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Applying Personalization Across the B2B Customer Journey

February 13, 2024 7 minute read
From first touch to sale and retention, marketers can deploy personalization all along the buyer journey
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If personalized email greetings are the extent of your personalization efforts, you’re not doing enough. Thanks to rapid advances in technology, personalization can occur throughout the buyer journey from the first time a prospect clicks on a digital ad to their interaction with a chatbot on your website and subsequent onboarding post-sale.

At least that’s what we learned when we convened a powerhouse panel consisting of Jennifer Griffin Smith, Chief Market Officer at Acquia; Latané Conant, Chief Revenue Officer at 6Sense; Jeff Calderone, CEO at Elevated Third; and Judd Mercer, VP of Creative Strategy at Elevated Third and panel moderator. The luminaries held a wide-ranging and frank conversation about the challenges facing marketers today and the ways (often untapped) in which personalization can help them overcome those obstacles.

The insights came at us fast and furious, and we’re excited to share the valuable lessons from our panelists, so let’s dive right in.

Challenges facing marketers in 2024

To truly ingest the power of personalization, it’s important to understand the landscape in which marketers are operating today. According to the 2023 Acquia Customer Experience (CX) Trends Report, budgets are pretty much flat, putting pressure on run-rate costs for marketers and forcing them to do more with less.

At the same time, interest in digital transformation remains high. In fact, 83% of marketers surveyed for the report said they’re being asked to deliver content differently so that it stands out when goods and services are presented to customers and prospects.

This focus on digital transformation is occurring at a time when few vendors are lowering their prices, and organizations feature multiple teams that are drawing on different data and content sets, leading to data and content chaos. So, how to bring it all together?

To start, recognize that “no one vendor can solve all our problems,” Griffin Smith said. “It’s an ecosystem of tools that have to work together.”

She went on to cite Acquia Digital Experience Platform as an example of a DXP that gives organizations the chance to easily assemble and package capabilities as business needs evolve and so become what Gartner calls “composable enterprises.”

Of course, composability has to be effective and yield ROI. Often, though, clients will buy multiple technologies, Calderone said, and “not really think about the overall roadmap of, ‘How do I implement these? What needs to connect to what?’ And then, when they don’t work together, they start to actually overcomplicate the individual systems.”

digital experience capability model can prevent organizations from getting tangled like that, said Griffin Smith: “We know it’s daunting. Let us help you define what you’re good at. For me as a tech buyer, that’s really important. I need people to understand the greater context and help me know where to focus.”

Using personalization to boost existing capabilities

When organizations understand their capabilities and where there may be gaps, personalization can be used to increase the ROI that existing systems already deliver, said Calderone.

And consumers want personalization, though appetite for the tactic depends on region, gender, and generation. According to the Acquia CX report cited earlier, 67% of consumers in the U.S. welcome brands knowing their interests and preferences compared to 54% in the U.K. and Australia. In addition, 61% of men are more open to sharing such data versus 56% of women. Comfort in sharing personal data in exchange for improved customer experiences (e.g., personalized offers) was also highest among Gen Z respondents at 80% with that percentage decreasing with each subsequent generation (78% for Millennials, 71% for Gen X, and 55% for Baby Boomers).

The takeaway? “We have to understand segmentation even more, because relevancy matters depending on generations [and] locations, not just job titles,” said Griffin Smith.

Developing a connection with prospects is especially important in B2B because, 84% of the time, the vendor who gets into the deal first wins, according to Out of Sight, (Almost) Out of Time, the 2023 report from 6Sense that looked at how B2B buyers make decisions. Getting in early also gives vendors more time to shape the deal; in contrast, by the time vendors are approached by prospects, their requirements are already set 78% of the time. Vendors need to make an impression early in the customer journey and make it easy for prospects to get the information they need as they’re building their short list — and hopefully putting you at the top.

How to do personalization right

Personalization is more than just personalized email greetings. It’s a tactic that can and should be applied throughout the B2B customer journey but, most critically, not for all prospects. “Just personalize for the most winnable accounts that are going to have the best long-term value for you,” said Conant.

And think about personalization in terms of relevance. Conant highlighted four factors for B2B marketers to consider:

  1. Is the account a good fit? Is it in an industry that you want to break into or increase your wallet share in? Do they use technology that works particularly well with yours? This variable is why technology like account-based marketing (ABM) software 6Sense matters: You need to know who the account is.
  2. Where are they in their buying journey? You’ll serve different messaging and content based on where they are in that process. If they’re in a later stage, for example, then they need to be quickly connected to the sales team versus if they're at an early stage and just beginning to conduct research.
  3. What do they care about? What search terms have led them to you? Conant likes to keep it easy and simply mirror the prospect. “If your top intent keyword is ‘ABM,’ I’ll talk about ABM,” she said. “If your top keyword is ‘predictive analytics,’ we’ll talk about that.”
  4. Who’s the persona? What’s their job? For instance, if it’s a CMO, why would ABM matter to them? Shape your response based on this information.

Another important prospect to keep in mind is the unknown or anonymous visitor, “because generally, we’re personalizing based on what we know about somebody in our own systems,” said Griffin Smith, so there’s a whole segment of potential buyers who don’t receive the attention they deserve.

“78% of in-market accounts aren’t even in your CRM,” Conant said, yet marketers are spending precious budget dollars attracting that anonymous traffic.

“They’re here before you know it, and they’re not getting what they need,” Mercer said before citing technology that can help. Any Acquia customer, for instance, can connect their site to 6Sense and configure segments based on, say, intent keywords, past visits, ad clicks, etc. so that, after they click on an ad that brings them to your website, the CMS serves content that’s relevant for that segment.

That way, “personalization within the DXP is a consistent journey no matter where they go,” he said. You want to try to “keep it coherent and not [have them] just fall off a cliff after that first visit,” Mercer continued.

A fractured experience may be contributing to your bounce rates — in fact, you should keep a close eye on what those look like for your most important accounts. It relates to retention, said Griffin Smith. “Measure engagement. Where are they bouncing off a video? How long are they watching for?” she said. Serving personalized, relevant content has a better chance of retaining all customers and prospects. 

“When you start breaking it down like this, it starts to feel a little overwhelming,” Griffin Smith said. “Then I come back to: It’s 2024. There’s tech to help. What got us here won’t get us there, so how are we going to do things differently?”

Next steps

There is, in fact, much that marketers can do differently, with panelists addressing the ways that artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) can help, why having an accessible website matters, and more. To access these insights and improve your efforts to personalize the B2B customer journey, watch a recording of the webinar today!

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