On this episode of SearchChat, SoloSegment’s CEO, Steve Zakur and I talk about personalization and the lessons we’ve learned from working with clients. We talk about the data that you need to get started and lessons that you can learn about how to deliver on a personalization initiative from both musicians and the military.
We start with Steve’s takeaways from Personalization ‘19, including that customers don’t have a separate B2B brain. This is how the internet works now — it doesn’t matter where I go, I have the same expectations.
Personalization is a means to an end, not the end. We discuss how you make sure when you’re creating these engaging customer experiences that they will lead to some meaningful result for you as a business. Also up for debate: is it better to start with the easily winnable goals, or the more clearly valuable business goals? The takeaway is to look to musicians for the answer.
We also tackle delivering engaging personalization. Is saying “Hi, Tim” at the top of the website, personalization? Does it create the engaging user experience we hope for? People want to be known, and in a way that matters. Steve and I offer behavior-based personalization using anonymous data as an alternative.
All this and more, on SearchChat.
1:55 Search Engine Monopolies
10:00 How much traffic isn’t Google sending?
14:55 Rates will increase — what do we do?
23:10 How B2B companies can leapfrog to better personalization
SearchChat is available on
Search Chat is SoloSegment’s podcast dedicated to all things search AI and content marketing related. Who is SoloSegment? We’re a technology company focused on site search analytics and AI driven content discovery to improve search results, increase customer satisfaction and unlock revenue for your company. If you think we might have the answer to your conversion problems, feel free to connect with us.
Tim Peter: Hi, I’m Tim Peter and welcome to SearchChat, SoloSegment’s podcast, dedicated to all things search, AI, and content marketing related. Who is SoloSegment? Well, we’re a technology company focused on site search analytics and AI driven content discovery, to improve search results, increase customer satisfaction and unlock revenue for your company. SoloSegment, make your search smarter. You can learn more at solosegment.com.
Tim Peter: On this episode of SearchChat, SoloSegment’s CEO, Steve Zakur and I talk about personalization and the lessons we’ve learned from working with clients. We talk about the data that you need to get started and lessons that you can learn about how to deliver on a personalization initiative from both musicians and the military. All that and more on the latest SoloSegment SearchChat, coming at you right now.
Tim Peter: Hi Steve. How are you tonight?
Steve Zakur: Well, I’d like to say I’m great, but that’s only because I’m sucking on these cough drops like crazy, so I feel better. I’m coming out on the other side of a head cold that I managed to gather. It was one of those, get on an airplane, get a head cold to kind of thing. Last week was out in San Diego and I managed to come back with a little gift.
Tim Peter: The joys of business travel.
Steve Zakur: It is glamorous in all ways.
Tim Peter: You were in San Diego, Steve?
Steve Zakur: I was in San Diego, yeah.
Tim Peter: And what were you doing in San Diego Steve?
Steve Zakur: It’s interesting that you ask. I was in San Diego for a conference called Personalization 19 and it was one of those that I actually attended, not one that we were kind of presenting at or doing kind of the booth thing at. It was one of those things that came up late on my radar mostly because I think it was a new conference that didn’t get a lot of press early on, but it did pique my interest because I think it’s really the only conference I’ve seen that really laser focuses on the topic of personalization. And so given that, it’s in our sweet spot, it’s those are our people if you will. Definitely made some time on my calendar to attend that.
Tim Peter: Very cool. And while you’re out there, what’d you hear? What spoke to you?
Steve Zakur: Yeah, almost everything. It was interesting, this conference unlike, well I guess maybe I was going to say unlike others, but actually it was actually similar to others, had kind of a B to B track and a B to C track, which was very cool. Since we are a B to B focused company, it was one, it was interesting to be able to kind of find that subset. People who dig personalization and B to B people who dig personalization. It was really from that perspective, kind of right on target for listening and trying to understand what is kind of top of mind.
Steve Zakur: And the one thing that really struck me, and we’ve said this in lots of different ways, probably on this podcast, definitely in blog posts in the past and certainly probably every conversation I have with a marketing professional. But the one turn of phrase that really, really grabbed me was customers don’t have a separate B to B brain. It’s they don’t come to their desk at work and say, “Okay, I’m going to expect a totally different web app, et cetera experience.” No, they come to it because I’m B to B. No, they come to it with hey, this is how the internet works now. I go to a B to B website or I go to B to C website. I should have kind of the same experience.
Tim Peter: Right. These are my expectations no matter what I do.
Steve Zakur: Exactly.
Tim Peter: Things should work a certain way.
Steve Zakur: You bet. And it doesn’t happen that way. We all kind of know that.
Tim Peter: What?
Steve Zakur: I know.
Tim Peter: No, surely you jest.
Steve Zakur: Shocking, shocking.
Tim Peter: I’m shocked to discover there’s gambling going on.
Steve Zakur: Indeed. Indeed. Round up the usual suspects. Yeah, it is definitely, the B to B track folks are definitely, struggling is not the right word because I think lots of good progress is being made because technology is progressing, content is progressing, data’s progressing. All kind of the elements that help make, that make the customer experience a personalized customer experience possible are progressing in the B to B realm. It’s just, there are a lot of unique challenges in B to B to kind of recreate those B to C customer experience expectations that humans have when they come to your website. Because again, they don’t swap hats, they don’t swap brains, they keep the same brain and they have those B to C expectations.
Tim Peter: Well, and I think it’s really interesting point you make and it’s something that I know we’ve talked about other times or to your point, put in blog posts or definitely with conversations we have with folks, but I’d love for you to expand on that just a little bit. This idea that, if I’m a customer, regardless of whether I’m B to B or B to C, I have certain expectations of how it’s going to work and how you perceive that and how maybe folks who are listening to this ought to be thinking about it.
Steve Zakur: Well, I think it starts with a lot of the principles that we’ve talked to about in the past. This whole idea of starting with “know me.” And know me in a way, another thing we’ve talked about in the past that’s not creepy. And know me in a way that is going to be engaging and that really is kind of key word for all of this. When you think about personalization, the goal of personalization is to create engaging customer experiences. And so, one of the big questions of the, one of the opening speakers was, is saying hi Tim at the top of the website, personalization? And there was a lot of weak response when the question was asked in the audience because of course nobody wants to appear like an idiot in front of a hundred of their friends. But I think universally the answer is no.
Steve Zakur: That there’s nothing about, I recognize you, that creates an engaging experience, but it is perhaps the foundation for engagement because of its, hi Tim. I know you work at SoloSegment and I know that you’re in the tech industry and oh by the way, here’s some interesting and relevant information for you because of that knowledge. Now you begin to start talking about personalization and why that’s relevant. This whole notion of really “know me” and use that knowledge to create an engaging experience was kind of the overarching theme for then everything that followed, all the discussions that followed whether they were vendor based presentations or some of the case studies that were presented. But it was really this now this knowledge of if that’s what we’re trying to achieve, then kind of how do we achieve it? Which is kind of the mechanics and the fundamentals and more importantly, how do you do that well? What are some of the leading companies doing with regards to that?
Steve Zakur: And that was actually the second part, what are leading companies doing? Was perhaps the most disappointing part from the B to B track perspective because there wasn’t a whole lot of, wow, these guys are way ahead. I think part of the message was misery loves company. We’re all still struggling with these things that are kind of the inhibitors to creating those engaging experiences. And I think businesses that are more on the transactional end of things than kind of, so I would think of companies that might be fulfilling large contracts with almost like commerce like experiences have an easier time of it just because I think there are some models there they can follow.
Steve Zakur: Whereas if you’re, and they weren’t there, but if you’re Oracle for example, you’re a large enterprise, lots of different businesses cobbled together, lots of systems. I think the road’s a lot less clear there. And especially because the model that a lot of companies seem to be following, which is really, instead of a know Tim, it’s know SoloSegment. Know something about the account and that sort of thing. The model is less clear there because it’s not a lift and drop. It’s not a lift and drop from Amazon’s model of personalization to what maybe SoloSegment would expect if I came to a company’s website. I guess that’s the long way of saying is that it was very cool to see some agreement on what we’re trying to achieve. Not a lot of agreement on how we’re kind of trying to achieve it yet.
Tim Peter: Right, right. Well, and what you talked about a moment ago I think is really interesting with this idea of are you talking to the individual or are you talking to the company? And how that seems to create a lot of challenges for enterprises. That to me, seems like an important question, of do you start with the data you have? Or do you need to find new data? And how do you come to agreement on what is the true identifier of the customer?
Steve Zakur: Yeah, that was a huge question. And you hit on identify there. In the individual world, you’re trying to stitch together, okay, well this cookie or this fingerprint for this computer belongs to Tim and therefore we’re going to look for that and tie it together. And oh, by the way, we have some of these offline data sources that we can tie together because Tim logged in at some point. And so, especially in a more transactional sort of system where you require that login or where somebody’s already your customer, you might be able to get those identifiers that stitch you together. But in a situation where somebody is new to you, and especially if an account’s new to you, how do you then stitch together A, that this is Tim, B, that he belongs to an account, and that everybody else from that account is kind of related to Tim.
Steve Zakur: And those are some pretty significant challenges, especially for, again, most B to B companies that didn’t start kind of start fresh in the digital age. They kind of evolved into the digital age and so they’re going to have lots of systems that don’t talk to one another. And so the identifier is a big question, especially when you’re trying to target the individual for a personalized experience. And part of the discussion that was had and some of the examples that were given were around this account view of the world. How do you take a more account focus so that you can begin to look at what are the objectives of the account versus the objectives of the individual?
Steve Zakur: And that’s a really interesting thought as people begin to approach that. Especially given kind of privacy concerns and data concerns around identifying humans. Maybe that’s a way to kind of get at personalized experiences that make sense in the context of the visitors’ overarching business objectives because you know, oh, it’s SoloSegment showing up and there are tech company so they, I can talk to them in a certain way. It doesn’t help you with personas and people, but again, maybe an account based approach is an easier way to get started.
Tim Peter: Well, and it may be a more relevant way. Because if you are again using me as the example, if you’re me working for a tech company, maybe my specific thing is not as meaningful or not as predictive as I’m interested in various, let’s say for instance, cloud based hosting solutions or I don’t know, something that is low IT lift or things along those lines based on the kind of company I work for, the kinds of problems I have. And maybe that’s more predictive and more useful in a B to B context, than knowing it’s Tim who happens to fit a certain demographic profile or sit in an office in a certain location.
Steve Zakur: Again, there were lots of, not lots but a few good examples of companies that were starting and take this ABM approach. And what was interesting though is everybody wanted to start with the data. Which was let’s start with, oh can we get data to know that, oh this is from a SoloSegment IP address or whatever the identifier is that you can buy from third party providers. And it was interesting that the advice that one speaker gave was, “No, start with the sales team.” Because it doesn’t matter if you can identify that Tim is from SoloSegment. If SoloSegment isn’t a target, don’t waste your time. And that was actually a theme that prevailed not only during the general session, which was both the B to C and B to B tracks, but also during the B to B track. This was discussed specifically was, what are your objectives? What is your kind of overall strategy? And are you starting with the highest value targets if you will? Or the highest value business opportunities?
Steve Zakur: And there’s a bit of a struggle there between easiest and most valuable because those might not always be the same. You might have a harder time targeting your higher value opportunities. But regardless, there was this discussion of yeah, personalization is a means to an end, not the end. And so how do you make sure when you’re creating these engaging customer experiences that you’re creating them that is going to lead to some meaningful result for you as a business. And so again, that was another kind of topic that was talked about when they talked about how to get started.
Tim Peter: Sure. Well and that seems to me again like a, I don’t want to say simple, but a valuable discussion to have. And I do the personal services, excuse me, the professional services side of what we do so I tend to think in two by two matrices a lot. And so if you think of, what’s easy versus what’s valuable and just grid those, you’re going to have some that are going to fall into that top right corner of easy and valuable. And then you make some prioritization decisions on the ones who are either easy or valuable based on how closely they skew to the other access. Because those things are never, it’s never really a box. It’s really a spectrum. And that could be a really ,I don’t want to say again, I don’t want to say simple way, but an effective way to start to prioritize, okay, these folks are really valuable and they tend towards the easier line versus these folks who are easy, but they don’t skew towards the valuable line.
Steve Zakur: And there is really kind of a holy war sort of back and forth on this. Which is…
Tim Peter: What? No, again, I’m shocked Stephen.
Steve Zakur: Multiple opinions. Put a couple of humans together and you’d be shocked at what happens. But we’ve always been of the mind that, and I guess to simplify it completely, that you don’t want the perfect to be the enemy of the good or the good enough. Get started. And I think one of the challenges that B to B companies often have is because they’re large and they have lots of process and they have lots of complexity that if you want to do it right, and I’m putting air quotes around that, if you want to do it right, it’s going to take you 18 months to get your proof of concept off the ground.
Steve Zakur: Because you’re going to have lots of inspection and you’re going to have lots of data quality stuff and lots IT lift. And you can make these things new initiatives, especially around technologies like personalization very, very challenging because you’re trying to achieve some ideal state. And we’ve always been of the bias that getting started is, and with good enough is better than waiting for something that’s perfect. And so that’s, so there’s one group that says, “Yeah, get started.” And so choose the easy first. Choose the thing that’s going to allow you to get some traction out of the gate. And then there’s this other camp that was, “No, choose the value first.” Go after something that’s valuable even if that’s harder. And the rationale there is, well if you do the easy, but it doesn’t have a lot of value, you might not be able then to later convince somebody to do the hard thing.
Tim Peter: Right. Exactly right.
Steve Zakur: Which I get. But of course if you do the really hard thing first, it may die. How many initiatives have you seen in your professional career where the 18 month initiative, nine months after the initiative started, the executive who led it got a new job and on month 10 a new exec came in and now all of a sudden there’s a shift, a reprioritization and at best it’s delayed. At worst it dies because there’s a new priority. I think that’s the challenge in front of people who have to make decisions on this every day is, to get started and build some muscle memory. Which by the way, is our bias. Just being completely clear.
Steve Zakur: Is the, so that you can then look at and turn to and pivot to some of the things that might have higher value. Or is it better to kind of get your data right, get the right engine, get the right product set, get the right customer segment and go after that hard because even though it’ll take you maybe a little bit longer to get all that stuff right, at least you’ll be delivering the capability where it’s going to have the most leverage for the business. And I don’t think there’s an easy answer to that because like you said, it’s a spectrum. There’s going to be no easy, low value, hard high value. You might find something that kind of fits in the middle and maybe that’s the where you have to look, but a bias for action. And I think that’s why everybody talks about agile these days.
Steve Zakur: A bias for doing something is better than a bias for studying and perfecting and whatnot. And that was something that resonated with the people I kind of talked to offline, which was if you were given the choice, and also by the way, that resonates with almost every executive I talked to in a sales role or a customer service role or whatever hat I happen to be wearing every day. Everybody has a bias for, what can I get done today and tomorrow? Not kind of what can I get done in 12 to 18 months? Have the have the bias for action. I think I have the bias for getting started and if you can get as much value as possible to get your proof point, that’s the way you should go.
Tim Peter: Yeah, if I can just add to that, this is something I know I’ve said before on the show, you and I talk about this more than once. I started out my career as odd as it is as a musician and my belief is you’re good at what you rehearse. The problem with a lot of those 18 and 24 month projects is you don’t rehearse releasing, you don’t rehearse delivering. And so you don’t actually get good at that. Obviously there are projects that require that and things along the way, but you get good at the things you actually practice. And so that bias for action is also just rooted in this idea of go ahead and deliver because delivery is a thing you want to get good at. Showing value is a thing you want to get good at. That’s always been important to me. And I think a place where people often make the mistake is, you picture this Nirvana and if you don’t practice to get there, you can’t actually get there.
Steve Zakur: Sure. No, I think it’s a great point. I think that it is this, kind of routine delivery of value and I think that’s kind of what you’re talking about. That we just, we don’t have that habit. And because we think in more complex business systems, we’re trapped in very complex business systems. And certainly in agile development, what you want to do is you want to build that ability to deliver. Because once you have that ability, then you can hone that ability to deliver. But if you’re delivering infrequently, you never get the chance to, as you said, kind of strengthen that muscle.
Tim Peter: Exactly. And if the music side of it is too frou frou and things like that for people, the military has a term for this where they talk about op tempo, operational tempo. And the whole idea is that same concept. As far as I’m concerned, if it’s good enough for the military and it’s good enough for Led Zeppelin or somebody like that.
Steve Zakur: Right, absolutely.
Tim Peter: We’ve got it covered on both bases here where you just have to be good at it.
Steve Zakur: Again that was the overarching thought of how do you get started? And how do you prevent perfection from being the enemy of the good? That was clearly a theme and usually it had to do with data. How do you get started with the data you have versus the data you wish you had?
Tim Peter: Right, right. No, that’s a great point, Steve. And I think is a really great way to bring it home because again, using my two by two matrices and I was talking about this earlier this week elsewhere, is another idea of do we have the right data? If you think about a two by two matrix with, do we have the right data on one axis and do we know the right questions to ask on the other axis. And I think the people have lots of data. Where they struggle is with asking the right questions and if you’ve got the data and you usually do, going back to your ABM. You and I were having an interesting discussion about this earlier and you talked about it some a moment ago with regard to who is the customer? That’s a really important question. That you have data, it’s really a question of making decisions about how do you want to deploy that? And how do you want to use that?
Steve Zakur: And it really does come back to those bigger questions of what’s your strategy for growing the business? And how is personalization going to engage the audience to achieve that objective? And so, often a lot of that has to do with, I guess asking the right questions. Maybe you just said it best. Which is, what are the questions that we need to ask and answer so that people can progress and engage with us along some continuum? Because also another thing we know about these B to B buying processes is, it doesn’t happen in one session. It doesn’t happen in one month. It’s going to happen over longer periods of time where you’re going to have to engage people in the account with the right content. And so, you really do have to start at that beginning as you said, right strategy and asking the right questions and really thinking about, how are we going to deliver those engaging answers? And what data do we need to do that?
Steve Zakur: And what we’re finding is often when you look at the data you have and so some of the data we look at is visitor journey data. Some of that data you have, you already know a lot of the answers. More than you think you do. And it’s funny, I was looking at one of our client’s GuideBox implementation the other day and it was one of those moments where it’s very early in the deployment. We’ve just got it up and it’s running in test right now. And I wondered how good are the recommendations going to be essentially for related content? That’s kind of the, or related product. It’s almost like a related product because of the way their product portfolio works. And I was stunned at how good it was. So much so that it was basically here’s the product and oh by the way, some of the recommendations were and here’s some information about how to get education on that product. And here’s information about another version of that product.
Steve Zakur: And it was kind of interesting that there’s almost no smarts in that right now. It’s very early in the deployments. We haven’t gathered a lot of data but it’s already been very relevant. Now that’s because it has a little bit a kind of magic going on in the background because we know our algorithms or our models understand context really well. And understand intent really well so that we do have a little bit of an advantage there in, we can kind of gather out of the data a little more insight than most folks can. But it was just very interesting to see that when you went to that same product page and you looked at the related products that was in the CMS. If you looked at the CMS’ recommendation, and they were awful. They were, they literally looked like errors running out.
Tim Peter: A random webpage generator as our friend Mike Moran likes to refer to them.
Steve Zakur: There you go. I think that’s absolutely. And so, the fact that we were able to deliver something that was much more relevant with a relatively small set of data and almost not knowing their business does kind of come back to this point you made earlier that you probably have the information you seek in the data, the answers to the questions you want to ask in your data. Let’s make sure you’re asking the right questions. What are those questions that are going to lead to an engaging experience? Ask those right questions and the answers are likely in the data you have today.
Tim Peter: Well, and I think it goes back to where you started this whole discussion, Steve, with this idea of customers don’t have a separate B to B brain. People tend to be fairly laser focused. The things that they’re telling you by the behaviors or the things that they’re telling you by their actions tend to be pretty good predictors of what it is they actually care about.
Steve Zakur: Yeah, absolutely. And you’ll see it there. You’ll just see it in the data.
Tim Peter: Very cool. Well, we’re coming up on our time together. Any parting thoughts you want to leave folks with?
Steve Zakur: No, no. Just I guess maybe to kind of kind of recap a bit. That whole notion that personalization is important in B to B because customers don’t have a separate B to B brain and they really do expect those engaging experiences. And I think that companies that can differentiate on that sort of engagement, even if the engagement is at the account level and not at the personal level, but even if you can know, hey, I’m in this specific industry and here’s some highly relevant content to that context, great. Even if you can’t do it at the industry level, even if you know that I’m looking at content that seems to indicate that I’m a technical user. Because I’m usually looking at very technical content. Well give me more of that. Don’t give me the product marketing fluff. Give me more of the technical sort of content.
Steve Zakur: However you can kind of engage with me where I am, I think that differentiates because it gets back to that know me thing. I think that’s was a really important point. Again, coming back to the data, I think you and I both land more on the, what’s the thing you can do now with the data you have versus the thing that you can do in the future with the data you want. Have a definite bias towards what can you do today. And then I think your final point that you made was start with the right questions. And those right questions are what’s going to lead to the engagement. What do we think they want to know? What do we want to achieve? What do we want to know? And how do you then kind of create the intersection of those two things to deliver a personalized, engaging experience?
Tim Peter: Sounds like a great place to wrap up, Steve. Thanks so much as ever. Great talking with you. Hope you feel better and look forward to catching up with you next time.
Steve Zakur: Have a great week, Tim.
Tim Peter: All right, take care now.
Tim Peter: SearchChat is brought to you by SoloSegment. SoloSegment is a technology company focused on site search analytics and AI driven content discovery to improve search results, increase customer satisfaction, and unlock revenue for your company. SoloSegment, make your search smarter. Learn more at solosegment.com. If you like what you’ve heard today, click on the subscribe links you can find at solosegment.com/podcast, on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher Radio or Spotify or wherever fine podcasts can be found. You can also find us on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/company/solosegment, on Facebook at facebook.com/solosegment, on Twitter using the Twitter handle @SoloSegment, or you can drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Again, that’s email@example.com. For SearchChat, I’m Tim Peter. I hope you have a great rest of the week. Thanks so much for joining us and we’ll look forward to chatting with you next time here on SearchChat. Until then, take care everybody.