Clara Shih on The Big Reveal, with Suzanne Siracuse
October 14, 2020
We were excited to hear about Suzanne Siracuse’s new podcast, The Big Reveal, which aims to bring personal interviews with wealth management industry innovators and leaders to life. Suzanne, founder and former longtime CEO and Publisher of InvestmentNews, is herself an influential leader in the wealth management industry, and we were thrilled when she invited Hearsay founder Clara Shih to be her launch guest speaker along with Michael Kitces, George Nichols, and Bill Crager.
Here’s a link to Clara’s recent conversation with Suzanne, with a few excerpts highlighted below:
Suzanne: Clara, we met four years ago when I interviewed you at the InvestmentNews Women Advisor Summit. I have to admit I was in awe of your background… You graduated from Stanford with undergraduate and Master’s degrees in computer science. You were an early employee at Google, then joined Salesforce.com. In 2007, you saw the rising tide of social media and became famous for creating the first business application on Facebook, known as “Faceforce.” Then you founded Hearsay Social, now Hearsay Systems, where you served as CEO for 11 years until one month ago. With all those successes, I found you to be warm, generous, and personable, and you were a huge hit with the many advisors who attended that summit.
Clara: Thank you, Suzanne. My family came to this country in the 1980s with not very much, and I’m so grateful for the many opportunities I’ve had. In my life, I have always tried to dream big and take risks. Some have worked out well. I’m thankful to have met inspiring partners and leaders like you along the way!
Suzanne: So let’s talk about your recent announcement. You recently moved into the role of Executive Chair and promoted your COO Mike Boese to CEO. Whenever a high profile leader leaves the top spot, there’s always speculation on why. Can you take us through this decision and why now?
Clara: After 11 years, it was time. I know you know, having been the founder of InvestmentNews, and those of you watching who have built your own business know that being the founding CEO takes everything you have– every day, every hour, every weekend, every ounce of your being.
Last December I let the board know I needed to start thinking about a longer-term transition. In Q1, I met Mike, and here was someone who has started companies and scaled companies to hundreds of million in revenue and loved our mission and culture, then COVID happened and I realized the transition could happen much sooner.
Suzanne: Do you think the pandemic accelerated your timeline?
Clara: There is no question. During crises, we see what leaders are made of. Mike rose to the occasion and truly impressed me and the entire board of directors with his compassionate leadership, incredible work ethic, and commitment to our customers. On a personal level, the pandemic for me, like many people, has been a time of reflection and soul-searching. Over the summer, I realized the time had come after 11 years for me to take a break, spend time with my family, and try something new, with the peace of mind that Hearsay would be in great hands.
Suzanne: Over the summer, before you announced your new role, you and Mike co-led a major deal with Salesforce in which they took an equity share in Hearsay. This deal showcased an important strategic alignment between Hearsay and Salesforce marrying Salesforce’s CRM and Hearsay’s social and digital engagement capabilities. It was big news in our industry. Tell me how that all came together.
Clara: Our partnership has been driven by market forces – compliant digital engagement and CRM need to come together in service of the customer. Customers of both companies kept asking us to work more closely together on integrations, customers like Fidelity, Prudential, Morgan Stanley. So it was really just formalizing what was already happening naturally in the market to better serve what advisors need.
The amazing thing is there are now multiple phases of digital transformation which have been made possible thanks to this partnership. It’s not just about digital marketing. It’s completely rearchitecting how advisors spend their time and leverage analytics in every part of running their practice. The implications are tremendous, more than many people realize.
Phase 1. Contact and data sync
Phase 2. Workflow
Phase 3. Routing
Phase 4. Automation
Suzanne: While both Salesforce and Hearsay are giants in serving large brokerage firms and independent broker dealers, you have not made as much traction in the RIA space, though you do count Marty Bicknell and Mariner as a client. Are RIAs an area you are looking to expand into?
Clara: There’s no question we need to serve RIAs. They are a critical and growing segment in wealth management, and it’s a matter of when, not if. That said, I’m a big believer in focus, and timing and sequencing expansion– this is why Hearsay doesn’t sell technology to life sciences or tech companies. We have always been laser-focused on wealth management and financial services firms with relationship managers. When it comes to RIAs, we have a lot of learning to do. I’d like to learn from as many people as I can. Thinking about new markets and segments such as RIAs and international geos is one key area I’ll be focused on as Executive Chair.
Suzanne: Social media, which was the primary area Hearsay specialized in when you started the company in 2009, has become “not a nice to have” way to communicate but almost an essential way to communicate. You were ahead of your time! What gave you the idea to create Hearsay and the category of social selling in the first place?
Clara: Back in 2009, Facebook and LinkedIn had just launched and usage was growing at an exponential rate. A friend of mine was just starting out as an advisor, had no clients, and was just cold calling. I couldn’t believe how inefficient and ineffective it was. It dawned on me that every step of the sales relationship cycle, was going to get totally transformed by social and digital forces and that a solution was needed to bring business focus to social media. We started with social signals – money-in-motion life events being shared on social networks (the “hear” part of Hearsay), as well as social drip campaigns and 1-1 messages (the “say” part of Hearsay), and of course all of the compliance elements which are table stakes in wealth management.
Suzanne: Since then, Hearsay has made some big moves into adjacent client engagement areas, such as your compliant text messaging solution and new Hearsay Actions platform. How have you seen digital help advisors with their business development and client engagement efforts?
Clara: In every industry, technology is completely transforming how we need to work. In wealth management, this manifests as advisors focusing more of their time on value-added relationship acquisition and deepening activities. On the surface, Hearsay appears to be compliant text messaging and social selling. In reality, what Hearsay really is, is a way to automate and route marketing demand generation and client servicing tasks.
Suzanne: How has COVID changed the way Hearsay is working with clients and how advisors use Hearsay?
Clara: We’ve seen unprecedented usage of our platform since March. It’s been very uplifting to see how advisors have stepped up like never before to be there for clients when it really counts. From Hearsay’s perspective, the shift to remote work has been very seamless given we were already set-up with zoom, texting, social, and digital engagement tools pre-pandemic. With everyone stuck at home, we’ve tried to get creative in finding ways for human connection despite not being able to meet face-to-face, such as sending a supply box to everyone ahead of our largest-ever customer summit in May, or more recent virtual dinners where we have the same meal and bottle of wine delivered to a client as what we’re having so that we can still break bread together and have a slower conversation outside the hustle and bustle of back-to-back meetings.
Congratulations to Suzanne for the launch of her new podcast, and thank you for featuring Clara and Hearsay!