Does Personalization Undermine Consensus Buying?


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In an earlier post, I discussed some of the findings of a recent research study by Demand Metric that focused on the state of content personalization in B2B companies. Demand Metric found that the use of personalized content was widespread among its study participants. Sixty-eight percent of survey respondents said they personalize content for industry verticals or other market segments, and 61% said they personalize content for specific buyer personas.

Marketing experts have long argued that personalized messages and content improve marketing effectiveness, and the participants in the Demand Metric study overwhelmingly agree with this view. Eighty percent of the survey respondents who use personalized content said that it is “more effective” or “much more effective” than content that isn’t personalized.

Not everyone, however, believes that personalization is always beneficial. For the past several months, CEB has been arguing that personalization can actually make prospective customers less (not more) likely to buy. The essence of CEB’s argument goes like this:

  • B2B products and services are usually purchased by groups of people, not individuals.
  • These buying groups must usually reach a consensus before a purchase decision will be made.
  • Personalization strategies can make the individuals in the buying group believe more strongly in their own point of view and less willing to compromise, thus making consensus more difficult to achieve.
In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Karl Schmidt, Brent Adamson, and Anna Bird (all with CEB) wrote:
“Conventional wisdom holds that the more personalized a message is, the more effectively it will drive a sale. And indeed, CEB’s surveys found that individual customer stakeholders who perceived supplier content to be tailored to their specific needs were 40% more willing to buy from that supplier than stakeholders who didn’t . . . But personalization has a dark side. When individuals in a buying group receive different messages, each one stressing that an offering meets his or her narrow needs, it can highlight the diverging goals and priorities in the group, driving a wedge between members and hindering consensus.”

CEB goes on to argue that selling companies need tactics and resources that are specifically designed to help buying groups reach a consensus. In addition, CEB contends that selling companies will usually need the help of a champion inside the prospect organization to drive the consensus-building process. CEB calls these internal advocates “mobilizers” and describes the best mobilizers as people who (a) are motivated to improve their organization, and (b) have the organizational clout to bring decision makers together.

To effectively use mobilizers, companies need to identify the right people and then motivate those individuals to play the mobilizer role. Just as important, companies need to provide mobilizers the resources they need to effectively drive the consensus-building process.

What do you think? Can too much personalization hinder rather than help? If so, how much personalization is too much? I’d like to get your ideas on this issue. Please comment on this post, and share your thoughts about whether personalization can actually undermine the consensus-building process. 

Image courtesy of HORANCapitalAdv via Flickr CC.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

David Dodd
David Dodd is a B2B business and marketing strategist, author, and marketing content developer. He works with companies to develop and implement marketing strategies and programs that use compelling content to convert prospects into buyers.


  1. Interesting perspective, David – I am very familiar with CEB’s research around buying groups and have never thought of it from the angle of personalization as a bad thing. I would argue though, that at the end of the day, closing a deal means creating meaning for your product for each individual in the buying group. This means that regardless if you’re working with just one person, or seven people in the buying group – you have to make sure each one sees value in their own unique way, that positively influences each of their areas of responsibility. Sure, their value points might overlap and they can all agree on certain things – but when they don’t, how do you keep them interested? By tailoring your solution to their individual, unique needs. I actually work with a SaaS company that does personalized, automated demo videos ( so I’m working a lot with the concept of tailoring demos for each stakeholder in the buying group. Loved this angle again! Thanks for the great read.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Hilary. If you haven’t read the HBR article that I mentioned in the original post, I recommend it. Thanks again for your comment.


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