Financial technology is a red-hot space these days. According to CB Insights, through the third quarter of 2017, more than 800 companies received more than $12 billion in VC funding globally. That’s a lot of new technology coming to market, creating confusion in the buying community and a sea of competitors for both existing and new entrants.
We’ve seen this movie before in the financial tech space, but perhaps not with as many new firms coming on stream.
If marketing and advertising technology is any guide, there will be a lot of casualties and only a handful of really successful companies at the end of this investment cycle. How best to ensure your success in such an environment?
It’s also important to note that along with hundreds of startups and early stage companies elbowing their way into the market, there remains a very strong cohort of successful fintech software and hardware companies that also need to reach their prospects and clients to drive toward revenue and churn objectives. These firms have similar needs, just on a much greater scale; they need to put more prospects into their funnels more efficiently and with greater predictability – all hallmarks of successful inbound marketing strategies at work.
Proponents of inbound marketing (and we are among them) will tell you that the methodology is about more than lead generation. It’s about aligning sales and marketing for optimal outcomes. If you take a step back and start thinking about inbound in the context of “Big M” Marketing and “Big S” Sales, a clearer picture begins to take shape.
Marketing is not just lead generation, though in some firms it’s been defined as such (a strategic misstep). A traditionally trained marketing exec will tell you that marketing is what sets the strategic direction for the firm, secures the resources to build to that future, creates the product and pricing to appeal most to potential clients, invests in the communications required to make that future real and keeps the customer base happy so that new revenues can contribute maximally to profits. Your old marketing textbook will also refer to part of the above as the “four P’s” of product, price, packaging and promotion.
Inbound marketing was revolutionary in many ways, but none more so than calling for and facilitating the alignment of sales and marketing through shared objectives and “one version of the truth,” as made possible by a closed-loop marketing and sales automation environment. For the first time, we could attribute sales opportunities to marketing initiatives in a direct and measurable way, beginning from the web search and following the buyer’s journey all the way to the signed contract. Every step of the way, there’s marketing and sales automation to show us the path taken, content consumed and sales activities that pushed the prospect to become a customer.
This alignment created the need for some new language to described shared and overlapping goals and responsibilities. “Smarketing” was coined somewhere around 2000 to capture this concept and become the framework for methods to align sales and marketing.
The fundamental precepts of inbound marketing are that you drive traffic to your website and blog by creating content that appeals to your ideal customer types (aka personas) and offer them downloadable content and other engagement experiences like webinars that define a buyer’s journey. From there they become leads your sales team can work according to an agreed definition of what makes a sales-ready lead (or a lead ready to be qualified). Additional content and other resources are written and deployed to help drive to the bottom of the funnel. People who consume these resources and are called-on by sales become customers. At least that is the theory.
The reality of some vertical market areas is that not all leads can be created by inbound.
Some products don’t get a lot of relevant search, even if they are important to the success of the firm. This gets back to the notion that “we know all our prospects, and they know us,” the latter especially is the thinking at larger firms.
What's an inbound marketer to do?
Expand your definition of an inbound lead. We generally recommend that our clients buy advertising and use email marketing to drive prospects to content and engagement resources (we’re not above buying an email list to get going more quickly than organic search itself can accomplish).
We also recommend that these resources be integrated with the sales team’s outreach (prospecting) from the very beginning. That is, we want to build resources that the sales team thinks they can use when cold calling, social selling and warm prospecting. Since the sales team is in constant contact with the prospect community, it’s likely they know what will help them convince an active prospect to go deeper, and these same (or very similar resources) can be used on the company website as downloads for lead generation.
Another important tactic at the outset of campaigns is to look for a quick win, something that can prime the pump in the first couple of months of an engagement (webinars are often good, as are things like ROI calculators and model RFPs).
We also need to address the idea that in smaller sub-markets, that all good prospects are known and all we need to do is “get in front of them and tell our story,” a piece of conventional wisdom I've heard from plenty of Fintech CEOs over the years. Even if you know many of the potential user organizations for your product, you cannot know all the economic buyers and influencers, cannot get in front of them quickly enough to satisfy VC overseers and need more than a pitch deck and a shoe shine to make a deal happen.
Knowing your customer better than your competitors, creating initial interest, building content and decision-support materials that help your salespeople and prospect internal champions make the case are as applicable to fintech as any other vertical market. Perhaps what’s most different is the language and jargon. In most tech markets, there’s a shared understanding of the landscape; cloud is a great example where marketing experience for one vendor in the space would prepare you for most. But in fintech, your customer might be remarkably expert in his or her discipline; it's very deep and narrow knowledge. So you are going to need great content to represent your firm to this person – you cannot afford to be perceived as naïve. As a result, some readers may feel that they cannot outsource their content development, and I’d like to disabuse you of this capacity-limiting viewpoint. There are legion freelance writers out there who used to be editors and writers at your trade publications and web media properties who now write for agencies like ours.
TL;DR Fintech is expanding rapidly, creating opportunity for startups and pressure on existing vendors. The need to write great content that educates and excites your prospects is the same for fintech as it is in almost any other B2B vertical market. It’s just that for most segments, there is a finite audience, requiring you to stimulate demand for your content. For more general applications like accounts receivable management, you can find more opportunity through pure inbound techniques.We’ve worked with the titans of fintech and many startups as well to change outcomes and drive toward liquidity events. Want to talk about driving opportunity through content marketing? Book a consultation with me at this link.