Swing dancers PHOTO: louiscrusoe

A few years ago, B2B demand generation marketers realized we had a problem.

Having adopted basic personalization and data-driven, multi-channel digital touches, we were not delivering the business outcomes we had promised.

'Useless Marketing Materials'

In fact, as recently as 2013, Forrester revealed, “62 percent of senior-level business and IT decision makers found much of the marketing materials they received useless.”

How is that for an ouch statistic?

Can you imagine how reassuring that would have been to the head of sales, who may have been arguing for years that in order to see the pipeline boom the company should just eliminate the marketing budget altogether and put that money into snazzier tradeshow booths, a few added sales people and a few more rounds of golf?

Rethinking Personalization

Demand generation marketers then came to understand more than 90 percent of all B2B product research occurred online and that most buyers were more than halfway through the funnel before we ever recognized who they were.

If we did not resonate early and often, our business would be dismissed as contenders in the buyer journey.

Marketers began to rethink personalization and how to apply it in the B2B context, as did the marketing technology providers we relied on for delivery.

Always-On Marketing

Very quickly marketing evolved.

Buyer segments became personas, push became push and pull, social exploded, and search became programmatic.

We were approaching the actualization of an always-on campaign world.

The typical commitment to a CFO was that this strategy would absolutely deliver incredible increases in buyer engagement rates, improve marketing generated pipelines and make marketing ROI the envy of sales.

Most importantly, we looked forward to that day when sales would stop saying, “these leads are useless” and start saying, “send me more.”

Marketing Still Underwhelmed

The hard realization was that for all the time and resources that were spent delivering more personalized messaging, our outcomes were still south of what we committed to.

Too many marketers did not understand that data-driven personalization was not solely about vertical-centered, product differentiated, cross-channel communication.

Creating a personalized journey and delivering relevant messages in channels that buyers preferred would not meet expected outcomes if we weren’t personalizing based on the customer’s buying cycle.

Tapping B2B Intelligence

The B2B buyer lifecycle has become the intelligence that we need to care about most. For example, you can’t sell bundled product discounts to a buyer who does not understand your solution.

It also wastes time and attention to rehash your solution overview to a buyer whose data profile and site behavior indicates that he is deep into the funnel. It also suggests to the buyer that you are not paying attention to his business problems, and there is a disconnection in the way your company would solve them.

However, B2B marketers are getting better. By 2015, SiriusDecisions stated that, “29 percent of CIOs are most likely to respond to a marketing message when it is relevant to the CIO job role.”

While responding is an accomplishment in itself, and it proves a point about the value of personalization, it also implies that even when you do the right things, 71 percent of your target audience is still not engaging at the levels you desire.

Buyers Have Higher Expectations

Real personalization is hard to do, especially now that the funnel stage has become such a key buyer profile point.

In addition, buyer expectations for personalized content have risen and it has become apparent that B2B buyers are behaving more and more like B2C customers.

When you're dealing in digital moments, if you are not talking directly to personas or individual buyers in words that they understand – in the time, place, and channels they prefer, and leveraging the full knowledge of where they are in their buying journey – then “it ain’t got that swing.”

In other words, you are not going to relate and they are not going to listen.

How to Get Marketing Right

Contemporary personalization that leverages vast data stores (data management platforms (DMP)), using decision optimization platforms, exponential increases in modularized content, predictive analytics, machine learning and algorithmic lead scoring, is hard to pull off.

To get it right, you need to start some place, and that place is here:

  • Get your content right for the buyers who promise the biggest return for your investment. Focus your efforts on their pain and make your messages relevant at each stage of the funnel. Do not ignore hard earned knowledge — which, in addition to your selling story, is developed linearly. The buyer journey is anything but linear.

The marketing funnel
Make your messages relevant at each stage of the marketing funnel

  • Get your data and tech right. Make sure your decisioning engines can recognize who a person is and what messaging to serve. Without this capability, your personalization efforts may be just a tad more effective than “Hi, James.”
  • Learn and apply. Make the commitment to create insight that tells you the health of your funnel across all stages, for each persona, for each campaign. Understand which messaging, channels, and assets are most attributable to driving conversion, loyalty, increased sales, and buyer advocacy.

What Comes Next

Next year, a SiriusDecisions or a Forrester will probably tell you engagement rates will continue to be challenging.

Current and future buyers are not going to react the way you want them to if you don’t alter interactions in two ways: first, by using the data that you have to know your buyer, and second, by connecting your business solutions to buyer challenges.

However, understanding the winding path of the buying cycle and what stage the customer is in will have the most impact on the effectiveness of B2B personalization and its future.