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Webinar Recap: Highlights from Putnam Investments’ Annual Social Advisor Survey

In a recent webinar, Mark McKenna, Putnam Investments’ Head of Global Marketing, joined Hearsay’s VP of Marketing, Leslie Leach, to highlight key findings from Putnam Investments’ 8th Annual Social Advisor Study, along with year-end data from Hearsay’s platform. Not surprisingly, this year’s results were a little different, as agents and advisors alike pivoted their strategies to adapt to a socially distanced world.

Here are four key findings from the program: 

Social media not only sustains, but drives new client relationships
With a huge shift away from in-person communications and events, digital noise on traditional channels increased significantly, with an accompanying decrease in engagement. Although advisors may have already been connected with clients on social media pre-pandemic, the crisis drove an increase in sheer volume of interactions. Not only were advisors expected to communicate with current clients, they also leveraged their online presence to garner new business, exploiting features like LinkedIn’s view of 2nd and 3rd degree connections, InMail and Sales Navigator to effectively prospect to an expanded network. The study also found that lesser-used networks like Instagram had higher engagement rates, highlighting an area of opportunity for advisors.

Retaining authenticity remains critical for breakthrough
Being able to stand out among the noise is now a crucial day-to-day consideration for advisors. Not only do they need to provide thought leadership via social media, they also need to be more personal, striking a balance between providing corporate content and connecting on a more authentic level with clients. Advisors who shared more personalized content were rewarded with higher engagement rates across their social media accounts. 

Pro tip: Leslie recommended leveraging Hearsay’s modified content templates as a scalable solution. “By their nature, modified content templates are easier and faster to review from a supervision perspective, combining corporate scale with the ability to easily personalize content at an individual level.”

Direct messaging satisfies the need for speedier response time
Because advisors could no longer hold in-person meetings, the use of digital tools like social DMs, text messages, mobile calls, and emails, grew significantly, along with a more pervasive client expectation for quicker response times. 

An advisor’s response time can make or break a client relationship, and advisors rose to the challenge. Texting conversations on Relate, Hearsay’s compliant texting solution were up 3x compared with 2019, while the average response rate was 13 minutes, versus the industry standard of 14 hours for an email. With more widespread acceptance, and the ability to enforce compliance, in-app messaging is proving to be an indispensable tool for field teams. 

Support from the home office matters
With a shift to remote work, advisors still require the same amount of support—if not more—from their home offices. Advisors all learn differently, so remembering that different training modalities work for different people, and providing various learning tracks, templates and models, helps to speed adoption. It’s important for advisors to connect where their clients want to connect, and with proper support for the home office, advisors can be more efficient in their client engagements.

A huge thanks to both Mark and Leslie for sharing the key findings and observations from Putnam’s Social Advisor Study and Hearsay’s 2020 platform usage and results! Sign up to access the on-demand webinar here.

Retain and Grow Relationships

This is the final post in the “Last Mile of Digital Maturity” series. Read part 1 here, part 2 on reaching and attracting the right prospect here, part 3 on scale and orchestration to target the right prospect here, and part 4 on nurturing and converting new business here.

While new client acquisition is important, meeting overall business targets demands that firms maintain and build on existing relationships. The best leading indicator for continued business growth and retention is a steady volume of 1-to-1 conversations with clients. More consistent, personal communications translate to deeper relationships which build trust. 

Establish a Cadence

We all know that relationships are built over time, whether personal or professional. It’s critical that your field regularly engages with clients—reaching out on a birthday or graduation, proactively scheduling annual reviews or recommending coverage changes—while also staying top of mind during less predictable moments of market volatility or turmoil.

To develop these communication rhythms, firms need to embrace digital channels that encourage usage, promote the right behaviors, and measure adoption, as digital programs are of little value if they’re not being utilized. 

Surface the Right Behaviors

Core systems like CRM are important to the enterprise, but self-recording activities are time- consuming and take away from a rep’s core business. Often, data doesn’t get entered unless automated, and many firms have no idea how frequently and effectively their reps are engaging with prospects and customers. 

Without this data, corporate marketing messages can be off-target or tone deaf. To truly understand the last-mile engagements that deliver an authentic experience, firms must arm themselves with the data that enable them to deploy a more advanced, personalized content strategy aimed at cross-sell and up-sell. Likewise, sales and distribution leaders can better assess the success rate of various techniques. 

Mature firms are addressing this process head on by automating this process, ensuring interaction data feeds business intelligence, CRM and core systems to guide actions. Data holds the key to these insights—but firms must invest in an infrastructure that automatically captures this activity. Only then can you identify the opportunities that truly optimize your approach. (Learn more about how strategic integrations allow firms to enrich CRMs and turn every rep into their best rep in our white paper.)

Deliver a Best-in-Class Client Experience

In financial services, the most telling indicator of client retention is last-mile engagements. Most programs should aim to facilitate a minimum of 10 personal touch points per client, per year. The most mature firms leverage a digital platform and data to guide the field to deliver a consistent experience to every client, maximizing the value of these touch points to drive optimal behaviors. By guiding and lightly prompting field outreach during key moments, they’re increasing the likelihood of more consistent outcomes that translate to deeper, more entrenched client relationships. 

Interested in helping your field build deeper relationships and grow their business? Download our white paper now

Nurture and Convert New Business

This is part 4 in a series on the “Last Mile” of Digital Maturity. Read part 1 here, part 2 on reaching & attracting the right prospect here, and part 3 on scale and orchestration to target the right prospect here.

Content strategy has evolved, and it’s big tech that’s set the agenda. Clients and prospects demand a personalized—-and cohesive—experience across channels. Winning firms that use targeted, timely content seamlessly between channels are accelerating business conversion and growth, thanks to a coordinated engagement strategy.

Know Your Audience(s)

Marketing departments (rightfully) invest heavily in getting to know their end customers. But effectively communicating with them requires understanding and balancing the needs of the advisors and agents who take care of them. Not surprisingly, their diversity—across age, gender, race, interests and specialties— is indicative of a variable understanding of, and appetite for, digital adoption.

Since no two advisors are alike, it’s critical to tailor your approach when building digital programs. A good foundation takes advantage of segmented user groups to coach digital behaviors and design content and channel strategy. 

Foundations of a Balanced Content Strategy

  • Balance automated (campaigns) and personalized (modified, original) strategies to engage clients, across channels, including social and texting.
  • Develop a comprehensive content tag strategy to cater to your advisor/agent population and inform client preferences.
  • Embrace data. Define targets at the outset, and ensure the infrastructure is in place to measure your efforts and evolve your approach.
  • Build a strong partnership with compliance. Find balance between innovation and risk by inserting compliance directly into the ideation or strategy phase. (Learn more about why compliance is your ally in our white paper.)

Having a foundational understanding of your clients and user base will help you develop the systems to improve your program at scale.

Develop your Infrastructure

With a balanced content strategy in place, it’s time to ensure that you have the tools and systems required to drive relevant, powerful messaging across the key channels of social, websites, mobile calling, and text messaging. Clients demand choice, and your field needs to be ready and willing to meet them where they are.

Mature programs are also syncing customer engagement activity with core systems (CRM, CDP, CMS, etc.) to gain a comprehensive omni-channel view of customer engagement. For example:

  • Social programs can sync engagement data to enrich systems like their CDP or CRM, which allows for a more complete view of contacts and leads. 
  • Texting and mobile calling programs can connect with a CRM to initiate two-way activity sync, which allows measurement of engagement frequency with contacts and leads. 

Developing an integrated ecosystem puts firms in position to reach clients with the right message on the right channel. But to truly optimize these efforts, they need to guide their field to engage at the right moment.

Initiate Proactive, Omni-Channel Workflows

Leading firms are leveraging their digital platforms to systematize field outreach seamlessly across channels in pursuit of outcomes like improved conversion and business growth. 

By leveraging omnichannel workflows triggered by CRM and other core systems, firms can optimize lead management by engaging leads quickly, effectively, and measurably. 

Are you ready to win higher conversion rates, more satisfied customers, and more loyal advisors and agents with better nurture and conversion? Download our white paper now

How Scale and Orchestration Can Help You Target the Right Prospect

This is part 3 in a series on the “Last Mile” of Digital Maturity. Read part 1 here, and part 2 on reaching and attracting the right prospect here.

Reaching and attracting the right prospects calls for a strong digital presence with credibility. Once that’s established, it’s time to to turn to scale and reach. At the program level, firms need to encourage repeatable behaviors that position advisors and agents to achieve sustained reach, while cultivating the mindshare required to attract business. 

But as social selling grows increasingly competitive—with more entrants and more sophisticated network algorithms—programs must help their users build and evangelize best practices. Firms in this stage of maturity can look closely at a few areas: weekly publishing targets, campaign subscription rates, and monthly new connection targets. (Learn more about which usage and impression indicators deliver scalable trends in our white paper.)

Improving Scaling and Consistency with Integration
Once best practices are in place, firms should seek to strategically integrate digital programs with their core technology. Key integrations improve ease of use and can improve field efficiency and productivity. For instance, at Hearsay, we’ve partnered with firms to:

  • Centralize social, websites and web listings management into a single workspace. A consolidated offering across these channels ensures consistency and boosts SEO.
  • Configure websites to capture contact/lead information and integrate with CRM or other lead management platforms. This allows for more seamless, authentic lead engagement by accurately assigning leads to the appropriate advisor/agent for follow-up.
  • Sync texting programs with CRM to make contacts more accessible and accelerate usability and adoption. This also allows for the capture of last-mile interaction data.
  • Evolve compliance programs to ensure risk is accounted for as your digital efforts scale. Properly managing compliance risk requires regular assessment of the compliance strategy, fine-tuning of policies & procedures, and technology.

Integrations like this pave the way for firms to further optimize their efforts.

Orchestrating the Optimal Approach
Of course, reaching your audience is only half of the equation; you also need to attract the right clients into your funnel. This is easier said than done, particularly when your advisors and agents have other responsibilities beyond new business generation. 

To optimize the funnel and attract the right prospects, mature firms are taking steps like the ones below to become increasingly targeted in their approach. 

  • Social campaigns can be tailored by region, persona, or area of expertise to align more appropriately with your audience.
  • Web traffic click through rates and website attribution targets can measure the efficacy of your content and approach.
  • Daily active usage of technology is a strong indicator of results. Your field is more likely to keep coming back when they see tangible value.

Even after a target audience is captured, mature firms leave nothing to chance. They have a cohesive social and website experience that locks prospects in during the discovery phase and strategically routes leads to the appropriate advisor or agent in real time. They prescribe digital prompts to guide proactive communications, ensuring a consistent, authentic approach across the field. 

Deploying best practices in the field while integrating core technologies with a targeted approach can vastly improve scale and reach to your target prospects.  To delve into why this is so important, and some specifics around follow-up timing (it’s everything), download our white paper on“Last-Mile Digital Maturity.

Cut through the clutter and get business done with Hearsay Relate

Last year’s global pandemic put every business to the test, and TechGirl Financial was no exception. Victor Gaxiola and his wife Kim had worked in financial services since 2004, but together, they established TechGirl Financial in 2011 to serve a specific niche market: women in technology. Although the pair have always run a digital-first operation, the past year created unanticipated opportunities along with new challenges.

In a recent fireside chat with Brittany Nevares, Customer Marketing Manager at Hearsay, Victor described how the pandemic surfaced new client trends that paved the way for deepening connections during a time of uncertainty. Specifically, Victor shared how he leveraged Hearsay Relate—which enables secure, compliant texting—to nurture more intimate relationships with his clients.

As everyone conditioned themselves to habitual use of new technologies (Zoom much?) to get work done and maintain personal relationships, Victor encountered a double-edged sword.

With a decreased need to be local, geography was no longer an impediment to acquiring new business. “Technology allowed us to open our business to everyone, so that we weren’t limited to the Bay Area, but could also take on clients in North Carolina and Texas as well,” said Victor. However, this meant that his local client base was at risk of being courted by advisors outside his area. Nevertheless, he feels that while the rise of video conferencing afforded clients more selection and variety, it forced advisors to innovate, in order to stand out from the crowd. “This is where a niche focus like women in technology helps us differentiate our practice,” added Victor.

Zoom was a good proxy for client onboarding and reviews in the absence of face-to-face meetings, but to communicate regularly in between Zooms, Victor found that Hearsay Relate integrated seamlessly into his new business model, helping to drive deeper relationships.

“Relate was a game changer in terms of enabling us to make an intimate connection with clients and cut through the clutter,” said Victor. “Every day we’re bombarded with emails and marketing messages, but when it comes to texting, we’re a bit more selective as to who can text us and who we’re willing to respond to.”

Below, Victor shares three of his best practices for Hearsay Relate:

Effectively manage business and logistical transactions

Whether it’s appointment requests, confirmations, reminders, or signature requests, Relate helps you bypass an overflowing inbox to get transactions completed. “If you send a DocuSign request, there are times when the email is ignored; but send a text reminder through Hearsay Relate and it gets done,” said Victor.

You can use Relate to pre-program anything that’s logistical in nature. You can also plan for paperwork or administrative tasks in advance; for example, if there’s anything special that your client would like covered in a meeting, you can send information or pre-work ahead of time, to be better prepared.

Stay on top of your clients’ personal celebrations and milestones

Fortunately, you can also integrate Relate with an existing CRM to pre-program personal texts like birthday greetings, anniversaries, holidays etc., with Relate. Victor likes to get creative with birthday messages, by scheduling a morning greeting embellished with an emoji or image. These small touch points help nurture more intimate connections.

“It’s easy for anybody to understand how Relate helps from a communications and logistics standpoint,” said Victor. “But one day, we received a photograph of mountains and streams from a client in Colorado, who was out on a walk. This kind of unsolicited sharing enriches our relationship with our clients beyond the business,” added Victor.

For him, it’s a two-way street: The business of finance is personal, so it’s important to establish trust with who you’re working with. While he can share endless social posts related to finance, if Victor takes a photo of his dog or cat and refers to them as “the intern,” he gets much more engagement. “The human side—and the humor—goes both ways, and the more we do it, the more we get it back,” he noted. Many of Victor’s clients become a part of his and Kim’s personal lives, which he feels is an unforeseen benefit that Relate has brought to his business.

Establish communication best practices early on

When it comes to communicating with clients, Victor distinguishes between social media (used for scale) vs. Relate (used for 1:1 exchange). Depending on one’s book of business, it’s important to strike a balance between managing time and being efficient. With top clients, Victor ensures that he’s using Relate to reach out no less than once a month; some clients are on a weekly cadence. 

Because three people on his team use Relate (himself, Kim and an Operations Manager), he uses a single Relate number, so that everyone can be in on the conversation. Relate allows users to assign a delegate, so it’s easy to see who’s responding and when. His team includes initials with each text response, so that even clients know who at TechGirl Financial is responding.

As the battleground for client attention continues to evolve, Hearsay Relate helps Victor and the team at TechGirl FInancial “get right to the point without any fluff,” while nurturing more authentic, personal client connections.

A huge thanks to Victor for sharing his insights and best practices for Hearsay Relate with Brittany!

Welcome to the “Last-Mile” Digital Maturity Series

A new phase of digital maturity is underway. Transformational firms are optimizing across the client journey, proactively orchestrating the way in which the field engages with their clients in the “last-mile” and guiding seamless handoffs between channels to deliver business outcomes.

To help you get there, Hearsay has developed a framework for how you can evaluate your path to digital maturity. Along the way, we’ll provide insights and identify opportunities to accelerate your progress along the maturity curve. 

Over the next few months, we’ll share weekly blog posts with the framework components. This framework allows you not just to identify where your program sits, but to illuminate key areas for program growth that deliver the outcomes your business demands. 

But first, let’s start with why it matters.

The most digitally mature firms are enabling frequent and targeted engagement between advisors and clients. These interactions deepen the relationship between the advisor and client, and are what we call the “last-mile.” In a crowded, commoditized marketplace, this is the most differentiated experience you can offer so advice must be delivered in a human way to resonate.

As the ways to digitally engage clients have proliferated, leading firms have begun to recognize the need for an integrated and cohesive technology ecosystem. Their digital programs have become more systematic, and their digital platforms more integrated across their core technologies. 

Our aim is to align your program with your business objectives – centered around three key outcomes – shifting your focus toward the digital actions that drive the most success.

  1. Reach & Attract – Achieve the consistency and scale needed to build brand and acquire new leads
  2. Nurture & Convert – Optimize engagement to influence new business generation.
  3. Retain & Grow – Leverage digital to drive better client support and boost loyalty and retention.

Guiding your field to deliver these outcomes at scale is difficult. It takes time to set up the right framework, mine your data, and leverage technology to scale your efforts across a distributed network of advisors and agents. 

A new breed of marketing organizations, alongside a new generation of advisors and agents, are leveraging digital channels to find new ways to reach and attract clients and prospects. COVID-19 accelerated this transformation. Digital activities are more critical than ever when the field cannot participate in physical top of funnel activities like local sponsorships etc. COVID has put immediate pressure on the industry to rethink service offerings, and explore digital as a way to keep their business moving forward. Looking to the future, these behaviors will be entrenched amongst the most digitally mature. We’ll get started next week by discussing the foundational elements you need to Reach & Attract prospects. 

If you can’t wait to learn more, download the full white paper now.

The Shift from Sales Push to Marketing Pull, for Advisor & Agent Success – Part 2

Across our customer base, we’ve seen a strong correlation between a solid social selling content strategy and website traffic and conversions, with as much as 50% of inbound traffic originating from Hearsay Social. The strong sales and marketing partnership these organizations have developed and the strategic approach to content has led to this success.

Corporate marketing teams have a responsibility to coach advisors and agents to create high-credibility social profiles which boosts SEO; this combined with highly-relevant helpful content helps sellers build out their network. As sellers share that targeted content, buyers engage because the sellers professional digital presence and consistent approach to content instills a sense of trust. A well-placed call-to-action draws traffic to the local advisor or corporate website. These website visitors are higher-quality traffic—they stay longer and view more—and then ultimately show higher rates of lead form submissions. Sellers are helping amplify and bring marketing content to life using their own personal social capital, while marketing is helping sellers establish a professional brand and supplying an ongoing stream of thought leadership. Thus, the marketing and sales funnel of today is inextricably tied.

1-to-1 Sales Engagement Still Requires Marketing Partnership

Even in one-to-one sales engagement with clients—email or text outreach—marketing plays an important role.

Instead of calling a list of contacts from top to bottom, it’s critical for sales to engage with those who have shown behavioral triggers that indicate intent or interest. Knowing who to engage when and with what message requires digital tools and data to interpret client signals. And who tracks client signals and delivers the technology to engage across multiple channels? You guessed it – marketing.

Across our most innovative clients, we’ve seen corporate marketing teams develop digital marketing hubs that provide advisors and agents easy access to tools that help them reinvent the way they engage with their networks. From tracking engagements on Hearsay Social posts to following up on lead conversion forms via a compliant text through Hearsay Relate and using Hearsay Social Signals to be the first to congratulate contacts on a new job or recent move – marketing insights allow advisors and agents to follow up in a timely and targeted way.

Digital touches may not all be sales opportunities, but they’re a powerful way for sales to stay connected and deliver the necessary human touch. The right digital tools help sellers scale and deliver more frequent light touches with a greater number of people to build pipeline, influence, and most importantly relationships. It’s surprising what consistently wishing someone a happy birthday or congratulating them on business news can do.

Endgame: Better Serve the Customer

In the end, when everyone is doing their part, marketing and sales together can transform outreach from random and cold to trusted, authentic, and timely. The key is to use digital to deliver relevant, targeted content created by marketing and analytics around what clients are engaging in to elevate advisors and agents to become trusted problem solving partners. This not only lets sellers scale to serve a greater number of clients, but serves the client more personally, on their timeline and channel, around topics that are important to them.

In the video, watch Hearsay’s co-founder and executive chairperson, Clara Shih, break down how sales performs better in partnership with marketing.

The Advisory Firm of the Future: A Case Study

We’ve written about the advisor of the future and the fundamental shifts in both client and advisor attitudes, behaviors, and relationships (not to mention the recent shift to remote-first work) that are driving adoption of new technologies for client engagement. And in order to meet expectations as the client engagement model evolves and stand out from the competition, firms need to be forward-thinking in how they support their field.

Not long ago, we were lucky enough to get an inside look at a visionary firm launching cutting edge programs to support their force of over 3,000 independent broker dealers and corporate RIAs. Amy Webber, President & CEO of Cambridge Investment Research, sat down with us to share how she and her team are getting Cambridge-affiliated advisors future-ready, today.

First, Webber shared the three things she sees as critical for advisors to embrace to be successful, today and in the future:

  • The advisor of the future needs to stay innovative and leverage digital engagement heavily.
  • They need to use technology to do the right things and delegate tasks that are not value add.
  • There must be a relentless focus on personalization and customization.

The ‘New Century Council’

Cambridge is ultra focused on making sure their advisors are enabled to meet the three requirements outlined above. They have a ‘New Century Council’ made up of progressively minded advisors and corporate team members, including Webber, that meet regularly to discuss tools they’ll need to be successful into the upcoming decade.

Several years ago, the Council raised texting as a channel that would be critical to success. Not long after, they began exploring solutions and started using Hearsay Relate. Webber herself is a Relate power user and shows strong executive sponsorship by texting with the field. “Every generation is texting. We pushed ourselves to think about how Relate could be used by the home office to communicate with the field, and started the journey believing we had to lead by example,” she explained.

Webber shared a story that demonstrated both the power of their onboarding strategy and how Camridge uses texting to build relationships with personal messages. One of their top producers was resistant to texting, so Webber personally helped get him set up and told him she expected him to send her a text once a day. When he missed a day, she checked in to see how he was doing. This showed him how his clients feel when they get that type of personal connection from him. Incidentally, Webber shares her Relate number with any of her 3,000 advisors who ask.

Though their advisors are all independent, Cambridge carries the cost of Relate for two reasons. First, it’s a critical tool that makes advisors efficient and productive. Second, and perhaps more important, it’s essential for risk mitigation. They weren’t willing to take a chance that compliance requirements weren’t being met.

Centralized Contact Service Center

Many advisors join when they’re embarking on the process to build their own small business and need or want to leverage the infrastructure of a larger company. In addition to offering Relate to all advisors, Cambridge also offers a centralized support center. By joining Cambridge, they get technology, practice management, products and services, compliance, regulation, and—for a fee—a centralized contact service center at a scale they couldn’t build by themselves.

The contact service center, a team of virtual office assistants, is one of Cambridge’s most popular offerings, for both solo and larger offices. The support staff’s pictures go up on the advisor/agency website, they talk to clients, pick up delegated activity in Relate, and clients know them as part of the team. This extended team helps the advisors deliver that level or personal and customized service that clients expect without the heavy lift of increasing headcount. It’s perfect for advisors/agencies who don’t have the bandwidth or desire to staff and train a support team – and enables them to hit the ground running.

A Blueprint for Success

With a continuing eye toward future trends, Cambridge has ensured that their advisors are ready for today and the future. When COVID struck, they were prepared to handle the 100% increase in text messages in the following month, thanks to the foresight of their New Century Council and Webber’s leadership in getting Hearsay Relate in place well before the crisis happened. And while they had a 5-year plan for digital transformation that now must be steeply accelerated, their ability to adapt and lead by example will serve them well.

The Last Mile of Insurance: Keynote at InsureTech Connect 2020 #ITC

In the last five years, InsureTech Connect (or ITC, as it’s commonly known), has rapidly grown into the largest gathering of insurance innovators. Last year, our team joined the event in person with over 7,000 attendees in Las Vegas, and launched the Hearsay-Guidewire Connector. This year, of course, the event has gone virtual and we are so excited that our founder and Executive Chair Clara Shih is being featured in the keynote fireside chat with Guardian Life CEO Andrew McMahon.

Most insurance companies had focused most of their digital investments on automation and self-service, and in the pandemic, we’ve seen how the time has come to equally leverage digital to rearchitect how the field works and to strengthen rather than replace human connection. Using Hearsay as the front-end between agents and customers, companies are redistributing marketing and servicing work to corporate teams to allow reps to focus on value-added selling and relationship activities.

InsureTech Connect CEO and co-founder Jay Weintraub moderated a powerful, exciting conversation between Andrew and Clara. Here are some of the key insights and takeaways:

  1. Guardian Life has been in existence since 1860. They are celebrating 160 years this year. Covid is not the first global crisis Guardian has had to navigate. They’ve been able to apply lessons learned from previous pandemics including the 1918 Spanish flu and world wars to navigating the uncertainties of this year and maintain the long view of what needs to be done.
  2. Technology is disrupting every aspect of the insurance value chain from product and underwriting to marketing, distribution, and claims. As an insurance executive, it can feel daunting and hard to know where to start. But one area matters most: what customers experience. The most effective digital transformations start with the customer. Not what the carrier ideally hopes the customer will experience, but what the customer actually experiences– the last mile. Not customer surveys, but actually solving customer needs when and how they want. Start there, and the priorities will become clear.
  3. So-called personalization today doesn’t feel very personal. Has anyone ever gotten an automated email and thought to themselves how special it is and that it was uniquely made for them? Relationship advisors play a very important role. Life insurance is still very much sold, not bought, the vast majority of the time.
  4. Combining the authentic human relationship with a trusted expert with digital scale will allow advisors to maintain ongoing touch points with customers– which is increasingly important both for retention and cross-sell and also for regulatory reasons, such as RegBI. In the past, there were too many insurance customers who never heard from their agent again after the initial transaction.
  5. There is a role for direct-to-consumer and also intermediated channels. Today, most carriers approach each channel in a siloed manner. A unified last-mile engagement layer will allow carriers to blend digital, contact center, and field channels in a frictionless way for customers.

For centuries, the insurance category has played a critical role in helping businesses and families survive the hardest of times. In the past seven months, we’ve seen unprecedented human connection take place on our platforms between agents and advisors and their customers– and all signs point to this authentic digital engagement sustaining well beyond the pandemic. Thanks to Jay and ITC for featuring Hearsay this year, and thank you to Andrew and Guardian Life for being one of our boldest, most forward-thinking customers!

Clara Shih on The Big Reveal, with Suzanne Siracuse

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!