Predictive technology taps into big data to help advisers connect with potential clients

New software helps advisers select optimal media and times for making contact with prospects

May 13, 2014 @ 1:27 pm

By Joyce Hanson

About 18 months ago, Jeff Rose, an adviser who considers himself an early adopter of technology, started using sales and marketing software that uses predictive analysis and big data to generate leads for his small advisory business, Alliance Wealth Management.

Since then, Mr. Rose has tested predictive technology software products via his Good Financial Cents online newsletter, to find leads, automate e-mail contacts and select optimal times to call prospects. Products he has tested come from companies including InsideSales.com Inc., Infusionsoft and AWeber Communications.

(See also: Client prospecting tool using LinkedIn sparks debate)

Predictive technology finds patterns in data sets to help companies determine how leads are likely to behave. Advisers, for example, can use the technology to learn when prospects who subscribe to their newsletters are most likely to be online or available for a phone call.

“InsideSales had it down to a T, based on the data they'd compiled in their system for what time of day I should make calls,” Mr. Rose said, adding that Infusionsoft's software helped him direct e-mail flow within his sales funnel, while AWeber's system is the one he now uses to gain online newsletter subscribers.

Like Mr. Rose's use of lead gen software, companies that use predictive analysis and big data to help companies make sales are in the early stages of development. But the popularity of such software is growing, and advisers can expect to see more online lead gen products geared toward their practices.

For example, InsideSales announced on April 28 it has raised $100 million in Series C funding to boost revenue growth and expand technology for salespeople. Cloud computing company Salesforce.com Inc., which provides a customer relationship management system used by advisers, was one of the investment partners in the venture round led by Polaris Partners.

InsideSales, which bills itself as a “cloud-based sales acceleration technology company,” provides software as a service to more than 1,000 customers, including large enterprise organizations such as Fidelity Investments and Microsoft Corp.

Meanwhile, Skura Corp., a 10-year-old sales technology firm that uses big-data algorithms and predictive analytics to help companies engage with customers, is now actively seeking to bring advisers onto its platform through their CRMs.

“The predictive side is to see how the customer is reacting to you in real time and then allowing the adviser to adapt,” said Loren Padelford, executive vice president at Skura. “Our application extends the CRM's value proposition. It can bring data to the adviser and be used in combination as part of a sales call.”

But while tech companies are getting excited about the commercial applications of big data, some predictive analytics experts are taking more of a wait-and-see attitude.

Phillip Goldfeder, an instructor of predictive analytics at Northwestern University, said companies such as InsideSales are getting millions of dollars in venture capital because they're the hot new thing. Yet it remains to be seen which tech products will survive after the market has settled down, he said.

“Big data and predictive analytics are buzzwords,” Mr. Goldfeder said. “This is the trend right now, so a lot of people are throwing money at it, but I'm not sure if what it does is truly revolutionary. It's kind of the Wild, Wild West right now because people know what a big deal predictive analytics are, but they don't quite have a handle on it. Right now, everyone's scared to be left behind.”

He predicted that companies like InsideSales.com will see explosive growth — for now — because big data is such a cheap commodity.

“All these companies have data on us whether we know it or not,” Mr. Goldfeder said. “We're willing to give up a lot as customers, and maybe we're conditioned for that. Companies are not paying for this data, we're just handing it over. It's a great model. I remember when people had to pay for leads and information, but now we're like, 'Here, take this.'”

Bill Winterberg, founder of the adviser technology consulting firm FPPad.com, believes individual advisers are unlikely to catch the predictive analytics wave because the majority of sales tech tools focus on high-volume, high-traffic websites and companies.

“The majority of financial advisers just don't have an extensive list of prospective clients that they are trying to convert to customers in their business pipeline,” Mr. Winterberg wrote in an e-mail. “There is a big missed opportunity here, but let's be honest: Financial advisers first need compelling content and a great public profile if they have any hopes of creating a list of qualified prospects.”

Joel Bruckenstein, publisher of Technology Tools for Today and sponsor of the T3 technology conference, thinks that if predictive analytics make big inroads into adviser practices, it will be on custodian platforms.

“To do predictive analytics, you need big data sets,” he said. “For 99% of advisers, it's in its infancy, but it's definitely out there. A small minority of advisory firms will buy those tools, but the majority will get them through their custodian.”

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