What happens when 15 communications and marketing professionals from 11 Southern California investment management firms gather to exchange best practices for RFP and Consultant databases? Spirited conversation, valuable suggestions for managing database and RFP content, insights on team structure, and delectable desserts. On May 19th, Charnley & Røstvold welcomed this group of bright and eager professionals to the PAICR Regional Roundtable on RFP/Consultant Database Team Practices, hosted by Tom Mulligan, Director of the Product Management and RFP Portfolio Management Client Service Division at Brandes Investment Partners, and sponsored by Pensions & Investments. While the tips and practices the group members shared were many, three topics emerged as significant to us all – Accuracy, Customization and Consistency.
It’s been reported often that consultants use databases, and then RFPs, more as an elimination tool than a selection tool. Your data must be accurate if you want to stay in the game. While the process for ensuring accuracy depends on the size and structure of the team, the participants all agreed – it is essential to follow a data-review process.
Errors and inconsistencies can result when updating data or text in multiple places. By keeping all responses in a bank or master file, you update the information once, and have it proofed once. Several commercial systems are available to update your information and populate your collateral; however, if you do not have this type of system, a Word document organized by topic will work.
In a perfect world, when you change a piece of information in one document, you will have time to edit all occurrences of that data immediately. But since we live in the real world, that is unlikely. Establish a review process to check all data. Our roundtable participants reported reviewing their database and RFP content annually or semi-annually. A process that includes team members from various areas, each focusing on his or her area of contribution, can streamline the process. For instance, an RFP might start at the desk of an administrative professional who enters firm information, move on to an analyst, then to the portfolio manager, and so on.
Tip: Having both long and short forms of your narratives doubles the chances of error. By making your narratives similar and consistent in format, the changes you do make will be minor. Highlight the text that changes to see efficiently what needs updating.
When asked, “How do you customize your materials?” “Do we really have to customize them at all? Is it OK to refuse?” – the answer was a resounding, “Absolutely! You must customize.” While time consuming, customization is an opportunity to show the clients, prospects and consultants that you value them. Beyond customizing the materials with their names and portfolio information, be sure to provide what is requested. When completing RFPs or populating consultant databases, ask yourself, “How does the [consultant] want to see this information?”, “What are they really trying to learn?” Then give them exactly what they need in the format they request. You will be doing a service to yourself as well as to them.
Tip: For client reporting, DO use your client’s returns, but DO NOT customize their portfolio characteristics. Use characteristics from a representative account – they are essentially all the same anyway. Big time saver.
Databases, RFPs, presentations and reports – if a person were to take all the content from a set of just one strategy’s materials, it would create a string of text that would wrap around the earth seven times. Really. Well, possibly. Just getting all of the information into the right places is an enormous undertaking, and once it’s there, it must be correct. If you’ve ever wondered, “Does anyone even read this stuff anyway?” – they do! Errors and inconsistencies will be discovered, and can be enough to disqualify you.
To help achieve consistency across your systems and files, start at a high level, and consider the message you want to send. Remember, this is your chance to tell clients, prospects and consultants what you want them to know. What are the strengths of the strategy you want to get through to the audience? Keep that message in mind as you populate databases and complete RFPs. Your goal is to convey a clear, consistent and complete message. It is vital that your information be current and consistent across all databases. Moreover, the content in your presentations, reports and RFPs must be the same throughout all pieces. If your RFP says one thing and the presentation another, it will be noticed.
Tip: Outsourcing your database entry to populate multiple databases not only saves time, but ensures your data is consistent across platforms.
These are just a few of the topics addressed at the PAICR roundtable. The attendees came from investment management firms of varying types and sizes, yet all shared common challenges. What better way to overcome those challenges than by exchanging ideas and experiences with others. Next time you feel as if you’ve hit a wall, reach out to a peer who may have advice. Or reach out to several by hosting or attending a PAICR roundtable or attending a conference. Sometimes learning just one small tip can improve your productivity.
Do you have an RFP or database best practice to offer? Please add it in the comments box below, and share this article if you found it helpful.
If you would like to know more about PAICR (Professional Association for Investment Communications Resources) or attending a regional event or conference, you can find more information at www.paicr.com.
Charnley & Røstvold, Inc., a preeminent marketing consulting firm to asset management firms ranging in size from start-up firms to some of the world’s largest investment firms with over $1 trillion under management. Charnley & Røstvold helps clients with competitive positioning, marketing strategies, key messages, presentation refinements, communications and sales training, consultant relations and client service programs.
Linda Sherman is Chief Administrative Officer at Charnley & Røstvold, Inc.