By Terry Arnold, Vice President, Sales Enablement at True Influence, powered by MeritB2B
Successfully engaging in a conversation requires you to know about the other person’s background and interests. Why do they care about the topic of conversation? How much do they know about the subject? And, most critically, what do they want to get out of the time they spend talking with you?
Modern B2B marketing is a digital conversation – a long, detailed conversation that probably started before you entered the room. The typical B2B purchase journey now includes 27 touches with sellers, according to research from Forrester. At each point, the buyer’s perspective is likely a little different. They may no longer need the basics spelled out to them; they have some doubts raised by all the noise out there in the market; or they are ready to dig into the specifics of why your solution is the best answer.
In my last post, I mentioned how intent data lets B2B marketers eavesdrop on ongoing conversations and inject themselves without seeming rude, clumsy or, worst of all, pointless. Of course, a big part of that story is using intent to find in-market accounts and build audiences of prospects who are most likely to influence the buy decision.
That’s one part of the equation. But intent is also essential in personalizing your messaging so it fits right in with the ongoing conversation. Intent scoring can help you understand how far along the conversation has advanced within the organization and if they are interacting with other influencers, and what their next big question is likely to be.
Personalization Drives the B2B Conversation
Everybody knows content personalization is key. Everybody also knows that doing it at scale remains a major challenge for most B2B marketers. A Gartner survey found that more than 70 percent of marketing leaders say they are having trouble scaling up personalization efforts, and that well over one-fourth fear they are losing business over gaps in their personalization execution.
This helpful post at MarTech runs through a number of relevant data points. One I found most interesting is that consumers expect their communications with sellers to be customized based on previous buying history (26 percent) and their known interests (21 percent). That’s higher than addressing them by name or explicit preferences, such as mailing frequency.
Obviously, you can access purchase history and first-party content engagement data from your own systems. But to get the complete picture of an individual’s “known interest,” particularly when they are having conversations with other sellers, you need third-party intent data.
Intent Drives Personalization
Successful content personalization depends on number of factors, all of which can be accelerated with intent:
- Omni-Channel format
- Job title / Buying Group role
- Specific (real) topic
- Buying Group intent dynamics
Of course, the first step is to be confident that the account itself is in-market for your solution. That was among the first applications of intent, and tracking account-level intent trends is still a key feature of our Marketing Cloud™ and demand generation services. Account-level intent can also help you identify if a company is a better fit for a long-term or short-turnaround content strategy, as Rachit Dayal, CMO APAC for Merkle, recently discussed with our Tricia Wiles Ruiz.
With those 27 touches, there’s a big emphasis on keeping most high- and mid-funnel content offerings to just two or three sentences. This is commonly referred to as “snackable” content, and it’s particularly prevalent in social media. The main goal of these interactions is to drive engagement, build brand, and establish yourself as a peer, more so than an authoritative voice (that comes later in the conversation). Your voice here is “I know where you are coming from” rather than “Let me tell you where to go.”
But people love small talk, and they’ll keep engaging with you on social media even after they’ve begun researching in other channels. So, contact-level intent data gathered across all channels is key in understanding when to move to conversion past the snackable state and toward decision-support content. You need to know if the person who has favorited your last two tweets is also reading detailed technical specs from the competition.
Job Title / Buying Group Role
Sellers have a pretty good idea of what purchase research activity by job title and buying group role reflects about a contact’s purchase journey. Obviously, your CFO and HR director are going to have significantly different interests in a Benefits Administration platform, just by virtue of their daily jobs.
The role these personas play in your buying group models, coupled with their purchase intent activity, also helps inform your content personalization strategy. In my example, the HR director is probably a champion – the value of your solution will directly impact the performance of their team, and they are a leading voice in pushing for adoption. If you see that they are actively searching for specific “wow factors” in your solution, you probably want to frame your message in a way that makes it easy for a champion to pass it on to other buying group members.
It’s a nuance, but it’s also a smart way to personalize content around not only what the contact wants to know, but also how they will use that information to advance the conversation within their company.
Specific (Real) Topic
I’ve talked a lot about how knowing what a contact is researching lets you successfully insert yourself into the conversation. But B2B solutions are often complex, and in the early stages of a purchase journey many buyers simply don’t know exactly what’s available, or even what they are looking for. They may want a Benefits Administration platform, but just search for “PTO tracker” instead.
So, it’s essential that your intent data analytics understands exactly what a piece is about.
At True Influence Powered by MeritB2B we use machine learning and AI to scan the full text of content and understand what it is actually about. This cuts through a lot of the erroneous tagging and other noise that so often muddels B2B content searches online. We also can compare the contextual topics to the search terms users input to find the content, and infer the information they are really looking for – this helps our customers not only pick the right topics for personalized content, but also broadens their audience segmentation criteria based on related research activity.
As you develop more sophisticated content personalization practices, you’ll also want to look at how precise researchers are with the terms they use. If they are looking for information about “rollover PTO hour reporting,” you can safely infer that they probably have a budget and are cutting the vendor shortlist. The prevalence of “category language” in an account’s search activity is a powerful indicator of readiness to buy, particularly when factored into your buying group models.
Buying Group Intent Dynamics
This is where intent lets you get really sophisticated in inserting yourself into those water cooler conversations.
Let’s say the HR administrator in our scenario starts the conversation about benefits management. But at this point, she’s just trying to get her head around the problem. But our CFO is not even aware that it’s a problem yet. Our HR director is just doing high-level research, and she’s asked a few of her team members to do the same. They are searching for very general terms – nothing feature-specific at this point.
You want to be in the digital conversation with all these contacts, even when they are not talking to each other. The CFO may not learn about the initiative until the HR director puts her budget on his desk, but you want to have been in the CFO’s LinkedIn feed with that “snackable” brand and value reinforcement. You’ll already be in the conversation.
By understanding the intent patterns within your buying group model, you’ll also know when to insert yourself more actively, and what kind of content to provide. If the team members who have been digging in on research suddenly stop doing all those searches, that budget is probably finished and headed for the CFO’s desk. Time for an email to the HR director to stress the big wins she can use to make the case for the project, and a similar email or programmatic run to the CFO, with perhaps an explainer video telling him that he should be looking for the big wins you can deliver.
Like I said, this kind of intent-driven personalization can get very sophisticated. But it’s also an incredibly powerful way to elevate ABM strategies at your most promising accounts.
Intent-driven Content Personalization Builds Relationships
Intent lets you know what your B2B prospects are talking about, what they want to know, and who they are talking to. With these insights, you can personalize your messaging across all channels to join their digital conversation as a useful, intelligent partner – not just another vendor butting in and trying to sell them something they don’t want or need. It’s essential in winning new business and building long-term relationships.