You’re Embarrassing Me: My First Lesson in B2B Personalization

adminComments off.

“You’re embarrassing me!”


I was VP of Sales for an enterprise software company and it was about 10am when my phone rang. I immediately recognized the voice of Peter – the Senior Vice President of IT for the largest bank in the country. The guy that my little software company had spent 18 months convincing to buy our software and insert it into the heart of their ATM network. “Listen you smart-ass, your software isn’t working and you’re embarrassing me. Get this fixed!” SLAM!!! (I was on a 2:20pm flight to Newark that afternoon.)


Our contract had been signed about 3 months before. It was my deal – the biggest and most visible the company had ever done. We were a 50-person company selling a highly complex piece of software. Our software had great value to the bank as it enabled faster and more secure ATM transaction processing. The bank’s ATM customers would experience measurably faster transactions. But selecting my company and our software was a risk: We were a tiny company, we were competing directly with IBM (who had a tremendous presence at the bank) and there were large, powerful factions at the bank who did not want us to win. But Peter recognized the competitive lift our software offered and took a chance on us. And as we implemented in the bank’s production environment, our software was not working well at all.


“You’re embarrassing me!” There’s a lot more to the story (including why he called me a smart-ass 😊)…but as a young professional without a lot of experience, what struck me the most was how personal this had become. He didn’t refer to his company or mine. It was about him and me. This was about him looking bad…being professionally exposed…for having stuck his neck out for me. Personal.


I had established a very good relationship with Peter. I knew his professional goals. I knew his fans at the bank…and I knew his adversaries. I became great friends with his primary lieutenant. I knew about his wife and children. I knew his Administrative Assistant very well (she was a terrific ally). I knew when he was most likely to answer the phone. I knew he had a long commute home every morning and every night. I knew he trusted me.


And he made it personal for me.


Our software was selected for its capabilities, for its features, for the performance increases it delivered. Improved network performance and more secure transactions were competitive advantages for the bank. We offered positive and tangible business benefits. But we were also selected because Peter saw the opportunity for a personal win. Peter owned bragging rights for having found a solution that dramatically improved their customer’s experience and provided competitive advantage. Being seen as an innovator and forward thinker within the bank was very important to him – and really good for his career.


But when our software wasn’t working as planned, he was standing alone. Exposed. Personal. And until about 10am that morning, I didn’t get it.


Recent research tells us personal values drives nearly twice positive outcomes compared to business value in B2B buying. What is personal value? It includes resonance in areas such as professional benefits (e.g., being a better leader, simplifying my life, being seen as an innovator), social benefits (e.g., fitting in with colleagues, admiration from others), emotional benefits (e.g., confidence, excitement, happiness), and self-image benefits (e.g., doing good for society, feeling of accomplishment). I can guarantee my successful sales professional friends understand this intuitively. When you hear a sales person say ‘I’ve got a great relationship with her/him’, this is what they mean.


The incident I’ve described happened many years ago. Since then, there’s been a huge change in how vendors and prospects engage. Vendors can’t afford 18-month direct sales cycles. Prospects are self-educating before engaging directly with vendors. (Today there’s a good chance Peter and I never meet, let alone do business together. Common prospect targeting techniques like Account Based Marketing would likely have led my little company away from the largest bank in the US, not towards it!)  So, we task our marketing teams to attract, educate and nurture prospects in low touch / no touch stages of decision processes. To communicate unique and compelling differentiators that are clearly understood to decision makers, influencers, and users. To establish emotional bonds that otherwise emerge from direct and personal relationship building. It’s a tall order!


But generally, marketing has only a small sampling of direct customer touch points, mostly second party data (e.g. CRM), or perhaps unidimensional survey data (like Net Promoter Scores) that tell them nothing about personal wins in the decision process or what the most critical factors were for the 5 – 7 people involved in the decision. Most marketers have nothing that provides them with statistically sound, analytics driven insights to personal resonance. So marketers spend a ton of time, money and resources on test/measure/refine cycles with limited variable sets trying to find combinations that offer some lift.


The bottom line is companies don’t make decisions, companies don’t take risks, companies don’t have emotions…people do. And the only way for marketing to connect deeply with the people who are making and influencing decisions is to understand personal wins, risks, and deal breaker issues. Marketers need analytics that deliver statistically valid insights to decision makers and influencers, that draw out personal resonance. How do decision makers and influencers define personal wins? What professional benefits do they value? What are the most important non-product attributes they care about? How do they like to communicate? How often? What are deal-breaker issues that will cause them to go away without buying? How do factors like size of company, geography, competitors, or the market segment they compete in impact their priorities and personal win perspectives?


These are just some of the questions BeMarketDo’s Power Positioning Insights answers for its clients. By capturing and modeling First Party data, we uncover personal resonance factors for decision makers, influencers, and users. We discover what our vendor clients should say, who they should say it to, when they should say it, and how to most effectively say it. We deliver Insights that power personalization at scale. Individual insights that provide marketers with the knowledge necessary to create content and select communication channels that ‘touch’ the individuals who will decide whether your company gets a chance to compete.


In the end, the only relevant content is what your customers think is relevant. BeMarketDo provides Insights that allow marketers to discover, understand, and act with relevance.


Epilogue: Our team of developers and engineers fixed the software problems experienced by the bank within days. To my knowledge, that software is still in place and running successfully today.

Posted in: Blog Copyright © 2018