About 4 years ago, a 50-person global financial services technology firm that provides cross-asset market access came to PropelGrowth for help developing and executing an integrated marketing strategy. This is their story.
Selling Technology to Financial Services Firms
This company was founded in 2000, grew organically, and has been consistently profitable with a steady growth rate for many years. They were a trusted vendor in the financial services industry and had a very good track record and an enviable client retention rate of more than 95% over 17 years. Most of their sales and business development was handled by the executive team. They wanted to grow the business faster, and realized that this would necessitate an investment in sales and marketing.
First Attempt at a Financial Services Marketing Strategy
Their first foray into marketing began several years ago with hiring a large, multi-national PR agency. This got them some press coverage, but wasn’t as strategic as needed.
The CEO and founder explained, “We were not informed buyers at the time. We started out naively working with a large PR agency and expecting them to deliver both marketing and press coverage. But we were a very small fish in this PR agency’s pond.”
When they were not getting the results he hoped for, the CEO hired a marketing consultant to help out part time. That consultant recommended replacing the huge PR firm with a smaller firm specialized in financial services. The CEO explained “The only real value I got out of [the large firm] was some media training. That was thanks to the consultant,” who recommended that they use the rest of the retainer for this training before moving to the smaller firm. “We went through rigorous training on how to speak on video and handle reporters. Then we cancelled.”
The consultant on-boarded the new PR agency and pulled together some messaging and structure. He also produced some data sheets and sales collateral. But it was a part time effort and didn’t quite work. He struggled to get the messaging right.
If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try Another Approach
So they tried another approach and hired an experienced industry expert to run marketing full time. This new Director of Marketing brought in PropelGrowth to help develop more effective messaging and an integrated marketing strategy. He also continued to work with the new PR agency, asking them to focus specifically on the PR strategy.
They selected PropelGrowth for two reasons. First, the marketing director had experience working with us at his previous firm and knew we would be able to understand their complex technology offering. In addition, the CEO explained, “Candyce had co-founded and played a leading role in a company that is analogous to us. That knowledge has made it possible for her to write some of the collateral that other marketers would have found impossible.”
Starting with Messaging Strategy and Buyer Personas
We launched the engagement with a messaging project. At the time, the client was having difficulty articulating a value proposition for its technology. The PropelGrowth team worked with them to understand how they serve their customers. Then we interviewed the customers to create buyer personas and get a better handle on the messaging. In this case, the product was intangible, and each client received different value depending on their use case. So it took a few iterations and market testing to arrive at messaging that would resonate with the target audience.
Developing an Integrated Marketing Strategy
Based on the messaging work, market research, and buyer persona development; we then helped the client craft an integrated marketing strategy that incorporated events and sponsorships, public relations, advertising, thought leadership, blogging, article placement and lead generation. We also identified multiple budget-friendly marketing channels to support their efforts and increase awareness.
Lead Generation Strategy and Content Program
As part of that strategy, we recommended a Buffalo Content Marketing Program to support their thought leadership, market awareness, PR and lead generation goals. Leveraging detailed transcripts from our buyer persona and market research, we developed themes associated with market trends and their customers’ related business needs. We added a few more interviews to round out our research and then composed a 25-page research report that detailed our findings.
We then repurposed that content and collected additional insights from the research. We used these to help the client develop a series of blog posts, op-eds, PR pitches, talking points for conference panels, webinars, and email campaigns. The research produced enough content for a year-long, multi-channel marketing program.
Event Strategy to Refine Sales and Content
We also leveraged the findings and themes to help the client organize closed-door round tables with senior executives from institutional sell-side banks, their target market. These round tables allowed our client to learn what these bank executives are facing behind the scenes. This helped them to refine their sales outreach and helps us further tune the content we were producing.
Generating Leads in Sell-side and Buy-side Banks
The client’s market consists of fewer than 500 global banks and buy-sides. We needed an integrated marketing strategy to attract attention from a very specific audience. The first Buffalo Program succeeded in building the top of their funnel (leads that were in the earliest stages of awareness). It doubled the client’s subscriber base, generated more than 600 inquiries, 74 marketing qualified leads and 38 opportunities.
In normal market times, this client’s sales cycle is 12-36 months. Global changes in regulatory regimes and market consolidation were further extending those buying cycles and making the decision process more complex. So it’s difficult to directly attribute marketing’s contribution to new sales during that time.
However, the CEO and sales team cite considerable anecdotal evidence of increased awareness from the program. In spite of limited quantitative results, they renewed their annual engagement with PropelGrowth four years in a row, until the company was acquired in 2017.
Transition to Converting Mid and Late Stage Leads
The Buffalo programs built up a subscriber base and filled the client’s pipeline with early stage leads. We targeted the sell-side in the first year and the buy-side in the second year. By the third year, we shifted our focus away from early stage thought leadership into later stage content that was more explicitly related to the customers’ research and evaluation stages. Our goal for this next program was to generate sales orders.
We revised their website product pages to do a better job of informing and converting leads. Then we started collaborating with the client to develop content that explicitly answers common questions from buyers and existing clients. We use this content for a new nurturing program which helped to convert later stage leads.
Improving Opportunity Nurturing
In the first two years, the firm was uncomfortable emailing their list too often. But they grew more confident in the third and fourth years of the program. The CEO says, “We now see that regular communication with our existing customers and prospects is working. It helps us stay in their frontal lobe. The frequency of our communication, had been too low in the past. Now, we get responses saying, ‘thanks for the email, by the way, can you do XYZ?’ This nurturing strategy is generating higher quality sales leads, and we expect more measurable sales results in the coming months.”
While the pipeline for large new clients grew, market conditions were slowing down the close rates for large deals. So we turned our focus to nurturing existing customers and later stage opportunities, helping the sales team drive more expansion business and smaller deals that closed more quickly. This activity level also attracted the attention of potential acquirers.
This company was acquired in 2017 by a larger vendor in their space. The Director of Marketing credited the attention they attracted from acquirers to the messaging strategy we helped develop. He said the awareness, nurturing and product content helped the acquirer get a clear sense of how this firm’s technology and value proposition fit into the acquiring firm’s overall product strategy.
The CEO says the work PropelGrowth has done has given him new perspective on marketing channels and strategy. He explained, “Either because I only took Marketing 101 in business school or because marketing has changed a lot, the channels and the concept of content marketing were unknown or foreign to me.” He said it would not have occurred to him to come up with a strategy like the Buffalo Program. “The perspective of how to have a plan for effective and efficient re-use of the same thought leadership content was new. It was an interesting way to come up with different cuts from the same beast.”
“I would definitely recommend PropelGrowth,” the CEO said. But he offers a caveat to other CEOs considering an integrated marketing strategy. “There is no instant gratification or short-term payoff with what PropelGrowth offers. I don’t think you should be apologetic about that.” It takes an investment of money, time and focus to figure out a marketing strategy, build out a program to deliver top of funnel leads and convert them into late stage sales opportunities.
For more information about how you might be able to leverage our Content Marketing Programs, contact us.
Key Findings from our 2nd Annual Investment Management Marketing Roundtable