Embracing the inevitable: It’s time for B2B financial services to take on digital

B2B brands must drive the same level of personal engagement that was once had with clients and customers across the boardroom table, but in digital.

Woman at desk with laptop in video meeting

For years, the B2B side of financial services succeeded without needing to make a focused investment in digital capabilities, until the pandemic changed everything. While face-to-face business interactions essentially shut down, other trends emerged that depended on digital, such as buyers doing more research online and embracing mobile more than ever. Marketers were forced to adapt to a digital way of doing business.

There is a new sense of urgency to drive the same level of personal engagement you once had with clients and customers across the boardroom table, only in a digital format. B2B brands can seize this newfound digital opportunity to redefine client experiences and grow relationships and business in unexpected ways.

We asked experts from Adobe’s Digital Strategy Group, product marketing, and one of our strategic partners why it’s vital for financial services to embrace digital now — and how it can position you for success in 2021.

“There’s a lot more that we can do digitally than we ever thought possible,” said Alarice Cesareo Lonergan, IBM, partner, NA financial services, enterprise strategy & iX market leader. “By providing content and sharing perspectives more broadly, you might attract a whole new segment of potential clients.

Switch your focus

Direct-to-consumer businesses already see experience as the primary means of competitive differentiation. They’re well-versed in using physical and digital channels to attract customers. To differentiate in a sustainable way, B2B brands need to look towards what the most successful B2C brands are doing, and change their focus from products and services to experiences.

Infographic: differences in CX approach between B2B and B2C

“Customer expectations have changed,” said Adrienne Whitten, director of product and segment marketing at Adobe. “Even the consumer side of the same financial services businesses have set the bar.”

“We see more examples of banks consolidating the martech stack across B2B and B2C,” said Adobe’s Karen Cha, senior analyst, digital strategy group. “They’ll take advanced processes that the B2C side is using and leverage for stronger processes on the B2B side.”

Some firms are already forging ahead. They’re investing in all-digital ways to engage customers, including developing content like blogs, case studies, webinars, and podcasts. But reaching clients regularly with content that exactly fits their journey stage requires technology.

Infographic: plans businesses have to address customer engagement challenges

Reshaping the Customer Experience: July 2020 COVID-19 Pulse Survey, Celent

“You need to take a look at the processes where you can interject automation and amp up the digital capabilities for more useful and engaging interactions,” said Lonergan.

Digital’s time is now

Enterprise sales have already embraced digital channels with strategies that financial services can adopt to accelerate growth — and it’s not too late.

“Those who didn’t establish a digital foundation yet aren’t that far behind, because there are lots of tools and technologies they can invest in now to help them overcome that hurdle,” Lonergan said.

Customer demographics are also compelling a switch to digital. Millennials and Gen Z are moving up — they comprise 55 percent of directors, senior directors, and the C/VP level, according to the “Tech Buyers Generational Insights Research” by Adobe and PK Global (2020). The new generation was brought up in a different environment and depends on technology. They prefer digital as a way to interact, without the need for humans or phones. And they prioritize thought leadership and other online content over product-specific information like features, benefits, and roadmaps.

Aim for the North Star

Many businesses now use account-based marketing (ABM) to identify and pursue qualified opportunities and high-value accounts, and to provide relevant experiences that generate more revenue, more quickly.

“Sales and business leaders may not understand how digital can play a role in driving conversions, sales, and revenues,” said Lisa Sheth, head of digital strategy, Adobe. “By establishing organizational buy-in, you can work toward a digital mindset and foundation.”

The digital capabilities your business needs start with personalization across channels, purposeful content, measurement and attribution, and journey management.

  1. Personalize across channels

“Start with personalization to simulate the connection you’ve had in person,” Lonergan said. “Target and create that experience so it feels tailored for your customer. You’ll attract the customer with the experiences you’re going to deliver to them.”

You need to coordinate touches across digital and in-person channels — when we have them again. Great experiences keep customers loyal, happy, and coming back.

“We see a need to drive the empathy and deep connection between humans in a digital way,” said Lonergan. “That should be top of mind in 2021 across financial institutions.”

  1. Deliver content that resonates

Ask yourself what content you need to develop to attract a particular persona or buying group. Determine what’s resonated well in the past and since the pandemic. Then engage the right people within each business account at complementary touchpoints throughout their journey

“One of the largest banks went from a handful of webinars to hundreds,” said Sheth. “That’s how they’ve been able to continue their conversations and stay top of mind.

  1. Track your marketing impact

You can’t improve what you can’t measure. Analyze marketing impact by tracking the progress of activities that are part of your digital initiative. Prove the impact of digital marketing by attributing revenue to the points where’s it’s generated — and then fine-tune to improve the results.

  1. Design the complete experience

Technology, manufacturing, and other B2B verticals are emulating B2C by creating digital journeys that personalize the end-to-end experience. Financial services companies need to follow their lead.

“You can architect an end-to-end experience and determine where you can use automation to personally engage the customer,” Lonergan said. You also need to evaluate which points could benefit from human interaction, either virtual or in person

Taking the inevitable leap

Responding to the pandemic has given financial services a push into the digital future more quickly than you might have imagined. But if you’re like many B2B marketers, you may discover you actually prefer a mix of physical and digital channels. Sixty-five percent of B2B decision makers believe the new sales model is at least as effective as it was before COVID-19, according to McKinsey, May 2020.

To learn more about the steps you need to take, how to proceed, and the success other B2B financial services marketers are having, read our article on implementing the account-based experience mindset in commercial banking.