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6 Truths B2B Marketers Must Know About Personalization

You’re a serious B2B marketer. You’ve seen the stats. You know the score. B2B customers expect personalized experiences to help them find the products and services that meet their needs. And personalization can help you drive more leads. Which is good, because “drive more leads” is what you keep hearing from your sales leaders and senior execs, especially now when your sales teams are stuck in WFH mode. As “face-to-face” has become “shelter in place,” there’s more pressure than ever for your website to drive the leads in-person events once did. 

But some critics are saying personalization is dead. And lots of companies have attempted to use personalization without seeing results. How can all of these things be true at the same time? There’s a surprisingly simple answer: 

Most personalization platforms weren’t built for B2B buyers

These platforms are excellent at helping you understand more about Alice and Bob, a married couple with 2.5 kids and a puppy who drive a crossover SUV and like to go camping. But none of those consumer attributes have any effect on Alice or Bob’s buying behaviors as execs at their respective companies. 

The mismatch between consumer-centered personalization platforms and the needs of B2B buyers represents just one of the six personalization truths every B2B marketer needs to know outlined in our latest ebook, called simply enough, “The Six Personalization Truths Every B2B Marketer Needs to Know.” 

Other truths about B2B marketing that you need to know include:

  • The key reasons your site visitors expect personalization — and how those expectations influence your technology platform needs
  • The surprising connection between site search and personalized experiences — and why most companies fall short at making that connection deliver results
  • The increasing likelihood that shifting regulations and actions by technology giants like Google, Apple, and Microsoft only make it harder to close the personalization gap for B2B marketers 
  • And the plain truth that the ability to close the gap using artificial intelligence and machine learning exists today — and can work for your company more easily than you think. 

Of course, there’s one more truth that you already know: you’re facing increasing pressures from your customers and your company’s senior executives to solve their problems and deliver results. Sales wants more leads. Your customers want more relevant information. And you want to drive more revenues for your business. How can you meet all these goals? The solution may be easier than you think. 

Are you interested in learning more about how you can put personalization to work for your business? Check out the new SoloSegment ebook “The Six Personalization Truths Every B2B Marketer Needs to Know” today. And learn how you can use personalization to support B2B buyers — and your business — more easily and more effectively than you ever thought possible. Just click here to check out the ebook. And learn the solutions that can help you improve your customer experience — and business results — today.

B2B Website Personalization Doesn’t have to be difficult

For several years we’ve had evidence that high quality, B2B customer experiences are table stakes for businesses interested in growth. As we’ve discussed before, personalization is easier said than done. While content creation and IT can be significant blockers to getting the most out of your personalization efforts, the biggest impediment may be the data. Traditional personalization technology needs personal data that you’re not likely to have. This makes B2B website personalization particularly tricky.

Your customers have a preference

Amazon has trained your prospects and customers well. When they go to Amazon they easily find what they need and are magically guided to things that might help them find solutions to problems they don’t know they have. In short, the customer experience leaves them delighted.

Unfortunately for you, folks don’t have separate B2B brains. They come to your B2B website with the same expectations that they have in their retail lives. The bar is set high. And you’ve been working for a long time to try to meet this standard but your best website personalization efforts still seem to fall short. Why is that?

So why is this so hard? 

Most B2B website personalization systems are powered by three components: 

  1. the technology itself, 
  2. the content that will be served, 
  3. the data that decides what content to serve, who to serve it to, and when to serve it.

Let’s set aside the challenges of implementing IT and building content. While these can be daunting challenges, they’re within your control. You need to select technology that you know you can implement and manage and you have to line up your content teams to feed the beast. If you can’t do that, it’s on you.

Data. Now that’s the tricky part. Traditional personalization technology grew up in the retail space. Retail is awash in personal data so the opportunities to target, micro-target, and retarget are abundant because the data is abundant.

In the retail space prospects and customers are happy to hand over their data because there is a clear trade for value. Billing requires personal information. Shipping requires personal information. Customers share their information to get those benefits. And, for better or worse, that data is freely traded because tracking, for the most part, is so easy to do.

Nobody shares their personal information with B2B vendors. Conventional wisdom is that less that 2% of B2B website visitors share personal information on a website. That makes sense. If I’m a buyer for an technology hardware company, I don’t share my personal information with a component manufacturer when I go look at specifications on chips on their website. There’s rarely a compelling reason for me to share that information. Unlike retail, there’s no trade for value.

But the technology you purchased requires personal data. What to do? The answer is, of course, more technology.

The personal data workarounds that don’t work

There are plenty of vendors that have swooped in to help with the personal data problem so that your investment in B2B website personalization will pay off. These technologies have been called many things over the years but they now inhabit the “Account-Based Management” space.

It all started with “IP Sniffing” where these vendors used technical snooping to try and discern what company a visitor was coming from. That together with first party data they had captured, data stored in cookies, could give them a hint of who the person might be. Of course, many visitors don’t come back before their cookies expire so accumulating first party data can be tricky.

Purchasing third party data, largely gathered in the retail environment, is often less than satisfying. It might give you some insight into the person, but it gives you little insight into their professional lives. How do you target someone if you don’t know the most basic information about what they do for work and what they’re seeking?

In the discussions we’ve had with some of these vendors they admit that at best visitor identification happens 30% of the time. In the vast majority of cases that number is in the low teens. And with Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) that number is only going to get worse. Couple ITP with GDPR, CCPA, and a whole alphabet soup of regulation and regression to the 2% mean seems inevitable.

But if you’ve been working in the B2B website personalization space, you know all this. The data is the most frustrating part of the exercise.

The role of anonymous data in B2B Website Personalization

The first step in solving a problem is to recognize that you have a problem. And while a higher power may not be able to make your B2B website personalization better, there is a way forward.

Anonymity has traditionally been a problem for marketers that want to target people for messages that will help engage and progress them through the funnel. B2B marketers have risen to this challenge by providing lots of opportunities for folks to share their information, primarily through gated content experiences (e.g. white papers, case studies, etc.). But those efforts are often wasted. From low conversion rates to fake data there are a variety of reasons gathering first-party data yields low results.

Gated content and similar methods are a logical response to a world in which anonymity is a problem. But what if anonymity wasn’t a problem? What if you could address anonymous visitors with very specific messages? That would be powerful. Especially for the very top of funnel folks who might not see any value for giving you good information about themselves.

In the past, the problem with making any sense out of anonymous data was nearly impossible. If was all offline modeling and incorporating those models into operational technology was, at best, difficult.

Today, AI can power through all the data you collect on your website–content, visitor behavior, search–to develop models that can predict what someone is trying to accomplish and deliver content that is compelling in the moment to help them accomplish those goals.

Our customers who have deployed our search and content recommendation technologies have found increased engagement (+139%), reduced exits (down 80%), and lower bounce rates (down 12 points) by delivering highly targeted content recommendations that engage visitors before they’re able to identify the person or their role.

There is a way to get off of the personal data hamster wheel and at the same time increase engagement and progression of anonymous early funnel visitors. Utilizing the latest tools in your technology toolbox–machine learning, natural language processing, and natural language understanding–you can derive models that help your prospects achieve their goals and, ultimately, you to achieve yours.

Curious how we can help you can stop the madness and deploy effective, anonymous b2b website personalization, for your company, and for your future? Give us a call at 862-234-0365 or drop us a line. We’re here to help.

Why B2B Marketers Must Embrace AI and Personalization

“We’re in challenging times,” everyone says. That’s a fact. But here’s a question: When is that not true for B2B marketers? Sure, things are definitely tougher than usual at the moment. But, who are we kidding? You’re always hustling, in bad times and good, to either outperform the economy or beat your competition. So, let’s take a moment and talk about how you can accomplish both of those goals, in good times and bad: Artificial intelligence (AI) and personalization. And, more importantly, how you can make AI and personalization work together for your customers… and for your company.

The Core of Personalization in Marketing

If youll allow me to grossly oversimplify a complex topic for a moment, every B2B marketing plan in existence can be summed up by a similar set of steps. What every effective B2B marketer must consistently do is:

  • Uncover customer needs
  • Create offerings that address those customer needs
  • Let potential customers know those offerings exist
  • Build trust that your offering actually works
  • Work with your sales team to encourage your prospects to hand over their money in exchange for those offerings
  • Repeat

I know, easy, right? Of course I’m skipping some details; if there ever was a case where you’re allowed to say, “the Devil’s in the details,” this is the one. That’s why it’s called, “grossly oversimplifying.”

But the fact remains that everything you do as a marketer and a manager exists to help your current and potential customers achieve their goals, to create offerings tailored to what they need at the immediate moment. Fundamentally, thats all that personalization is at its core again, as long as you’re willing to grossly oversimplify it.

Why You Struggle to Deliver Personalized Experience

The problems with accomplishing this in practice and at scale blow that gross oversimplification completely out of the water. Forget what I said before. This is where you can say that “the Devil is in the details.” As our Chief Product Officer mentioned the other day, its true that both the future of marketing requires delivering personalization at scale and that a number of significant challenges exist that makes it difficult to do that. These include the following facts:

  1. While digital channels like your website, email list, and social media presence make collecting information easy at least relative to the past its tough to make sense of the sheer volume of data now available
  2. The technology necessary to handle such large volumes of data can be expensive and difficult to implement and maintain
  3. Customers are increasingly uncomfortable with letting you collect and store their personal information and tools like intelligent tracking protection (ITP) and enhanced tracking protection (ETP) exist to make it hard to do so
  4. Regulators, always willing to listen when large numbers of voters, um… people have concerns, increasingly create barriers to collecting and storing customers personal information (think GDPR/CCPA/other alphabet soup regulations)
  5. Companies frequently must create rules to address steps in the customer journey and the content that supports each of those steps
  6. Despite your best efforts, its impossible to know many visitors to your B2B website and other digital channels because you cant get their personal data or because their individual information isn’t relevant to their business purchases
  7. And, the costs associated with addressing these non-trivial challenges makes it tough for you to deliver an impressive ROI for any investments you make in personalization quickly, which is even more important in the current post-COVID environment.

Thats not “a gross oversimplification.” Its just gross.

Fortunately, we’ve put together some ideas for how to deal with these challenges in our new ebook “Six Personalization Realities B2B Marketers Need to Know Right Now.” Check it out when you have a moment.

Fact: Personally-Identifiable Information (PII) Won’t Be Around Forever

Privacy and its implications for data collection are worth diving into in a bit more detail. Privacy regulations as well as customer attitudes about privacy will require marketers to shift focus away from personally-identifiable information (PII) and towards some other source of anonymous, but still useful data. This appears inevitable.

For instance, Samuel Scott argues persuasively that personalization is this years most overhyped marketing practice,. In particular, Scott cites concerns about privacy as the biggest risks for both companies and their customers. Given the downsides of cost and legal risk associated with data breaches, those concerns seem warranted.

And, to be fair, there is a lot of hype around personalization. The European Unions General Data Privacy Regulations (GDPR), the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), and similar legislation didn’t come from nowhere; many jurisdictions clearly take the hype seriously.

You also want to consider how little personal information about B2B buyers is even relevant to your selling process. Does the fact that your buyer is “42 years old, drives a midsize crossover SUV, and has affinity for dining and travel” help you progress them towards a purchase of your products or services? I didn’t think so.

What some forward-thinking marketers are moving towards and I believe must move towards is using anonymous behavioral data instead of PII. Various techniques exist that allow you to offer personalized experiences without PII and still drive improved business results. My expectation and to be 100% honest, a big reason we founded a company that does this is that successful B2B marketers will increasingly seek out options that provide the benefits of personalization without the regulatory or brand risk associated with capturing and storing vast amounts of PII about their customers. But to do that well, you’ve got to add artificial intelligence into the mix.

The Role of AI in Personalization

Knowing how to personalize without PII isn’t easy. It requires a fair bit of data about your customers’ on-site behaviors, about your content, about what makes customers click and connect, and how to tie all that information together in real-time. That’s where your ability to use AI in your personalization efforts matters. As a friend of mine likes to say, “AI makes big data… little.” Artificial intelligence and machine learning must play a key role in helping you make sense of the data you’re gathering so that you can put your oversimplified marketing plan into action. Or, even better, the real-world, results-oriented, complex marketing plan that you actually put together.

AI-powered personalization tools can help you make sense of the continual streams of data the torrent of data that you collect. A well-designed AI-powered personalization platform can be run as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) to minimize implementation costs and complexity. And, if done really well, personalization driven by artificial intelligence would use customer behaviors not increasingly regulated, increasingly unavailable personally-identifiable information to connect customers with the content they need. Hmm… I wonder who could possibly have made an AI-powered, behavior-based personalization tool that works that way…

Fact: AI in Personalization is Coming

All kidding aside, we’re not the only ones who think this way. Recent data from Adobe shows that 9 out of 10 companies show a positive ROI from their personalization efforts, with more than 40% seeing greater than a 6:1 return. But few organizations only about 4 in 10 feel that they have the personalization capabilities they need. This is the gap that B2B marketing executives your competitors are working with their IT colleagues to close. Why? Because there is also significant data showing that customers prefer personalized experiences.

For starters, take note of the potential returns already mentioned. Also, B2B buyers have said in study after study after study that they expect personalized experiences and will find a better option if you don’t meet those expectations.

Oh… one more reason it’s important for you to think about how to provide these experiences? CMO tenure has reached its lowest point in a decade. Not many marketing executives can afford to miss out on these kinds of opportunities… or at least not for long.

Conclusion: Why B2B Marketers Must Embrace AI in Personalization

We live in challenging times. Whether those challenges come from the difficulties of coping with large amounts of data, customer privacy concerns, regulatory changes, IT integration efforts, costs, global pandemics or all of these at the same time your job as a B2B marketer is hard. There’s no way to grossly oversimplify that fact. Adding to the complexity, it’s clear your buyers expect personalized experiences that help them achieve their objectives or they won’t be your buyers. And pressure to deliver from the C-Suite isn’t making this any easier.

Your competitors increasingly use artificial intelligence to interpret and understand the sheer volume of data they’re gathering. Remember, AI makes big data little. But also remember that personal information is going away. And it may not even matter in B2B in the first place. Instead, effective, forward-thinking AI-powered personalization platforms use anonymous data to determine not only where customers are in their journey, but also the right messages and offers to present customers from existing content.

So, yes, “we’re in challenging times.” Again. And this probably won’t be the last time. But you’re going to be fine. Artificial intelligence and personalization can help put those challenges to rest. And that’s a fact you can happily embrace… even when times are tough.

Curious how we can help you connect AI and personalization for your customers, for your company, and for your future? Give us a call at 862-234-0365 or drop us a line. We’re here to help. And, if you want to learn more about how to put personalization to work for your business, check out the “Six Personalization Realities B2B Marketers Need to Know Right Now” ebook today.

Your Future Requires Website Personalization at Scale

Personalization is dead, right? Gartner and the other cool kids say so. Particularly when you’re trying to scale personalization on your website. There are lots of reasons that people provide:

  • It’s too hard to collect personal information.
  • It’s too hard to do.
  • It’s too hard to deliver ROI.

And they do have a point—websites and the Internet as whole are littered with the debris of failed personalization projects. But what if there was a different way to do it?

Let’s start with the objections. Yes, it is definitely too hard to collect personal information, and it is getting harder every day. Not only are web users more reluctant to part with information, but privacy regulations and the elimination of cookie tracking from browsers thanks to ITP and ETP are making it difficult to personalize your website even when users are willing to let you. But what if you adopted a strategy for personalization that works with anonymous information?

Personalization at scale has also certainly been hard to do. So much so, in fact, that we’ve written a whole ebook about what B2B marketers must know about personalization. Marketers have been given tools that require creating new content and crafting manual rules for when that content should be shown. Sure, in theory you can do personalization without martech, but would you want to? And bringing martech into the mix makes it even harder, requiring significant amounts of IT collaboration and support to implement it all. But what if there is another way that requires none of that?

And, of course, many failed personalization projects have failed to prove they delivered the ROI that business leaders expected. But maybe that’s because it’s too expensive to do—obviously, it’s a lot easier to show ROI if you can do it at a lower cost. And if you can make personalization work automatically, it can work everywhere, which means you get the benefit across your whole site not just the few pages you can hand-craft. So, what if there was an inexpensive way to scale personalization?

Believe it or not, the idea of delivering personalization at scale for all your users and at a reasonable cost is not science fiction. After all, does anyone think that Amazon’s personalized experience is being hand-crafted on its pages? Amazon has automated personalization at scale. That’s what you need to do, also.

But you’re right if you are thinking that you can’t do it the way Amazon does. You don’t have Amazon’s data about customers. You don’t have Amazon’s traffic to test the experiences to success. And you don’t have Amazon’s budget to build this technology from scratch.

Fortunately, you don’t need any of those things. Your site can inexpensively and easily create an experience of web personalization at scale. You just need the right tools. Want to learn more? Check out our personalization ebook when you have a moment. Or, if you’re ready, drop us a line and let’s talk about how you can deliver personalization at scale for your website, your customers, and most importantly, for your business today.

When will B2B events return? 1 yr+ is the answer.

I created a video for SoloSegment’s homepage back in April thinking that it wouldn’t age well. It was about the fact that B2B marketers, in addition to the threats of COVID, are threatened by the fact that there are no trade shows going on. A key source of leads has vanished. At the time, I expected to have to update that come May.

I watched the video this morning and I wouldn’t change a thing. Despite the fact that we’re all more comfortable with the new way of behaving–social distancing, wearing masks, staying home–the reality of this virus hasn’t changed. It’s still out there. Sickness is still rising in some places though steady or declining slowly in others. In order to maintain this stalemate with the virus, we’re going to have to continue to be careful.

So when are things going to get back to normal?

For B2B marketers, the big question is when will events come back. It’s hard to say, but a large part of that answer will be dependent upon when people are comfortable with traveling and being in crowded places.

One hint to the answer of that timing may come in a recent NY Times article where they asked 511 epidemiologists when they were going to be ready to change their behavior on a variety of activities. What’s most relevant to us as professionals is that they say they wouldn’t attend a large event in the next year. Are regular folks going to be as reluctant to travel as epidemiologists? I don’t know but I suspect the answer is more yes than no.

So what are you to do in the interim?

As I’ve discussed in several forums over the past few months, you’re going to have to improve your digital engagement game. That means your website is going to have to be more effective than ever at capturing and progressing leads. For those who have a good digital game this likely means shifting focus and spend. For those who have neglected their digital properties, the journey may be more challenging but is doable.

Where should you be investing your time and money?

The key areas that I’d focus on are:

  • Content Marketing – everything starts with the right content. Do you have messaging on your site that aligns with the pain your prospects feel? Do those messages have clear calls to action?
  • Fully Exploiting Existing Tech – many companies have what I refer to shelfware. Great technology that isn’t being fully utilized. What capabilities do you have to increase engagement with what you already have?
  • Fill The Gaps – where you’re missing a piece in your tech stack, personalization is one common area that B2B marketers struggle with, get on that. Your prospects have high expectations that you’ll at least appear to know what they want.

Personally, I doubt I’ll be attending an in-person event of any scale for the remainder of this calendar year. That’s at least six months until I’m ready, absent better testing or a long-shot vaccine, and I may be a little more of a risk taker than many others.

We’re all going to be watching how the behaviors of our prospects and customers evolve during the coming months. But if I were to bet, I would bet that some behaviors have permanently changed. If buyers get used to evaluating products via websites and zoom meetings with sales reps the heyday of large B2B events may be behind us. Digital may finally be your primary way of engaging B2B buyers, now more than ever. Data shows that personalized content delivers greater engagement and increased leads (you can learn more about how to do that in this “Six Truths About Personalization B2B Marketers Must Know” ebook). And it’s something you can do more easily than you think.

Ready to get started?

If you’re interested in improving your website’s engagement, lead contributions, and conversions, connect with me and we’ll have a chat.

B2B Conferences Canceled? How to Pivot Your Company.

Woe is us, right? Trade shows, B2B conferences, summits, everything has been canceled. Gone. Seemingly over a weekend, we have watched face-to-face become shelter-in-place. More events are canceled or postponed every day. Or they are moving online, which might be even worse, because who knows if the money you paid for a booth will pay off in an online event.

And it isn’t just what is being outright canceled. What happens when the shows come back? Will anyone go? The most optimistic among us must come to grips with the idea that the great conference lead machine is dead. At least for now. If your marketing deal flow depends on in-person events, this is the time for a pivot. A digital pivot.

What can you do to drive leads?

While everyone is hunkered down at home and not attending conferences you should reach them literally where they live. B2B web traffic is up–is yours? If not, maybe you should focus on attracting traffic:

  • Can you improve your search marketing?
  • Can you buy ads?
  • Can you improve your email campaigns?

If your web traffic is up, are your web-driven leads up? If not, you should focus on driving more leads:

We have a bunch more tips to help you learn more about driving leads with personalized content in a new ebook, “The Six Personalization Truths Every B2B Marketer Needs to Know Right Now.”

Getting to “Yes” on Digital Dollars

But maybe it isn’t ideas that are the problem. You want to do all of these things. But when I ask you “Can you…” the answer is, “No, I can’t.” Usually, when someone tells me that they can’t do something, it’s because the decision isn’t theirs to make. They need to persuade someone higher up who is playing the role of “Dr. No.”

So, I have an idea for you that a really smart client of ours just used. He made a simple chart that showed a list of all the B2B conferences, sales conferences, and trade shows that his company attended last year, along with a count of the number of leads driven for each event. Then he added a column at the end of each row of the table that said, “CANCELED” running down the full length of the list. It was a nice long list of events that drove lots of leads last year but are driving zero leads this year.

This galvanized his boss into action. Instead of the plaintive suggestion you’ve made every month for the last two years: “Gee, shouldn’t we be shifting our B2B Sales Playbook to digital?” now you have reframed the question to “Where are we going to plug this gaping hole in leads that is about to turn into a gaping hole in revenue?”

Get going!

Now the boss is ready to act. Now the boss is ready to shift the B2B conference budget into digital. Now is when you can get to work. This is your moment. You must aggressively pivot while the money is there to do it. If you let this chance go by, the finance types will scoop up all the trade show money and you won’t have any funding to accelerate digital. Your sales digital transformation will never get funded.

This crisis has been an unspeakable tragedy for many families–maybe even yours. But it isn’t callous to hope that some good–some minor good, but good nonetheless–can come out of this horror. Can we make the confident moves to pivot to digital that solidifies our companies and saves the jobs of our team, because we will be driving the leads when competitors remain fast asleep? Let’s not compound the health crisis with our own jobs crisis, just because we didn’t act when we could have. What you do now will decide your future.

Ready to get started?

If you’re interested in improving your website’s engagement, lead contributions, and conversions, connect with me and we’ll have a chat or download our ebook today.

It’s the end of the world as we know it (for B2B Marketing)

End of the world. Hyperbole? Probably. But B2B Marketing does feel a bit broken right now.

The most important tools in our arsenal require people to meet people. That’s not happening. So what now? Where should your priorities be? Website engagement is an area to focus because it’s a good bet (see your analytics data) your prospects are going digital.

COVID-19 doesn’t have to ruin your B2B pipeline

The second quarter is often the peak time for you and other large enterprise B2B marketers to be out at events telling your stories to prospects. Due to COVID-19, we’re seeing many cancellations in industry events during 2Q. The few events that continue on will no doubt be sparsely attended due to travel restrictions at the very companies with which you want to connect. Does this mean the death of your pipeline for 2020 business? It doesn’t if you’re able to get a disproportionately larger output from your other sources of leads.

SoloSegment Announces Acquisition of Thematically’s Industry-Leading AI-Powered Discover Platform

SoloSegment announced today its acquisition of Thematically’s artificial intelligence models and underlying assets, marketed as Thematically Discover, further cementing the company’s position as the leader in B2B behavior-based personalization.