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The Personalization Paradox

By Hank Barnes | September 29, 2020 | 0 Comments

New Customer Acquisitiongo-to-market

The momentum, noise, and push for personalization (and personas!, personas!, personas!) in B2B situations continues to build.  It is natural to believe that the best way to engage with someone is to connect with them personally.  Its the nature of human relationships.

But personalization, to be of value, takes work.  So the questions are:   Does it help drive engagement?  Does it help drive progress toward purchases?

Well, the answer is actually Yes.   And No.

My Gartner colleagues conducted a study of B2B buyers (not just tech buyers where I spend my time, but all B2B Buyers).  They discovered the pros and cons of personalization.


The chart on the right shows that respondents were 96% more likely to agree with the statement “I frequently engage with supplier content”  when they perceived the content to be personally relevant to them (with factors used to derive personal relevance in box below the chart).

So, it’s time for marketers to rejoice!!!  More engagement, “Yay, we’ll blow away our metrics.”

Not so fast.

The chart on the left presents a different story.  It shows that the respondents who felt supplier’s content was highly personally relevant  where 80% more likely to agree with the statement “Our buying group stopped making progress and unnecessarily delayed this purchase.”)    The deeper analysis confirmed the connection, high personal relevant is associated with higher likelihood of purchase stalls.

Stop the celebration (unless you only care about vanity metrics).

To me, this is not that surprising, it is affirming some strongly held beliefs that I have–and that readers of this blog should know.  B2B Buying is fundamentally about team dynamics and team decision making.  The quest to appeal to individuals in unique ways often contributes to the challenges of team dynamics, highlighting unique interests rather than the shared interests.  Driving teams apart, rather than bringing them together.   (Note: Clients with access to our broad marketing content can see the full report here).

Given all this, should you avoid “personal relevance” in your content?   No, you should not, but don’t go overboard.    Look at how you can engage with relevant information, but also focus on things that bring relevance in the context of the organizational situation, not just the individual.   Always bring things back to the value to the business, not just the value to the individual.

But, above all, don’t agonize and over-invest in personas and personalization.   Work hard to understand the typical members of the buying team and their role in decisions (but recognize that many customers aren’t very good at buying–so they team makeup may vary widely).   Guide your sales teams to work to discover if those roles are actually involved (and if not, what others ones are OR to encourage the prospect to include them).  Plot strategies to connect with them and support them in building toward consensus.

And remember, in almost all situations in B2B, the needs of the individual are not irrelevant, but they are secondary to the needs of the business.





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