What I learned from being the first marketing hire at a B2B FinTech company

I was the first marketer at a B2B FinTech company that solves liquidity problems for investment banks, hedge funds, and central banks.When I worked there we grew from 0 to 100 institutional clients, raised $10m in 2 rounds of funding ($2M Seed and $8M Series A), grew from 8 to 18 people, built a FinTech SaaS platform, and launched it.

As the first marketing hire, I worked directly with our sales team to validate our sales process and use what I learned from sales to create and execute our marketing strategy.

I was responsible for creating our marketing materials, company website, customer pitch decks, and investor pitch decks.

It was my job to understand the key stakeholders involved in the purchasing decision process, their motivations, incentives, and sales objections, so we could develop marketing materials that persuaded and sold our solution more effectively.

Validate the sales process

The best way to ensure your marketing messages work is to ensure you understand who you’re marketing to.

I worked closely with our sales team every day to understand our customers and both what was working in sales and what wasn’t working.

I took every opportunity to hop on sales calls, participate in sales meeting recaps, and understand the sales process first hand.

By directly learning from sales, I was able to understand our customers better: their pain-points, how they described their problems themselves, and what contexts seemed relevant and resonated with them when we discussed potential solutions.

Just as important as learning what did work, I learned what didn’t work in our sales process: what pain points we thought customers might have that they didn’t consider problems, which stakeholder types didn’t have influence over the decision to purchase or implement a platform and service like ours, and what contexts distracted rather than persuaded our target customers to buy our solution.

Learning from sales was a continuous, iterative, and agile process throughout my work marketing to our prospective customers.

Map out the business stakeholders and the sales pipeline

At our company, there were numerous stakeholder types we needed to persuade within every organization we were selling to. To onboard and implement our service with our target customers, we usually needed to persuade 7 stakeholder types who each had different incentives and sales objections.

I quickly learned that in order to sell our service through these organizations, we needed an organized and strategic sales process. We needed to be able to visualize how our sales funnel worked from making the first point of contact through final approval and implementation.

To create a sales funnel our team could visualize, we defined the key actions in our sales process and who performed them. Key actions by prospective customers defined our sales pipeline stages and defined clear prompts for our salespeople to take specific actions as a result.

By defining our sales pipeline stages by the actions of prospective customers instead of salesperson estimates of how likely deals were to close, we were able to make our sales process programmatic and more scalable.

One issue we faced in creating our sales pipeline was accurately defining stakeholders. Employees involved in the B2B purchasing decision process often have different job titles even when they have the same responsibilities and position of authority. A job title’s meaning and these employees’ incentives also vary depending on what type of organizations they are employed by. So I worked with our sales team to ensure each stakeholder type was correctly defined.

Use what we learned in the sales process to create persuasive marketing materials Once we validated aspects of our sales process, I used what we learned in sales to create persuasive marketing materials.

How we pitched our customers in our marketing materials and presentations reflected what they communicated to us through sales calls and sales meetings.

Instead of assuming we had all the answers, we showed our target clients a perspective that matched their own and used these conversations to build trust in us and our ability to help them solve problems they already knew they had.

Each set of marketing materials we used focused on addressing sales objections of the key stakeholder types that were involved in that stage of the sales process.

Don’t use any old CRM; Find a CRM your sales team wants to use

When I first joined the team, we paid for multiple licenses of Salesforce, but our sales team didn’t like and simply didn’t use it.

Each sales person was responsible for selling to ~100 institutions. Worse, every institution had several stakeholders and stakeholder types.

Reaching out, following up, and working to close 100 leads can get really messy.

I admin’d our CRM and worked directly with sales every day, so I knew that to succeed in my job I needed to help our sales team succeed in theirs.

So I researched sales CRM alternatives on G2crowd and Capterra and signed up for free trials of several CRMs to test out how each CRM organized the work our sales team was already doing: email, phone calls, meetings, presentations, scheduling, recapping sales meetings, taking followup notes, noting progress, and defining next steps.

We looked at several highly-rated CRM solutions (Pipedrive, Close.io, Salesforce IQ [now Salesforce Essentials]) and compared these options to our existing experience using traditional Salesforce.

To decide which CRM tool we should adopt, we looked at how well each tool worked with our sales team’s existing process and how easy it would be to train and on board them to start using it.

In the end, we chose SalesforceIQ because it made the work of our sales team simple. Sales team members knew what emails, calls, and meetings happened with every client, they could send sales emails from inside the CRM and schedule emails to be sent later with read receipts and email view count, and because email was sent inside the CRM, partners on accounts always knew where the accounts were in the sales process.

Judge sales CRMs by how effectively they organize and facilitate the work of salespeople, not by the number of features included, because the best CRM is the CRM your salespeople actually use.

Design a website that communicates your company’s strengths

When I came onboard, our company’s website had a design problem: our main competitive advantage, that we had built an intuitive end-to-end product for a discerning userbase of high-stakes traders wasn’t reflected by our website at all.

This was a big problem. If prospective customers visited our website and saw that it was badly designed, they might fear our platform was designed badly as well and lose interest.

I volunteered to create a better experience.

Since I was already responsible for managing our website and worked directly with our team to understand what information and website functionality they considered important, I knew what assets needed to be preserved in any future replacement.

Using my spare time over the next weekend, I created a new website to better reflect the experience we offered our users and presented this option to our team on Monday morning.

Our team immediately adopted the change and the new website was live on Tuesday morning.

What I learned:

Company’s first marketing hire should build a complete picture of how sales work at their organization and then figure out how they can automate this process using marketing.

Some of the questions the first marketing hire should work on answering are:

  • Who are our customers?
  • What characteristics qualify target customers?
  • What characteristics disqualify otherwise qualified customers?
  • What stakeholders are involved in the purchasing decision process?
  • What stakeholders are involved in product or service implementation?
  • Which stakeholder types advocate for solutions like ours at their organization?
  • Where do we find our customers?
  • Where do qualified customers organize themselves into groups both in person and online?
  • What are the best ways to command the attention of these groups of people at these places?
  • What are the best ways to organize groups of qualified customers both in person and online so we can learn from and communicate to them more effectively?
  • Why do customers buy from us?
  • How do key stakeholders describe their problems as they relate to our offering?
  • What value does our service provide to stakeholders and what contexts of value matter to each type of stakeholder?
  • What are the professional incentives of each stakeholder type?
  • What words do these stakeholder types use to describe their incentives?
  • Why do customers not buy from us?
  • What are each stakeholder’s key sales objections?
  • What words do each stakeholder type use to describe their sales objections?
  • What is the priority of sales objections for each stakeholder type?
  • How do we sell to our customers?
  • What does the sales process look like from making initial contact to closing the sale?
  • What actions by prospective customers and our sales and marketing team members define the stages of the sales process?
  • What actions in the sales process prompt action by our sales or marketing team?
  • How do we measure effectiveness in our sales process?
  • What percentage of leads are qualified?
  • What percentage of deals close?
  • What is the median length of a completed sales cycle?
  • How is the length of median sales cycles trending over time?
  • How does sales cycle length vary by customer type, initial form of contact, and stakeholder type first contacted?
  • What stages of our sales process are deals most likely to be lost in?
  • What stages of our sales process take longest to complete?
  • What stages of our sales process involve the most communication?
  • Which stakeholder types require the most interaction in the sales process?

Final Note: Reputation in Finance is Almost Everything

One of the most important tasks for marketers pursuing a career in finance is gaining deep expertise in brand risk management.

Unlike in startup tech, in FinTech “move fast and break things” doesn’t work. Finance customers expect safety, security, and compliance. Simple problems like broken links, typos, and website downtime damage brands significantly more in finance than in other industries.

This message applies to the legal, healthcare, and some other industries as well.

To get a leg up on understanding your business’ brand risk, ask colleagues discovery questions about the brand and reputation risks they’re most worried about and what sort of business reputation problems competitors and similar companies have experienced in the past.

Understanding these risks will help you preserve the brand value and set you up for a better marketing job tenure and future career.