3 Pro Tips for Powerful B2B Personalization

Image source: Adobe Stock / metamorworks.

by Nicolas Wu

posted on 03-08-2019

As head of personalization for global B2B solutions provider SAP, James Skay leads, develops, and implements the SAP.com personalization strategy, ensuring it aligns with the company’s enterprise marketing efforts to deliver the intelligent enterprise. Website personalization is one tactic within SAP marketing’s goal to develop a multi-channel experience that effortlessly surfaces relevant information, providing a frictionless and enjoyable experience for the visitor.

James recently shared his perspective on best practices for business-to-business (B2B) personalization.

B2B personalization is an art form

To fully understand SAP’s approach to personalization, we should start in 2014 when SAP started its modern personalization efforts. Back then, James said they were confident that rules-based targeting would build a solid foundation, especially since at that time AI and machine-learning-driven personalization was still in its early days. They could use what they knew about their customers to deliver highly relevant experiences — particularly with their long-term enterprise customers that they knew well, they wanted to deliver a high-touch, curated experience. Rules-based targeting made sense.

But how do you deliver that experience when the visitor is unauthenticated — or anonymous? “With rules-based personalization, the key is to interpret the visitor’s behavioral signals and use all the data you have about them and their company to determine what’s important. Then add a dash of gut feel on top of that,” James said. SAP does this by enriching the visitor’s profile with first- and third-party data, allowing marketers a myriad of options to approach anonymous visitors.

And unlike business-to-consumer (B2C) personalization, B2B personalization is not focused on an individual. “In B2B, you have to have a holistic view of the business the visitor is from, and what that business needs. How do you do that given all the different people at a company that may have tens of thousands of employees? Accommodating those variations and crafting journey consistency is the art of personalization in B2B,” James said.

At Adobe Summit this past year, James presented a large-scale, multi-year program that personalized SAP.com for a large enterprise customer. The program consisted of personalizing the SAP.com homepage, creating a tailor-made landing page with three product options, and, in a later optimization, crafting a highly curated page to meet the various needs of this large company. They saw a triple-digit percent lift in click-through rate from the homepage, and a 5 percent lift in engagement with the curated landing page.

Three best practices for B2B personalization

In his role, James has expanded the use of personalization by type, site, region, and user. Along the way he’s found these lessons to be important to the success of B2B personalization:

Best Practice 1: Consider your percentages

“Everyone wants to be data-driven. But it’s more than being data-driven and using raw numbers to justify approaches — it’s all about the percentages,” James said. In other words, when determining what audiences to target with personalized experiences, consider what percentage of the visitors you are targeting out of your entire visitor audience is of high value.

“It’s one thing to have 2 million contacts, but if you’re only going to include 500,000 of them in your personalization activity, you’re starting with 25 percent of that original 2 million,” James said. “Then, if you’re personalizing to a segment of visitors who return to a specific page and exhibit a specific behavior, of that 25 percent you may have only 10 percent left. And of that 10 percent, what percent is high value? What can we do to improve the experience for them?”

James advises narrowing down your focus this way to help move your program forward and better communicate what and why you’re personalizing with your team, stakeholders, and executives. Which leads to his next piece of advice…

Best Practice 2: Communicate the value of personalization

In a recent interview, Matt Ravlich, a digital analyst at WestJet emphasized the importance of communicating your testing and personalization results for building the program. James agrees, and adds that the way you communicate changes as your program grows.

He said that at first they needed to communicate to executives the potential of personalization, the addressable market, and who their visitors, customers, and prospects were. Executives came to understand the value of personalization, partly because vendors like Adobe have been beating the drum of personalization for several years, and also because the SAP Platforms personalization team has examples of results from many successful personalization programs.

Now communication with executives is more about the bottom line — how the personalized banner led a visitor to the registration page which filled the pipeline and ultimately impacted revenue. For business stakeholders, it depends on what they are trying to do and how prepared to jump in they are based on their mindset and available resources. To get their buy-in, he said they show similar tactics that worked previously. And as importantly, he stressed, “We listen to what they’re trying to do, and create wins for all.”

Best Practice 3: Enrich the visitor profile in B2B for personalization

The more detailed your customer profile, the better you can personalize. James said that how you enrich the customer profile may differ depending on your system landscape and marketing technology stack. He recommends looking at your available data, identifying your biggest pain points, and considering that against what’s easiest to achieve. He said, “Integrations between systems can differ in the intensity of effort required. If you identify your biggest pain point, but solving it requires the most painful integration, maybe go with a medium pain point and an easier integration.” Most importantly, it’s important to start small, with a focus on a single aspect or two of the visitor profile. Build a secure foundation, and build on top of that, similarly to most business initiatives.

Scaling personalization with AI

James views the effectiveness of SAP’s rules-based targeting as a testament to how solid their approach to personalization has been. With 50 different personalization programs running at any given time, they’re now looking at AI-driven personalization in Adobe Target to help them scale even further. He explains that the Personalization Insights reports in Target open the “AI black box,” making this move much easier. James said they have a few more things to do before they can “guide the wheel instead, driving the whole car,” but he believes that all they’ve learned and the foundation they’ve built through their rules-based targeting have prepared them to use AI to scale their personalization further.

At the end of the day, what’s critically important to SAP is delivering the best possible experience for each and every customer. By keeping that objective squarely in focus, James and his team are ensuring that their personalization journey — informed by continuous learning and best practice sharing — is positively impacting its customers at every interaction.

Topics: Digital Transformation, Personalization

Products: Target