This post has been updated for 2020.
Personalization has long been a mainstay of B2C marketing, used by leading brands such as Amazon, Netflix, and Spotify to increase revenue and keep customers engaged. In fact, you’re probably familiar with personalization in action that looks a bit like this:
But In the B2B world, personalization isn’t so clean-cut. It’s something everyone talks about, but few have mastered, or even tried. That’s because brands have a hard time combining data, technology, and strategy in meaningful ways.
If your digital marketing campaigns are bland and generic, you might be missing out on some big opportunities.
Understanding Personalized B2B Marketing
Most marketers understand that the best way to generate demand is to appeal to buyers in a direct, relevant, and engaging way. But in B2B marketing, you aren’t selling to a consumer whose only reservation is whether a certain widget will match their drapes. You’re selling to a high-level decision-maker — or a group of decision-makers — who have complex priorities and obligations.
You may wonder if it’s plausible or necessary to personalize for a business audience. Do B2B buyers even want personalization?
According to recent findings by Salesforce in its second annual State of the Connect Consumer report, the answer is a resounding yes: almost 75% of business buyers expect vendors to personalize engagements to their needs. That desire gives you an opportunity to build relationships before the sales process even begins. If you have the right technology in place (usually marketing automation software + content management), you can do this by providing targeted content and a dynamic, interactive experience.
How Personalization Affects Lead Generation
By building these early relationships, you increase the quality of new leads and their likelihood of conversion. If you’re a marketing or demand gen manager, this is one of your biggest priorities.
Considering 82 percent of the people who come to your site are not potential customers, you need to do more than drive traffic and siphon leads. You need to create awareness and demand where it doesn’t yet exist, capture that demand, and nurture it into a business opportunity. You need to know your prospects and treat them like human decision-makers instead of dollar signs.
If you call them by name, speak to their pain points, objectives, challenges, hesitations, and role responsibilities at the right time and place, you will see a return. 40 percent of U.S. consumers report purchasing something more expensive than they planned because of their personalized service.
But how and what can you personalize? To give you a better idea, let’s look at three examples of personalized B2B marketing in action.
1. Personalization through Account-Based Marketing: CSC
Account-based marketing (ABM) is about focusing your campaigns on specific prospects that you single out ahead of time. It’s becoming a more prevalent tactic as marketers align their efforts with revenue, and especially recurring revenue (i.e., contracts). Since ABM requires narrow focus and a unique approach for each account, it’s a great example of personalized B2B marketing.
The Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) is an IT service company that provides infrastructure, consulting, and custom solutions for thousands of clients across the globe. While their market presence is big ($11.7 billion), CSC sells its services to a much smaller percentage of companies. To better target these companies, they launched an ABM program using a platform called Demandbase.
CSC built ad campaigns designed to engage named accounts. Using reverse-IP lookup, they targeted (and re-targeted) specific companies with custom content and ads across multiple channels at optimal times.
“ABM technologies allow us to envelop customers that we care about with the right message at the right time in a personalized way,” says Nick Panayi, director of global brand and digital marketing.
CSC targeted 245 companies with their ABM initiative and saw a dramatic lift in account engagement (click-throughs and visits) from 108 of those companies. Overall, the campaigns led to a 58 percent increase in page views and the ability to move targeted companies further through the sales funnel.
2. Personalization through In-trial Messages: Brainshark
Brainshark is a B2B software provider that helps businesses create and share content for sales enablement, marketing, and training. To engage their prospects early in the decision process, Brainshark offers a variety of “freemium” and free-trial products.
Early on, they were having trouble converting freemium users into paying customers, so they brought in a third-party vendor to help deliver targeted, personalized messages.
First, they ran some analytics on product usage and identified specific gaps in engagement. They discovered:
- People who signed up for the free product weren’t always using it
- Users would register, but never upload a presentation
- Users who did upload presentations weren’t sharing them
Brainshark started with messages inside their product interface and expanded to ads and pop-ups on their site to communicate with existing users. The messages provided tips and education to help users optimize MyBrainshark and consider trying their other free product, SlideShark. Eventually, they incorporated CTAs (calls to action) for webinars, whitepapers, and product upgrades. The upgrade messages — sent specifically to logged-in users — outlined key advantages of using Brainshark’s paid product(s). For example: “See what you’re missing.”
“Personali[zed] messages can drastically increase engagement,” said Arthur Gehring, vice president of demand generation at Brainshark. “They provide value to both the business and the user.”
In the end, Gehring reported a number of measurable benefits:
- Registrations increased by 15 percent
- Free trial sign-ups for the enterprise product increased by 150 percent
- Sales pipeline growth of over $1.1 million
3. Personalization through Email: The Expert Institute
Email marketing is another B2B channel that could use a personal touch. In our email marketing survey from earlier this year, 49 percent of respondents said they receive irrelevant email content on a daily basis. Let’s look at an example of B2B company that used personalized email marketing and lead nurturing to increase conversions.
The Expert Institute is a legal service platform that matches experts in their database with attorneys and investment firms who need support. Vice President of Marketing Michael Morgenstern says his company is heavy on digital marketing and content strategy, which has helped them overcome the “disconnect between technology and the legal space.”
After watching some other B2B brands pull off personalized communication, Morgenstern’s team decided they wanted to try a campaign of their own. They started with a one-to-one email marketing campaign built around personalized emails from the vice president of client relations, George Cuchural.
To maximize the effectiveness, the Expert Institute also cleaned their database (a critical step in any personalized marketing) to ensure all subscriber first names were correct. “The goal is obviously to generate more engagement, to generate more revenue, and to grow our business,” said Morgenstern. “People felt that they were connecting with a high-level member of our team and really speaking to them one-on-one.”
Beyond using first names, the content team personalized by dividing email subscribers into lists based on varying levels of engagement. Those less engaged received free white papers and e-books with “zero marketing language.” The middle group’s emails included links to blog posts and CTAs. And the “most engaged” group received emails that directly addressed the need for Expert Institute services.
After a period of testing and tweaking, the Expert Institute reported some impressive results, including:
- A 200 percent increase in conversions
- A 60 percent email open rate
- A 20 percent click-through rate
Over to You
Whether you personalize through email, retargeting ads, in-app CTAs, dynamic web experiences, content marketing, or all of the above, it’s important to stay focused on the right objectives. Don’t get caught up in the idea of personalizing for its own sake, or personalizing so you can trick people into trusting your brand.
True B2B personalization means going the extra mile to understand each buyer’s priorities and add value to their decision-making process. To make that happen, you need accurate data, powerful technology, good content, and a willingness to experiment. As you can see from the examples in this post, success is a process.
To learn more about personalized B2B marketing and how it can help you generate more leads, read our free guide below.