OPINION: Practical approaches to high-value B2B marketing in financial services

Paul Lindsell

Paul Lindsell, Managing Director, ThoughtSpark (www.thoughtsparkagency.com)

Financial Services marketing discussions are so often focused on mass marketing techniques.  Yet a huge part of the craft of marketing in Financial Services is in fact focused on addressing highly specialist audiences with high value propositions.  The techniques involved for targeted marketing are quite, quite different from those for volume audiences.  High-value Financial Services propositions focus on limited audiences which can be defined down to very particular groups of potential buyer, specifier and influencer. This short article reviews some areas of targeted marketing practice and gives a few key tips on areas where campaigns often go wrong.

Audience definition

The initial effort of defining the audience – right down to targeted individuals – is the absolute starting point for any project or campaign in this sphere. It is also often the most neglected. Let’s say your campaign wants to promote a supply chain financing proposition (yes, it’s still an important and legitimate product despite the woes of a particular alt-finance provider). The target will be CFOs, surely? Yes, but are they the final specifier, or is someone else in the department really responsible for cash-flow management, or supply chain security management? Should they be approached first, or should it ‘trickle down’ via the CFO, as this will carry more momentum? And what is the profile of companies who will be in the market for this product? Certainly, particular sectors will have a likely propensity to buy, but is this definition too crude? What business pressures (and profile points) make supply chain finance particularly attractive, whatever the sector?

Co-operation from colleagues?

The importance of initial audience definition is only rivalled by the inability (or unwillingness) of sales and commercial departments to be helpful in building those definitions. Sales get fed leads to pursue and close. Closing is their skill – not analysis of customers behaviours or profiles. Commercial are under pressure simply to deliver the numbers, and will (usually) not prioritise time to worry about the precise nature of the buyer nor their ‘journey’ up to and including purchase. So be realistic about the level of support your colleagues will give. It just means you will have to be that much more persistent to squeeze the knowledge out of them, and may have to allocate resources to doing the analytics yourselves.

From relevance to urgency to leads

Connected to audience understanding is the issue of proposition, pain points and levers to buy. Financial services marketers, and their agencies, spend inordinate amounts of time building up product propositions on the basis of ‘relevance’. Of course, relevance is critically important. But it’s no good unless the prospective buyer also regards it as a priority. So more thinking needs to go into how a proposition is presented to its audiences not only as something that is relevant, but something that is more relevant than other possible purchases, and indeed something that should not only be done, but also be done now.

So, let’s assume that we know the audience profile, motivations and stages through to purchase, and we’ve built a list of specific people at specific companies that we want to reach. Let’s also assume that a compelling product proposition has been built with a great rationale about why the prospect should act right away. Next, they need to be taken on a ‘nurturing journey’.

A nurturing journey first grabs the prospect’s interest, then leads them through a series of increasingly practical pieces of content until their obvious engagement and interest implies that they may be trying to solve that very business issue right now, and would benefit from and welcome a sales call.

Practical pointers

So finally, here are just two practical tips that often undermine high-value financial services marketing campaigns.

First, someone downloading one of your pieces of content is NOT a ‘lead’. You might have started the nurturing journey with an interesting piece of research – in the context of our example above, perhaps some statistics on which industries use supply chain finance most, and why. However, you have to qualify someone’s initial interest in (download of) such a ‘thought leadership’ piece – by seeing them also download a second item, plus perhaps some practical advice on how best to deploy supply chain finance – before you pester them with a sales call. Otherwise you’ll just crate a lot of resentful salespeople (“useless leads”) and astonished – possibly annoyed – prospects (“all I did was download the research paper!”).

Second, if LinkedIn is one of your channels, and you are featuring the relevant sales people to ‘amplify’ your content – are they all LinkedIn to the audience you’re trying to reach? If not, then this part of the campaign could be a complete waste of time. It’s like singing a beautiful song in the Albert Hall, but the people you want to hear it aren’t there! Share your target list with sales and make sure they are reaching out with LinkedIn requests – possibly highlighting the research and other useful material from your campaign as the reason to Link In.

CASE STUDY: High Value B2B FS in Action

A major financial services provider finances equipment and technology sales. The UK business had identified that the Food & Beverage manufacturing sector was going through a disruptive phase, accelerated and amplified by the pandemic crisis. The Food & Beverage sector was wanting to invest in new generation packaging lines to cope with volatility in the trade/retail sales balance, but faced capital constraints.

Working with ThoughtSpark, the financier mounted a highly focused campaign. A target list of packaging equipment vendors (name, company, position) was sourced from trade associations. ThoughtSpark built a model of projected investment in packaging equipment by the Food and Beverage industry over the coming five years. This was published as an insight paper on the financier’s landing page, along with product information and collateral. ThoughtSpark also created a series of posts/blogs for use by sales, tailored to each recipient. The agency also created a series of LinkedIn request messages, referring to the core paper. 29% of those contacted through LinkedIn accepted the request.

UK sales then used the series of core material created by ThoughtSpark to nurture these LinkedIn contacts, tailored to the individual in each case. The campaign has generated relationships with at least 10 new vendors with whom the financier was not previously doing business. A typical vendor relationship, once activated, generates an average of several £ millions in business each year.

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