Balancing 'Transforming' while 'Delivering' in Financial Services

by Justin Bock

Many of the financial services organisations we speak to are in the midst of navigating complex transformational challenges. Change, it seems, is the new business-as-usual for this dynamic industry as these challenges are often layered over regulatory changes, siloed business units, legacy products and systems, disruptive new entrants to the market, increasing commoditisation and margin compression. The constant need to transform however, is primarily driven by the widening gap between what customers want and the capability of financial institutions to deliver these experiences.

There’s a great cartoon that sums these differences up well  – of a nervous young couple of yesteryear dressed in their Sunday best walking into a bank manager’s office desperately hoping to impress versus the digitally-savvy customers of today, lounging on the couch at home consuming content online and transacting across multiple devices.

Bridging this customer experience gap is highly complex and many leaders in the financial sector find themselves struggling to navigate through organisational transformation, while achieving business-as-usual outcomes. The classic problem of flying the plane while fixing the plane.

So how do you maintain momentum as you transform?

1. Be disciplined, win fast and stay cool

By being disciplined and embedding change in manageable ‘upgrades’, you make time for testing in-flight and are able to quickly identify success. Forgo the conventional wisdom of being agile and failing fast – focus instead on being disciplined and winning fast.

Winning fast means regular course-correction, which requires internal and external data being closely monitored by managers and the frontline, so they are able to escalate issues in a timely manner. These data inputs must cover both transformation activities and routine activities, otherwise organisations consumed by significant programs of work will miss the leading indicators that warn them of the sales pipeline going off-track.

Knowing the right levers to pull to deliver the best outcomes is often a tough call and requires strong leadership from the frontline managers, as well as support from the executive sponsors through these course-corrections. These are the defining moments when true leadership mettle will be tested and fearless, disciplined leaders who take accountability for and embrace change will keep the organisation on course.

2. Avoid regression of core disciplines

As the change agenda progresses and the project teams and steering committees swing into full force – core marketing and sales disciplines are easily forgotten. However, maintaining and building on individual sales and marketing team strengths will actually serve you well through the ups and downs. As will an unyielding focus on aligning and integrating these divisions in order to expedite the journey towards the customer’s expectations.

At a recent Blackdot insights session, we presented a framework that showed the maturity of marketing and sales functions in lock-step with the customer maturity journey. It highlighted the increasing levels of marketing and sales integration that are required to match customer expectations, and from a high-level view looked like this:

  • Marketing functions must evolve from ‘Lead Generation’ > ‘Lifecycle Management’
  • Sales functions must evolve from ‘Haphazard Selling’ > ‘Customer-Driven Selling’
  • An integrated marketing and sales engine must move from ‘Isolated Experimentation’ > delivering ‘Optimised Cross-Channel Execution’
For sales and marketing leaders in financial services, reinforcing the core management disciplines of coaching and performance improvement, process adherence, management rhythms, and maintaining teaming and quality standards will help keep everyone faced in the same direction.

3. Don't lose sight of what's happening outside

The pace of the internal transformation agenda generally does not match the speed of change in customer maturity.  Accordingly, exclusively focusing on internal changes will quickly lead to losing sight of long-term strategy, the core value proposition and most importantly, the customer. This ‘inside-out’ approach is a common mistake that is often made by large financial service firms as they transform.  

Maintaining an ‘outside-in’ approach whereby the customer remains firmly at the epicentre is far more beneficial, particularly as the end-to-end customer experience increasingly defines the outcome of the modern-day sales process.  One way to keep on top of this is to utilise targeted and impactful team meetings as a continuous feedback loop, providing the opportunity to escalate insight as required.

4. Communicate throughout the journey

Real change, although led from the top, happens at the frontline - but the frontline often suffers from change fatigue caused by the quantity and quality of change initiatives from ‘high command'. In addition, they are regularly bogged down by a variety of daily, weekly and monthly tasks, some of which are unrelated to their core roles.

Building trust and belief through regular and timely communication is one way of winning them back. Bringing to life the benefits of new ways of working that will directly impact frontline effectiveness as opposed to frontline productivity, will gain buy-in in a ‘head, heart and guts’ way.

The early transition of manageable ‘upgrades’ into normal business will be accelerated by finding and ‘relaying’ pockets of excellence and key insights across the frontline teams. Remember to also keep ‘news from home’ communications up to date through the normal meeting rhythms and forums to ensure staff feel engaged along the journey.

Change is constant for the financial services industry

Change is business-as-usual and business-as-usual is change in financial services. To succeed through the constant change agenda you need be disciplined to win fast. Hold the line with strong leadership, maintain and strengthen core marketing and sales disciplines to ensure stability, keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening outside and finally maintain lines of communication throughout the journey. To win in the battleground of customer experience, you can’t just rely on your ‘top gun’ pilots – you will need an integrated effort across all your marketing and sales disciplines.