The ROI of Relationship Building

How financial services brands are learning to build digital relationships.

January 8, 2021

LinkedIn Sales Solutions Blog 2020 The ROI of Relationship Building

Physical meetings and events have always been a vital part of building client relationships, particularly in financial services where you’re managing people’s cash and valuable assets. There’s nothing quite like ‘seeing the whites of their eyes’, as they say, to know whether you can trust someone with your money or not.

But as buying journeys have moved online - a process accelerated by the events of 2020 - the nature of B2B relationships and brand trust have evolved. With face-to-face gatherings off the agenda (at least for the time being), rapid digitisation has forced sales teams to pivot how they work – and relationships have become more important than ever.


The rise of fintech

In our recent Live with Sales Leaders discussion, panelists were keen to point out that, while technology adoption in financial services has been accelerated by COVID 19, the digital journey has been well underway for some time, driven by fintech innovators entering the market and forcing incumbents to keep pace.

“Fintech isn't new, this has been going on for a long time,” said Rupert Bedell, Vice President and Head of B2B Marketing, American Express. “And in a lot of ways, it's welcome because it pushes customer experience to new levels.”

In fact, digital transformation has frequently been driven by B2B customers themselves, who have been quick to adapt to a digital buying journey, and even demanded faster progress from their financial providers.

“Recent studies have shown that the way that buyers want to be sold to has really evolved,” said Rebecca Schnauffer, Director, LinkedIn Sales Solutions. “Buyers are becoming much more comfortable with the digital buying journey, with 95% of B2B decision-makers being happy to make a purchase this way.”


Virtual values

Yet, many B2B salespeople argue that all the technology in the world can’t replace the relationship-building opportunities offered by in-person events, or the chance of sitting next to the right person at dinner, or on your flight home. How have sales teams managed to fill this gap?

Carmina Lees, Managing Director, Financial Services, at Accenture, explained that while sales teams have lost those “water cooler moments”, this has been positive in some ways, encouraging them to plan more thoroughly for virtual interactions.

“Informal chats have changed a little bit because we’re conscious of their time,” she said. “So, you’re going to these meetings now with a real agenda and a real purpose. And what we're seeing is that you're getting more out of that as well.”

The loss of face-to-face time also means that sales and marketing alignment has become even more important, to ensure shared values are developed prior to, as well as during sales meetings, through the right content, messaging and advertising. As Bedell put it:

“When you think about how marketing supports sales, that's what marketing really needs to be doing; establishing a common set of values with the buyer, and that leads to a trusted relationship.”

In this new virtual world, sales teams also need to find ways to empathise with clients and find common ground, to create that connection and mutual understanding that would normally come from real-world experiences.

American Express is trying to encourage frontline teams to humanize the conversations they're having with clients and prospects, continued Bedell. “To allow some of the environmental stuff that's happening at home to come into the conversation.”

Data also has a huge role to play in building these connections, as it can help facilitate better conversations with clients and prospects.

“Having access to data that allows your sellers to understand more about their clients and make the conversations that they have more valuable and more personal to them, drives a lot of trust and it drives relationships deeper,” commented Schnauffer.


Doubling down on customer retention

Building relationships isn’t just a matter of winning new clients, however. At Accenture, the pandemic has also provided opportunities to strengthen existing relationships by helping clients to help their customers, who may be in financial difficulty. As Lees explained, "it’s showing that you're there for your customers in times of crisis, the good and the bad times.”

It’s a similar story at American Express, which has also used the pandemic as an opportunity to fortify its existing customer base. Realising early on that it was in a vulnerable position due to its focus on travel benefits, the company made the decision to shift its investment from customer acquisition to rewarding and adding value to existing customers. As a result, customer retention has been better than in previous years.

On the flipside, the company is now preparing to dial up the physical events and travel focused benefits for when things start to go back to normal in 2021.

“It's going to be timed to catch that wave when people suddenly feel the relief that they can go and book that holiday, or they can go and buy that thing, and it's going to be okay and their job is maybe safe. That's a great opportunity for all financial services,” he said.

While some kind of normal looks set to return in 2021, there’s no doubt that many aspects of sales and marketing have been transformed for good. B2B buyers have reaffirmed their adaptation to a world of virtual sales, and their expectations for seamless digital purchasing combined with brand trust, are increasing all the time. As we move into an uncertain future, it’s never been more important for sales and marketing professionals to stay one step ahead.