As we highlighted in January, AI-augmented distribution has the power to drastically improve the distribution model, but only if organizations are willing to change. And the change we speak of needs to start with the planning process. Every organization says they put the customer at the center of their thinking.


To wit, senior leaders say things like “We’re customer focused” or “Everything we do revolves around the customer.” Yet we see the following planning approach at many financial services firms:

  1. Senior management defines the financial goals for the year based on overarching business objectives.
  2. Sales and marketing leaders separately translate these financial goals into strategies, tactics, and campaigns that will be executed by their teams throughout the year.
  3. The sales team develops its territory plans focused on covering a subset of the advisors with higher potential, that is, opportunity to gather more assets.
  4. Campaigns are deployed according to a calendar with content based on topics that are important to the business at that time (for example, new products or industry trends) and in some cases tailored at a broad segment level (for example, RIAs vs. broker dealers).
  5. Channel and frequency of interaction are dictated primarily by internal constraints like sales team member capacity to create new content or develop templates, regulatory compliance and technology capabilities or lack thereof.
  6. Performance is measured at the campaign level (calls made or clicks on an email) and compared relative to historical norms (more is better).
  7. If the goals are not being met, then repeat steps 4-6 with new content, adjusting the mix of promotion channels or increasing spend.

After seeing this process, the obvious question becomes, “Where’s the customer?” At best, advisor preferences and needs factor into the equation during the annual planning cycle. As a result, every advisor in the broad segment gets the same messages at the same time, regardless of where they might be in the buying process or how they prefer to consume content (face-to-face, over the phone or digitally). Instead, firms must plan around the customer by leveraging data, customer insights and automation.


Here’s what a customer-centric approach to planning could look like:

  1. Senior management defines the financial goals for the year based on overarching business objectives. Sales and marketing leaders then shape these goals using market and customer insights gleaned from their interactions.
  2. Sales and marketing leaders jointly translate these financial goals into strategies, tactics and campaigns that will be executed by their teams alongside their colleagues from product management, investment management and finance.
  3. Customers are segmented based upon things like their channel and content preferences, attitudes and motivations. Customers are then mapped into the customer journey or funnel, which indicates which step in the buying process each customer is in – from “not in the market” to “ongoing loyal customer” – and what their needs are.
  4. For each step of the customer journey and for each segment within that step, a tactical promotion plan is developed. We define tactical promotion plan as a series of promotion tactics (email, mobile and sales force) and content that are linked, meaning that we can see the customer’s engagement with one tactic or message and then trigger another tactic or message.
  5. Analytics are focused on customer engagement, with tactics and content, the consistency of engagement, and the pace of movement throughout the journey or funnel.
  6. Overall financial goals are tracked, but we can now take a much more targeted approach to driving further growth by knowing who to target, with what content, with what channels and with what frequency.

With this new approach, knowing where the customer is within the funnel and how they prefer to consume content are critical pieces to the planning process. Technology and data management will be essential in deriving these customer level insights, but we’ll save that for a future article.


In the end, if the customer doesn’t play a prominent role in your planning process, can you really say you are customer-centric?