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.

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.

Industrial B2B marketers have an untapped digital opportunity

Industrial B2B marketing lags in digital — in some places more than others.

Some B2B companies love their tried-and-true strategy. They have always gone to market with big trade events, airport advertising, and field sales reps to follow-up on all those leads. If a client needs something, an account exec gets a call, whips out their cape and flies over to the client to solve the problem or make the sale. Industrial B2B marketing has followed these strategies for years. So, where’s the need for digital?

SearchChat Podcast: Is Anonymous Information Really Anonymous?

In today’s podcast episode Steve Zakur and I respond to a recent article that criticized anonymous data, with the main critique being that it isn’t really anonymous. If you can grab the IP address and dig further to find identities, is that really anonymous personalization? Our answer: not really, but that isn’t what anonymous data really is. 

Marketing and MarTech: What’s your approach?

A few years ago, Scott Brinker and the Third Door Media team declared that MarTech is marketing. There is no difference between marketing technology like personalization and just plain marketing. It used to be you’d ask the question “Tell me about your martech stack.” That’s no longer the case today–it would even be perhaps a weird question.