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Embracing and Applying New Digital Tech Emerges as Top Theme at 2015 LIMRA Distribution Conference

At the LIMRA Distribution Conference for Financial Services last week, technology took center stage and book-ended the 2-½ day conference.  Kicking off the conference, James W. Kerley, Chief Membership Officer of LIMRA and LOMA, focused heavily on technology and challenged distribution leaders to embrace social media and digital technology to enable producers to excel in today’s digital world. Jim echoed thoughts he shared at the 2014 conference: sales is changing, and it’s changing faster than ever before. “To be a leader in the digital age,” Jim said, “you must be a digital savvy leader.”

Jim set two key takeaways for the conference attendees:

  1. The need for growth.
  2. The requirement to not only “Think Differently” but to “Act Differently”

The Future of Client Acquisition
The first outside speaker was Greg Bailey, Senior Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer, Athene USA, who covered The Future of Client Acquisition. It seems notable to have a marketing leader on the main stage at a distribution-focused conference, something I imagine that would have been much less likely a decade or more ago when customers where less influenced by digital channels throughout the buying process.

According to Greg, the future growth of this industry relies on a new and innovative approach to distribution. Greg shared, “4 opportunities to shape the future of customer acquisition and realize your potential”: 1. Mobile Technology, 2. Social Technology, 3. Big Data, and 4. Wearable Technology.
Here’s his recap via Twitter:

Finding, Keeping and Managing Clients: How Technology is Changing the Business of Sales

Another technology-focused session was the closing panel moderated by Knut Olson, SVP of Mission Advancement for Thrivent Financial. Knut is so passionate about technology-enabled distribution teams that he said he believes good distribution leaders should act essentially as CTOs.  For this reason, it makes sense that he brought together Michael Lock, President & COO, Hearsay Social with Jaymie Brill who leads Financial Services, for LinkedIn Sales Solutions and Simon Mulcahy who leads Financial Services for Salesforce.  In leading the discussion, Knut shared his the “dream” of a completely integrated content strategy, to empower distribution at Thrivent Financial.

Much of the discussion on the panel was around how technologies like Hearsay Social, LinkedIn Sales Navigator, and Salesforce will continue to evolve, and work together for a seamless customer experience.

Evidence that Distribution Leaders are Embracing Change
This was the third LIMRA Distribution conference that I have attended, and it has been amazing to witness the changing conversation.  Just a few years ago, there was still a focus on “proving ROI” for social and digital initiatives in distribution for financial services.  The focus on technology and evolution at the 2015 conference shows how the industry and its sales leaders recognize that the time to change is now. And, embracing and applying technology is critical for advisors and agents to reach today’s and tomorrow’s customer.

Leading by example: Empowering the next generation of distribution managers at GAMA LAMP 2014

“Leadership requires us to take risks and risks help us become great managers.”

So said Howard Elias during his opening keynote at GAMA International’s 2014 Leadership and Management Program (LAMP) conference. As GAMA’s retiring president and CEO of Guardian Life Insurance’s Wealth Advisory Group, Howard drew on his decades of leadership experience as he addressed the event’s more than 2,700 attendees. His session focused on the important role distribution leaders have in delivering value to their clients and in keeping the industry relevant to future generations. This was a sentiment that was shared by speakers throughout the conference.

Hearsay Social was excited to be among the event’s participants. Thank you to everyone who came to our sessions or stopped by our booth.  For those of you who weren’t able to attend, here are some of the best takeaways we discovered.

The value of transparency and trust

Robert Krumroy, founder of Identity Branding and creator and CEO of, reminded the audience that they need to build trust and foster relationships before the sales process can begin. “No one cares about your company, commodity or brand,” he said, “… you need to educate your customers. And if you’re not doing it, you have to ask who is.”

Other key points he addressed included:

  • “Stop sending drips and start sending tips.” The most effective advisors use the Internet to share financial information their clients may find useful.

  • “79% of people are more likely to buy from someone they have a connection with. You can’t set an appointment with a prospect until they have emotional safety.”

  • “Social media is not a replacement for social connection. Don’t dismiss the value of using your database to nurture relationships over time.”

Getting down at the Denim & Diamonds Bash
From left to right: Jean Paul LaBelle (Strategic Account Executive, Hearsay Social, @jplabelle), Bonnie Godsman (Vice President, Corporate Relations, GAMA), Clara Shih (CEO, Hearsay Social, @clarashih), Gary Liu (Vice President, Marketing, Hearsay Social, @garycliu) and Shawn Davis (Senior Vice President, Transamerica, @shawncdavis).

How social media and big data are transforming distribution

Next on the stage was Clara Shih, Hearsay Social’s CEO and Founder. In her session, Clara discussed how social media and big data are helping financial services firms address the challenges of the evolving industry.

“People don’t want to buy from institutions,” Clara said, “they want to buy from people they know.” Customers share over 1 billion buying signals each day and advisors who have insight into “three or more life events” are more productive, see an average of a 10% increase in sales and are more likely to get customer referrals.

Clara Shih at GAMA LAMP 2014
Establishing trust and relevancy have never been more important for financial services firms. “Social media is a key way consumers validate their purchasing decisions,” said Clara. “But consumers across all generations still prefer to engage with trusted advisors face-to-face. Today’s technologies should enhance your producers activity. Help them become more successful by encouraging them to tie their digital activities to their real world channels.”

The dawn of the superhuman advisor

In a special Leaders of Tomorrow and Today (LOTT) session, Jason Suen, Hearsay Social’s Director of Customer Success, was joined by Eileen Forrest, Head of Sales Support, AXA Advisors & President, AXA Network, Robert Keorkunian, Regional Director at Modern Woodmen of America, and Desi Doise, State Manager at Woodmen of the World. Their session focused on key tactics financial services firms could implement to drive social business success.

Not surprisingly, compliance was initially a key concern for each of the panelists and their firms. “We started our social media program three years ago as a pilot with a focus on compliance,” said Eileen. “Hearsay Social made it possible to use social media as a marketing program,” a transition that was echoed by the other panelists. As their firms began to embrace digital channels, social media training and access was offered to more and more producers in the field.

Other key takeaways included:

  • Top social networks: “Facebook and LinkedIn are the ones we use the most,” said Robert. Desi agreed. “We use LinkedIn a lot for recruiting,” he said. “By the time we speak with candidates, they already know something about our firm.”

  • Digital replaces other forms of advertising: “We’ve gone from Yellow Pages and mailers, to social where it’s all about giving our clients and prospects quick access to information,” said Robert.

  • Provide social media access and training: “We’ve rolled out our social business program to all of our advisors,” said Eileen. “But before getting access, they need to go through a three-part compliance training program. We also offer a weekly opt-in social media class that covers a variety of topics.”

  • Know your audience: To use social media effectively, advisors need to strike a balance between business, educational and fun content. “We encourage our advisors to share different types of content,” said Eileen. “There should be a 5:1 ratio of fun to business posts,” agreed Robert. “Keep your posts to a schedule and 3-5 posts per week is a good number to shoot for.”

Recruiting and retaining the next generation of talent

The issues of the aging advisor workforce, and challenges of recruiting (and retaining) new talent were discussed throughout the conference. In our next post, we’ll share the best advice we heard for attracting millennial candidates, effective recruiting strategies and empowering new advisors to be successful from day one.

Sales has changed more in the past 10 years than it did in the previous 100: Recap from LIMRA Distribution 2014

Recently we were honored to be in Florida for LIMRA’s annual distribution conference, where our CEO Clara Shih shared the stage with Mark Hug (Executive Vice President Product and Marketing, Individual Life Insurance Prudential), Patrick T. Leary (MBA, Assistant Vice President, Distribution Research, LIMRA), business experts Daniel Pink and Ryan Estis, and many other industry leaders.

For those who weren’t able to make it, here are some of the best takeaways from the event, where we discussed the future of distribution in financial services.

The New Age of Marketing and Sales

Kicking off the conference, Mark Hug framed his presentation around key challenges the industry faces today. You may be familiar with the industry challenges as listed below, but what made Mr. Hug’s presentation especially insightful was how he tied the challenges to the opportunities facing the industry.

Key Challenges

  • The Economy: The pressures of low interest rates are especially affecting the life insurance industry. Although the U.S. is projected for a full economic recovery by 2015, the recovery of the life insurance industry is lagging.

  • Regulations: “The industry has never been more regulated,” said Mark. He described the growing regulatory pressure, especially as new technologies emerge and make information more accessible.

  • Distribution: Distribution volume is at a low point, and by some measures, there are 25% less producers than there were 10 years ago. Life insurance distributors are also greying at a faster rate that their financial services counterparts. Today, the average age of a life insurance advisor is in the upper-50s compared to a financial advisor who is in their lower-50s.

Mark described how some organizations are experimenting with “alternative” distribution channels, such as websites or big-box chains. But “we are not going to make progress through experimentation,” he argued, encouraging LIMRA members to move faster to keep up. “We can’t experiment anymore, we need to disrupt.”

Specifically, through technology and big data, he sees key opportunities for the life insurance industry to innovate and adapt in the areas of marketing, distribution and customer experience. Some producers have adopted social media as a means of building relationships with clients, but he also encourages other digital channels of communication such as chat or video conferencing.

Mark pulled out his iPhone and used Siri to search for a life insurance advisor to make a point: it is just not that easy to find a life insurance agent online. He went on to explain how important it is for advisors to be findable on the Internet, using the legal industry as key example. Social media profiles and pages boost search results, making social media a key tool for producers to make themselves more findable.

Another area of opportunity that Mark highlighted was big data and analytics. He encouraged LIMRA attendees to start leveraging the information they already have to better serve their customers and prospects.

“Leverage predictive analytics, learn about your customers and understand how they are going to change in advance,” he said.

In his parting message, he focused on customer experience. At Prudential, they are spending more time on customer experience than ever before. Mark urged his peers that if they are not already investing heavily in their customers’ experiences, then they should be. And the investment can’t be done in isolation by a single team. Distribution and marketing should work as partners, understanding your customer and potential segmented consumer better.

“If you do this,” he said, “you’ll be right along with us next year.”

To Sell Is Human: The New ABCs of Moving Others

The second main stage presentation was led by Daniel Pink, bestselling author of “To Sell is Human.” Daniel started out his presentation with a bold assertion that the disintermediation predicted as a result of digital distribution hasn’t happened. He supported this assertion with U.S. employment numbers showing that the number of salespeople in the workforce hasn’t declined.  The percentage of American workers that are in sales has stayed constant at about 11% from 2000 to 2014, according to Daniel.

Sharing some data his team researched, Daniel described the negative connotation most Americans have with “sales.” The team asked approximately 7,000 adult full-time workers, “When you think of ‘Sales’ or ‘Selling,’ what’s the first word that comes to mind?” Results were overwhelmingly negative: 20 of the top 25 adjectives they recorded were negative, including words such as “pushy” and “smarmy.”

We are no longer in a “buyer beware” world: with all of the information available online, the warning is “seller beware.” Not only can buyers now do extensive research on a product before making a purchase, they can also research the salespeople. Daniel highlighted three key qualities of salespeople in this new era: attunement, buoyancy and clarity.

Daniel also debunked a popular myth that people with an extrovert personality are the best sales reps. In their study they found that “ambiverts,” people who are neither exclusively extroverted nor introverted, are actually the most productive salespeople.

Daniel’s key message: selling has changed more in the past 10 years than it did in the previous 100. Salespeople today need to recognize these changes and return to customer-centricity.

Social Media and the Future of Agency Distribution

On day two of the event, we were proud to take the stage with business leaders from Pacific Life, Thrivent Financial, and New York Life to discuss how social media affects the future of agency distribution.

Hearsay Social CEO Clara Shih (@clarashih) was joined by Greg Bailey (VP, Marketing, Pacific Life Insurance Company, @gregbaileyco), Knut A. Olson (CLU, FIC, Chief Distribution Officer, Thrivent Financial), and Maurice B. Springer (CLF, CVP Manage Development, New York Life Insurance Company).

Building off of Mark’s and Daniel’s presentations described above, Clara discussed how multiple factorsshifting customer demographics and buyer expectations, an aging advisor population and the unprecedented pace of technological changeare challenging the effectiveness of traditional distribution models. She argued that innovations in social, digital and mobile technologies for the advisors can help solve many of the problems discussed at the conference.

To support her arguments, Clara passed the microphone to distribution leaders from Pacific Life, Thrivent Financial, and New York Life in the audience so they could share their social business success stories. Selling is transforming, but that doesn’t mean it’s dying. The most adaptable firms will embrace new technologies as way to help, not hinder, their field forces.

Learn more:

The rise of the customer and social business in financial services: Recap from LinkedIn FinanceConnect
Social Media Is Key to Humanizing Financial Services: SIFMA Seminar
Enhancing the social business experience for financial advisors at Wedbush Securities

Looking forward to the LIMRA Distribution Conference for Financial Services

LIMRA has selected Hearsay Social as its Elite Strategic Partner and endorsed social media solution for LIMRA members to learn about and be successful on social media.

Once again, we’re proud to be in Florida for LIMRA’s annual Distribution Conference, where our CEO Clara Shih will be sharing the stage with Mark Hug (EVP, Product and Marketing, Individual Life Insurance, Prudential), Patrick T. Leary (MBA, Assistant Vice President, Distribution Research, LIMRA), business experts Daniel Pink and Ryan Estis, and many other industry leaders.

On Friday, Clara will be joined by business leaders from Pacific Life, Thrivent Financial, and New York Life to discuss how social media affects the future of agency distribution. Most executives recognize that the financial industry is in flux, so we are likewise seeing a challenge to the traditional distribution models. Driving agent success through social business will be essential to compete in today’s market. (See full session details below.)

Tonight and for the rest of the week, conference attendees will also hear executives from Prudential, Sun Life, and Thrivent Financial discuss how to adapt field reps to the new age of marketing and sales. It’s sure to be a very informative week!


Social Media and the Future of Agency Distribution

WHEN: 9:30 am on Friday, February 21

WHO: Clara Shih (CEO of Hearsay Social and Board Director, Starbucks Corporation) will be joined by Greg Bailey (VP, Marketing, Pacific Life Insurance Company), Knut A. Olson (CLU, FIC, Chief Distribution Officer, Thrivent Financial), and Maurice B. Springer (CLF, CVP Manage Development, New York Life Insurance Company).

WHAT: The financial industry is in the midst of seismic change. Shifting customer demographics and buyer expectations, paired with an aging advisor population and the unprecedented pace of technological change, are challenging the effectiveness of traditional distribution models.  The solution, however, isn’t to bet everything on direct channels.  Rather, the agency distribution leaders of today and tomorrow must empower their field organizations with the latest social media, digital, and mobile technologies to stay relevant, stay competitive, and appeal to younger generations of advisors and customers alike.  Silicon Valley innovation leader Clara Shih will share her insights on how social business is transforming how agents sell. Distribution leaders from two leading firms will join Ms. Shih to discuss how they are driving these programs at their respective organizations and the key role that field management must play to ensure the success of Agent Social Business initiatives.

See you there, or check back on our blog to see live notes and tweets from the event at #distconf!

Also, read our updates from the 2013 LIMRA Distribution Conference.