This Week’s Big Deal: Rethinking B2B Sales Personalization

July 8, 2019

Hello there [First Name],

Whoops. Did I lose you already? What we have here is an example of the classic pitfall in B2B personalization: When such efforts are transparently robotic, they can do more harm than good. Leave a name field unfilled, or insert the wrong cookie-cutter detail on a fill-in-the-blanks “customized” message, and today’s digitally savvy prospects will be quick to catch on.

This presents a real problem, because research continues to show us that effective personalization is essential to success in modern sales. While this makes intuitive sense, it’s not so easily delivered upon. How can we scalably create the sense that our communications are being tailored to each individual recipient? 

The key lies in rethinking what “personalization” really means as it applies to the B2B sales process.

What B2B Personalization Really Means in Sales

Many people tend to think of personalization in the way it’s framed at the outset of this article; drop in someone’s name, so it seems like you’re speaking to them directly. I’ve seen plenty of email subject lines where someone took that one simple step, and apparently felt they’d done a satisfactory job (never mind that the actual content of the email was completely irrelevant to me).

Look, I’m not saying it isn’t valuable to include these kinds of personal-identification cues. Dale Carnegie famously said “A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language,” and there’s certainly some truth to that. But data suggests this technique is more helpful for getting someone’s attention than truly engaging them.

To wit: Tim Riesterer, Chief Strategy Officer at Corporate Visions, recently conducted a Q&A with Demand Gen Report in which he discussed noteworthy takeaways from his company’s new personalization research.

“We've got a controlled field study that shows that people are over-engineering personalization,” Riesterer explains. “When you look at the things that matter like click-throughs and meetings set (if you take an ABM prospecting campaign, for example), we see that putting in contact-specific personal information and target company-specific information is less effective than industry-based insights and personalization.”

He adds that “contact- and company-specific personalization had higher open rates, but the industry-based personalization had higher click-throughs and meetings set in our study.”

Context is King

If we follow the above line of thinking, we might conclude a subject line that says “Hey Jill, we’ve got something you might like!” will be effective at prompting Jill to open your email, but in order to really compel action and engagement, she needs to find something within that is specifically geared toward her role, business, and industry. 

There is where nuance tends to get lost, and where a lot of personalization efforts fall short. 

Let’s lay out an example to illustrate the point. Say you’re selling marketing analytics software. You might be using a general outreach message that you send to all prospects at a targeted organization. It’s aligned with recipients, in the sense that they all work in marketing, right? But chances are, it’ll only really be relevant to the marketing analyst and maybe their boss. 

What if you created separate messages for the content strategist, and the SEO specialist, and the account manager? Marketing analytics touch each of these functions in different ways. Develop customized messaging – maybe even PointDrive presentations loaded with stats, insights and data – for each discipline, outlining the ways in which your software helps them. Now you’re on your way to building consensus. 

This then becomes scalable as you can start using these same materials across different accounts. Apply information gleaned from LinkedIn and Sales Navigator to map out each organization’s structure, and align your outreach with varying roles in the marketing departments.

Get Your Research and Data in Order

Personalization starts with research,” wrote Jeff Kalter at Business 2 Community last week. “Know the industry, the company and the buying team you are targeting. Understand their pain points and try to learn about any changes or events within the company that might signal their need for your solution.”

Again, it’s about context. Developing a focused pitch that speaks directly to a prospect’s circumstances and unique problems will go a lot further than simply plugging their name into a message. Doing this consistently can provide a major edge over other sales teams that are happy to fall back on the ol’ paste-and-send — especially if you’ve got better data.

“Nothing cuts through that clutter like highly relevant, personalized communication,” argues Jeff Kostermans at B2B News Network. “But this personalization needs to be accurate, and able to address the right pain points. Your competitors are basing their communications on limited data sets. If your data is better, your personalization will be too.”

B2B personalization isn’t just about adding in someone’s name, or even a reference to their alma mater, or favorite sports team. Again, that’s not to say it isn’t advisable to include these kinds of prompts for generating instant familiarity and recognition, but taking the next step to provide a tailored, substantive experience for the recipient is where prospecting can really excel.

In either case, good data will be your guide. And LinkedIn is your source for plenty of the details and insights that make scalably personalized sales outreach a reality.

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