Personalization in B2B is a secret weapon during uncertainty

“Let’s talk in a couple of months once I know my budget”

“It really depends on how Q1 goes, let’s catch up later in the year”

“If I lose another couple of team members I definitely need you, let’s talk in June”

Sound familiar?

Can personalization overcome uncertainty?

Uncertainty kills deals. But what if we started acknowledging, or even embracing, uncertainty from the first conversation with a prospect? Might we reverse that trend? Might we turn uncertainty to our advantage?

Yes. The answer is yes.

Turning market uncertainty into a marketing advantage.

If you feel uncertainty (and we’re almost certain that you do), then you can be fairly certain that your customer feels uncertainty too.

The question is, “uncertainty about what?”

The second more powerful question is “how are they reacting to that uncertainty?”

If you can answer both of these questions you might just be able to use that information to create stories for your customers that resonate, build trust, and ultimately develop into sales.

Understanding customer uncertainty.

When building personas for our clients we always investigate market trends and uncertainty that may impact their decision making. Drawing up a list is usually quick, and relatively easy.

  • Shifting commodity prices.
  • Changes in legislative constraints.
  • Emerging competition from overseas.
  • Technology developments.
  • The rise and fall of the price of oil.
  • Digital transformation.
  • Uberization.
  • Brexit outcomes.
  • Australian climate policy.
  • Investor appetite for carbon industries.
  • Energy pricing.

The list goes on.

Some uncertainties have a bigger impact, some are more urgent, some truly grast the zeitgeist. Where should you focus?

Once you have your list of possible uncertainties, and a specific target customer in mind, there are two key questions to ask:

  • What uncertainty is holding your customer back?
  • What uncertainty can you help your customer to mitigate?

Finding uncertainty that is current, and has real potential to impact your target is essential, but it's only half the battle. Having smart and useful things to say about that uncertainty, and providing some mitigation for your target is also critical.

In all likelihood something jumps out from your list.

This gives you an indication of what to say, but it doesn’t tell you how to say it.

Understanding customer reaction to uncertainty.

This is the fun bit. To really hit the nail on the head for your targets you need to predict how they will react to the uncertainty.

Do they hide from it? Do they run at it? Do they go into listening mode or ‘shout loudest’ mode? Do they adapt, or resist?

If you don’t talk about the uncertainty in a relatable way you miss the opportunity. But how do you know what’s relatable? Few of us are mind readers.

Personalization framework – Doing, Feeling, Learning

There are huge parallels between this situation and our work on personalization. Successful personalization of your marketing is all about, well, making it personal. It’s about taking market and organization level issues and talking about them at the level of the individual. The human level.

To do this, we consider three lenses of personalized experience.

We look for areas where people are DOING things, FEELING things or LEARNING things in response to our message, or in this case, in response to the uncertainty or change.

Three lenses of personalization

Why does this model work?

You do hundreds of things a day. Some stand out, some blend into the background. Which things stand out, and why? The ones with meaning are what you remember.

This is why oat milk companies talk about climate change.

Changing the liquid you mix with your morning cereal won’t save the planet on its own. But it makes you feel like you are doing something, it’s easy to say yes to and it’s a positive way to start the day. It’s part of a solution. The customer eventually forgets why they changed from cow’s milk, they have simply become accustomed to the taste.

What makes these things meaningful? They fall into the overlaps between Doing, Feeling and Learning. Doing something where you neither feel nor learn anything is dull and easily forgotten. Doing something where you learn is interesting and rewarding, and in many cases, memorable.

For most people, a good working day is one where they spend time in these overlaps. If you can be present during these meaningful phases then you build a connection with them by contributing positively and delivering value.

Doing

Physically or permanently affecting change. Doing something real. Making genuine progress. It could by tidying the paper from your desk, or restructuring a department. It could be testing samples, or specifying a supplier.

When people are doing things, or considering doing things that are in the real world they are more engaged, and more specific. This is likely the easiest of the three experiences to identify for your targets.

Consider: What can you help your targets do? What can you help them to do better? What can you help them stop doing?

Feeling

People working in B2B companies have emotions. Let’s pause for a moment and let that sink in. People have emotions.

They have feelings too. They have wants and desires, fears and anxieties. They are people. Many B2B marketers fall into the trap of talking to their customers as though they are Excel macros who only use facts to educate decisions. They don’t. They use facts and feelings.

Feelings are powerful, personal, and ever-present and personalization should reflect and invoke those feelings. Acknowledging feelings is a shortcut to connection, and connection is a shortcut to doing business.

Consider: How do you think your targets feel about the source of uncertainty? How would you like them to feel? How could you change how they feel by helping them manage or exploit the uncertainty?

Learning

Most people don’t know everything – if they did, they wouldn’t need the experts. But that works in your favor. An inquisitive prospect is an easy prospect to please – you just have to help them learn.

Doing this, again, is rooted in speaking to the individual, not the ‘client’. The company doesn’t want to learn. The individual does. If you can be present while they learn you have started a journey together, building trust and sometimes even building reliance.

Consider: What can you help your targets learn? What insight can you impart, what hard information can you provide? Can you highlight an area where learning is essential unless they work with the right people (you)?

Let’s put this to work.

Consider the three lenses for a moment, in the context of that big source of uncertainty for your customers.

As before, building this list isn’t too challenging, but how to prioritize them isn’t obvious.

The value is in the overlap.

The Holy Grail is the overlap - finding an issue that compels your target to do something, requires them to learn more before they can act, and makes them have an emotional response along the way. This means the experience is viewed through every lense, making it meaningful and personal to your audience.

Finding issues that live in the overlaps is powerful.

Turning the overlaps into outcomes.

Investing time in personalization and the fundamentals pays dividends.

Personalization drives deeper engagement, and ultimately quicker lead-flow through the pipeline. It establishes trust more quickly, so people share contact details early. It is especially effective when driven by insights from martech platforms that can give you a granular understanding of what’s capturing your audience’s attention.

But don’t invest that time only to waste it by leading with your offer. Driving your personalization by starting with external factors such as disruptive uncertainty can be more powerful than starting with your own story. Starting with your product features will always sound like a sales pitch, and so be read as such.

Done well, relevant market-level commentary will engage your audience more deeply, and provide all the benefits of personalization, while being read with a less sceptical eye.

But my product is only a small part of the answer.

A common objection to this approach is that you can only solve a part of the problem, or are only tangentially connected to the problem.

Remember: people in B2B are people. Sometimes the importance of the emotional connection outweighs the tangible direct benefit.

By talking about the issues worrying your contact a credible, considered, useful manner you ensure that they associate you with the issue, and see you as part of the solution.



Print a few copies of our Personalization Worksheet and keep them on your desk. Every time you spot a relevant customer issue in the wild, jot it down. Think about which lens to view it through.

Find the issues that live in the overlaps. Write some content about them. Push it to your audience and measure the response. In an article about uncertainty, we’re certain this will outperform your typical posts.

A real example is always impactful.

If you read this far we hope you Learned something.

We also expect that you Feel validated that uncertainty should be treated directly, and feel excited to try this approach.

If you took our advice the next thing you Do will be to walk to the printer to collect a few copies of the worksheet.

Life gets interesting in the overlaps. Doesn’t it?