Marketers Need a Mindset Reset for B2B Personalization

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Personalization in B2B marketing has been on an upward intention trend for a while now. But it’s not working out very well. Despite marketers’ best intentions, nearly half say delivering personalized and relevant content is a top business challenge.

However, personalization remains a priority for B2B marketing executives, with 52% planning to increase spending on content marketing and personalization technology to get this right. (Forrester Business Technographics® Marketing Survey, 2020).

According to the B2B Buying Disconnect Report from Trust Radius, B2B tech buyers hate non-personalized communications. In fact, 95% of buyers say they are unlikely to respond to them.

The conundrum is that 71% say they won’t respond to personalized messages, either. There must be more to personalization than what your buyers recognize in the messaging they’re receiving. Buyers have expectations of immediacy, relevance, and instant gratification at low effort.

Salesforce’s State of the Connected Customer report finds 66% of business buyers expect vendors to personalize engagements to their needs.

Read that last word – NEEDS.

Is it possible that marketers have misunderstood the expectations of their buyers for B2B personalization?

I’m going to say, yes.

In The Experience Disconnect, marketers say the personalization they deliver most is the customer’s name, company name, and industry. Buyers say the most important personalization factors are the problem they’re looking to solve, their company, and their industry.

3 Primary B2B Personalization Components Guide Buyer Enablement

Somehow, marketers have gotten wrapped around the axle on personalization. The thinking seems to be that B2B personalization should mirror B2C personalization. But that’s not necessarily true. And it can derail your efforts if you try to prove you “know” them without offering information they view as valuable.

There are three simple components that work together to give you the key to personalization your buyers will appreciate: context, connection, and conversation.

Context

The State of B2B Buyer Enablement report from Path Factory found 59% of marketers admitted they do not use buyer’s past behavior, content history, and CRM engagement to serve content that is relevant to needs/stage.

If you don’t know what your buyers are viewing or how they’re engaging with you, how do you hope to match their context in the moment of engagement? What baffles me about this is most marketers have more data than ever, and an overwhelming majority use marketing automation platforms—hopefully as more than email blasters.

Context changes with inquiry, inputs, and feedback in real time. Some of these shifts will be inferred by the transfer of information during an interaction, along with monitored behavior and activity that can be assessed to verify the degree of the shift. The outcome of one experience informs the best action that comes next. The question is: Is that next best action available and obvious to the buyer?

Context is the key to relevance and relevance is viewed as personalization.

This means you need to pay attention to what the content they’re viewing tells you. If your content is written well, based on the takeaway it provided, what comes next? Marketers need to structure their content strategy on progression. This means identifying where prospects are in their journey to solving a problem and guiding them to advance toward the solution.

Connection

Personalization in B2B is a combination of personas involved, market segment, stage in the problem-to-solution journey, and knowledge requirements based on desired outcomes.

It isn’t a requirement for personalization in B2B marketing to include individual demographic references. In a business setting, responsibilities based on role, problem-to-solution process, industry, and company have more impact than knowing their shoe size or where they graduated from college.

Getting the context right is the bulk of the requirement for relevance in B2B content. Content is viewed as personalized when it helps the audience take the best action to advance their thinking at just the right time. And that’s the whole point of your connection strategy.

Emotions are also a component of connection with 66% of business buyers saying they have an emotional connection to the brands they buy from. Trust is based on emotion more than logic, for example. Confidence is core to your buyer’s ability to advance. Helpfulness on your part builds affinity that plays to both of those. In fact, if you’re just trying to prove you “know” them, you can hurt your chances for advancement because you’ve failed to help them answer a question, learn what they need to know, or complete a buying task.

Conversation

Establish an ongoing “conversation” with the progression of context – context isn’t static, it’s dynamic and shifts as buyers learn more about the problem they’re solving and the options available.

The best way I’ve found to do this is by uncovering and understanding the questions your buyers will (and must) ask as they move through the process of solving their problem.

Think about it this way:

  • A buyer types an inquiry (question) into a search engine.
  • They’re presented with options and choose one they think promises an answer.
  • If the content serves, then their context has shifted given what they learned.
  • This opens space for them to ask the next question.

Is that answer provided to extend their engagement with you?

Or did you leave them at a dead end?

I build this type of Q&A into the personas I create for my clients. It’s a strong framework for understanding the type of dialogue—supported by content—that you’ll need for buyer enablement. And it informs your content strategy, along with the other components of the persona.

B2B Personalization Pays Off

As more buyers become self-reliant and want to serve up their own buying journey, marketing has a huge opportunity to guide them to pivotal milestones that help them advance through the process, growing confidence in their ability to make a buying decision—and justify it.

Marketers say personalization and experience are top priorities. But saying so doesn’t make it so. It’s by doing the hard work to understand your buyers and buying committees better and obsess over helping them get what they need to solve problems and achieve objectives.

It’s not about what we want—at least not directly. It’s all about what they want.

B2B personalization is actually much simpler than how we’re approaching it.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Good article Ardath and I agree with your conclusions. Personalization is a tricky topic for B2B marketers because they often don’t have enough data to customize personalization to the individual level. The tendency is to force a lot of artificial personalization into communications, implying a greater degree of relationship than actually exists. One example is using your first name repeatedly in an email or letter. While personalization is helpful in general, when it comes across as phony or contrived, it can be counterproductive.

  2. In a B2B selling, personalization should be executed with great care, or it will backfire. Unfortunately, too many companies don’t recognize the risks. In B2B, as in B2C, personalization comes across as “I know something about you” – a dependably fatal rapport breaker, that earns personalization a well-deserved rap for being creepy. So don’t personalize unless your communication is truly useful or insightful, and 100% correct. Out of bounds: in the name of personalization, calling out someone’s birthday, work anniversary, or prior employment history.

    Given the high risks, and questionable return, I recommend to companies that instead of projecting “I know something about you,” change the approach to “I understand something about your company’s situation.” A subtle – but crucial – difference in how you think about your prospect. If you’ve researched your target company rigorously, even if your communication doesn’t bang-on resonate with the recipient, it’s less likely to be perceived as invasive, and more likely to be considered thoughtful and intelligent.

  3. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Andrew. Yes, I agree to your suggested shift from the person to something relevant to the company’s situation. I’d add to make sure that the “situation” in question is relevant to the recipient based on role.

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