Maintaining engagement with clients and prospects has always been a costly and time-consuming, yet critical task for financial advisors. Social media has provided a free communications channel, but it does not reduce the effort required to locate or create and distribute captivating content.
It has been a perennial industry puzzle: how can advisors effectively leverage networks such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook to engage contacts in a way that is scalable, adds value, and helps to identify new sales opportunities?
Enter digital content management platforms. At their core, they all promise the same thing: engaging content that is curated and distributed with minimal effort from advisors.
Some platforms, like Vestorly, are powered by an artificial intelligence engine and offer highly scalable and individual customization. Others, like AdvisorStream or Hearsay Social, promise to ease the compliance headaches with 100% pre-approved content. In this field of options, Grapevine6 provides a unique blend of features that RIA’s and broker-dealers will find useful for curating and distributing content for advisors.
Mike Orr, one of the founders of Grapevine6, describes the platform as a tool created to help advisors sell via social media. It is delivered via both a desktop and mobile app that allows advisors to share content, publish it to numerous social networks and integrate relevant events into an their prospecting workflow. The individual version of the software is free, with enterprise options and extra services available.
Curated Content for Client Outreach
Grapevine6 was built to simplify content sharing and improve client engagement, Orr explained. With 6,000 online publishers and 50,000 articles added daily, the volume of content on the platform is more than enough to meet the needs of any firm.
Advisors can select their preferred social networks and content sources to narrow the pool of recommended articles. This is important, because the quality of curation determines whether contacts enjoy the shared articles or cringe with one look at the suggested titles.
But curation quality is only one part of the solution. The other is interest matching. In a perfect world, each advisor would know their clients and prospects well enough to customize every message to suit their professional and personal interests. Unfortunately, this is never the case. So, the Grapevine6 team developed an algorithm that can analyze content interaction history to continually improve the relevance of content being distributed.
One issue I found with all of these tools is the lack of content customization when you first start using them. There is no way for the apps to gather information about the interests of the clients and prospects. So, the first series of posts are a bit of a crapshoot as advisors broadcast content that they think might be interesting, but at the start, is nothing more than educated guessing as to what their contacts might click on.
All of the firms we spoke to claim that their engines learn as people interact with the content by clicking on the links and/or forwarding them to others. They interpret these actions as expressing interest in the topic(s) of the content and adjust the future content being sent out accordingly.
Sharing a Firm’s Own Content
Grapevine6 subscribers are not limited only to syndicated content. At the enterprise level, firms create pre-populated content streams of internally generated content. Their advisors can then select content from these streams or even share their own blog posts, videos, and articles by adding those to an editable stream.
Of course, regulators require that all advisor-generated content go through an approval process before it is allowed to be shared externally. Grapevine6 provides a workflow for compliance, marketing and other departments to approve content in any stream.
Vestorly takes this functionality one step further by offering to host advisor blogs, podcasts, and other content document directly on their platform. Based on conversations with Vestorly, some of their subscribers use their own content exclusively. That approach seems like a good fit for firms that have the resources to generate high-quality content and wish to benefit from robust data analytics that power Vestorly’s algorithms.
The approaches to distributing content differs among the vendors. Grapevine6 and AdvisorStream both push selected content out via social media networks, mainly LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. This is similar to social media management tools such as Buffer, SproutSocial or Hootsuite, which also has a reseller agreement with Grapevine6.
Vestorly is the outlier. While they support posting content via social media, they prefer to distribute content via email. Their application bundles articles together into slick newsletters that are white labeled for their clients. This method reduces complexity for the advisors, but also limits the breadth of reachable contacts.
Similar to Grapevine6, Vestorly integrates with social media management app Hootsuite, which can manage multiple streams of outbound content. My consulting firm is a heavy user of Hootsuite for scheduling content across all of our networks, so this connectivity would be a critical requirement if we were selecting a curation tool, as it would be for any advisory firm.
Prospecting With Grapevine6
An upcoming feature of Grapevine6 that should spark interest is their “Opportunity Card”. Their algorithms will scan the news for events that can result in money movement, such as an executive job change, a company being acquired, or an IPO. The dashboard will present subscribers with a list of trigger events, and advisors will be able to pre-select event types they are most interested in.
Any time a local event in the news trips the trigger, an Opportunity Card will pop up on the advisor’s interface. The advisor will have the option to keep the opportunity or pass on it. If the advisor chooses to keep the opportunity, Grapevine6 will suggest next actionable steps for follow up. Depending on the event, those may include reading up on the executive affected by the event, connecting with him on LinkedIn, or using other social media to connect and engage. All of these options will be automatically linked and accessible with a single click.
This new capability is currently in beta test mode, and the early results are encouraging. Mike Orr shared a story of an advisor who received an Opportunity Card with a lead on a local company getting acquired. Three founders in their early 20’s were about to walk away with a lot of money. The advisor reached out to them on LinkedIn, discovered they did not have a financial advisor, and offered a meeting. Eventually, he was able to close all three of them as clients. That is impressive.
Hearsay Social has similar functionality that monitors ‘social signals’ in order to identify money-in-motion events.
Something that I would like to see Grapevine6 add is the option of capturing new leads through content sharing. Vestorly does this every time content is shared and directs them into the clients’ CRM so they become part of the prospecting workflow. (See 3 Strategies for Digital Client Engagement With Vestorly)
Convenience and Ease of Use
When an advisor buys a subscription to a digital content platform, they want to get a stream or a library of on-brand articles and the ease of building an editorial calendar in a few clicks per week. Grapevine6, Vestorly, and AdvisorStream are all an upgrade over having to spend hours on the Internet digging for content to share. The build-in automation can create highly scalable customization, although from what I could see AdvisorStream ranks lowest of the three on that front.
Grapevine6 delivers on the both convenience and scalability fronts. I like that the platform’s algorithm suggests optimal time for publishing a post, since that gives it the best chance of being read. It can also suggest opportunities to share content again based on different reading patterns across social networks. Timing is good, but what does the platform do to suggest the best-fit articles?
Visual interest map is the answer. This feature is unique to Grapevine6 and adds a lot of value in my opinion. The system can analyze the subscriber’s own social presence brand, as well as the interests of every contact. It then presents those interests in a compelling and clear visual map that conveys the balance of topics. Would you like more article suggestions about retirement planning and fewer about artisanal chocolates? No problem. Just tweak the graphs with simple levers and watch the recommended library change immediately.
One feature that Grapevine6 is missing right now is CRM integration. Advisors can import their contacts from social networks, but full CRM integration is under development. According to Orr, Salesforce is first on their list for integration in upcoming releases.
User Interactions and Analytics
Because of the lack of CRM integration, Grapevine6 analytics are a bit weak. As of now, it is not possible to get insight into the articles read at the individual prospect level. Advisors have visibility into which platforms are generating the most engagement, and which posts create the most interest in terms of likes, shares, and clicks. That is enough to inform content selection, but not great for specific prospecting.
This gap in functionality stands in sharp contrast to Vestorly that tracks all interactions down to the contact level. With Vestorly, advisors can see every single article ever read by a prospect. With that level of intelligence, an advisor can gauge the prospect’s engagement level and topics of interest. That allows for strategic follow-up and creates potential for more business.
Compliance and Brand Safety
At the enterprise level, Grapevine6 subscribers get the benefit of an automated brand policy and compliance safety scans. This functionality is particularly critical in a brand-conscious and compliance-driven wealth advisory industry.
In terms of brand safety, the system allows users to set up safety parameters around their personal and corporate brand. Using those guidelines, the algorithm will only recommend articles that the fit the subscriber’s profile.
Grapevine6’s response to compliance is automated pre-review. At the enterprise level, individual compliance offices have the ability to pre-approve content libraries that are made available to the firm’s advisors with no additional checks needed. This pre-approved library approach is similar to AdvisorStream.
Posts that did not originate in a pre-approved library go through a near-real time automated compliance check that uses compliance policies specific to the company. This automation can go a long way towards eliminating the annoying bottleneck associated with manual review and approval. A proprietary algorithm generates a “risk score” and either automatically approves the post if the score is below the company’s accepted level, or rejects it if the score is above the tolerance threshold. Advisors have the option of re-working and re-submitting the rejected post.
Archival is run automatically, and activity after publication is monitored and reviewed. In the event of a possible compliance issue after publication, corporate office can either take the post down, or reach out to the advisor and request action.
According to Orr, subscribers can expect tier-based pricing. Tier 1 will include opportunities that are exclusive within an enterprise but not to the enterprise. In other words, an advisor with Cetera and HD Vest could get the same opportunity card. Tier 2 opportunities will be true exclusive leads. Orr explained that Tier 2 would be a good fit for top level advisors who will be most effective and timely in their follow up.
Grapevine6 Social Media Secret Weapon
Among the platforms that promise turnkey set-up and minimal time commitment, Grapevine6 stands out for its visual interest profile maps, as well as the upcoming release of Opportunity Cards. The ability to tap into publicly available news feeds and extract data on upcoming money movement can spell growth potential for advisors who are willing to invest in the exclusive intel. The automated risk score-based compliance check is also attractive, as it minimizes the dreaded “will my post get approved before it becomes irrelevant?” limbo.
The features that could be more robust include readership analytics, which will hopefully be forthcoming with CRM integration. Grapevine6 does not seem to offer the lead capture through reader sharing and forwards, something that both Vestorly and AdvisorStream capitalize on.
I like the simplicity of the interface, as well as the visual aspects of Grapevine6, and will look forward to new features and upgrades becoming available on the platform. I would also recommend it for any RIA or broker-dealer looking for an enterprise-level tool to manage their social media content curation.
Once upon a time, creating client engagement online took a lot of time and effort. Advisors labored to create original content, or scoured the Internet for articles to share. Results were often stodgy, boring, and mediocre. Clients and prospects ignored the shared content, and no one lived happily ever after. Along came a wave of startups looking to automate and improve client engagement. One of those was Vestorly.
The Vestorly platform was created in 2012 by Justin Wisz and Ralph Pahlmeyer to solve the digital relationship-building puzzle. The two founders, who previously started a digital advertising and lead generation firm called AdvisorLeap, began Vestorly with a simple premise: helping people read and share interesting content.
When I first heard of it, the idea sounded intriguing because it promised a high level of automation and customization at the same time, boosted by data analysis. Since Justin Wisz, the CEO of Vestorly, and I were at the 2016 Envestnet Advisor Summit in Chicago together, we sat down for a chat about social media, client engagement and the state of his firm.
Merging Artificial Intelligence with Marketing
Wisz and his team originally set out to build a better data-driven marketing platform. Their goal was to go beyond curating personalized news feeds on a large scale and to reach for delivering actionable business intelligence data.
As Wisz explains it, Vestorly is based on three key product values:
- Deliver content that consumers want;
- Reduce workload for advisors;
- Provide data advisors did not previously have.
The Vestorly platform is powered by an artificial intelligence engine that uses a proprietary algorithm in a sequence of “if-then” decisions that learn from past experience. Wisz referred to this as a “closed feedback loop”. He explained that every event on the platform is tracked, so that it can be used to inform the next steps.
Start with Engagement
According to Wisz, the Vestorly platform drives next-generation engagement. This goes beyond just sending out emails and requires leveraging technology to build relationships.
Today’s investors are more tech-savvy and expect more online interaction with advisors. It’s more than just Millennials that want content that is “personal, mobile, and in real-time,” observed Wisz.
How Does Vestorly Work?
Vestorly is one of the leaders in a relatively new market segment of automated digital marketing tools. Their competitors include AdvisorStream and Grapevine6.
- Content aggregation
- Content curation
- Selection of content for each contact
- Delivery of content
- Client engagement tracking
When advisors first sign up, they import or upload their contacts into Vestorly. The platform currently offers integration with popular CRMs Salesforce and Redtail. Advisors can import their contacts and can also tell Vestorly to synchronize data so that any new leads created in Vestorly will be be reflected back into the CRM.
Vestorly then generates the first newsletter to all contacts. The initial batch of articles is mostly generic, and the same content goes to all contacts. This is a bit ‘spammy’ in my opinion. I would prefer that they work more like their competitor, Grapevine6, which analyzes your contacts’ LinkedIn profiles so that even the very first email is personalized.
Any subsequent interactions that the client has with the content are tracked by the Vestorly algorithm. The collected behavioral data is analyzed, and used to customize subsequent content. As a result, the second newsletter will come in multiple “content cluster” versions.
The newsletters become more refined with each iteration with the end result of almost every client receiving a unique batch of content.
Content curation can be entirely automated and most users prefer that, Wisz stated. He describes it as “scaled customization that would be impossible to achieve on a human level.”
While there is value to automation, I like the functionality in Grapevine6 that allows you to tweak every contact’s content preferences manually using a bunch of sliders.
A Controllable Web Experience
In addition to the personalized newsletters and social media posts, Vestorly can be integrated with the advisor’s website for seamless browsing. The artificial intelligence engine only has access to system-read content, so advisors are assured that no articles about Donald Trump will show up in clients’ feeds, unless they express an interest. This is important, because the quality of curation is critical for delivering relevant and engaging articles.
Another unique aspect of Vestorly is its ability to shift the advisor’s focus from generating and curating content to looking at interaction data. Writing newsletter articles, recording videos, and curating content takes time. By relying on Vestorly, advisors can save themselves hours of work, get better customization, and focus on taking the next steps towards enrollment.
Something that is missing from Vestorly is a profile interest graph like Grapevine6 has for every contact. This provides a visual representation of each contact’s interests.
The platform is enterprise-friendly, with centralized control and administration Although Vestorly has applications across many industries, its compliance module is custom-built for wealth management. Home office has the ability to customize control and supervision settings. As a result, clients and prospects receive a consistent corporate brand experience. The recent launch of Compliance Exchange enables users to meet broker-dealer content approval, archiving, and social media guidelines automatically.
Wisz claims that Vestorly delivers sales enablement… How?
One of Vestorly’s big selling points is its ability to generate warm leads. “When you send personalized collections of content to a client or a prospect, there is an almost 30% chance that it will be forwarded to a friend, family member, or a colleague. When they do that, 69% of the time the recipient activates it,” shared Wisz. Once the new prospect opens the email and opts into the system, he gets access to a personalized news feed and becomes a lead.
A case study for Halbert Hargrove illustrates that in about 30 minutes of human time invested per week, the firm’s clients get a curated steam of content on the website and personalized e-newsletters. Halbert Hargrove reports that its database grew by 15% with client referrals prompted by Vestorly content. One prospect reached out unsolicited and became a client.
How typical are those results, and how well does Vestorly convert warm leads into clients?
According to Wisz, conversion results vary. The platform currently does not track the close rate for Vestorly-generated leads as compared to other leads. Wisz explained that Vestorly is primarily a sales enablement engine. Its purpose is to offer interesting content, save the advisor time, and provide data for action.
I was disappointed by the lack of an automated feedback loop from Vestorly back to CRM. The subscriber can see client interaction patterns and history in Vestorly. Unfortunately, they do not automatically transfer into the original CRM. There appears to be a way to pull some of the data into the CRM, but the process is manual and the number of fields is limited.
Expanding Client Base
In January, Wisz has secured an additional $4.1 million in VC funding for his firm. The money was directed to improving the product map and refining the platform’s functionality.
Vestorly currently has 800 clients, many of them large RIAs and broker dealers. Advisor Group (formerly AIG Advisors) and Mercer Advisers are among the clients. Orion Advisor Solutions portfolio accounting service now includes Vestorly Standard digital content subscription at no additional charge, with advanced customization and data reporting available for a fee.
Vestorly’s digital content is available on Pershing’s NetX360 platform for RIAs and broker-dealers that custody with them. Pershing acts as a reseller of Vestorly, and Wisz claims they have helped his firm close a number of large deals.
— craigiskowitz (@craigiskowitz) May 18, 2016
Real-time engagement is gaining traction in the industry, with Envestnet announcing its partnership with AdvisorStream at the Advisor Summit. This platform allows advisors to leverage licensed content from leading publications. Users can distribute compliance-vetted content, monitor open rates, and deliver a user experience that is mobile and uninterrupted by paywalls and third party sites.
In 2014, Vestorly announced a partnership with FinanceLogix. In light of the acquisition of FinanceLogix by Envestnet, this arrangement might fall by the wayside.
Vestorly Delivers Next-Generation Client Engagement
Wisz shared that his team is updating the core algorithm to improve suggestions based on past behavior of the prospect. If a lead had opened multiple newsletters and demonstrated an interest in retirement planning, the system will suggest that the advisor reach out with a one on one message to schedule a conversation.
Vestorly and their competitors are a vast improvement over static content libraries. With the recent round of VC funding, the Vestorly platform will continue to improve as more data and functionality becomes available. The development of sales enablement suggestions sounds particularly promising, because no other platform on the market today does that.
Final verdict? Vestorly is not meant to be a replacement for the advisor’s strategic decision-making, but it can reduce workload, provide real-time engagement data and provide scale for the advisor’s prospecting and sales enablement.