Want to outsmart the banks? Get Smarket(ing)

Maxwell SmartNo matter which way you look at it, fintech startups are the underdog in the finance sector. While many have better technology, pricing and value propositions for customers, they simply don’t have the market footprint, manpower and budgets of their incumbent competitors. And while some will gallantly take on the challenge, history is littered with examples of best-in-breed startups being sucked up by the industry leaders (especially in the tech sector), then left to languish and die after the acquirer’s priorities change come next years budget.

So what does this mean for fintech? No doubt there will be plenty of acquisitions in the coming years, as founders look to cash-up and banks attempt to diversify quickly, or acquire talent for other internal projects. But for those challengers that are truly in the game and want to survive the distance, what strategies are feasible on a shoe-string budget, and with limited resources? Well, when you’re the underdog, one thing’s for certain – you’ll never outgun your top dog competitors, or beat them at their own game. But on one particular front you might be able to outsmart, or more importantly ‘outsmarket’ them. Let me explain.

SMarketing for startups mission critical

SMarketing, otherwise known as the close alignment of sales and marketing teams, is one mission critical weapon fintech startups should and must use against the depersonalised sales calls and hollywood-budget-marketing banks have at their disposal.  Without having to deal with pre-existing team silos, savvy startups can build a team of SMarketing advocates who wear both a sales and a marketing hat, not just one or the other. It’s a radical concept for many purist sales people and marketers, but it’s also a reality of the new era of engagement we have entered into, thanks to Google.

Long gone are the days when sales people had all the knowledge and information at their disposal, to be shared with potential customers should they deem them qualified or likely to buy. Likewise, the glory days of mass messaging and feature-vomiting are over too.  The reality is the B2B and B2C growth playbook has changed. Selling and marketing has gotten personal – almost in-exchangeable – and customers have gotten warier. And if you’re a bank, facing profit induced lethargy and dealing with employees willing to sabotage alignment efforts to maintain the status-quo, it’s hard to pivot to this new game plan. But if you’re a start-up? Well, the world of alignment is your oyster.

From the battle front

As someone who navigates daily the business development and marketing worlds, the supposed ‘lines’ between sales and marketing continue to blur.  In fact, I often wonder why any forward thinking organisation clings to an outdated concept that insists on keeping knowledge siloed from arguably the two most important frontline growth engines for any business.  And while it can create temporary uneasiness about roles and responsibilities between team members, reframing the conversation to one of growth is critical to the alignment journey. Rather than pointing fingers when things go wrong, or go right for that matter, the key for fintech startup leaders is to continuously reinforce among all players as to what the desired outcome is, whether that be an increase in product downloads, paid subscriptions or widgets shipped. From there the conversation should always begin, or be reframed, especially in times of organisational stress.

Starting the SMarketing journey

Below I outline four pillars to building a successful Smarketing team in your startup

1. Hire people with open minds

The worst thing you can do when you’re trying to implement a somewhat left of field organisational structure is to hire people who love living inside boxes. While it may mean you don’t get someone with the depth of domain expertise you need, chances are your more flexible hire will get more done anyway, simply through a natural inclination to want to collaborate with peers outside of their sphere. These days, the internet is making domain expertise cheap. Strategy, culture and teamwork isn’t. Look for people that have sat on both sides of the fence and are willing to articulate how it could be better.

2. Work backwards from the growth goal – together

So you decide you want to grow the revenue line by 50%. What does that mean in terms of extra numbers of widgets sold next year, or per month? Oh, and then considering your conversion rate on widget sales to date, how many leads will you need to start with? Is it even possible to find that many leads? And more importantly, where are they? A SMarketing team works together to sense-check all organisational growth goals by looking at marketing and sales funnels simultaneously, not in isolation. Even better, because SMarketers don’t limit themselves to only think of ideas within a sales and/or marketing domain, they are able to reframe the challenge at hand to one that can only be solved by using tactics and knowledge from both functions – all the better to get buy-in.

3. Content is king

SMarketers know that regardless of whether you’re selling or marketing, you’ve got to get personal and you’ve got to deliver meaningful insights – for free. Every new customer is a potential new customer success story that can be shared with the next prospective customer. It’s that simple. Unless you have bank like economies of scale, the days of transactional selling are finished. In front of you right now could be sitting a treasure trove of authentic stories, unclouded by marketing jargon and sales spin. Find them. Then share them.

4. Stop with the labels already

I think its highly worthwhile reframing the position titles you give to your new team. Find neutral words like ‘growth’ , ‘development’, ‘ambassador’ or ‘educator’. Cross pollinate, by rotating team members around projects and tasks. There’s plenty of research now showing how restrictive and disempowering job titles can be. Instead, pick the accountabilities and roles an individual needs to have over a project’s lifecycle, then readjust. It’s the ultimate in agile and can be a successful antidote to internal office politics.

I hope this has given you some insight into what’s possible simply by challenging the organisational status-quo. These concepts don’t need to be limited to sales and marketing either – they can be taken right through your organisation.

The exciting thing about any startup, fintech included, is the opportunity to do things differently. So my advice would be to not limit that to just your technology. In the words of Steve Jobs, “You can’t look at the competition and say you’re going to do it better. You have to look at the competition and say you’re going to do it differently.” And that is what will be required to succeed in fintech.

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3 thoughts on “Want to outsmart the banks? Get Smarket(ing)”

  1. Great article Jessica, and a really important point. The traditional division between marketing and the people that constantly speak to customers (and perhaps more importantly – those who decline to be customers) seems crazy these days.

    In our fintech startup there are four of us. We have one person with a marketing title and they have one objective: growth.

    We’ve become obsessed with employing Design Thinking in our go-to-market strategy and user experience of our product. The central tenant of Design Thinking is empathy for the user and customer obsession – which of course no sales role is without.

    I’ve heard that in AirBnB, the attitude is “growth is everyone’s problem”. I don’t think anyone would be interested in working in a company where the motto is “sales is everyone’s problem” or “market fit is everyone’s problem”. Growth is just a sexy word right now.

    Maybe the efforts to rebrand ‘marketing’ into ‘growth hacking’ is a sign that marketers have lost their way a little bit. Or maybe they are just suffering from an image problem (which is pretty hilarious if you think about it).

    Hopefully the smarketing you write about will bring these departments and great minds back together and collaborating.


    1. Aileen great insights! That AirBnB motto is also very telling about the way smart companies are thinking. The challenge is to shift corporate mindset. But if you start fresh like you have, you can create your own growth ecosystem


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