B2B Optimization and Personalization: Challenges and Best in Class
B2B companies have a unique set of considerations, priorities, and challenges when it comes to optimization best practices. I brought together two pros in the space, Adobe Senior Consultants Doug Mumford and Brittany Chandler, to talk shifts in this landscape as well as what best-in-class organizations are doing to improve their customer experiences right now. Here’s what they had to say.
So I’ll start with a foundational question: Where is the B2B universe when it comes to optimization and personalization? Doug, two years ago you led a discussion at Adobe Summit on B2B optimization and, specifically, attribution. Where are we today? Has a lot changed?
Doug Mumford: It’s a great question. There’s been some maturity in terms of B2B optimization but a lot of the elements organizations were struggling with then are still pain points today—campaign tracking and attribution are good examples.
I see companies’ approaches to personalization changing a lot. Just a few years ago “personalization” was a buzzword, but now B2B companies are actually digging in and doing something about it. It’s still new and not every brand is mature or running full speed yet, but we’re getting there.
That makes sense—so, then, what would you consider key success factors for companies that are able to attribute beyond Marketing Qualified Leads and are starting to see value from personalization?
Doug: There are a few big things I see. First, companies need to buy into optimization and make the investment to succeed—it’s time, it’s funding, it’s resource allocation, it’s all of it. Companies that are willing to do it are the ones who can really dig in and see meaningful results.
https://blog.adobe.com/media_a8672a618ce85ae6f7ce44c00a54256ac104b81f.gifBrittany Chandler: I agree with Doug. Building momentum for many companies in this space is still really challenging—but when the investment is made, companies are seeing a lot of value. I see a lot of organizations experimenting with identifying their customers via personas. Understanding personas is the first step in understanding unique expectations, which is the core of delivering relevance at scale. Are site visitors new or existing? Where are they in the buyers’ journey? The companies that leverage content to meet their visitors’ needs can streamline the experience and create a more relevant journey.
Another unique piece of B2B is the purchase funnel itself. With B2C you’re often seeing quick turnarounds and a fast path to conversion—you see something in an email, you like it, you buy it. It’s quick. Alternatively, B2B sales cycles can take up to 18 months. It’s a considerably longer journey so you really have to focus your efforts. Companies are doing a lot to close that sales loop, but it’s still an ongoing challenge to connect new visitors to the site with a final conversion. The ones that are maximizing optimization opportunities right now are the ones who can create two funnels—one to sell to new customers and one to upsell existing customers, because you can’t wait a year or more to move the needle.
It makes sense. Now, you’re both top experts in B2B optimization and personalization including lead gen and overall marketing efforts. You’ve each worked with many organizations to help them identify opportunities and maximize their experience delivery—talk to me about what’s been particularly successful for your customers.
Doug: B2B has a challenge right out of the starting gate—its traffic levels are lower versus consumer sites. As you’re designing personalization and optimization initiatives, you have to drive a bigger behavioral change in order to measure it with statistical significance—and that often requires making very bold moves on your site.
B2B companies really need to understand who’s coming to their site and why they’re coming so they can better deliver spot-on experiences. Think about what kind of information they’re looking for—really get in a visitor’s head and figure out how you can deliver THAT. Like Brittany said, it’s about understanding your personas. Sometimes I see B2B brands jump on something cool—a cool site or cool site features. But B2B visitors aren’t coming to your site for cool experiences, they’re coming for actionable information. It’s easy to confuse the two.
Great point—take advantage of experimental data-driven design to make sure you’re moving the needle with customers, but don’t forget that the user experience and ease of use is first and foremost. Design should aid the goals of the customer, not exist for the sake of aesthetics. In other industries there is flexibility and design for design sake can be positive for the brand, but in B2B, it’s all about getting business done. These customers are making purchases as part of their jobs.
I’ve seen lots of brands dive into those personas you both mention, but then not know where to go once they have them. How can a B2B brand use analytics to understand customer segments and actually use those personas in a big way?
Brittany: When you’re creating those personas, be sure you aren’t doing it in isolation. I’ve seen companies create complex and compelling personas, but not tie them back to the data and actual site visitors’ behavior and then have a major gap.
Doug: You also have to think about both quantitative and qualitative analysis. I see lots of companies do one or the other, but rarely both. When you’re using quantitative analysis you can infer who your audience is based on behavior—maybe it’s from cluster analysis, for example. But there’s also qualitative usability studies and things like that**—**those are also important and you can’t just always define what’s important solely from statistics. Maybe your site isn’t delivering what users are looking for, for example, but the data may not show that clearly.
It’s also important for the person managing optimization and personalization to have a close relationship with the campaign marketing team to make sure there is a clear understanding of how content maps to personas.
Brittany: Once you’ve fleshed out those personas, created from qualitative and quantitative research, you can start constructing meaningful, actionable segments and move into deeper optimization and personalization work.
So another big topic: Let’s talk about how you track attribution in B2B and how that’s impacting your clients’ optimization initiatives.
Doug: Attribution and campaign tracking are critical in the B2B space and yet we still see companies struggling to implement full end-to-end tracking. When a visitor moves to qualified lead status can you attribute that back to specific content or site touchpoints? Did they come from an email campaign? An ad? Can you look at the individual and see what influenced the lead itself? To be successful here you have to have very consistent tracking in place, which is tricky**—**but one of the most important things from an analysis perspective.
Metrics can be challenging for B2B brands. I think it’s mostly because there isn’t one metric to optimize to. If you’re talking about a marketing lead**—perhaps the lead is created when a person fills out a form on your website. But for most B2B sites the volume of these leads is usually too low to optimize to. So you have to think about proxy metrics higher up the funnel—what proxies do you have that measure an intent to move down the funnel? Maybe it’s the people who exchanged their email address in exchange for getting a white paper—**or video views. Look at those along with behavioral data like page views on product detail pages. That will start to paint a picture. If you want to take it to the next level, come up with a scoring system combining all of these behaviors that show visitor qualification.
Brittany: These models help address the fact that B2B brands typically have a lot less traffic. If you have this kind of a comprehensive overview that looks at success through this lens—based on KPIs you have identified—then you can be more successful.
Anything else you’d share to B2B marketers?
Brittany: I’d add something about testing in the B2B space—keep in mind it’s really about the content. B2B marketers use content to generate leads, so I would recommend starting by focusing on the content. Maybe there’s a registration point where you ask visitors for an exchange of information—that serves multiple purposes. Also, I’d suggest B2B brands look at their overall digital experience and, likely, consider simplifying their sites. Like Doug said it takes a lot to move the needle so you have to be very bold and very visual—but you can’t be too cluttered either.
Doug: I would emphasize that understanding your personas is number one, and that you can only really do that with a mix of qualitative and quantitative data. Get in the head of your personas and the people making buying decisions, and be sure you’re thinking about the various products you’re selling and the sectors associated—they likely aren’t going to be the same personas. Think about how you’re communicating with these groups based on if it’s a new product or new user as well as other attributes—are they VPs or managers? Are they practitioners? Technicians? It matters.
I would also add how important mapping and tagging are—that really helps you see what you have and where there are gaps. But going off of that there’s also the notion of what to do with those gaps—namely, that content creation to plug those holes is expensive. But keep in mind there are plenty of work arounds once you’ve identified those gaps. Repurposing or tweaking content comes to mind first—you can easily update or refresh an article or white paper with new dates, a few paragraphs about the specific sector or something else. Not everything needs to be a brand new job. Or consider putting content into a new format—the best research or content from a popular white paper becomes an infographic, for example. This will give you a comprehensive library of content personalized to various aspects of your vertical without building something unique for everyone and everything.