Lessons from the Ex/Im Bank debate - a B2B marketing #fail

Ed Marsh | Dec 8, 2015

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Policy wonks and export geeks

Unless you belong to one of those two groups (I consider myself a member of the latter) you might have missed last week's news.

After a protracted legislative wrestling match that witnessed unorthodox political alignments and heated rhetoric, the Ex/Im Bank's charter was reauthorized as part of a highway spending bill.  As of Friday, December 4th, Chairman Fred Hochberg announced the bank was back in business.

That's good news for US exporters.  The bank offers a variety of products which help companies manage risks associated with growing international sales.  Some of the services (such as providing performance bonds) are difficult to obtain anywhere else.  Others, such as foreign receivables insurance, are more common.

The long-term reauthorization (extending until 30 Sept. 2019) will provide some welcome predictability for US sellers and foreign buyers.

The intersection of global sales and digital marketing

I'm not just an export geek - I'm also a digital marketing geek.  I write frequently about the amazing opportunity American companies have to leverage the internet.  Potential buyers around the globe are using the internet to research solutions to their challenges and identify possible suppliers.  That means that finding the prospects - the risky, expensive and speculative 'first step' of selling internationally that stopped many export initiatives before they started - is now nearly a relic.


Download my free eBook on the topic "B2B Revenue Growth Alchemy - The Amazing Combination of Digital Marketing and Global Sales"

or

Watch a recording of a recent webinar I presented for American Express Grow Global "Digital Marketing for Export Growth"


 

The intersection of digital marketing and global growth creates two interesting angles to the reauthorization news.  First, many more companies be leveraging the newly reauthorized Ex/Im Bank products.  Second, the events around the bank's charter expiration provide some digital marketing teaching moments.

B2B marketing #fail

If you happen to want a loan guarantee for a billion dollars worth of product, you may not have many options.  But there are private sector alternatives to many of Ex/Im's services (part of the debate around reauthorization.)  

Imagine the competitive opportunity presented to those private sector competitors....their major competitor was publicly crippled for months, and then shut down.  (Political risk is opportunity in the inverse!)  Much like a company around which bankruptcy rumors swirl, customers and prospects of the bank (and their customers) grew increasingly concerned as the expiration date loomed, positions became hardened, rhetoric rose and deals started to stagnate.

Despite this opening, astoundingly, Euler Hermes and Coface (two prominent providers of receivables risk insurance) generally failed to capitalize.

Of course I don't have any inside information on either.  Maybe they grew substantially; maybe they were so overwhelmed with applications that they couldn't scale underwriting any further; maybe they only target certain types of clients and weren't interested in many that were left exposed by the uncertainty around, and expiration of Ex/Im's charter.  What I do know is that the press and content that I follow very closely through numerous Google alerts barely registered any uptick in activity.

What a fantastic....and missed opportunity

Product myopia

What happened?  After all, it looks like they didn't even bother to swing - it wasn't even a swing and a miss.

Again, I can only speculate.  But here's my theory - and the payoff is that it applies to most B2B marketing.

If you search "global credit insurance" you find some variation of 1st page paid and organic results from AIG, Euler Hermes, Coface, Allianz and a savvy broker called GCCRisk that has optimized well.

If you search "alternatives to ExIm Bank" you find a variety of news stories and position pieces - and only one result from CreditEureka.

Other related searches "what insurance can i use instead of exim bank"; "how can i reduce risk of foreign payment"; "best way to protect against international payment default"; "what should I do if exim bank isn't reauthorized" deliver similar results.

In other words, these competitors that had an unprecedented opportunity to grow, doubled down on basic product related search terms.  Did that yield any traffic?  I'm sure it did.  There must have been more than a few CFOs scrambling for alternatives, and searching using very specific product terms.

Empathy

But at the same time, there were clients and buyers trying to understand the situation and how it would impact them.  Starting early in the year as the debate intensified, brokers and writers of competitive products could have started to produce insightful content that would have provided value and helped to attract prospects.  Examples of possible topics include:

  • Best alternative to Ex/Im Bank credit insurance?
  • How does Coface credit insurance compare to Ex/Im Bank?
  • How can I insure my foreign receivables if Congress doesn't reauthorize Ex/Im Bank?
  • Will my working capital loan guarantee from Ex/Im be canceled if the charter lapses?

And of course all of those would have "Newsjacking" potential as countless reporters were looking for interesting angles on the Ex/Im story as the deadline loomed.

Related topics (search terms and titles) would be equally applicable even in normal circumstances:

  • How to manage international payment risk?
  • Using export finance to grow a business with covenant lite borrowing
  • Every dollar of export profit is actually worth $1.17
  • Cheapest way to finance a big export order?

What do all these have in common?  Empathy with the prospect or other stakeholders.  B2B marketing that simply regurgitates standard product/service related language doesn't create value.  That's advertising.

Helping people understand their challenges, and plot a path forward is what prospects expect and what converts them to buyers.  You probably won't have competitors simply shut down, but you've got prospects with the same kind of concerns.

Build your B2B marketing to help prospects and you'll position your business for success in up markets and down.

Want a road map for how to build that engine of lead generation and predictable revenue?  Download our free eBook "Manufacturing Revenue Growth."

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image - exim.gov