With in-person engagement on hold this spring and possibly into summer, B2B marketers continue to pivot their strategies to make up for lost leads, maintain relationships with clients and attract new business. These new challenges present an opportunity for marketers to dig deep and come up with innovative ways to engage with prospects and customers.
B2C companies use machine learning for a wide range of use cases ranging from personalized recommendations, intelligent chatbots and hyperlocal advertising, just to name a few. While the number of B2C companies using machine learning is skyrocketing, adoption by B2B companies has yet to take off.
It’s time for B2B companies to get their game on. Here are some of the ways machine learning can make a significant difference for B2B companies.
Driven by new data, tools and technologies, the state of B2B marketing segmentation and personalization has reached an inflection point. Gone are the days where B2B marketers relied on basic, descriptive data like demographics and location to define marketing segments — a far cry from the much more sophisticated and multi-layered approach to segmentation and personalization used by B2C marketers.
The patience for “spray-and-pray” emails is continuing to shrink, and sophisticated B2B buyers are increasingly expecting and demanding relevant and targeted messaging.
Aprimo Campaign is a campaign management solution designed to access and select lead lists from millions of contacts and transactions across multiple data sources. It enables marketers to manage customer and prospect lead lists into test and control cells, associate those cells with offers and creative treatments and orchestrate distribution across marketing channels, CRM systems and vendors.
After seeing mixed results with early forays into display ad retargeting, B2B brands are reporting significantly better success as they attach remarketing tools and tactics to more precise initiatives, such as account-based marketing (ABM) programs.
With targeting and segmentation becoming bigger priorities to support ABM, lead nurturing and related initiatives, new tools and tactics are being deployed to help marketers prioritize and better engage new targets.
For example, commercial real estate software provider Apto was having trouble separating its ideal target prospects (commercial real estate brokers) from the rest of its database (residential real estate brokers and non-brokers in general). The company recently started working with a company called Calibermind to help clean up and segment its database.
“We tend to get a lot of inbound interest and traffic to our website from people in commercial real estate,” said Michael Bevan, VP of Marketing at Apto. “We just inadvertently added others over the years—like appraisers, property management companies, investment companies and developers. So we worked with Calibermind to separate our actual target prospects from all of these other people in commercial real estate that are not really viable prospects for us now.”
Bevan said he began segmenting brokers from non-brokers by analyzing prospective customers’ websites and LinkedIn profiles pertaining to specific phrases identified through trial and error.
“The residential broker audience is so much larger than the commercial audience,” Bevan said. “Even adding a few of them to the sales funnel will just overwhelm our salespeople, so it’s important to us to filter them out.”
After identifying the right brokers, the next step was to identify which specialty vertical they belonged to, as well as what property types they sell and their role within brokerage. Once these segments are identified, the company leveraged an email nurture program featuring personalized content.
“Once a month, we send out a mass email to the whole database to announce a new piece of content or something that is potentially relevant to any broker regardless of specialty or role,” said Bevan. “Then, we have nurture programs and workflows set up so we can send more frequent emails to people based on their specific challenges or interests. We have workflows for specific functions and titles, as well.”
Bevan said Apto is using Calibermind to enhance its existing database of 100,000 contacts with more information to help “refine and expand those target groups.” While it’s still too early for Apto to see measurable results, the company was able to update and validate 100,000 contact records.
“Our biggest result right now from a strategic standpoint is having this new insight in our database to help us realign our sales initiatives, discover new segments and refine and personalize our messaging in ways that didn’t make sense before.”
While agreeing on the potential payoffs of segmentation, industry analysts remind marketers that effective segmentation starts with really understanding your target audience. Experts point out that too many marketers rely on the titles rather than understanding the needs of the buyer.
With segmentation, it’s important to understand the relationships between the stakeholders involved in buying what you sell.
“I often hear B2B marketers say they have to reach a CXO,” said Ardath Albee, Author & CEO of Marketing Interactions. “With segmentation, it’s important to understand the relationships between the stakeholders involved in buying what you sell. Engaging the role responsible for research and evaluation can be much more fruitful than banging your head against the wall trying to attract a CXO who’s too busy to be interested in what you have to say.”
Allison Snow, Senior Analyst at Forrester Research, added that in order to build a robust persona, marketers should build the segment first. “[Figure out] what you need these to look like, and then carefully match your value proposition to that persona,” she said. Ask yourself the following questions:
“Then, you have to examine your value proposition tools against [the persona’s] problems and translate it,” Snow said. “Segmentation is about not asking people to do that themselves anymore. Personas really guide that.”
Other key tips for successful segmentation industry experts suggest include:
Online customer service solution LiveChat partnered with Autopilot, an email marketing and marketing automation software, to create personalized customer journeys based on how prospects engage with the company through a 30-day trial or on the company website. The company wanted to track email and engagement, as well as better communicate with prospective customers as they weigh purchasing the product.
I hate being the bearer of bad news, but I must tell you something — just about everything you’ve been taught about buyer personas is wrong.