Alpha Waves - August 07

Touchpoints

Reproduced from a recent edition of the 'Cogito Ergo Sum' column that he writes for International Fund Investment Magazine, Magnus Spence mulls over the implications of the marketing jargon word 'Touchpoints'.  It seems to herald a key change in the industry.  He says, for example, that we are now seeing the triumph of 'female' over 'male' values in the sales function in asset management. What can this all mean?

I have recently been introduced to the word ‘Touchpoints’. I assumed this was a term used in the massage industry, or perhaps in some hippy sandal-wearing sense referred to the process of getting to know someone. And I wasn’t far wrong.

The word ‘Touchpoints’ has some serious implications. It seems to offer me final evidence that some parts of the asset management industry are making the shift from being ‘male’ to ‘female’ in their character. This is a metaphor, not a measurement, so please see my comments below before you accuse me of sexism or reverse sexism or whatever. The word ‘Touchpoints’ also provides me with further evidence that the world of alternative asset management, which has not yet made this shift, is in for a rude awakening.

‘Touchpoints’, I have recently learned, is marketing-speak for the places where you interact with clients and other audiences that make up your stakeholders. The importance of touchpoints is that these are the points where your brand and communications programme finally, yes, touch their intended audience.

If you have thought through all the touchpoints, you have a much better chance of being able to influence the way your stakeholders perceive you. This in turn is vitally important in an environment where how you are perceived is an important driver of the success of your sales effort, but also of your company’s value itself.

The touchpoints which are usually referred to by marketers are the sales team but the phrase also usually includes those elements of Operations that deal with clients through call centre and servicing issues in the larger retail firms. The really important point here is that creating and disseminating your brand is not just the responsibility of your advertising agency, or of some creative boffin at HQ. Sales people are brand-builders too.

Some firms go so far as to say that their most valuable branding asset is their sales team. Day after day the team is presenting messages to new or existing B2B clients. After all, this is the best possible targeting of a brand message. The challenge is to harness this channel to the brand cause.

A key ingredient is the sales materials that are used. At some firms this task is left to the sales team alone, but at the better organised firms marketers are now becoming more involved in this. At its best this means that the sales team have access to a ‘toolkit’ of sales aids, all of which enhance key brand messages.

This is not all. The way the sales team talk, and what they say, can also enhance a brand. For the brand builders to have influence here means asking sales people to contain themselves to certain styles and messages, and this in turn suggests that marketing has some sort of control over sales, so this is a highly sensitive area. In the more successful firms a genuine partnership between marketing and sales gets results. Creating the right balance is a great skill.

There was once a time when sales people went off like hunters into unknown corners of the bush and reported back periodically with their ‘kill’. Nowadays the hunter salesperson who likes his or her independence (and hunter-selling was usually a male preserve), finds life rather less comfortable. Salespeople in asset management today must more finely tune their actions to the needs of the organisation as a whole, and in the case of the brand identity, they must subjugate their inclinations to the needs of promoting the company consistently with its brand identity and character.

This is yet further evidence that the role of the hunter gatherer is being marginalised and in its place we are seeing the growth of what some call ‘farmers’, sales people who may not be so good at bashing down doors, but who are expert at supplying existing clients with technical product and other information that increasingly is needed more than a slap on the back and an invitation to play golf. What need is there of hunters when most of the large asset management firms have now scoured Europe already, and have opened most of the doors that need to be opened?

‘Touchpoints’ is a lovely soft, squishy word [no comma] that effortlessly takes us into the realms of emotions, feelings and relationships. The old macho world of the salesman-hunter is on its last legs. We are seeing the triumph of female over male values in the sales function in asset management.

Why have I told you all this? The alternative asset management world, from which most of you readers will come [no 2nd ‘from’], has not yet seen this change. You alternatives folk, if I can club you together in this way, still inhabit the macho terrain. Selling is still generally done by hunter-sellers, and no one expects anyone to touch each other, thank you very much.

There are times when I get the feeling that alternative asset management people consider themselves ‘ahead’ of and better than the long only world. Your whole existence oozes a degree of superiority. Yes, your products excel. That’s an important way to be better, I grant you, but it’s not everything. I believe that the alternative asset management world has processes, ways of doing business, such as the macho way you sell and present yourselves to your audiences, that are generally very backward.

You will in due course have to confront changes, such as a shift to female values that I described above, and these changes will take huge amounts of your energy and time. You are frightfully skilful product people, but do you have adequate business management skills to deal with the changes that are around the corner for you?

Magnus Spence 2007

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