COVID-19: a silver lining for marketing?

COVID-19: a silver lining for marketing?

To the point

  • The role of marketing in investment management firms has fundamentally changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Many marketing teams have stepped into a new role with greater responsibility for business-relevant outcomes and have proven they are up to the challenge.
  • Senior leadership teams should build on this sea change to further develop their marketing functions and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their go-to-market strategies.
  • Developing the ability to cater to various clients’ specific segments and geographic needs is the next frontier, offering firms an opportunity to gain a hard-to-replicate competitive advantage.

COVID-19 has been transformative for marketers in the asset management industry. Before the pandemic, marketing played a subordinate role to sales in many firms across the sector. While the emergence of digital marketing slowly began to change the tide, the marketing function’s role had not substantially evolved over the last 25 years. However, with the onset of COVID-19, what was previously a glacial progression suddenly became an avalanche.

More than 50% of business-to-business (B2B) purchase decisions are made before meeting the salesperson

In our article “Are we getting left behind by our clients?” (1), we argued that clients in the asset management industry were outpacing investment management sales teams in adopting digital information sources. The proliferation of data sources means clients can filter their selection criteria and generate shortlists of potential providers before even reaching out to a salesperson. Indeed, as long ago as 2012, a Conference Board (2) survey found the average B2B customer completes more than half of the purchase decision-making process before engaging a salesperson and that, in some cases, this may be as high as 70%.

Furthermore, an MIH study from 2015 (3) found the number of decision-makers involved in typical buying decisions increased to 5.8 people from a 5-year average of 4.7. The result is that we have gradually seen customers adopting new ways of engaging with sales representatives. You could even argue that the role of sales in the industry is fundamentally changing.

Lastly, from our discussions with salespeople across the industry, we have generally seen clients limiting their discussions with sales representatives due to:

  • Fund selectors imposing strict terms of engagement, which materially impacts firms’ ability to connect with the relationship management teams of large wholesale groups.
  • Institutional clients developing web-based sales meeting booking tools as a firewall to reduce the burden of sales meetings.
  • Governments and institutions resorting to database-driven searches to ensure objectivity and combat potential corruption.
  • Weakening event attendance and the rise in popularity of the multi-manager event platform.

Are you really part of the conversation?

All these indicate that clients are demanding or imposing (and being technologically able to) their preferred engagement approach on the armies of salespeople that besiege them daily. Clients can inform and educate themselves, track market trends, assess product options, and shortlist strategies and suppliers—and all this before sitting down with a single salesperson.

The questions we asked ourselves back in 20181 were, if more than 50% of buying decisions are completed before the client contacts the salesperson:

  1. How do you influence the client in the early stages of their buying process?
  2. How do you make sure your product is on their long list?
  3. How do you ensure your newly launched product is considered, despite its short track record?
  4. How do you speak to investment committee members that are unwilling to meet with you?
  5. How do you engage with influencers in the client’s firm who would like to see your competitor’s strategy selected, even if you do not know who they are?

Our conclusion even then, was that, if you are not in front of the client, how do you make sure that you are even “in the conversation”?

Such was the situation at the start of the pandemic.

Marketing shows its ability to deliver and demonstrate commercial impact

The pandemic accelerated these buying decision trends in a matter of weeks. Salespeople could no longer be in front of the client, and firms needed to find an alternative. The result was that marketing was finally given license to bring modern digital marketing techniques and technologies to bear. An epiphany, watershed, transformation—call it whatever you want. However, it took the biggest non-wartime event in history for marketing functions in the asset management industry to finally play a new role: lead generation and scoring, marketing automation, virtual event platforms, experimentation with formats and channels—test, learn, adjust and repeat. Resources permitting, marketing teams were able to develop their role almost exponentially.

Transformation goes warp speed… almost

The result has truly been transformational. Marketing is now invited into the boardroom to discuss lead generation and market development, segmentation, and customer experience. The Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) of a prominent bank-owned asset manager recently told us she was able to achieve her 24-month digital marketing development roadmap in only 6 months; such was the support and urgency for change. Another regional head of marketing for a US asset manager explained how the role of marketing had changed entirely—the function was now responsible for identifying new leads as well as existing clients’ interest in topics as a means of driving commercial efficiency.

This change is enormously encouraging. Having seen how marketing teams have risen to the challenge and added commercial value (and to demonstrate that value, something that is often extremely hard to do), senior leadership teams will be encouraged to invest more in their marketing teams in terms of skills and technology development.

Local relevance is the next frontier

So, where does investment management marketing go from here? We would argue the spotlight needs to shift from technology and digitization back to people—the customer. This means a renewed focus on developing, adapting and delivering content that is specifically tailored to the customer—including their industry (think insurance company versus Independent Financial Advisors versus direct customers), geographic differences (not just their language) and context (e.g., regulations), location in the sales funnel and, accordingly, the information they need in the format best suited to their requirements.

CMOs in the asset management industry must balance the mid-to-long-term challenges of building a strong, differentiated brand and meeting the short-term demands of their sales and investment teams, all across multiple markets and client segments. The popular model has been to establish a centralized production function to support and meet the needs of segment or country marketers.

However, the outcome, especially for local country marketing managers, is often one of uncomfortable compromise—using centrally produced propositions and materials with a generic client profile that fail to meet the actual needs of their segments, regions and salespeople. In our discussions with country marketing managers at top asset management firms across continental Europe, it is evident that few asset managers have so far cracked this nut.

The challenge is balancing the synergies offered by central production functions with the demands of local sales teams and clients for propositions, content, campaigns and collaterals adapted to specific local needs. Teams need to break away from the gravity and demands of the home market sales teams to find a model that allows local marketers (and non-core segment marketers) to adapt and respond to their clients’ needs.

Allow us to provide an example. The Netherlands is one of the world’s most progressive and advanced pension markets and, after the United Kingdom, Europe’s second-largest institutional market with over EUR1.7 trillion in assets under management (AuM) and approximately 300 decision-makers. However, when compared with other European markets such as Germany, Italy or France, it is often considered small—resulting in a constant struggle to acquire dedicated institutional marketing resources. Indeed, many local marketers must make do with centrally produced propositions and collaterals aimed at the company’s core segment, which for many Anglo-Saxon firms tends to be wholesale.

We would argue this is the next maturity frontier for marketers in the asset management industry. Firms must build their commercial functions (sales, marketing, and customer servicing) to reflect the complexity of the international markets they serve—the benefits will far outweigh the challenges or costs of striving for the right model. Indeed, this approach offers the prospect of long-term competitive advantages that are not easily replicated.


We would argue this is the next maturity frontier for marketers in the asset management industry. Firms must build their commercial functions (sales, marketing, and customer servicing) to reflect the complexity of the international markets they serve—the benefits will far outweigh the challenges or costs of striving for the right model. Indeed, this approach offers the prospect of long-term competitive advantages that are not easily replicated.


  1. Are we getting left behind by our clients? By Patrick Ide published October 2018
  2. CEB Marketing Leadership Council, The Digital Evolution in B2B Marketing, 2012
  3. Miller Heiman Group Research Institute, 2015 MHI Sales Best Practices Study: Decoding the Decision Dynamic, 2015
Ex Invesco EMEA Country Marketing Head to join forces with GrndWorX

Ex Invesco EMEA Country Marketing Head to join forces with GrndWorX

GrndWorX and Erwin Heenk, ex Invesco EMEA, are joining forces to further the development of their asset and wealth management client base in the Benelux region.

GrndWorX, the marketing agency for asset management and wealth management across continental Europe, has formed a partnership with Erwin Heenk, marketing consultant, previously Head of Country Marketing EMEA for Invesco.

Patrick Ide, Co-founder and Managing Partner of GrndWorX: “Since GrndWorX is headquartered in the Netherlands, we couldn’t be more excited about forming a partnership with Erwin. Although we have clients across continental Europe from Germany to Finland to Luxembourg and Switzerland, his deep roots in the market will benefit our clients in the Benelux tremendously. Likewise, with his deep institutional asset management experience we think this partnership will allow us to provide even more pertinent and specific solutions towards institutional facing clients across the region.”

Erwin Heenk: “I see real potential in combining our expertise and running cutting edge marketing projects for our Benelux clients with the GrndWorX team and capabilities. As we share the same values and outlook for the market, I am also very much looking forward to working with GrndWorX on pan EMEA assignments.

The Netherlands is a fascinating springboard towards the rest of Europe with roughly 300 decision makers managing 1.7 trillion AUM and one of the most progressive pensions markets in the world. You could say that the Netherlands is an institutional investment laboratory for the whole European asset management industry. As a result, we believe that there are significant opportunities for cross-over of experience and expertise for other clients within EMEA.”

Dorit Erzmoneit, Co-founder and Managing Partner of GrndWorX: “We are excited to have Erwin on board. Our partnership is built on a strong foundation of shared values. His skills and understanding of the region are a perfect match to our capabilities and complement our deep understanding of the European markets and culture. As many asset management firms primarily service the Dutch market with a sales team and limited marketing support, we see tremendous opportunity to support those businesses in developing programs which are tailored to the specifics of each market.”

GrndWorX is a marketing agency dedicated to wealth, asset management and other B2B clients with a focus in Continental Europe.Our motto is “thinking big, making things happen one small step at a time”. With deep experience in the wealth and asset management industry, we support our clients by helping them to declutter, align their marketing strategies, initiatives, or narratives to meet their business goals so that they can focus of what really matters to their clients. More information on GrndWorX, see this website: about us.

Outsource versus Insource  –  There is a Place for Both!

Outsource versus Insource – There is a Place for Both!

No matter if a company is growing, or cutting cost, there is nothing more important than providing quality and consistent output to customers. To guarantee the best of service and streamline operations the discussion of insourcing versus outsourcing is a valid one and many factors have to be taken into consideration.

There are however a few, general aspects which can be used as a rule of thumb:

What should stay inhouse?

Consider your technology standards. Up-to-date technology is critical. Projects can be outdated very quickly if you don’t know what current technology to use. Especially in this field, rapid changes disrupt industries.

If you have a task at hand that is hard or costly to outsource and requires extra management resources think twice. You do not want to undermanage such projects.

Furthermore, all functions, tasks, or operations that provide fundamental competitive advantage need to stay inhouse as well as employee development. The future of your company are your people therefore the development lies with you.

All supporting services, directly relating to your core or supporting certain capabilities can and should be outsourced.

Time spent on non-essentials means giving up growth

Many times, tasks are put off since they consume a lot of time and teams would rather focus on the growth of the business. Every minute a business spends on something that it could outsource it is losing time and capacity on the core business goals employees should focus on.

Expertise, Flexibility and Cost = Competitive Advantage

From marketing teams this means that many jobs can be outsourced to help empower these teams with the ability to redirect scarce resources from business-as-usual activities towards higher value-added, strategic initiatives and long-term business development that drive enablement. The key 3 reason are:

  1. Expertise – A remote talent pool with diverse skill sets, breadth of experience up-to-date know-how which can work on tasks with focus, efficiency, and speed.
  2. Flexibility – Quick access to resources and a wide range of services. Flexibility to up- or down scale. It also guarantees continuity, since outsource partners make sure that the work will get done regardless of vacation time or nonattendance.
  3. Cost – A skilled workforce in other nearshore locations can operate more cost efficient as labor and rental cost might be lower.  You can use the scale and know-how of a larger organization.

Outsourcing is a Strategy

No matter if your team grows or you are under pressure to cut cost, it is worth to integrate outsourcing into your strategy to continuously improve results for your customers. There are many different ways how you can set-up workflows and teams.

Focus on what makes you better than the competition and on your people. Outsourcing your supporting work can give you the opportunity to innovate, grow and strengthen your competitive advantage.

How working from home can lead to better idea-sharing

How working from home can lead to better idea-sharing

Our near-shoring experience has taught us to be more deliberate and collaborate with efficiency

A recent study by econsultancy outlined that many marketers believe collaboration will suffer most in a distributed work environment.

Working from home can throw up challenges but transforming the work environment offers also opportunities to strengthen collaboration and structure and to bounce new thinking around.

Remote Working to foster better quality ideas?

In order to create new thinking, competing views have to be celebrated and debated. Remote working offers just the right environment for this.

Often brainstorming sessions only collect a fraction of the ideas people want to share. Usually two people do more than 50% of the talking. People want to be polite and not talk over each other, thus some good and original ideas will never be heard, and the group will most likely be influenced by an idea presented early on and the discussion will follow a certain course.

Mix it up!

To avoid that only a few ideas are looked at, it helps to explore ideas in several smaller groups rather than one big group. The reason being, if a collective identity emerges and the group moves towards the median (something to be avoided), it is easier to mix groups up again.

When collaborating remotely, team members have to be more intentional while sharing information. Also, every group member is made more easily accountable as everybody has to participate.

Another advantage is the time you have to think on your own between group sessions. Pondering a challenge needs breathing space. If a group gets stuck, it is easier for people to reflect on their own, so that the creative juices can work in the background and people can reflect subconsciously about the problem.

Getting back together as a group after a 1-2-day break will reduce the barriers to discussions that were previously stuck. It will also be much easier to restate an issue, or to break it down into more manageable parts and move forward with fresh minds and thinking.

Online dating the team

A collection of very varied ideas is much easier to structure when everybody has to participate in generating ideas.

The so called “nominal group technique” is said to outperform interactive groups in brainstorming and this lends itself to perfectly remote working groups. 

In its simplest form, everyone’s opinion is taken into account as opposed to traditional voting, where only the largest group is considered. Each idea is collected along with a short explanation. Duplicates are then eliminated from the list and the ranking of the suggestions can begin.

Each group member must give their reasoning for the ranking which, in turn facilitates discussion and helps to identify areas of common ground as well as the exploration of various ideas that might be combined.

Idea collection without video conferences or calls?

Remote group work in short intense bursts is ideal. Working (and thinking) individually and then coming together as a group will get rid of a lot of useless chatter and distraction.

Methods to collect and evolve ideas:

  1. “Cyber-storming”*:

You share a database. Each team member can write their ideas without judgement and keep focus without being sidetracked or interrupted by side discussions.

  1. “Idea-voting”:

If you used “cyber-storming” to create a list of ideas, then you can move on to the nominal group technique process. Depending on the outcome, selected ideas can be split among group members to be further evolved. Each advanced idea can then be explained to the rest of the group. You can vote again to narrow down which path to take and to work on further.

  1. “Online dates”:

Like a date, you split the group into pairs and give them allotted time to discuss the issue at hand via a private chat (e.g. Skype). The pairs switch and “date” another member of the group. This is an interesting way to expand on ideas and to collect often unexpected outcomes.


Our brain works best when we are curious and not afraid of silly ideas. If we overcome the notion that we have to sit opposite each other to collaborate, we have the chance, geographically and departmentally to access more knowledge, e.g. brains from colleagues we normally do not tap into. Seemingly unrelated elements can be connected, and the outcome might surprise positively.

Key to success while collaborating online is discipline and the appetite to experiment. Discipline might sound counter intuitive when thinking of generating ideas, but a lot of face to face brainstorming sessions are not efficient because of the lack of structure and time to think individually. All these obstacles are instantly removed through remote working.

The source of great ideas is difficult to forecast and testing what works best is part of learning. Keeping an open mind and accepting the crazy ideas will bring opportunities to take steps to innovate.

*(coined by Leigh Thompson, Kellogg University)