Welcome to the first in a series of posts designed to help firms practical steps to buidling more efficient and effective connectivity teams. Whether you deal with FIX or propreitary protocols, and whether you work for a vendor, trading venue or broker, this series is for you. If you’d like to receive a monthly newsletter of these on-boarding updates, then please leave your email at the end of this post (we promise to only send you these updates – no spam and we won’t give or sell your email to anyone else).

When I ask someone in a connectivity team how a new customer onboard project kicks off, the answer is typically something like this:

“The sales guy comes back from a nice lunch and tells us to either send the FIX specification to someone, or we find out because we get cc’ed on an email that they send out”.

What is typically missing from this fumbled “hand-over” process, is a load of information that will smooth the connectivity rocess that follows. Details such as:

  • Who is the correct contact for connectivity teams to work with? (Typically this is NOT the person that the sales colleague had lunch with!)
  • Which pieces of your service or functionality is the customer actually interested in?
  • How will they physically connect to you? (Leased lines, cross-connect, FIX network etc)
  • Will they be developing to the interface directly, or with they come via another provider?
  • Where is this in the customer’s priority queue?

To be fair to sales teams, they often simply do not know the answer to some or all of these questions. More often than not, however, the prosepct may have given answers during the initial sales cycle itself or the salesman had the opportunity to ask the question up-front. If, during a sales visit, the prospect asks if your algos are available via Bloomberg or whether there are cross-connects or co-location services available, then that intelligence could start to inform the subsequent phase.

All too often, however, these little gems are not conveyed during the initial hand-off, which means that the connectivity teams either need to ask them again during an initial discovery phase, or there becomes a disconnect between what the salesperson think they “sold” and what the customer actually ends up building.

If the initial customer contact and smooth project initiation is vital for establishing a good first impression with your new customer, then we believe that a “cold cc” email kick-off falls short, because nobody wants to repeat their requirements multiple people. Imagine instead how efficient and professional your firm will look if you demonstrate an understanding of the new customers requirements right from the very first contact?

Whenever there is a need for detailed information to be conveyed from one person to another such as this, we always recommend designing and using a form instead of relying on informal chats or emails. Importantly, the completed forms should be stored somewhere centrally and not in someone’s inbox, to allow all team members to access the information as required. This could be as simple as a folder on a shared drive, or a more sophisticated platform. While CRM tools such as SalesForce.com have the benefit that sales are familiar with them, we’ve also found that access by connectivity teams is often limited, it can sometimes be difficult to build custom forms or workflows in them, and forms returned by customers via email (typically Excel or Word) are never re-keyed into a CRM tool. When combined, these disadvantages typically cause CRM-based solutions to fail to meet expectations.

If you are just getting started, then we would recommend a simple two-form approach in either Excel or Word. One form should be completed as far as possible by your sales colleague as part of the project kick-off, and one which is attached to the very first email from the connectivity team to the new customer. Data from both forms should be merged into a single, golden record for the customer that can be used by all team members and completed over time.

VERY, VERY IMPORTANT: There may be sales colleagues who believe that they don’t need to fill out the forms, who try to give you a verbal description and “you fill out the rest”, or suggest that you can read their sales call reports to find the information. Resist these suggestions! Make the sales handoff form a mandatory requirement for the connectivity team to begin work, explaining the end benefit that a streamlined onboard leads to faster revenue (and therefore commission for the sales team). Get the backing of senior management if possible. If some sales colleagues still resist the form, we recommend keeping a record of connectivity project times split by sales person, to build clear statistical evidence that a good initial handover leads to better onboarding.

VERY IMPORTANT: We would also recommend being as strict as possible with customers, asking them to fill out the form before kicking off the project or releasing API specifications. OK, we know that you can’t be as strict with customers as you might be with internal teams, so you need to use common sense here. The ideal would be that they fill out the form and return it quickly. But if they respond via email or some other means, then traspose the answers into the form yourself and save it centrally. Even if you end up filling out the form on their behalf, remind yourself that you are still in a better place as you’ve captured more information up-front that you may have done without the form.

As you will see below, the two forms largely mirror each other, with the customer-facing email echoing the initial understanding based on sales input. It is this “echoing” of requirements right up front that not only ensures both parties have the same expectations, but which also leaves the first impression that you are a professional firm paying attention to your customer’s needs.

OK, so what does the sales-focussed form look like? The goal here is to transfer as much information from the sales to the connectivity team as possible. Information should be as precise and complete as possible, meaning that it should be a series of clear questions and multiple-choice answers if relevant. Open-ended descriptive sections should kept to a minimum. Remember that the sales colleague may genuinely not know the answer to some questions; over time you will start to learn (and possibly track) whether they are not asking the questions to the prospective customer, or not filling out your questionnaire!

Here’s an initial set questions which you will obviously need to customise to your relevant business model or service:

  1. Firm name, website and city (for working out the timezone).
  2. Service(s) or asset classes discussed or requested, choosing from a pre-defined list. Ideally there would be a customer priority indicator here too.
  3. Functionality discussed or requested, choosing from a pre-defined list. Ideally there would be a customer priority indicator here too.
  4. Expected software access. A single customer may use multiple packages, which may have different priorities. Use pre-defined lists for vendors that you have already connected to.
  5. Expected physical access. Use pre-defined list for networks that you are already connected to. Don’t expect detailed network answers here! The focus here is really production as opposed to UAT.
  6. Post-trade arrangements. Broadly, how do you expect the customer will clear / settle trades with you?
  7. Contacts (name, email and phone number) and what they do. Ideally, this is a list of contacts by function (connectivity, post-trade, legal etc), but at a minimum you need to understand a given contact’s role in order to avoid bombarding them with questions they can’t answer.
  8. Client timelines. This is not how fast your sales team want the customer live (the answer is always “tomorrow”), but rather to understand whether the customer has indicated any timeline that might impact connectivity, such as planned vacation or vendor upgrade times.
  9. Any other information that relates to the customer connection.

The customer-facing form should largely echo back pieces of information from sales and be framed as a “confirm or complete” form. It is also a great oppourtunity to provide information to clients as well, for example by listing your own post-trade contact alongside the box asking for theirs. Questions may include:

  1. Service(s) or asset classes requested from a complete list, with priority if indicated. Providing a full list of your services will help customers correctly choose.
  2. Functionality requested form a pre-defined list, with priority if indicated. A full list of functionality may spark interest from the customer about what they intend to consume.
  3. Expected software access. Ask also for a contact for each software – either an internal developer for in-house builds, or a vendor contact.
  4. Expected physical access. It is important to establish who is responsible for organising (and paying) for the connectivity, and so this should be captured where appropriate. By listing all of your existing network providers, finding a common provider will be easier which – in turn – can lead to faster connection times. Separate UAT and production connections as appropriate.
  5. Post-trade arrangements. Don’t try to capture too much in this initial form (eg asking for standard settlement instructions); it is better to get a good contact and spin off a post-trade workstream.
  6. Contacts (name, email and phone number), preferably provide a list of contacts by function (connectivity, post-trade, legal etc), providing your corresponding contacts alongside.
  7. Timelines or expected go-live date. Ask them about anything that may impact their readiness or availability. This is a great oppourtunity to outline your process with indicative timelines too.

You will almost certainly need to adjust the above suggestions to be relevant for your business, but by implementing a two-form process such as the one indicated above and capturing the responses centrally, connectivity teams can get their process off to an efficient start, and make an awesome first impression.

Do you have a formal kick-off process that makes your team effective, or another suggestion on how to improve? We’d love to hear it by either leaving a comment below, email us at happytohelp@fixspec.com or message us @fixspec. If you would like to receive more tips like this or free onboarding materials and templates, then please sign up to our monthly newsletter below.