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COVID-19: a silver lining for marketing?

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Dorit Erzmoneit

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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.

Conclusion

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.

Notes:

  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

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