplicity Ops to help financial advisors and their teams simplify systems and standardize operations. Today, Simplicity Ops has partnered with over 50 firms, dedicated to maximizing their technology and ensuring robust operating procedures to support growth and excellent client service.

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Full Audio Transcript:

Lauren (00:04):

Kate, thanks for being with us here today.

Kate (00:07):

Thank you so much for having me. I'm really looking forward to the conversation.

Lauren (00:10):

Yeah, me too. And kind of nerding out on this whole CRM. I know that's your specialty. So I'm going to pass it over to you to just share a little bit about your background but high level, you are the founder of Simplicity Ops. And is your specialty working with just, is it just RIAs exclusively?

Kate (00:30):

Yep, RIAs and hybrids that use Redtail or Wealthbox.

Lauren (00:33):

Okay, awesome. So, okay, that will be fun to get into those specific platforms as well. So before we do that, do you mind just sharing how you got into this industry, these spaces, and what have you? And then sharing a little bit more just for context, going into the conversation about what you all do.

Kate (00:49):

Yeah, for sure. Yeah, good question. So it's kind of funny how I got into the industry. I was actually part of a workout group and my workout partner was an older gal, and I was expressing to her my discontent in my current job. And she's like, you know what? My husband's looking for an assistant; he's the vice president of an investment company. You should meet with him. And so I went and met with him. I didn't know the difference between a stock and a bond. I had absolutely no business being there but we hit it off. He and his partner took a risk on a 24-year-old kid who literally didn't know the difference between a stock and a bond. And they taught me the ropes. And I worked at that broker-dealer for three and a half years, learned the language, the regulatory stuff, everything. It was a great introduction to the industry.

They were really patient and wonderful with me. But ultimately I left and joined an RIA, which was my first introduction to a CRM. And at the time we were really only using the CRM as a glorified Rolodex. We had contact records but that was about it. And we were going through a major transition. We were leaving our TAMP, consolidating assets at custodians, bringing in a portfolio manager, and growing our team. And anyway, there were way too many balls in the air. Every morning was a fire drill. I had to bring some calm and consistency to the office and tried to figure out how to do that. And the brief little research that I did, I figured out the CRM was a hell of a lot more than a Rolodex if someone took the time to build it out.

And so I spent years learning the ins and outs of how to optimize it for contacts, tasks, your sales pipeline, your client calendar, your client service experience, and then workflows to help deliver those services at scale. And as I was going through the process, I realized I was a geek about it. I loved it. I found it very fun, and then I was watching it yield amazing results. I was watching my team now be able to operate independently and have the confidence to execute our client service experience. The business was growing and we just now all had that level of calm and consistency in the office. And luckily I was friends with the advisor I was working for and I was like, hey man, I think I got a cool business idea. What if I was able to do this for other advisors and not just this single office? And he was like, ah, sad to see you go but I think this is a really good idea. And so with his support, I kind of started to put together this idea of Simplicity Ops. At the end of 2019, beginning of 2020, I landed my first couple of clients and the writing was on the wall. It was time for me to go off and do my own thing. And that was in March 2020. The world ended.

Lauren (03:33):

Yes, your timeline was down.

Kate (03:35):

The world ended like March 15, and I'm like, oh God, I've made a terrible mistake here. But honestly, it was kind of the right place at the right time. There was never a more apparent time that advisors needed an online system to run their practice than in 2020 when we all got sent home.

Lauren (03:53):

Okay. So just to kind of fill in the blanks here, so when you were setting this up at this firm prior to starting Simplicity Ops, what CRM platform were you using?

Kate (04:03):

We were using Redtail.

Lauren (04:05):

Okay, so Redtail was kind of your key CRM that you got super familiar with. Okay. And then I love what you said too about this idea of creating the calm. I feel like when ops are done really well, that's so much of what it does; it just creates systems and trust and consistency and all these other kinds of things.

Kate (04:25):

And confidence.

Lauren (04:26):

Yes, it's so true. So tell me, when you enter into a situation where we're like, all right, we're going to get the house in order, what kind of situation are you normally entering in? What's normally some of the bigger challenges you're seeing firms have and how do you go about, I'll call it wireframing, their CRM? I’d love to hear a little bit more about that.

Kate (04:52):

Yeah, that's a great question. So I can explain how to go about optimizing your CRM as the operational hub of your practice. That's really our core belief. We believe your CRM should be the one-stop-shop for managing your business. And every system we are building is optimizing for an amazing client service experience. That's what my background is. And our best clients, their core value, their mission is to exceed the expectations of their clients by delivering a wonderful experience. And so we very much take that approach and most of our clients come to us and say, all right, I get it. Our CRM should be our one-stop-shop or our centralized database but the data's disorganized, the team is using it inconsistently. Some of us are using the calendar, some of us are still using Outlook. We've never touched a workflow. We don't really trust the system, so we don't really use it. A couple years ago that was what I heard the most and now what I feel like I'm hearing, and I mentioned this earlier, is like, all right, we've started to build out systems but we're having a really hard time getting adoption. We're having a really hard time getting people to buy into the value.

And so it's shifted a little bit, and honestly in my experience, the easiest way to get adoption is by meeting your people where they are at, okay, figuring out what do they value and helping them understand how the implementation of these systems is going to get them there faster. It needs to be articulated in a way they understand and find valuable. They need to also deeply believe your CRM is the key to exceeding the expectations of your clients by delivering excellent client service. The systems that get implemented need to be really simple and easy to adopt.

Lauren (07:03):

That makes sense.

Kate (07:05):

And nobody likes change. If you just totally flip everything upside down, people get resistant, and that's when you don't get buy-in. The key to successful CRM implementation is mutual adoption by everybody. So it needs to be done slowly. It needs to be done with intention, it needs to be done methodically, it needs to be done at a manageable pace that people feel comfortable taking off these bite-sized chunks, implementing, feeling really comfortable with the shift or the change before we move on to whatever the next component is.

Lauren (07:39):

So just to paraphrase what you were seeing when you kicked off this business — this was COVID timeline wise — it was more of we don't have a system. We need to put a system in place of some sort and maybe just hypothesizing here that more folks maybe have systems because we were forced to be in this digital world. So then therefore, what you're hearing right now is it's really how do we adopt our culture to actually use the system? And that's really the key issue you're walking into right now with teams. Is that fair?

Kate (08:14):

And even the people that do have systems, there’s still the opportunity to make it perfect. They've kind of scratched the surface but the hardest part I've been finding right now is just getting everybody on their team to adopt the system and use it consistently. It doesn't work if there's outliers who are unwilling to adopt

Lauren (08:35):

Because the adoption of the system and the consistency helps with scalability. So that just means you nailed it, the data. Okay, so what kind of tools are you using? You were talking about it's got to be in their language and it's got to be done at a pace that works for the firm. Are you doing trainings? Are you having internal champions or leaders? What kind of advice would you give for someone who's really struggling — they see it but they're not sure how to shift that culture?

Kate (09:06):

I love this question. So when we partner with firms, we nominate a project champion, the person who is the CRM guru. And so we work with both Redtail and Wealthbox users, and we have found the most successful teams have a champion in their office who owns their CRM. They're a wealth of knowledge and the person we partner with and collaborate with most closely to dump our knowledge into them so they have somebody in their office with that level of capability, and then we guide them through a four-phase process. That starts with, and I always joke, I think about building a house. I know everybody is really excited about workflows and integration but none of that works if we don't lay the foundation and build the frame. The entire structure collapses if you throw the roof on first, right?

Lauren (09:55):

Yes, yes, yes. Makes sense. It'd be backwards.

Kate (09:57):

It would be backwards. And I know the foundation is pretty boring and lame but we have to start there. And in its simplest form, your CRM is a database. So we start with structuring the data. How should it be organized? Who are these contacts in your database and what is the best way to organize them? And then we'll take them through here's who these people are and how should they be structured? Here's what your categories should be. Here's your keywords and your tags and your custom fields. We get really clear on that and we document that, right?

Lauren (10:24):

You made it sound so simple. It's so not simple but okay, keep going. 

Kate (10:31):

Yes, we’ve done this a lot of times. So to me, now I can get into a database and be like, yeah, no, this is how this should work. And then we remap everything, clean it up and we're golden. I get it. Then after we know how the database is organized, we got to get the team on board. And so this is the educational component where we teach and train them. The best practice for using the CRM is the hub. And what I mean by the hub is it becomes the place for managing contacts, your tasks, your sales pipeline, your calendar, your accounts, running reports, any sort of audits. It becomes the source of truth for managing your client relationships.

Lauren (11:10):

Okay. Client relationships, I guess, which is also related to data.

Kate (11:15):

Yeah, exactly.

Lauren (11:16):

Okay, so kind of shifting topics here a little bit but related, you've got your adaptation that's going on, right? You're getting people involved. That takes time and it may not be up to speed. How are you managing expectations of the C-suite, where they're going, we should have these reports. It should be so simple. Shouldn't all that information be in there when in reality, what I was referred to earlier, as you make it sound easy, that component of being able to tag and create workflows and these sorts of things, that takes time and it takes training to be able to build all that out. So what is your kind of communication and expectation setting for folks who are like, don't we just have this? Can't you just flip a switch? And what is that timeline expectation setting that maybe for someone who thinks it doesn't have the context for the complexity of it? What are you telling that audience?

Kate (12:15):

Yeah, that is a fantastic question because that is a real struggle because unless you are on the front lines of managing a CRM and managing client relationships, you have absolutely no idea how long this stuff takes.

Lauren (12:29):

Okay, so true. 

Kate (12:30):

I always joke, I'm like, listen, it took me three and a half years to jigsaw puzzle all of this together and build out a framework for running a practice. The benefit of collaborating with someone like us is we can knock it out a lot faster; we’ve already gotten it figured out. And so our engagements last anywhere from six months to a year and a half depending on the complexity of the business, the disaster that's their database, how many team members they have, getting it all in order. And so to set expectations, we build out a timeline. We're like, listen, here's what we're going to accomplish week over week. Here's some key milestones you are going to feel like major efficiency pickups.

Lauren (13:07):

These wins.

Kate (13:10):

Those wins. And then we get together at those milestones and celebrate those wins together. We'll do a deep dive training with the team and be like, all right guys, we've gotten this far, we've rolled this out. Everybody has a task management system. No more Post-It notes, no more legal pads, no more DMing.

Lauren (13:24):

Yes. Throw it away. Yeah.

Kate (13:27):

And it's like set in stone. It's like here, it's going forward. And then this is why you have to take a slow, intentional, methodical approach. Once you've met that milestone, then we move on to the next set of curriculum, and then we get into building out your service experience, and then we get into building out workflows. So it's done very incrementally so nobody feels fire-hosed.

Lauren (13:50):

Yes, that's fair. So it's essentially stepping stones but celebrating those stepping stones along the way, which also is managing the optics of the volume you're trying to push or change or what have you. But also not saying like, oh, we can do this overnight. Yeah, you're right. No problem. It can happen. Right? Because it is very nuanced. So related to the nuanced part of it, right? When you get into the CRM, you start to unpack, let's say all the things that make a client experience exceptional. Do you find your projects just spin off like, oh yeah, we needed that and oh yeah, we needed that and we need to actually have more emails here. How do you set those expectations in the beginning to make sure the timeline doesn't shift every, what is it, every 30 days or 60 days or what have you? Because I'm sure you're discovering more as you're going through the process.

Kate (14:44):

Yeah. Well, we set very clear expectations in the beginning. We're going to do an audit to figure out what the pace of this should look like, set a timeline to just keep everybody on track and set those expectations. And if we get in there and we realize, oh shoot, you need this, this, this, and this, we will tack those on at the end or wherever they make sense, not even at the end sometimes, oh, we don't have an online calendar tool, or we're still using Calendly. Well, you should be using GReminders. It has a native integration, blah, whatever. We'll introduce those things as we get to them.

Lauren (15:19):

Got it. Okay. So it's part of just unpacking it essentially.

Kate (15:23):

Yeah. Absolutely.

Lauren (15:24):

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So are there any other trends you're seeing or maybe new things related to integrations with Wealthbox or with Redtail that folks should have on the horizon as they're thinking about these platforms?

Kate (15:42):

Yeah, totally. And so I believe your CRM should be the operational hub but it's not all the things, right? It's not your note-taking app. It's not your online calendar tool. Okay? There's some other things that play very nicely with those systems that help deliver an amazing client experience. I love FinMate. It is a note-taking bot that joins your call, takes your notes, puts together the transcription, and pushes the meeting summary into Wealthbox and Redtail. You can select tasks from that meeting summary to task to your team, the action items that need to be done. And it comprises a follow-up email to the client. I'm like, oh man, that's a frequent weight changer. Yeah, so I’m a huge fan of anything that makes the client experience better and makes your administrative team’s lives easier. GReminders is another one I love just from a client servicing and just creating efficiency around managing calendars and schedulers for both the client side and the administrative side. That's  huge, I mean, that's going to save you tens of hours a week implementing a tool like that. I like Bento Engine for client advice and timely milestone educational pieces. I think it is awesome. I'm really excited about this whole AI thing. I know it's a really hot topic. I have no idea where this is going to go but I'm excited to figure it out. I heard somebody talking the other day about a virtual AI assistant, like literally a VA but that's a bot.

Lauren (17:27):

Yes, I know what you're talking about. It is really cool and it actually feels like it's a human the way it's set up and you can create all this conditional logic in the background. Totally. I know what you're talking about.

Kate (17:38):

And I'm into it. I think it's really exciting. I don't know if the regulatory bodies are going to love that. I don't know if I really want them in my CRM with everybody's personal information. That's still a little gray to me. But again, I come from an admin and ops background. Anything that makes those people's lives easier so they can be spending more time serving clients, I'm all game for.

Lauren (18:04):

I totally hear you. We feel the same too. We've actually gone through and have cleaned up a lot of our systems and workflows with the whole objective of trying to be able to cut out the manpower, the manual manpower, so time, energy, and resources can be really spent on making sure you have exceptional customer service as you were alluding to earlier. And I appreciate you sharing those tools too, because they get leverage. So then you can go, okay, now we can spend more of our time on X. Having a really clean kickoff or building those relationships or good conversations or what have you. So fun. Kate, any other final thoughts you want to share or things you think would be helpful for folks to know?

Kate (18:45):

Oh gosh, I love this conversation. I think one of the things I get pushed back on a lot is like, oh man, this sounds like so much work. Oh, this sounds like so much time and it does take time but it's short-term pain for long-term gain. Your future self is going to thank you so much for taking the extra couple minutes to document the process so you're not reinventing the wheel every single time you go to do something. As you start to document those processes, if you are not using your CRM as the place for maintaining processes, you should.

Lauren (19:21):

It's so true. And I think it also just takes off that mental checklist you have. Oh, I have to do this, I have to do this, I have to do this. But it's set it and forget it. It's there for you. So you don't miss those steps along the way. And then you can also remember, oh, that was a brilliant move. I should be reaching out to this person at this time. I should be doing X, Y, and Z. But that automation helps again for you to be able to put your best foot forward. You nailed it. So fun. All right, Kate, well thank you again for your time. It was really fun to learn not only about your business but about this world of CRMs, right? And the importance of really making sure they are set up for scalability and also give you data so you can better make decisions. So thanks again. 

Kate (19:59):

Love It. Thanks for having me.

Lauren (20:01):


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