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Spring event highlight - how Esquire Bank makes content personal with Salesforce, and avoids the hard sell blues

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed July 7, 2023
When was the last time you heard a bank call their thought leadership content a competitive edge? But for Esquire Bank's litigation platform, personalized content wins - and the hard sell isn't needed.

Andrew Sagliocca (left) and Kyall Mai of Esquire Bank at Salesforce Connections 2023
(Sagliocca and Mai of Esquire Bank)

The worst thing about Spring event season? Too many airports, never enough writing time. This series is my redemption: showcase the standouts that got away.

Next up? Esquire Bank. Not your typical bank - and, as I learned at Salesforce Connections 2023 - not your typical customer acquisition strategy either.

Like any challenger bank, Esquire Bank knows they must excel at customer experience. Their aggressive Salesforce investments underscore that goal: a major web site (relaunch) in 2020, along with the launch of a "customer-centric CRM system built on the Salesforce platform." Then, in May 2023, Esquire Bank expanded its collaboration with Salesforce into the Salesforce Marketing Cloud, in pursuit of "hyper-personalized sales and marketing initiatives."

But it's the reason behind that decision that got my attention:

Esquire's Chief Innovation Officer, Kyall Mai, stated that integrating world-class content with next-generation artificial intelligence will position Esquire for continued long-term success.

How do we reach the right person with the right B2B content - at the right time?

Ah, world-class content! That's the conviction behind my diginomica d·book on Reaching the B2B Informed Buyer. While I've been critical of AI's ability to write differentiated content, making that content count is another matter entirely. Exceptional content with AI-powered personalization and distribution behind it is the true sweet spot. So in Chicago, Mai hooked me in with this quote:

It's all about: how do we reach the right person at the right time, with the right technology with content that's compelling to them?

But as I contend in my d·book, it's how you do that is what counts. Too many firms think they can throw technology at their content generation challenges. That only works to a point, because B2B content is fundamentally about building opt-in communities - and that's not really a technology problem. In the case of Esquire Bank, I was pleasantly surprised. But first, the business model. As Mai told me:

We are a digital-first, branchless bank. Andrew [the CEO] is famous for saying, 'We'd rather invest in technology than branches,' because it makes a hell of a lot of sense.

Andrew Sagliocca, President & CEO at Esquire Bank, chimed in with a clarification:

The 'branchless digital bank' refers to our two national platforms. We also have a litigation platform; we're in 30 out of 50 states right now. Our other national platform is a merchant acquiring or payment platform; where we're in all 50 states. The focus of this conversation with Kyall and Salesforce is more litigation-focused, since that's where we're rolling out technology first.

There are close to 100,000 law firms throughout the country. They are not focused on the business aspect of their company; they're focused on the law aspects of their company. Kyall obviously could not have done this without the Salesforce platform.

"Lawyers don't like to be sold to" - how B2B content earns trust

But then there is the content and community aspect, and that requires legal domain knowledge. Sagliocca continued:

Kyall is focused on thought leadership and this community... What we do well is understanding the business aspect of it. Rather than beat people over the head with products and services, we beat them over the head with thought leadership. We get them content that helps them run their business, and help provide the solutions they need to run their business.

Sagliocca was obviously joking about literally pounding people with thought leadership, but it's refreshing nonetheless. I rarely hear a business talk so fervently about the power of this type of content. But that ties directly into how Esquire Bank reaches its B2B audience - via the LawyerIQ content platform. Mai explained the content strategy:

We're a b2b bank, straight up. That means really long sales cycles, multi-million dollar loans. So, it's very complex sales cycles - with lawyers who are typically very difficult to sell to.

Lawyers have something in common with enterprise buyers: they don't like the hard sell. How is that initial trust earned? Through Informative/personalized content. Mai:

Because lawyers don't like to be sold to, you have to educate them with great content over time. We use a content hub [LawyerIQ], which we've recently hyper-personalized with Salesforce, whereby, for example, if you're a personal injury lawyer, you can go to the content hub, and we're going to give you different recommended content than if you were a divorce lawyer.

We're really stepping into the era of giving people the right content at the right time, based upon analytics, based upon scoring - and all the powerful AI recommendation engines that Salesforce comes from.

More content, less hard sell: 

We're here to build solutions for our customers. So the more we allow them to gravitate towards us being solutions providers, through our knowledge leadership, the better it is for them - and the better it is for us.

The brass tacks of personalization - how content fuels the AI engine

But these days, differentiating content isn't enough. As Mai says, it's earning opt-in data through that content that matters. That's how you get that "first party" data compliance, achieve useful analytics insights, and fuel the AI personalization:

The underlying principle is: giving people more of what they want, when they want it. In order to do that, you need to understand what they want. So, first party data strategies are key to understanding more segmentation variables and data points about the lawyers.

For example?

What practice areas they look after is a really key point for us. How long has the firm been around, how big the law firm is. Then on the other side of the fence, we've got a lot of content. So when we're creating content that is specific to personal injury lawyers, we make sure we're tagging that content with the right tags.

Salesforce and the AI tools that are sitting in between are then able to match this piece of content with this person who happens to have a similar segmentation variable. And then it's going to look for lookalike behavior. So if there are other lawyers that are looking at similar pieces of content, the AI engine will naturally serve that up.

Getting the most of our your so-called "content journeys" does involve sign up content, but: monster sign up forms blocking gated content are legacy. Esquire Bank uses a version of what I call 'progressive signup.' As the virtual trust deepens, and more content value is provided, more data is earned. Mai explains:

We've taken best practices from places like CNBC and Wall Street Journal. We've got this progressive data profiling strategy. In the first instance, when they're consuming, let's just say platinum content. We're going to ask them for an email address. When they consume their third piece of platinum content - every third piece - we're going to ask them another singular question, like 'How big is your law firm,' or the kind of things you're interested in. Gone are the days when we had to users had to fill in a form with five fields. Just asking people things one at a time, because the value exchange is there.

Of course, this all ties directly into customer acquisition:

That's ultimately part of our first-party data strategy. What we're talking about with LawyerIQ is: we're trying to ascertain intent. So if someone is actually interacting with LawyerIQ, and consuming a lot of content, that's basically intent. Depending upon what type of content they're consuming, it also insinuates the stage of the customer lifecycle. All of this information is being passed through to the sales team, so they can make an informed decision when they have a conversation with the subsequent prospect.

The wrap - does content strategy and AI clash?

Making the most out of warm leads is something businesses know well; the trick is getting to that point. I'm surprised by how few companies utilize content like Esquire Bank does with LawyerIQ. Bland 'on brand' content still carries the day. And no, generative AI can't solve that particular riddle. Generative AI is better for scaling up marketing and sales collateral. Creaing immersive content that a sophisticated B2B audience will actually sign up for is another matter.

When you invest as much in content as Esquire Bank does, you need superior sales attribution across those touch points. Mai says they have it:

Whether they're showing up to events, whether they're going to webinars, whether they've met someone at an event, all those factors feed into Salesforce, and our multi-touch attribution strategy.

This story serves as the perfect epilogue to my B2B Informed Buyer d·book. In the d·book, I set up a conflict between AI-for-context and opt-in communities. That was my blatant attempt to add a dramatic narrative. And: to warn readers: don't overspend on AI tools to solve problems AI can't solve.

But in truth, there is an underlying harmony between building an opt-in community and an AI-powered personalization strategy. And yes, there is a role for generative AI in this process as well - engaging users in dynamic ways that content libraries can't. But that's for another time. I'm sure Esquire Bank will have more to say on that as they go.

The collaborative spirit between Mai and Sagliocca was palpable. Well-tested partnerships are a determining factor in project success. When your marketing leadership and CEO are on the same page, that makes a huge difference. Instead of trying to sell a content strategy to management, you put it into action. That is clearly happening here.

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