Here's how you can leverage online forms to work with more of your ideal clients.
By Ben Brown | 11-30-17 | 05:00 AM | Email Article

For advisory firms both large and small, responding to prospective client inquiries can require a significant time commitment. A multiperson office may have a full-time dedicated staff member responsible for fielding prospect calls or emails, while solo advisors may find themselves completely overwhelmed if inquiry volume is high enough. In either case, the process likely looks the same: a prospective client reaches out to an advisor or advisory firm, some basic personal information is captured, and an introductory meeting is scheduled to see if the services provided are a good fit for the potential client's needs.

Ben Brown is a Certified Financial Planner professional and an IRS Enrolled Agent. He is the founder of Entelechy, a fee-only financial planning and investment management firm based in Bethesda, MD, serving clients in the Washington, DC, area and nationally.

With a prospective client application system, it's possible to gain a much better idea of whether the relationship is a good fit before committing to a full meeting. By completing an application as a first point of contact, potential clients are able to provide you or your firm with more detail about themselves up front. For example, you might have prospects indicate what specific services they're looking for, what they are hoping to achieve by working with an advisor, or their current income and/or asset level. Further, with the ability to communicate pricing and what the process of working together looks like directly into the form, your application may even help these potential clients determine whether they want to commit to a full meeting on their end, saving everyone valuable time.

Prospective clients who complete your online application have communicated to you that they are willing to trust you with some basic financial information, and are willing to make a small time commitment in order to seek your advice. Though some of you may worry about losing potential clients who aren't willing to submit an application prior to meeting with you, it's worth questioning whether these clients would be willing to commit the time and attention required to successfully complete the onboarding process anyway. Perhaps most importantly, a prospective client application system can help advisors maximize their time with the clients and prospects their practices were designed to serve best, resulting in greater value to consumers.

Creating such an application system is surprisingly straightforward, with a number of tools available at different price points. Those interested in getting started might want to begin their search with the following.

Google Forms
Available with standard Google accounts and as part of the Google Apps for Business suite, Google Forms offers basic form building functionality for an unbeatable price--free. Forms can include various standard fields such as multiple choice, drop-downs, and free-form text, as well as the option to embed videos, images, and file upload requests. With a key goal of any prospective client application being to keep things simple and in a format users are familiar with, Google Forms certainly fits the bill. 

However, this simplicity can also feel limiting, in that forms can't contain conditional logic, and the design/branding options are quite basic. While Google Forms does not directly integrate with other financial software (your CRM), it can be configured to do so using third-party tools like Zapier. Despite its limitations, some may find this free offering from a service that most potential clients use and trust is enough to get the job done.

Wufoo
Wufoo brings quite a bit more functionality to the table, with pricing plans ranging from free to $99 per month. Acquired by SurveyMonkey in 2011, the free offering is comparable to Google Forms, while the paid plans offer additional features based on the pricing tier such as larger file uploads, Google Analytics tracking, conditional logic, and several others. Wufoo is also integrated with over 60 different online tools, including Salesforce, and can connect to others using Zapier. This is a huge plus if you’re hoping to avoid copying and pasting data from your form into another app. 

While the functionality is there, the design and user experience leave a lot to be desired. Form designs can be changed with the built-in theme designer, though the options can be overwhelming and still leave forms feeling dated. While complete design control can be achieved via custom CSS, most users likely won’t be willing to go to this much trouble.

Typeform
Typeform strikes a near-perfect balance between simplicity, functionality, and great design in online forms. The forms are easy to both build and complete. By focusing a user's attention on one question at a time rather than presenting them with a lengthy list, completing a Typeform feels more like having a conversation than suffering through a lengthy survey. This is critically important when potential clients are completing an application prior to meeting with you, as the form interface is essentially an extension of the digital storefront that is your website and brand. If the application experience is challenging or unprofessional, what will potential clients think it will be like working with you? 

Behind Typeform's top-notch design is all the functionality one would want when creating a prospective client application, with conditional logic, metrics/reporting, notifications and much more. Most will likely want the feature set available in their Pro plan at $35 per month compared to their basic, free plan. While Typeform currently only integrates directly with the email marketing platform MailChimp, it has fantastic APIs and an entire Help Center section dedicated to integrations with detailed instructions on connecting to other apps via Zapier.

Implementing Your Solution
Whichever online form provider you choose, be sure to stay focused on the prospective client experience when building out your application. While it might be tempting to ask for a laundry list of data, it should take prospects no longer than 5 to 10 minutes to complete, and the questions should be focused on what you need to determine if there might be a good fit. These should be high-level questions about financial life goals and/or basic financial information. While the above-mentioned solutions encrypt data both in transit and at rest, always consider the potential implications of requesting more sensitive data such as social security numbers or account details online, and check each service's disclaimer/terms of use policies.

Once complete and either linked to or embedded on your website, you can set up your prospective client application to deliver form responses directly to you or another staff member’s inbox for review (through either built-in functionality or Zapier). If, based on their responses, applicants would be better served by another advisor or solution, you’ll be able to deliver value by providing them with referrals, while also saving them time by skipping the scheduling process. If applicants seem like a good fit for your practice, you’ll be ready to hit the ground running in your introductory meeting, armed with a better understanding of who they are and how you can help them succeed.

Ben Brown is a certified financial planner and an IRS enrolled agent. He is the founder of Entelechy, a fee-only financial planning and investment management firm based in Bethesda, Maryland, serving clients in the Washington, D.C., area and nationally.

The author is a freelance contributor to Morningstar.com. The views expressed in this article may or may not reflect the views of Morningstar.

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