“We’ve grown this company in the last two years from 450 to 1,000 FTE. We couldn’t have achieved that without the assistance from Chris Wallner and Chief Outsiders.”
Frank Ewing, CEO, AML RightSource
AML RightSource (AMLRS) provides anti-money laundering and financial crimes compliance solutions to financial institutions. In 2018, leadership sought outside marketing expertise to help tell the company’s great story. At the urging of its private equity partner, CEO Frank Ewing engaged Chief Outsiders CMO Chris Wallner to develop a comprehensive marketing strategy and plan. Going all in with the plan, the company now enjoys rapid growth supported by a 10-fold increase in leads generated and new internal marketing leadership and infrastructure recommended by Wallner.
In 2004, Frank Ewing joined the forerunner to AMLRS as employee #1. Today, Ewing is CEO and AMLRS is the leading firm solely focused on providing anti-money laundering, Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and financial crimes compliance solutions to bank and non-bank financial institutions that range in size from $100 million in assets to over $1 trillion.
The company is highly regarded by its client base but not well known outside. While it is the largest single provider in the space, it competes with even larger and better-known companies. More than half the firm is made up of employees with advanced degrees, including JDs and CPAs, a lot of smart, capable people.
Trouble Putting the Pieces Together
AMLRS marketing mostly consisted of a website, trade shows and conferences. In 2018, two weeks prior to the launch of a new website, leadership realized it lacked the impact they desired.
“We knew we had this really great growth business,” related Ewing. “We knew we had this fantastic client base and a wonderful story to tell. We were just having trouble putting all those pieces together.”
AMLRS needed a more comprehensive, wholistic marketing strategy and plan, and someone to oversee its execution. Their PE firm recommended that they engage a Chief Outsiders fractional CMO. “What was really obvious from the first phone call was that their model was a lot like ours,” related Ewing.
After looking at multiple candidates, Ewing engaged Chris Wallner based on his background in financial services and his experience with compliance at the executive level and below. “A key factor was that I came from their space,” stated Wallner.
Wallner began the engagement collaborating on-site but primarily worked remotely from May to November 2018. “I had the benefit of a very capable project manager for marketing, Alex Even,” related Wallner. “She and I worked with leadership to gather customer insights, develop strategy, get approvals and lay out the plan.”
Business challenges identified:
- Resources, bandwidth and expertise to build out a marketing strategy and go-to-market plan to strengthen the brand and grow.
- The lack of infrastructure to target and nurture prospects, generate demand, track results and optimize marketing and sales.
- A need for a comprehensive account-based marketing and data driven approach to confirm success.
Wallner recommended a two-phase engagement with an initial three-month period to uncover insights and develop positioning, messaging and strategy. Phase 2 included the creation of a go-to-market plan, building marketing infrastructure and enabling execution.
“Chris came in and didn’t fall into that typical marketing trap and tell us how it was going to be,” related Ewing. “He analyzed our company.”
Getting the Story Out
AMLRS lacked a mechanism to distribute great content. They wanted to create the marketing infrastructure necessary to engage prospects with best practices.
“AMLRS is a great company,” explained Wallner. “They are the biggest in the industry, but nobody knew that outside of customers. They had great customer satisfaction with a phenomenal net promoter score (NPS) of 69! It was really about getting the story out.”
With the benefit of the Chief Outsiders tribe to validate the strategy, Wallner recommended that AMLRS invest more in inbound marketing, hire a marketing leader and engage an agency to handle routine marketing, SEO, and campaigns.
“Combining the best of internal and external marketing resources was the right thing to do,” related Wallner. “It wasn’t what Frank, the CEO, originally expected, but I owed it to him to provide a recommendation truly supporting the company’s strong growth plans and therefore was scalable.”
Going All In
After some deliberation, Ewing went all in, putting himself and company resources 100% behind the plan. “Frank is a great listener who truly wants to understand client needs,” related Wallner. “Once he trusted me and where Chief Outsiders was headed, it allowed us to have tough conversations about marketing.”
“He put together and worked with us to create a strategic plan and strategic road map,” added Ewing. “He helped us identify and recruit a really strong internal marketing candidate as well who is now a full-time hire.”
Executing the Plan
In July, the team re-designed and launched the site. They also validated and configured the marketing automation system that had not been fully deployed.
“We commercialized the website, highlighting the core messages of who we are, superior value, and proven and effective,” related Wallner. “The plan was to do a half-dozen things really well. Zero in on those things we can track and do more of those based on results.”
Wallner also developed messaging to answer some very important questions to leaders of financial institutions who sought to satisfy regulators such as, “How do I know I need an expert?” and, “When do I need to call?”
Later in the engagement, much of the time was spent building out and enabling the marketing department. “The whole time that Chris was helping us enact this strategy and plan, you could tell that it was how do I make myself irrelevant? How do I allow this company stand on its own two feet?” explained Ewing.
All-in Drives Results
Each contact that results in a closed deal has a very high value to AMLRS. Over 12 months, the number of marketing generated new contacts increased 10 fold to 100+ per month. Monthly website visitors and LinkedIn followers more than tripled with a corresponding increase in search engine page rankings.
In December, AMLRS closed its first deal driven by the new marketing plan. Thought leadership emails on critical AML/BSA topics connected with the right people in the prospect organization. That stimulated a conversation that resulted in the signing of a major client.
Ewing carried out 100% of what was recommended. “I commented to him, ‘The success that you’ve seen from marketing is a testament to the fact that you went all in. You signed up for a strategic, comprehensive marketing growth plan that delivered,’” said Wallner. “The great results are from the company commitment to the strategies and seeing the plan through!”
AMLRS’s new Marketing Manager is now leading the marketing effort and managing KPIs together with the outside agency. Tracking performance is key to scaling tactics that have the highest potential and not diluting the effort on those that don’t perform.
“We wanted the marketing infrastructure to be truly scalable,” explained Wallner. “Having an agency that could scale with them allows AMLRS to fully leverage the Marketing Manager.”
One year on, Wallner still gets calls from Ewing and others on the leadership team for outside help on sensitive initiatives. “It’s wonderful to be counted on in that way,” concluded Wallner. “There is a level of trust forged through some big decisions. Every business relationship has its challenges, but when the CEO decided, he went all in and the results speak for themselves.”
“The experience with Chris and Chief Outsiders was fantastic!” confirmed Ewing. “I would recommend them to anybody because they really have the answers. They help you dig in, work with your team to find practical solutions to problems real businesses face day in and day out.”