“Frustratingly, I think marketing’s response to the challenge of cutting through the noise has been to become increasingly operationally focused on executional complexity. In short, confusing strategy with tactics. A series of disjointed tactics will only create more noise and confusion for customers. As a profession, we need to ensure that we do a better job of really understanding customers and how they want to engage – else risk irrelevance.”
Insightive.tv: Can we simply begin by discussing the largest marketing challenges you currently face?
Alastair: Dealflo is a new brand — we launched to market in 2012 as IOCS Systems and then rebranded and renamed to Dealflo midway through 2016. In addition, we offer an approach that is unique in the market, in effect building a new category. This context is important because it means that we have focused a lot of effort building awareness – certainly more so than with more established businesses that I’ve been with.
Broadly, our challenge is educating and engaging a very specific audience – we target a select number of companies with the goal of solving a pain point that they may or may not know that they have. We provide a complex service that touches many aspects of our clients’ businesses and so need to be relevant to Commercial, Operations, Legal, Compliance, Risk and IT teams.
Our goal is to get these key players to recognise why their financial agreement processing might not be as robust as it could be if they used Dealflo — specifically that it might not be legally enforceable and then to understand why this is important to them and the businesses they work for.
As a niche player in a focused market, we relentlessly create and target the right opportunities. There was no marketing at Dealflo before 2016, so every play is new and we have to apply learnings very quickly. We continually focus on how we are relevant enough to get the attention of the right people quickly, to create opportunities and move the sales cycle along.
It is my job to understand and identify our target buyers, their businesses and pain points. I have to think about how I can get us, as an emerging brand in a new category, in front of them. To me, this is all about relevance — the relevance of how we can help a business and the individual decision makers.
Insightive.tv: How much competition is there for the attention of relevant individuals — how do you cut through the noise?
Alastair: I think it is increasingly difficult. B2B buyers are busy and get bombarded with lots of different approaches through every conceivable channel, 24/7. As we all know, they are ever increasingly in control of the buying cycle. Buyers are doing their research beforehand and don’t want to engage with sellers until much further down the process than they would have previously.
The challenge is how do you stand out and be relevant. I think a lot of it is about getting the basics right — really understanding your audience and how you address their pains. At Dealflo, we only want to do business with a very specific type of company and so every touch counts. As such, we need to know who we want to talk to and how we can help them before we ever try to engage. This helps us cut through the noise.
Frustratingly, I think marketing’s response to the challenge of cutting through the noise has been to become increasingly operationally focused on executional complexity. In short, confusing strategy with tactics. A series of disjointed tactics will only create more noise and confusion for customers. As a profession, we need to ensure that we do a better job of really understanding customers and how they want to engage – else risk irrelevance.
Insightive.tv: How well does marketing align with the sales efforts — how does it push sales along?
Alastair: Alignment is critical for success. At Dealflo we have a long, multi-touch sales cycle that involves multiple stakeholders so sales and marketing need to be working extremely closely. The relationship really boils down to us understanding that we both have a direct impact on the success of our business, so we view ourselves as a combined commercial team with well-defined roles to play.
That’s easy in principle, but it’s never going to happen if you don’t have shared goals, shared plans and shared ways of measuring against those plans. The goal, ultimately, is driving revenue — either from new or existing customers – and we work very hard at Dealflo to align and make this happen.
From a personal perspective, I’m very comfortable with marketing being accountable for financial outcomes. In other parts of my career I’ve led very large marketing programmes to drive customers to buy online or to transactional teams that fulfil the sale. In these businesses, marketing owned the revenue number and I don’t see why marketing shouldn’t be equally accountable in businesses that are traditionally more sales led. Frankly, I’m just not that interested in fluffy, unmeasurable marketing.
Insightive.tv: How many channels do you actively manage and is there one channel that is the most productive?
Alastair: As the Dealflo marketing organisation is less than 9 months old, we are focused on relatively few channels and everything we are doing is about test and learn based on commercial outcomes. Most of our marketing efforts are around three areas — building awareness, lead generation and building references in our customer base. For each of these, we have clear goals and measure against them.
From a lead generation point of view, our most productive channel to date is events. This has not entirely surprising, as we are in education and lead generation mode and have not fully tested out more complex programmes yet. The key to events, however, is not to just turn up with a stand. We build a campaign beforehand to increase our visibility to specific attendees, make sure that we have a speaking slot to educate the audience about the pain points we address and then make sure that there is a structured follow up afterwards.
We are also getting great traction in our outreach by building deep insights into our target companies. Insightive.tv is a key part of this with their journalists getting time to talk with key decision makers in these businesses about the pain points that we address. These are not sales talks, but a “share your pains” talk. What’s really great about this is how targeted we are and the depth of insights we get – we don’t expect quantity, but we get a very high level of quality. This allows us to be incredibly relevant in our engagements with these businesses.
The final thing to mention is that we have a very long sales cycle. No one activity – either marketing or sales – develops an opportunity because the reality is that it might take us over 12 months to close a deal. So that involves us having a customer journey that we are always adapting and understanding that the first engagement is only one stage in a complex journey.
Insightive.tv: Looking forward, has there been a change in focus? Are your goals and perspectives on 2017 different from how you started this year?
Alastair: At Dealflo, we will get continued growth coming from Europe but may also see us stepping into North America and Asia/Pacific, where we already have some very interesting discussions in place.
My goal for the next year has not changed because it is simply to continue the overarching strategy we developed this year and testing out some additional routes to market in a very measured way. This will include formalising our channel partners as we are continually referred new business and so want to add more structure to this.
From a broader marketing perspective, I would like to see the profession rediscover some of the basics. Everywhere you look, you see articles on the latest tactic that’s going to make us look like heroes. Everyone’s professing to have a silver bullet. The reality is that the basics still stand, spend time really understanding your customers and how you help them and then focus on building an execution plan around that rather than the latest shiny tactic.
Alastair Brown is VP of Marketing at Dealflo. He is new to this role, beginning in April of 2016, but brings over twenty years of experience driving growth through Marketing and Operations in B2B technology providers, leading teams for major corporates and early stage VC-backed businesses around the world. Alastair set up marketing at Dealflo, initially heading up a company-wide rebrand and has guided a strategic level marketing focus to help make Dealflo one of the fastest growing technology businesses in the UK. We spoke with Alastair to gain insight into how he cuts through the noise and comes to terms with marketing in the era of digital saturation.
Dealflo is a FinTech that automates financial agreements for companies such as Barclays, Ford, BMW, John Lewis, and Prudential. It has built-in technology that verifies customers’ identity, tracks what the customer saw and did with a financial agreement, automates signatures, and seals the contract with a tamper-proof digital signature. $10bn of transactions are processed through Dealflo every year. It has operations across North America and EMEA, and its head office is in London.