In recent blog posts, we’ve written about the important role of data in B2B marketing. We explored what comprehensive data capture looks like and how to curate that data once you have it. This third and final installment will focus on intelligent B2B experiences as a means to both use that data and continue to capture more of it.
What do we mean by “intelligent customer experiences”?
Intelligent experiences are built to capture and leverage data that fuels relevant content and improves the sales process for buyers. These experiences often embody several characteristics, including:
- A deep understanding of the consumer.
- Intuitive activation, based on the data we’ve been given by the consumer.
- Frictionless communication, removing redundancy from the sales and service cycles.
Intelligent experiences are now a differentiator in companies’ sales processes, and will soon become a consumer expectation, regardless of your industry. As common digital shopping experiences continue to use elements of identity persistence and artificial intelligence to improve the shopping experience, consumer expectations from B2C experiences will eventually translate to the B2B sector.
What do intelligent customer experiences look like for B2B buyers?
In the whitepaper, “Setting the Analytics Stage for the Consumer of the Future,” we stipulate that intelligent customer experiences have several key requirements. These include:
- Activation of first-party data
- Engaging user-experience design
- Omnichannel strategies that are smarter, more responsive, and more empowering
This is no different for our B2B buyers; however, when we think of how the consumer experiences are served to buyers, they fall into two key buckets with different considerations.
The Automated Experience – This happens at the top of the funnel, is typically low-touch for the selling brand, and as a result, has a lower cost-per-interaction. Every consumer will have this experience in some form.
The Personal Experience – This middle-to-bottom of funnel experience typically requires a human touch (an account team, a sales organization, a service center) to handle warm-to-hot leads in the sales process.
Let’s examine how we manifest the three intelligent customer experience requirements in each of these B2B-specific experiences.
The automated B2B experience
The automated experience refers to those experiences we plan at the top of the funnel to attract audiences en masse and facilitate their decision-making process. This typically starts with an outward automated process, like paid media or paid social media, and resolves on your website. It may be an iterative process, too; when we learn more about what the buyer is looking for, our paid media can become more targeted and our website offerings can be narrowed.
This experience is typically facilitated through core tenets of marketing technology: content management systems (CMS), identity platforms (like a customer data platform, or CDP), marketing automation platforms, data management platforms (DMPs), and real-time interaction management (RTIM) platforms.
Activation of first-party data
As buyers arrive at your site and browse content or sign up for content downloads and webinars, the data they provide can be used to further customize their experience.
- Industry: Does their industry reduce their options in your product offering? Is there a more natural fit your site could serve by knowing your visitor is in one industry versus another?
- Role: When we approach account-based marketing, we understand that those in procurement may evaluate purchases, while those in the C-suite may make the actual purchase decision. Will understanding the user’s role better position your messaging and content in the decision-making process?
- Email address/PII: In capturing email addresses or personally identifiable information (PII), you can then use that data to retarget through other channels. Email can be used to instigate a slowed research phase, and, given the correct consent policies, can be leveraged in demand-side platforms (DSPs) or social to continue to reach your audience off of your website.
Engaging user experience design
Site design is critical to making sure those in the research phase can find what they need to qualify your offerings. Two major functions on site that can be helpful are:
- Self-guided tools: These can be (but are not limited to) product selectors based on a series of inputs from the buyer, budget estimation tools, ROI calculators, and educational paths (related webinars and white papers).
- Intuitive site structure: Ensure your navigation makes sense to your end buyer, not just your internal stakeholders. Does your buyer see you as a multi-department offering, or do they simply see you for the value you provide based off a grouping of products? It is critical to view your site through your customers’ eyes, not just how your company organizes offering internally.
Omnichannel strategies that are smarter, more responsive, and more empowering
As mentioned in the activation of first party-data, understanding where your customer is in their research phase and meeting them in the next channel where they need you is critical. This can typically be accomplished with tools like CDPs: a tool that creates and resolves an identity across multiple platforms. Once a resolved identity is established, your messaging can be catered to the stage of the purchase process your prospect is in, rather than starting from scratch in each new environment.
This manifests itself in several ways:
- Starting the relationship with a whitepaper download, continuing the conversation in email.
- Lead generation on old leads via email leading to a personalized web experience.
- Paid traffic to the site receiving a customized experienced based on the campaign they saw, and a follow-up email based on their time on site or content viewed.
These experiences can flow over from the automated experience into the personal experience as a prospect engages more and more with your brand.
The personal B2B experience
The personal experience refers to the experiences that are closer to the bottom of the funnel, nearer to the close of a sale, or post purchase. The personal aspect refers to the fact that, at this point, the buyer is likely getting some interaction from a real person: contact from a sales rep, contact from a service center employee, or original emails from a sales team member. Although this experience requires human intervention, we can still rely on the data that has been acquired to this point to communicate effectively with our prospects.
First-party data activation
We leverage first party and self-identified data to personalize our messaging in any channel. With a sales or service team member involved, we can serve the obvious data to them to personalize the outreach: names, company info, product interest, or past purchases.
We can also serve up browsing or download history to our sales team to help their understanding of product interests. Most marketing automation platforms do this by default, showing a chronological history of prospect behavior that can be integrated into a CRM platform for the sales team’s use.
Engaging user-experience design
The data we possess should also inform the experience we create. If we decide that sending an email from a person is the right move, what is the action the email is supposed evoke? Are we looking to get someone to purchase, or do we seek to get our prospect on the phone for a conversation?
Understand that human interactions in a marketing process are typically more expensive per contact, so your strategy must be targeted to accomplish specific actions from your prospects. They must also be focused so as not to push away your prospect that you have put time and effort into acquiring and nurturing. Leverage your sales funnel analytics to determine where your efforts may be misguided, forcing more prospects out of the funnel than is acceptable. Oftentimes, these lost prospects can show where messaging needs to change, contact needs to shift, or the automated experience needs to continue through.
Omnichannel strategies that are smarter, more responsive, and more empowering
As prospects are passed over to live sales and service team members, the data collected thus far should inform how those folks interact with your prospects. To do this, you need to invest in capable systems that can track, log, codify, and curate prospect behavior data as well as zero-party profile data.
As this data is codified and curated, it should be presented to sales and service teams in a coherent fashion. This often involves a CRM: what information should be shown in a service center at screen pop on an inbound call? What information is needed to craft an outbound email to an interested prospect or warm lead? What information will take this lead from a marketing qualified lead to a sales qualified lead? Invest in the infrastructure that can take your carefully curated data from a data store to a source of action for your sales organization.
Though there are some nuances to how we obtain, curate, and use data in the B2B space, remember that at the end of the day, your buyer is still an individual consumer. Treating data with care, keeping it clean, and using it in ways that will enhance the customer experience are still the guiding principles, no matter your audience. That said, we hope this blog post series has helped you better understand how to build an analytics foundation that will help you drive success in B2B.