Building a brand in banking, and information distribution

On the Capital Markets side of the business, and especially within Sales & Trading, the morning note has become almost sacrosanct. It’s essentially a given – you need to be putting our regular content to clients, and ideally in the morning when they are planning how to spend their day. Its purpose is unchallengeable, and it’s value never questioned.

For what it’s worth, I agree with the concept of a morning note. It’s massively valuable for the sell side, and massively helpful to the buy side – but when did you last take a step back, and ask yourself why it’s so valuable? I have a couple of theories:

  1. Synthesizing information – at the very core of it, anyone in a client facing role has one major objective: take the resources and services being produced by your firm, filter them down to what is relevant to your clients, and deliver as much of a personalized experience as possible, with the goal of getting their business. Furthermore, not only deliver what’s important, but also help save your clients by summarizing and synthesizing, and helping them decide where to allocate their most precious resource: time. Our findings would suggest that ‘system emails’ that come from research have an open rate that is 10-25 times lower than sales readership. Why? Too many single topic emails, with no filtering or personalization. Very few people on the buy side read system emails – they filter them into a folder just in case they want to go back to them in the future, but they are instantly ‘removed’ from their main inbox. On the other hand, people really do read notes that summarize, synthesize, filter, and are personalized.

  2. Sparking a conversation – something in a note might spark a conversation, lead to a follow up, or drive an engagement (such as attending a meeting, talking with an analyst, etc.). The more high quality touch points you have with a client, the more opportunities you have to spark a conversation – the genesis moment of all transactions.

  3. Building a brand – this is perhaps one of the most underappreciated or unrecognized parts of sending out a morning note, and it’s the one I wanted to spend some time focusing on today. We’ve done a lot of research on what drives content consumption, and there seems to be a general consensus that it is two reasons: the content and topics  (which you could have guessed), and the sender. The more valuable content you produce, the more likely people are to open your future content – regardless of the topic (that might be why you’re reading this right now!). But building a brand is also a core element to driving higher engagement with your content, and publishing regularly is a major part of building a brand. People are more likely to open information from readers they recognize and have received valuable information from historically.

Building a brand: the venture capital example

Have you ever heard of Fred Wilson? He’s perhaps one of the most successful VC’s today, and he has a blog at avc.com. His fund, USV, is one of the top performing funds in the world. He has prospective LP’s and start-ups fighting to get his attention. He has established a powerful brand – but can you guess one of the ways he really did that, and what he still does every day, and has been doing for years? He blogs. Every. Day.

So, why does he put out a piece of content every day? I can’t claim to read his mind, but if I had to guess I would say there are a few major reasons: to stay relevant, to show his expertise/knowledge, and to build his brand. He wants to make sure that the next Facebook or the next $50M LP knows who he is before they even think of going to market, and that they have a favourable opinion of him. He wants to stay top of mind in the broader community and ecosystem. He’s not alone. Many other prominent VCs, PE funds, and other investors are now turning to daily content production (which is usually delivered via email).

Bringing it back to banking

One of the interesting trends we’re seeing emerge is brand building in banking. Increasingly sector teams are starting to put out regular notes – whether weekly or bi-weekly. They are sending summaries of what has been happening in their sector to corporate clients, whether those updates refer to public news or internal research. They are using that content to drive conversations and inbound, but more importantly, they are using that content to build a brand. If you’re a corporate client, receiving a regular industry update with some unique industry perspective is invaluable. It’s something you’re likely to engage with and respond to. More importantly, as other investors have discovered, it keeps you top of mind with your existing and prospective clients. We’ve already seen growth in distribution lists as these notes get shared and additional corporate clients request to subscribe (in a perfect parallel to what has been happening with desk content for years).

It’s about time

I always find it interesting when something is so obvious in one area of the bank, but for some reason hasn’t made the transition to other parts. It’s so obvious that salespeople need to send out a morning note. It’s a given for everyone on the desk. In banking though, it’s seen as ‘different’ – many banking teams believe they can simply focus on deals. They don’t realize that building a stronger brand, and using content to spark conversations can be the ultimate ‘pre pitch book’ process. Many teams are starting though… and they are getting the first mover advantage.

Some sector teams might respond with “well, we don’t put out content” – and that’s the problem. I’m sure many investors said that when Fred Wilson got started – that they didn’t put out content –  but now his lead is so big that no one starting from scratch today will ever catch him. It’s still early though, and I wouldn’t say this tactic is broadly adopted yet (although some teams have been doing it for years, very quietly). That means the ball is still in the air, and anyone can grab it.

I would encourage you to ask your banking teams how they are building their brand with content and thought leadership, or think about it yourself if you happen to sit in that seat – it’s a question that will become increasingly important in the future. Some of the best practices from the capital markets side of the business are coming over to banking – and it’s just getting started.

Good luck on your journey, and as always, we’re here to help!

Blair Livingston
CEO
Street Contxt



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Sales technology still hasn’t come to capital markets

The Capital Markets is an industry going through massive and accelerating change. That change seems to be everywhere – new technology, new tools, new markets – it goes on and on. However, one part of the business hasn’t changed at all in the last 10-15 years: the tools and technology used in client facing roles. Sure there have been little flares of evolution, and some new entrants are looking promising, but it’s still mostly the same. The suite of tools and technology used looks almost identical to what it looked like 10+ years ago. I always joked that if you took a trader from 10 years ago, and teleported them to today, they would be lost – there has been so much change in OMS, EMS, algos, and other trading tools. But take a salesperson from 10 years ago, tell them the accounts they cover, and they would be off to the races – the tools, technology, and tactics are almost identical. It’s not meant as a slight – it’s just a reality of the business and where we are today.

Before I get into why I think that is true in the Capital Markets, let’s take a moment to look at the rest of the world. Sometimes we get so myopic in this industry that we lose context on the change happening outside our industry. For sales in many other industries (especially those in technology), there has been massive changes – here is a sample of the ecosystem of tools that have evolved to empower and augment client facing efforts more broadly across the board:

And that’s only from 2017 – and only the major tools in each category. There are literally 1000’s of tools in each category, with more coming out every day. What’s even more concerning though, aside from the lack of tools and technology, is that there are terms in there that have never even been uttered in capital markets. Content Sharing. Predictive analytics. Data Automation. Lead Generation. Lead Intel. Development. Customer Success. These new areas of expertise have developed within sales organizations across industries, building into ecosystems of tools and best practices, but for the most part haven’t even been discussed within the capital markets.

To really send this point home, ask yourself a few questions for a moment, regardless of your role:

  • What is your firm’s lead generation strategy? How are you measuring the effectiveness of it? How many leads did you generate last month or quarter?

  • What has been the conversion of those leads? How effectively have your leads converted from Q1-Q3 this year?

  • What is the average time it takes a client to go from a lead to an active client? What does that cycle look like, and what is the trend over the last 12 months? Is it growing or shrinking?

  • How do you approach client success? What are you doing to ensure you’re building deep, long lasting relationships with clients, vs. surface level transactional ones? How do you measure the health of those relationships?

  • What is your sales technology stack? How many of those buckets is your firm leveraging one or more tools in?

Now, sometimes I hear objections to the above – that the Capital Markets is just different – but is it really that different than other industries? In a client facing role (and in sales) your job is to deliver a tailored set of value added services and products in order to service the client, with the ultimate goal of driving a transaction event. Sure, there might be some nuances of the business, but the fundamental role of anyone in a sales capacity – whether Capital Markets sales or technology sales – is to sell the products the firm produces.

Finally, you might be saying “well, we have a CRM!” and that’s a good start – but as you’ll see from the above graph, the CRM is just one piece of the puzzle. You need to have the entire ecosystem working together. This isn’t about ticking a box and having a solution in place. It’s about building an orchestra of tools and technologies that all work together to drive the business forward and produce the results you’re looking for.

It was hard for me to make the change myself, coming out of the industry. There are a lot of new terms, a lot of new tools, and just a whole lot of change. That change needs to come – and it’s going to eventually. You will need to start thinking about your broader client facing organization, and specifically your sales organization, and start to think about what metrics you’re trying to drive. Revenue (or commission) is great – but it’s usually a lagging indicator. You want to start thinking about leading indicators, what you want to measure, and how you will provide the tools and technology to capture that data. That will help you see around the next corner, and plan more effectively.

On implementation, it will be a consolidated push between educational efforts (teaching teams about how sales is evolving, and new best practices) and experimenting with new tools and technologies to see what works best for your people and end goals.

As a final note, I’ll leave you with a story from a recent interaction I had this summer. A global head of sales at a major IB ask me a question: “Blair, what would you do if I brought you in tomorrow to run sales in X asset class?” I paused for a moment, considering the question. Then I answered him: I would go out and hire 50 software salespeople to augment his team. Have the existing industry salespeople teach the nuances of the business to the software salespeople, and have the software salespeople bring in best practices around technology, process, and structure. Build a hybrid team that brings the best of both worlds together. I think the answer was well received (and actually might be implemented!).

Technology still really hasn’t come to the client facing side of capital markets – which means there is a huge opportunity for those who can harness it, and master it first. This is a massive area of low hanging fruit. The square is open, now it’s just a matter of who will get there first and lift the offer.

Good luck on your journey!

Blair Livingston
CEO
Street Contxt



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