Selling the vision – an interview with Backbase’s Jelmer de Jong

Backbase is a fast growing software company, headquartered in Amsterdam, with offices in London, Atlanta and Singapore. Clients are financial institutions. Their main product is an omni channel digital banking solution. We had the opportunity to grab a couple of beers and chat with Jelmer de Jong, VP Products, about positioning, marketing stack and thought leadership and the impact successful marketing had on Backbase.

Jelmer de Jong is passionate about building products and companies. Currently VP Products at Backbase, after heading up global marketing there for the past 6 years. Before that, Jelmer was active in multiple marketing and product management roles in fast growing companies in e-commerce, SaaS and enterprise software.

Can you describe Backbase’s journey of the last 5 years with respect to positioning?

The biggest part of our journey was to find the place where our product would fit best. In 2009/2010 we were in transition from theAJAX company to a portal company, and we were unsure what kind of portal company we wanted to be. In our marketing strategy, we targeted the entire world, focussing on four scenarios: content portals, e-commerce portals, landing page like portals and banking portals. This covered everything, which was of course a complete lack of focus.
We took a decision to focus exclusively on banking. At first, this was a go-to-market strategy. Later, the product became increasingly tailored towards the banking domain. Leading to where we are now – a full fledged digital banking offering. We now have a perfect product/market fit.
At the moment, banking/fintech is one of the hottest markets. This wasn’t the case 5 or 6 years ago. At that time, travel was the hot market, being disrupted by the internet. Now, it’s banking’s turn – so we are in the right place at the right time.

What makes Backbase different?

We’re a non-traditional player. For a lot of banks, this is important. They realise that if they want to be successful in their digital transformation, they need to do a lot of things differently than they did in the past. That includes working with a different partner, with different kinds of people. This message is something we can insert into the market quite easily – and we did :-). If you think about it, compared to IBM and Oracle, we’re a small, young, less proven company. Let’s turn this weakness around to be our strength. Yes, we are small, we are new, we are different. And that is what a bank needs at this moment.
One thing we always did well, was not selling the product, but selling the vision. So, in our marketing and sales we didn’t talk about the product we had or the vision we had for the product, but we talked about the vision of the future of that market. We talked about the Bank 2.0 era. We talked about the engagement banking era. We talked about disruption in banking. And then we linked our capabilities to accomplish the vision.

How did Backbase become an authority in Omni Channel Digital Banking?

We went to the most important conferences in our industry (we went to a lot of conferences). But with a purpose – to seek out and connect with the influencers. Back in the day, they were Chris Skinner, Brett King, Roger Peverelli. We built a relationship with them, invited them to our webinars, worked together on white papers and our thought leadership platform BANKNXT, aligned on how we talked about the future of our industry, etc. And we even took it a bit further: both Brett King and Roger Peverelli joined our advisory board at that time. It was mutually beneficial – they predict a future and set a vision of the industry, companies as ours make it practical.

How effective is your content marketing?

Our white papers started out very visionary – “the future of banking”. After that, we started to develop side topics and more in-depth articles. This resulted in brand awareness – however it was concentrated in a group without much buying power. The business side and analysts read the material, not so much the IT decision makers. However, it did work well to establish the brand in the long term.

Also, the materials were effective in building our lead database. When you want to download a whitepaper from us, you need to leave your contact information. This database we nurture into leads. Our webinars play an important role in nurturing these contacts.

Talking about the webinars – they are a big success. What’s in the secret sauce?

Golden rule #1 – don’t make it about the company. No one wants to listen to a company, but they do want to listen to a vision formulated by someone they follow on Twitter or LinkedIn. An authority. So don’t make it about the company, make it about the industry, the experts.
The breakdown of the average webinar is about 45 minutes ‘vision’ and then 15 minutes about how to turn it into reality – which is where the product comes into play. This mix has proven to work very well for us. Around 75% of the attendees are repeat, so it’s not all new people each time. The growth in attendees comes from recommendations to colleagues and from people downloading whitepapers from our website. These are people who are interested in a specific topic and are likely to be interested in a webinar on that topic.
It’s done well, we started out averaging 150 registrants per webinar, and it’s now somewhere between 2000-2500 registrants. Keep in mind that only about 30-40% of registrants actually attend a webinar, many just register to obtain the slides. We are connecting to a large audience of between 700 to 1000 people per webinar, which is stunning.

How does your marketing stack contribute to sales?

The most annoying thing in B2B marketing that it is almost impossible to attribute revenue to a specific marketing activity. The sales cycle is long, every marketing channel is touched, and many sales people and partners are involved. In the end, everything and everyone contributes. However, in these situations, try to measure ‘in between success’, e.g. lead quality, number of demos. This does give feedback about the effectiveness of new campaign experiments.
There is no doubt about the effectiveness of our marketing stack. We are now closing deals in countries where we have no partners, no physical presence, no references. Our brand and our marketing instruments are proving strong enough to deliver these leads and close these deals.