Just before everything shut down in the face of the pandeminc, a group of financial marketers convened in Boston for a meeting of the Gramercy Institute. The session was billed as focusing on the topic of ”What’s New and What’s Next in Financial Marketing“ and indeed much of the content touched on the future, but, taking a cue from the news at the time, the host initiated a discussion of marketing in a crisis.
Broadly, the conversation fell into two buckets: communication “best practices” and the role of marketing. Two key take-aways:
Communication “best practices.” There was agreement that transparency and authenticity were key to building connections with customers, but also that there was no clear playbook for communication frequency and channel. Discussion participants recognized the need to respect the limited time and frayed nerves of customers but also saw potential value in providing clear guidance in an environment filled with uncertainty. Likewise, they recognized the need to find a balance between communication overload – exacerbated by the worldwide turn to digital communications in light of severe restrictions on face-to-face contact – and the value of demonstrating presence and building community when so much of the current crisis feels (and is) isolating. Finally, participants expressed mixed feelings about finding opportunities in the crisis. Many said that this was definitely not the right time to be promoting products. Some made the argument that people are looking for concrete assistance and that there was a place for tasteful promotion of solutions that could meet the needs of customers in the current environment.
Role of marketing. As the discussion
turned to the role of marketing amidst the crisis, there was widespread
consensus that in some ways the environment was one in which marketing could
really prove its value in building relationships with customers and prospects
and in delivering timely, conscientious, clear communications. Even more,
though, there was agreement that marketers at B2B financial services companies
should seize on this as a chance to forge a closer partnership with their sales
colleagues, who are likely to be struggling to adjust to a world in which
face-to-face contact is minimized or even completely foregone. Everyone agreed
that if Marketing could find a way to enable sales to leverage digital and
voice channels to nurture relationships at a distance and at scale, it would
have a significant impact on the ability of the company to navigate these
While the event was likely the last in-person meeting for the near future for most in attendance, it was a valuable opportunity to share ideas with colleagues and learn from each other as chaos seemed to be descending. It has given us much to think about as we all now hunker down, socially isolate to try to stay safe, and think about what the future might hold in store.
“Making convenience secure”
“Protect your applications”
“Protect and grow your business confidently”
“Prevents the threat of breaches”
Anyone walking the aisles at the recent FinTech Connect conference in London reading the taglines displayed in the booths would have gotten a clear sense of the overwhelming significance of security in the FinTech space. Not that it should come as a surprise given the constant threat of crippling breaches and compromised data.
What is interesting about the threat and the proclamations of powerful counter-measures is that while the threat hangs like a cloud over the industry, the potency of security efforts effectively require a leap of faith. Just because an application hasn’t been compromised doesn’t mean it can’t be. And when the risk calculation includes the potential damage from a reported breach, even the smallest possibility looms large.
Moreover, the proof of an application’s security lies in the absence of problems. From a marketing perspective, that is a proposition that is very difficult to communicate: part of the customer value you’re delivering is a lack-of-disasters. And a lack-of-disasters is only a differentiating attribute if your competitors have all experienced breaches. In fact, then, data security is table stakes—vital, but not the thing on which you want to hang your positioning hat.
So if data security is important, but is impossible to prove or leverage as a differentiator…
Is there still a way to claim some ownership of it as an attribute?
Can you create value around an attribute for which nothing happening is a positive outcome?
The answer to both questions is “yes, through content marketing.” Developing and distributing a consistent, relevant, and valuable stream of data security content for prospects and customers is a proven, powerful way to instill confidence and build stickiness. Demonstrating data security expertise through content marketing does infinitely more than a promissory tagline to establish a position of trustability in customers’ minds and reinforce perceived value.
When done well, content marketing can create loyalty even in the face of low switching costs because customers and prospects become hooked on the valuable material delivered and come to recognize you as a knowledgeable and indispensable partner. Moreover, while it’s easy for a competitor to copy tagline promises of data security, it’s much more difficult to duplicate an effective content marketing engine.
In customer success management, there will always be a tension between treating each customer as special and unique in order to ensure their success, and serving all customers without exploding the CSM team budget. One way to strike a balance between these two poles is the collection, maintenance, and efficient utilization of customer segment intelligence.
Customer segment intelligence is the knowledge base of elements relevant to the sale and utilization of your product/service by companies within a target segment. These elements would likely include:
Key “firmographic” attributes of companies in the segment (e.g., size, geography) that might influence purchase and adoption
Decision-making structures and influence networks
Typical needs and objectives related to your product/service
Propensity for and approach to technology adoption
Common objections to purchase
Common obstacles to implementation/utilization
Equipped with this kind of intelligence, SaaS companies can develop segment-specific customer success programs and segment “playbooks” that will produce better results more efficiently. They achieve this by being adapted to align with the particular characteristics and meet the particular needs of companies in that segment. A “one-size-fits-all” onboarding program is almost always better than no onboarding program is likely to miss the mark for some customers. A custom implementation plan is highly effective but unscalable. A customer segment intelligence-based onboarding program strikes a balance between these extremes by delivering a template that applies to a group of customers, but is effective because it is built on the foundation of knowledge of the typical operational constraints on the companies’ ability to get quickly to value and capture quick wins.
As is the case with the aforementioned onboarding, most customer success initiatives benefit from segment intelligence. For example, it is much more effective and efficient to have a series of segment email templates for cross-selling and/or up-selling rather than each CSM writing new emails from scratch for every upsell/cross-sell opportunity and rather than using a single, generic “canned” email that fails to be compelling because it doesn’t speak to the specific segment needs. Similarly, understanding when breadth or depth of utilization should register either as a concern (too low) or an opportunity (very high) requires knowledge of the relevant segment-specific benchmarks rather than benchmarks based on the entire customer base, much of which may behave very differently than the customers in one specific segment.
Moreover, this intelligence delivers further operational efficiency gains by enabling lesser-tenured CSMs to ramp up and effectively help customers faster. Playbooks, templates, and diagnostics provide a foundation of proven tools and process that gives newer CSMs with good relationship-building skills the opportunity to succeed quickly.
In an upcoming blog, we will discuss best practices for gathering and distributing customer segment intelligence.