On this Thursday of Small Business week, we interviewed our Chief Marketing Officer, Steve Kietz, to uncover what it has been like the last few years at Reliant Funding. During our interview, he shed light on to what small businesses can do to boost their marketing efforts.
Q: Steve, can you give us a little bit of background about you and your history at Reliant Funding.
A: Well I started at Reliant Funding in July 2017. I have been in financial services marketing since 1984. I got involved, specifically, in the small business lending industry in 2015. I knew Reliant as a leading independent sales organization that could really generate leads and new customers.
Q: Where was the marketing strategy when you began your career at Reliant Funding?
A: A lot of Reliant business was from direct mail marketing. They had been in the top 10 or so leaders in direct mail but it was episodic and didn’t have a lot of the sophistication that I was accustom to. I say that coming into this position having mailed approximately 20 billion pieces of direct mail in my career.
Q: What were your goals as you started to create your own marketing strategy for Reliant Funding?
A: Well, I came into a group that wanted to up their game with a focus on increasing response rates, overall results and direct new customer acquisition.
Q: At what point did digital marketing come into the strategy?
A: Immediately. Upon arriving it was clear we were under-supporting and under-investing in our digital channels. From my long time in marketing and lead generation marketing, I have found that you must be able to maximize the opportunity and reach your customers the way they want to be reached. You can do this through direct mail, email or digital channels. To be most effective you have to be skilled at using all of these channels to reach customers through their preferred medium. We knew there was opportunity in the digital space, and we were very aggressive in expanding our reach there.
Q: Can you explain digital vs. direct mail marketing strategies?
Digital marketing strategy is any marketing that a company does via a digital channel. Social media, blogging, websites, SEO (search engine optimization), email marketing, webinars, podcasts, etc. Those are all examples of ways to market your brand and content via a digital channel. You can also utilize paid digital advertising via Google, Facebook, etc. Over half of all our spending on advertising is via a digital channel. If you are not participating digitally as a business, you really are missing out on a lot of people who prefer to consume information and transact that way.
Q: How did digital marketing effect the Reliant Funding business?
A: The change has been that we are bigger and faster, we were managing a predicable but small number of new leads each month when I arrived, and we’ve grown that number by 3x. This growth has enabled our company to grow the sales team, improve our credit policies and further improve the quality of our leads. We have also changed the distribution percentage of where the leads are coming from in addition to the volume of leads. When we started, 97% of our leads were coming from direct mail and now it’s less than 50%, with the rest from digital marketing.
Q: Are there other factors that have contributed to the small business lending industry’s ability to market digitally?
A: There were huge marketing investments from Kabbage, On Deck, PayPal, etc. Which brought in more customers that were attracted to our type of product. Change has been driven by an overall change in customer behavior across all age segments. We can’t say we have more millennial customers and that is why digital is so important to us. Grandma and grandpa are on the computer too. The age difference lies in the expectation not the usage. Younger customers expect that we have a digital presence.
Q: What is unique about the Reliant Funding approach to customer acquisition?
A: I think our journey always has been and always will be focused on the customer, that is what I like most about our company. We have always been a partner for the small business and this is where I want us to continue our focus. There is a huge segment of the population who need low friction access to working capital for their business and Reliant will continue to be better at focusing on those customers than the competition.
Q: I know that through your years in marketing you have gained a large network that includes a lot of small business owners. What advice to you give them when it comes to developing their marketing strategy?
A: I always ask them to constantly challenge the status quo, to test different media and channels. They should always track, never stop changing, growing, and lastly always use math to make decisions.
Q: What are the values you recognize in existing employees at Reliant and what you look like when you hire staff for your marketing team?
A: I am a big believer in integrity. I have 4 core values: passion, energy, discipline and integrity. These values were echoed by the leadership at Reliant Funding as well. A requirement for potential employees is to naturally place those values as a priority.
Q: What is the main difference between what Reliant Funding does vs. traditional financing?
A: Traditional financing tends to force the customer into their cookie cutter rules. At Reliant, we take the opportunity to know the customer and come up with solutions uniquely designed to them.
Q: What is the most useful tool to ensure is part of any small business marketing strategy?
A: Google is the most useful marketing tool small businesses can use.
Q: Why do you say Google vs. any other marketing tool?
A: Currently it is something like 70% of all searches being completed online are happening on Google. If you want to get in front of your customers, Google is where they are going to find who they will be working with, buying from and what content they will be reading.