Sunday, May 1, 2011

Seven Steps to Reduce Offline and Online Bank Product Purchase Abandonment

According to Forrester Research, the number of consumers using the Web to research, buy and manage their financial products has grown steadily. In 2009, 63% of US online adults who researched a financial product did so online, with the number increasing over the past two years. Virtually all products were researched, from mortgages and student loans to savings and checking accounts. Interestingly, more than a third who researched products did so exclusively online.

The Web provides inherent advantages when researching and applying, including the convenience of being able to research whenever the user wants, the ease of comparing providers, and in some cases the ability to open the product or service in real time. While the use of the Web is correlated to age categories (with Gen Y using the Internet more frequently), all age groups are increasing their use of online and mobile channels to evaluate options before purchasing financial services.

Online purchase of financial services varies significantly by product type, with complexity and locational considerations driving the sales process. For instance, while almost half of online adults applied for a credit card online, a far lower percentage purchased a checking account online since convenience is a primary consideration, making the ability to walk into a branch to open an account more feasible.

Building awareness and even consideration online, however, does not guarantee the prospect will apply for or open their relationship online. According to a recent Forrester Research study entitled, Injecting Next-Generation Thinking Into Your Financial Services Acquisition Website, almost 40% of online households who researched a financial product online used another channel to complete the sale. This cross-channel selling behavior provides both opportunities and challenges for banks.

Source: Forrester Research 2011
In the example above, a customer may gain awareness through mass media or even direct or online channels, only to further research the service online, over the phone or in person, with the actual purchase of the product or service culminating either online or in a branch office. Each of these steps in the buying process (or sales funnel) can lead to abandonment of the process by the prospect due to complexity, competitive considerations, other prospect priorities or poor sales inquiry follow-up at the bank.

While research indicates that the success rate of moving a prospect from the awareness to consideration to purchase stage varies significantly depending on the product, the research channel, and the ultimate sales channel, the opportunity diminishment can be 80% or higher. In fact, with lending products where there are numerous steps between the awareness stage and loan closing, close rates can be as low as 10% of the shopping universe.

This sales inefficiency provides many opportunities for banks at a time when the cost of new customer acquisition has never been higher and the competition for customer share of wallet is extreme. Some of the ways to improve conversion of awareness to sales include:
  • Provide online information from alternative perspectives: Some people will shop for a specific product (credit card), while others research to solve a specific problem (debt consolidation), while still others may inquire from a lifestage perspective (student). A bank website and search engine strategies need to be built with this interplay in mind, providing alternative paths to reach the best solution.
  • Leverage dynamic and customized content: Whether the Web, the phone channel or in the branch system, dynamic and customized content needs to be developed to assist in moving a prospect from the awareness to the purchase stage. Understanding segments, purchase intent and competitive position in the marketplace can greatly improve results both online and offline.
  • Capture prospect insight from all channels: Surprisingly, some of the newest channels (online) have the best refinement of insight capture through digital tracking and jump page data collection. Alternatively, far fewer banks capture insight from prospects who indicate potential purchase intent by phone, in the branch or through direct mail. Without a formal method of capturing information on how to follow-up on inquiries, we greatly reduce the potential for sales success.
  • Develop a multichannel follow-up strategy: In the same way that prospects leverage many channels in their consideration process, it is important to follow-up on all leads using multiple channels. Dependent on the level of insight capture done when the prospect initially inquired about your product or service, quick and consistent follow-up on leads using all channels possible will improve chances for success.
  • Monitor the sales funnel: As important as a strong follow-up strategy, the monitoring of each prospect in the sales funnel is needed to better understand the paths prospects take to purchase different products and the success of your follow-up efforts in generating a strong close ratio. Similar to online navigational pattern monitoring, internal monitoring of prospects allows for the development of a sales waterfall that can assist in the identification of service and communication gaps that depress sales results.
  • Develop metrics for improved results: Focusing only on the beginning and end of the sales funnel oversimplifies the opportunity cost of lost sales. By better monitoring each stage of the sales process from awareness to consideration to final sale allows for the potential improvement of ROI. For many banks, an improvement of 5-10% in the consideration stage and similar improvement in the closing stage of the process can improve results by more than 100%.
  • Online and offline retargeting can provide big returns: Sending an email, making a call or delivering a piece of direct mail to a person who has abandoned a shopping cart has been found to be the most efficient online strategy for all categories of online merchants. While banks don't have online shopping carts per se, they do have abandoned purchase processes for a number of reasons. Retargeting allows you to show your ads to visitors that left your website (or other channel) as they surf elsewhere on the web. These potential customers can get highly targeted ads that are designated to entice them to return to your website and convert their visit into a completed action. Many studies have found that the open rate on these emails exceeds 50%, while the conversion rate can exceed 20%.
In a content-driven world, with the number of messages consumers receive on a daily basis continuing to increase, making follow-up communication personalized and pertainent is extremely important. Therefore, any form of sales communication (even if the prospect indicated interest) needs to respect the prospect's time and privacy.

In addition, the timing of the communication should reflect the channel that the prospect used to shop for a service. In the first 24 hours following an online abandonment, 54 percent of returning customers who make a purchase will do so within the first few hours according to research from the remarketing firm SeeWhy. In other words, more than half of customers will abandon the cart for good if not remarketed within 24 hours of the abandonment. Alternatively, if a prospect is shopping for rates or asking questions about a checking account fee schedule via phone, a person should reconnect within 24-48 hours to answer any follow-up questions.

How many channels can a prospect use to investigate one of your services? Do you capture insight from the shopper and follow-up in a timely manner to determine if any other questions can be answered? Do you measure the effectiveness of these efforts and maintain a waterfall illustrating where improvements can be made? Do you know the cost of lost potential sales if effective management of the sales funnel does not occur?

I am interested to know how your bank manages this process. I also discussed the various views of a sales funnel in a world where prospects enter from various channels late last year on this blog.

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