Why is personalization so difficult in B2B sales and marketing?

We know that personalization is critical to build trust and engage our customers. And there are a lot of tools and plenty of advice that help us personalize our interactions.

personalization - sales funnel

Yet, every time a salesperson or marketer  decides to do something, they struggle to really personalize. Let’s dissect that a bit.

 The bar is higher, but it is also anti-personalization

Till recently, basic personalization was expected. That was about including names in emails, showing relevant content on websites, and even showing relevant advertisements and recommendations on shopping carts. We did that with software automation. So someone who has downloaded a piece of content is now sent a sequence of emails that we believe are relevant to that person, designed to move them closer to a purchase. Similarly, we use re-targeting to show our advertisements all over the web to people who have viewed a product on our website.

By doing these things, we hope to catch them at the right point in their buying cycle so they are more likely to come to us. They may not be ready to buy right now, but one day they will be. And we hope to be there in their inbox or on the website they are on.

personalization at top of funnelSo this personalization is a better mousetrap – traditional mass marketing with better technology. It does not have too much context of why or when. It’s based on statistics and hope. Marketers face this reality every day, but they still make a lot of money.

It definitely works. So what’s the problem.

Mass personalization doesn’t work as well for expertise based B2B businesses

Brand awareness does count. So an agency selling analytics or digital capabilities would do well to be all over the web, and top of the inbox of their prospects. For this purpose email automation and re-targeting advertisements work very well.

But there is also the B2B sales funnel to cater to. The sales cycle is typically  several weeks or months long, and generally not based on impulse purchases. The automation techniques help with the top of the funnel but don’t do much to help with the middle of the funnel (answering questions and positioning) and bottom of the funnel (transaction closing). When we say expertise based B2B businesses, we mean coaches, consultants, agencies and services firms. All of these need context to build trust, so they can understand their customers’ pain areas and priorities. These are crucial elements to progress with the sales cycle instead of relying on blind outreach.

To satisfy these middle and bottom of the funnel personalization needs, we believe that building trust during the sales cycle is very important.

Let the customers try to do it on their own first – Become a partner, not just a one-way sales person

Most customers want to try themselves first. Any digital agency will agree that customers try SEO and content marketing themselves first. And when they realize they are in over their heads because it takes too much time and knowledge, only then do they turn to an external partner to help them. Same way for coaches (business or life) and any other services or management consultant. personalization - coaching

You have to let the customer try first. It is their struggle. Not yours.

But when customers are trying it out, you want to be there to help them and guide them. Otherwise you will have lost your pole position and become just one in a list of many possible agencies or coaches to ask for proposals.

A good way to becomes a partner is to lead with your biggest asset – your expertise.

Let’s face it. Every one wants to know how they are doing. By positioning an interactive assessment that helps customers benchmark their performance, it opens up a process of discovery. They are open to further discussions because the conversation has jumped from a product sale, to a needs and goals analysis. The sales process upgrades to a fit analysis, and milestone definition.

As the customers are trying it out, you are helping. And guess who they lean on when they realize they need external help. That’s where an interactive assessment from Evalinator comes in. It provides you with context for personalization in the middle and bottom stages of the sales cycle. It helps you become a partner in your customers’ journey.

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How to ramp up B2B Sales and Marketing for Professional Services?

B2B sales and marketing for professional services B2B sales and marketing for professional services is complex because most purchases are not impulse buys. Either, they are based on a pain that your clients are facing, or you have to first help them realize that there is a better way to do things.

In addition, professional services can also not be easily compared feature by feature in a spreadsheet. So it’s very different from how a SaaS product is sold. The sale, and success of the program, depends a lot on intangible and soft factors, even as hard metrics like cost and past experience are measured objectively. Clients (often multiple decision makers) will almost always do their due diligence and talk to multiple providers before making a decision to buy from you.

So you face 3 main challenges.

  1. Letting buyers know you exist (brand awareness)
  2. Convincing them that they need help and that you are the right choice (sales pursuit)
  3. Consistently engaging through long sales cycles – anywhere from a few months to a year
Things you may have already tried

common tactics - B2B sales and marketing for professional services Most professional services businesses today have implemented various kinds of content marketing and outreach programs.

These include:

  • Generating more content on your website
  • Advertising on various platforms
  • Engaging influencers such as industry analysts and trade publications
  • Commissioning or sponsoring research projects to produce reports
  • Implementing email automation
  • Doing social media outreach by including employees
  • Creating a blogging platform to showcase expertise
  • Offering downloadable assets to build email lists
  • and so on.

These are all great tactics. They seem intuitive and sound like you’re checking off all the boxes.

But you still feel that you’re not moving the needle. Right? Things still seem accidental rather than planned. You feel like you need to go beyond content marketing.

What problems you may be facing in sales and marketing for professional services?

An easy test is to listen to your gut.

  • If you are in marketing, do you imagine your sales team complaining you don’t help them actually generate revenue?
  • And if you are in sales, do you hear your marketing team telling you that you are not letting marketing in where it matters, or following up on their leads?

That’s normal. It happens because B2B sales and marketing for professional services typically address two different stages of the customer lifecycle. Marketing qualifies and hands off the lead. And then sales is expected to take it to closure. There is actually NO clear mechanism to link the two phases together. So marketing is forever caught in a loop to prove their value to sales.

Aligning B2B sales and marketing for professional services

What you need is a way to connect your lead generation to your sales pursuit efforts.

  1. Generate engagement and brand awareness
  2. Engage together with sales on the long pursuit

aligning B2B sales and marketing for professional services The best way to achieve this is to build meaningful context of what your prospects and customers need, and then align the content generation accordingly.

Every customer has a goal. Or at least you think they have a goal that you want to move them towards – better digital capabilities, better analytics, better security, better quality, better website, better social media marketing, better marketing automation, and so on.

Now think of the underlying engagement model of every professional services engagement:

  1. Assess the current state of affairs
  2. Develop a roadmap and set milestones
  3. Make progress, and celebrate the small wins
  4. Adjust the roadmap as needed
  5. Keep stakeholders engaged and informed

Come to think of it, that’s exactly how a typical consultative sales person moves the sales process forward – one meeting to the next. Opportunity is explored, fit is determined, advice is given, insights are provided, material is requested and sent, and so on.

In addition, a consultative sales person builds trust and helps the client move towards their goals until the client is ready to buy. In doing so, they get the right people to the table to conduct workshops, develop proof of concepts, make peer introductions and so on.

So what is really lacking in the process is a way for marketing and sales teams to work together on this journey. Marketing tools are not used beyond the lead generation process. And that’s where the problem lies in creating consistent client engagement and revenue generation.

How to address this challenge?

The easiest way to address this challenge in B2B sales and marketing for professional services is to bring both sales and marketing teams working off each other’s inputs.

  1. Marketing looks at how a typical sale proceeds and generates lead aligned with those key questions that sales starts with, or those that prospects are struggling with
  2. Sales engages with prospects by setting goals collaboratively towards the goals that the prospect or client may be trying to address
  3. Marketing helps not only sales, but also the prospects meet those goals by producing the right content. It also sets the stage for the full power of the brand to come through.

Let’s face it. Neither sales and marketing should do each other’s jobs. It’s often a problem when they try to do that. But bringing them in on the same page when it comes to how the pursuit is progressing is the right thing to do. It rallies everyone around a common objective.

Wait, isn’t my CRM the connection point I need between sales and marketing?

It is. But your CRM is not client facing. Neither is it geared 100% towards sales pursuits. A CRM is complex because it is used to control and track, not actually help a sale move forward. It can definitely be the place where both sales and marketing their get their information from. But you shouldn’t try to customize something for what it isn’t made for – client engagement during a pursuit. That said, you should absolutely send and track all the key events in your CRM system.

Actions you can take today

Check out how Evalinator helps you create an interactive assessment and then engage prospects consistently.

We have a free double trial for almost 6 weeks. That’s enough time to see if it works for you. We are absolutely sure it will! 

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