Many advocates of personalization rightly stress the positive impact on prospects. But fewer talk about the significant power it offers the organization personalizing its messages. The beauty of effective personalization is that prospective customers will often volunteer the crucial information, as long as they can see a benefit to them.
Such inside information enables an organization to focus its efforts with laserlike accuracy on the most appropriate solutions for the prospect. This focus saves time, money, and resources already stretched thin by budget cuts and downsizing. An exclusively outward view misses the real value of effective personalization, namely, knowing more about the prospect earlier in the sales cycle.
Technology has made it easier to personalize printed documents, electronic communications, and even call center scripting. But to achieve maximum effectiveness executives must maintain a proper balance between internal and external focus. The real question is how to make personalization pay off inside and out?
A Solid Foundation
The underlying basis of effective personalization is defining the various constituencies involved and their individual needs. This means exploring and understanding how the marketing group will use prospect information. What details does sales need and what will it do with them? Are there other internal groups that could benefit from such insight? What about accounts receivable? Can the prospect's expressed desire for simplified billing be accommodated? Will it reduce the number of days outstanding? If so, how much does that buy in terms of "float"?
Once the internal constituencies are understood the external examination can begin. What information would help prospects modify their buying criteria in favor of your solution? Which key characteristics of your solution should be featured to different target audiences? Are there things your prospect should know about your core processes that would make transacting business with you more attractive? With effective personalization target audiences of as few as one can be informed of your unique offerings.
A company can craft a tactical personalization plan its management understands and define internal and external constituent requirements. As noted, people will volunteer information they believe will benefit them directly. So, it is vital that prospect-supplied information be used in a way that makes the purchasing process easier, shorter, clearer, or even unique for that prospect.
Experience suggests that using prospect-supplied information as the basis of initial communication between seller and buyer establishes a foundation of common understanding. The seller knows early on what the prospect values most. The prospect knows what solutions best fit that value system.
To further enhance the rapport between seller and buyer, companies should aggregate prospect-supplied information to form a baseline against which individual prospects can compare, in a personalized document, their own situation against that of their peers. The probability of a successful close is increased when prospects can see for themselves where they trail competitors and which vendor solutions can improve that standing. Conversely, an organization that is unaware of its competitive position or degree of need will be an expensive sales effort with a low probability of success.
Allowing prospects to compare their positions relative to others makes seller information more relevant and more meaningful. Again, this bolsters the credibility of the seller as one who clearly has the prospect's interests in mind. By understanding prospect needs earlier in the cycle, the sales process can be tailored to address the buyer's highest priority issues. This saves everyone time. No one appreciates that more than a buyer who no longer needs to spend hours, or even days, educating a vendor sales representative about their organization or their core processes.
The Internal Benefit
Remember to examine internal constituencies and personalization. First, take marketing. By aggregating prospect-supplied information, marketers can better understand which solution features, benefits, and characteristics ring true with prospective buyers. While sample size may be smaller than a full-blown market research study, the information is invaluable in designing more formal studies that can validate these initial findings. Even minor tweaking, like moving certain benefits to the top of printed documents, may produce positive results. Effective personalization shows marketers how their organization is perceived as a trusted business partner. This is especially valuable when positioning a company or products with little or no marketplace name recognition.
By far the most dramatic internal impact of effective personalization is felt within the sales force. For companies selling high-ticket solutions the cost of sales can be staggering, especially if sales cycles are measured in months or years. Sales executives are often frustrated by representatives chasing prospects who may not be qualified or who give conflicting buying signals. Effective personalization is a powerful tool in overcoming such obstacles, because it presents a clear picture of buyer strengths and weaknesses at the outset. To cut through conflicting signals we encourage asking questions of prospects in multiple ways to uncover the reality as early as possible.
For example, if a prospect says the organization has achieved a certain level of proficiency in a critical business process, but through a series of seemingly unrelated questions indicates that delivered capabilities are below the norm, then the sales representative can explore which is more accurate. Knowing this even before the first face-to-face call gives sales representatives an edge and a way to effectively channel dialogue.
Sales organizations often apply various metrics to gauge prospect viability. These formulas generally examine several fundamental aspects, including budget availability, individual purchasing authority, degree of demonstrated need, and a defined time frame for action. Individually and collectively these are crucial in determining how much energy the sales organization should invest in a prospect.
However, companies should conduct a more detailed examination of demonstrated need to produce an even sharper picture of prospect viability. In this area the sales organization must know how important the prospect perceives the need to be in achieving their business objectives; how far along the prospect is in adopting viable solutions; and whether the delivered capabilities align with the priorities indicated by the prospect.
These qualitative characteristics enable sales representatives to weigh investment versus return, and therein prioritize their account activity. Sales representatives who possess a deeper understanding of prospect need will distinguish themselves as uniquely knowledgeable about the prospect from the earliest encounter. This alone can mean the difference between being the frontrunner or just one of the pack.
So, how does an organization achieve effective personalization? It does so by following three simple rules:
1. Meld the needs of internal and external constituencies into a cohesive approach to the prospect universe.
2. Demonstrate to the prospect that supplying information will produce immediate and valuable benefit for them.
3. Equip the sales force with detailed, relevant prospect information as early as possible in the sales cycle to build credibility, and more important, to discouraging salespeople from chasing prospects who will never buy, regardless of price, feature, or capability.
Significant financial gains are possible by personalizing messages to individual prospects and by focusing sales personnel on the highest probability prospects. The bottom line impact of such effective personalization can mean thriving in times when others are merely struggling to survive.
About the Author
Michael Anthony is cofounder and principal of CustomAbility, a personalization services firm based in New York. Prior to founding the firm Anthony held senior marketing positions with technology firms, including ADP, Computer Sciences Corp., Computer Associates, and Macro 4. He has authored numerous articles for trade publications, and a six-volume series on the distribution industry. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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