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The changing role of relationships in customer engagement

Relationships have always played a critical role in customer engagement for banks and credit unions. But that role is changing.

In an industry built on trust, it’s getting harder to rely on boots-on-the-ground salespeople to nurture enough relationships to hit growth goals. To compensate for missed (or nearly missed) quotas, companies continue to increase headcount. But “increase headcount” is not a strategy, and it doesn’t help you meet your customers where they are in their buying journey.

To achieve a level of demand that consistently drives scalable growth, you must start by putting the buyer at the center of your entire go-to-market strategy.

In theory, banks and credit unions have always been focused on the customer. Building trust between provider and client has always been important, but the customer’s needs often get wrapped up in the company’s needs. The customer journey becomes fragmented, and sales grasps at anything resembling engagement, with a low hit rate. While some leads may bite, others are turned off and move on to a different provider that better caters to their needs.

But when you put your buyer at the center of everything, you’re able to truly orchestrate the customer journey. Building relationships requires sharing valuable messages in the right place, at the right time.

Right now, most marketing teams are running random acts of marketing. They’re using campaigns that execute lots of random activities — emails, webinars, events, social media, etc. They’re not telling a story, and they’re definitely not orchestrating a journey, and so instead of producing leads and nurturing relationships, these campaigns may waste sellers’ time and damage credibility.

The flaw of this type of tactical demand generation is that it only optimizes a single sale. It can’t find a repeatable, sustainable model to generate demand and so marketing continues to be a cost center. It’s periodic, short-term and vendor-driven. When tactical campaigns end, demand ends.

Shifting to strategic demand opens a world of opportunity. Strategic demand is always on, repeatable and buyer-led. It engages the buyer continuously and offers a sales motion only when appropriate, thus increasing the quality of qualified leads to sales and pre-conditioning the buyer dialogue. Strategic demand puts the buyer at the center of everything and increases customer lifetime value in the process.

The foundation of strategic demand marketing is buyer journey. Your go-to-market strategy must be built around a deep understanding of the segments you’re targeting, the buyer behavior of the prospects in these segments, and the information needs by buyer stage.

What pain points are leading these prospects to find solutions? How are they learning about the solutions available? In which engagement channels do they consume content? These are the types of questions that traditionally only sales could answer. But in order to become scalable, marketing must know the answers before planning go-to-market activities that engage, nurture and convert buyers. With a solid foundation built around buyer journey, you can map out the buying process.

Every person involved in a purchasing decision is going to be on a different journey. It’s important to know what each person’s buying process looks like so that you can see where you do (and don’t) need to be actively targeting them. Again, this is information that, historically, sales has been very familiar with. But marketing should be taking this data and using it to map the customer journey in order to create effective, personalized experiences.

In this strategic demand marketing state, you’re continuously engaging a customer to build the relationship between provider and client. By the time a prospect reaches sales, he or she is already familiar with the value your financial services institution provides, and sales knows how to tailor the very first conversation. This framework allows sales to become highly efficient, working only the best leads with the highest probability of conversion and, thus, enables you to achieve sustainable levels of demand without increasing headcount.

The selling landscape in financial services is changed. It’s no longer efficient or scalable to hire more and more salespeople, and yet the personal relationship must be maintained at all costs. Understanding how to leverage marketing to bridge the gap is key to achieving growth goals.

Jennifer Harmel is chief operating officer at Annuitas.

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