In a world of mass emails and buyers reeling under stimulus overload, personalization has become critical to B2B marketing. Buyers are becoming harder to identify and increasingly like consumers: They want personalized outreach and one-to-one interaction, every time.

Part of the reason for this is that people have action triggers, and personalization with a variable reward helps trigger a chemical reaction in the brain—a dopamine release—and a response. The Coke bottle name campaign is a good example: People love to find bottles with their own names; but, you won't always find one, so the surprise of seeing your name makes you feel special.

That's also what makes you go back to Facebook or Twitter a dozen times a day: The content is so varied, some extremely personal and on target with your interests, and others slightly off-base; it's the anticipation of what's waiting for you that's exciting—that variable reward causes a constant loop of dopamine-seeking. And it's the same reason you check your phone notifications all day long.

When you personalize something in an unexpected way, it makes the person on the receiving end to feel good and prompts them to react.

A second reason is—particularly with enterprise sales—customers buy for one reason: It will help them. So, they're always asking: Will this help me, and how?

If they have a pain keeping them up at night and your solution can resolve it, they'll consider you and your product or service. However, they're likely going to research your company and solution—reading your website and materials several times—before starting a conversation. With marketing tools like those from Marketo, Eloqua, and HubSpot, you can now see what they're up to: There are tons of tools that can show you who's doing what on your website.

Then there are platforms that can change the content or messages on your site based on what those people are doing and how many times they've visited, according to where the tool presumes the prospect is in the funnel. By doing that, the tool is essentially taking customers by the hand and digitally guiding them through the funnel process. That's partly why personalization is so important. It leads to quicker wins because subconsciously the customer feels that your solution is right for them, even if they don't realize this process is happening.

And, third, identifying the right buyers is becoming significantly more complicated: Today, B2B purchases are often a group buy. You might know the key decision-makers, evangelists, and the signer, but you probably don't know who any of the other players are—and they're all important. There's no way to find out who they are unless they come to your site and download something, or you use a strong business intelligence (BI) tool.

That means you need to build relationships, which happens only through personalization. Your prospect isn't going to respond or confide in you if they think you don't understand them. They don't want to feel like a name on a spreadsheet getting a mass email "personalized" with their name. marketers need to go far beyond that. They need to get to know their customers and send them highly relevant content.

When you really personalize outreach based on someone's industry, pain points, and other data, a buyer sees it and thinks, "That looks like me. I must be their customer—this product must be for me."

Tips for Personalizing the Experience

Personalizing outreach and building relationships will absolutely elicit a better response and help reduce the sales cycle. The question then becomes, How do you do that?

Here are five tips.

1. Talk to the customer and listen

Ask how they do things to achieve a goal, and look for gaps. Listen more than you speak. If you can't talk to the customer, listen in on sales calls.

2. Lean on your sales team

They are closest to the customers, and no one knows customers better. Work with Sales to understand customer pain points, challenges, and other information you can use to personalize content and marketing programs.

3. Send third-party content

It's not just about you: If you want to build a relationship, don't just send stuff about yourself—especially during the trust-building phase. You want to appear helpful and resourceful, so the more content you send that's not about you, the better.

4. Treat everyone like a buyer

It's tough to identify the right people to build relationships with. There are no technologies yet that can effectively identify the right buyers or influencers to help move deals forward—at least not independently.

Companies doing account-based marketing ( ABM) are identifying these people through back channels and networking. Thus, everyone has to be treated like a potential buyer. If you think someone is in a large account you're targeting, you have to lay out the red carpet and make them feel like everything is there just for them—the content you're sending, the messages on the website, etc.

Personalization is so much more important when you don't know exactly who the buyer is, and when it's no longer just one buyer making the decision.

5. Use technology to support personalization

The ability to interact with people in a personalized way at scale is driven by tech, and there are tools that can help with many pieces of the job, including as follows:

  • They can automatically change your website based on how many times someone has visited.
  • They personalize emails, outreach to influencers and bloggers, and social content.
  • They develop personalized content and recommendations. Picture those Amazon popups that say, "Hi Shira, we thought you might be interested in X since you bought Y." There are now B2B platforms that send custom-built content boards and might say something like, "Hi Joe, I built this for you, and it has info you might like to check out." It gives prospects that hit of dopamine and makes them feel special.
  • They help with retargeting. While it's not personalization per se, behavioral advertising works wonders. It's amazing how effective it is to follow someone online after they've visited your website.

While technology is important, you need humans for it to work properly. These tools work best when used by someone with strategic sense—meaning they shouldn't be managed by a tactical junior marketer, but by someone who understands how to leverage the information effectively.

The Time Is Now

Not all our brain chemicals can be triggered digitally, but everything that can, like dopamine, has been studied by B2C marketers and is already being put into practice by Coke, Amazon, Netflix, and the like. B2B marketers have always known this information is important, but we are only now starting to tap into how vital it really is. And, with technology, we are now able to act on it.

The marketers who take advantage of the opportunities afforded by personalization will be the ones who succeed. They'll have shorter sale times, more closed leads, and higher revenues. For those that don't, things won't go as well: They'll be eclipsed by their competition.

If you want to better engage your buyers and reduce your sales cycle, now is the time to start personalizing your B2B marketing program.

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How to Use Personalization to Shorten the B2B Sales Cycle

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image of Shira Abel

Shira Abel has 25+ years of experience leading strategic marketing campaigns, generating over $300 million in pipeline. She has worked with many scale-ups on their brand messaging to land enterprise clients, and she has helped drive change management at several enterprises.