Each of your customers wants to be recognized as an individual human being, someone with unique needs and preferences. Small businesses that understand this gain a distinct competitive advantage — they have more insight and context into who their customers are and what they’re expecting.
By taking their CRM’s data and translating that information into action — an email, a phone call, a quick text — a small business can address a specific customer’s need at just the right moment.
That’s the essence of personalization, and it’s something that can be achieved by following the five tips below.
When creating targeted communication that truly speaks to customer needs, one size does not fit all. Understanding the different expectations and desires of different groups of customers is critical for personalization.
One way to do this segmentation is with demographics, like age, gender, income, location. That can be useful, but only relying on that kind of data presents a lifeless portrait of the very real people that are your buyers. A better option is to segment your customers by behavior. The way a customer behaves (or has behaved in the recent past) can tell you a lot more about their needs than simple demographic stats.
Imagine an e-commerce shop that sells physical goods. Marketing strategist Melanie Balke says there are several ways to segment that shop’s customer behaviors:
Each of those behaviors creates an opportunity for a follow-up email:
HeyTaco! founder Doug Dosberg, whose company makes team-building software, uses behavioral cues to initiate customer interactions. If a client suddenly begins to use the HeyTaco! software with decreasing frequency, or if they try out a new feature, Dosberg’s team logs that as a cue that it’s time to reach out.
“Following up with our customers is another important way we’re building lasting relationships,” he says. “Relationships don’t happen overnight, and that’s why we check in often with our customers.”
Sometimes, the most personal customer interaction is the most straightforward.
Every customer record should have details about your last interaction. Make a point to scan those records and look for opportunities to connect.
Real estate agents are great at this. This is exactly the kind of work they have to do to drive business. Agents know what each customer liked or didn’t like about a property they were shown, and agents schedule follow-up meetings to advise their customers on next steps, Robert Rico at CA Realty Training says.
A small business owner can benefit by adopting a similar mindset. When they spot a customer who is entering a kicking-the-tires phase of the buying process, they can personally reach out to that customer with specific tips to help that customer along.
This is a competitive advantage that small businesses have over bigger companies. “When you have 78 customers instead of 32,000, you can offer a level of individual attention and personal outreach that your larger competitors just can’t,” says Brandon Landis, community manager at Responster, a company that helps people design and share online surveys. “... [F]ostering meaningful, individual interactions with every single customer is out of the question for the Walmarts and Facebooks of your market.”
Personalization in a business-to-business vertical is a little different than personalizing interactions with consumers because businesses tend to have several more moving parts that influence the way they buy.
It’s important to understand the client company’s goals and ongoing challenges to meet them with a relevant message.
Imagine you have a small-scale bottling factory. You might want to connect with all of the craft brewers in your state because they have a consistent need for bottles. But each brewery is going to have its own unique needs — custom labels, seasonal recipes, specialized bottle types — which would inform any deal you make with them.
Jason Perocho, Salesforce’s senior director of product marketing, has a list of ten questions that can help businesses in any industry get to the bottom of their B2B customers’ needs. For this example, let’s use his question: “Can you tell me about the last time you did X?”
If you’re talking to a brewery, maybe that question becomes: “Can you tell me about the last time you tried to can or bottle a new brew?” This invites the potential customer to give crucial specifics. Maybe that brewery tried to can a sour beer, but the fermentation process created too much pressure inside the can and customers kept getting sprayed upon opening them.
Whatever you learn from those conversations, record those answers in your CRM system. Then, on follow-ups and subsequent interactions, you will be able to speak to the very precise pain points each of your potential customers is having.
This is something we do naturally in our personal lives. We know which family members and friends will answer a text quickly and who will almost never pick up their phone when it rings. Your business needs to have that same kind of awareness.
And CRM is designed to help with just that — you can track the preferred communication methods for each customer.
This is a trickier tip to implement than it may seem because it requires you to be adept at multiple communication channels. Rosie Murphy at BrightLocal can help illustrate why: she has aggregate data about how people prefer to reach out to local businesses. This is the step someone takes after they Google, for example, “lawn care company near me” or “financial advisors near me.”
According to Murphy’s data, about 60 percent of people prefer to call the company as a next step. Another 16 percent would prefer to send an email, and 15 percent would prefer to visit the business location. Only a fraction said they preferred to send a message via a contact form or request a callback.
This means you need to be ready for inbound phone calls, inbound emails, and walk-ins at the very least. Then, once you have begun an ongoing relationship with the customer, you can talk about the best way to contact that person. Maybe they prefer to walk into your office on the first visit, but they can handle things by text going forward.
Whatever the case, note that in your CRM system and honor that customer’s preferences. It’s this attention to detail that makes personalization feel really personal.
Ironically, there is one point of interaction you can make more personal by not tapping into your CRM data: The promotional email subject line.
If you ever want to see personalization done wrong, open up the Promotions tab or the spam folder in your personal inbox. Look at how many subject lines address you by name. All of those newsletters you forgot you signed up for, and all of those brands you bought something from once — they’re trying to recapture your attention with the same superficial attempt at personalization.
That’s not personalization — that’s noise. Don’t fall into the same trap by emailing your customers a message with a subject line like “Top picks for [first_name]!” or “[first_name], don’t miss these deals!”
If you really want to make a connection with someone over email, get personal yourself. Write those emails in your name, and use the pronoun “I.”
Author and professional communication consultant Danny Rubin tells his readers to do the same with their LinkedIn profiles. “The approach makes you genuine, authentic and real,” he writes. “And isn’t that how you want people to think of you?
Again, this is part of the competitive advantage that small businesses have. When your financial advisor or your real estate agent reaches out with an authentic email written in the first person, it’s refreshing.
The key to conveying this authenticity is to make the conversation about you and your customer, Lara Douglas writes at the Small Business Rainmaker blog. She offers a few easy ways to reframe outbound messages that let you speak from this position of realness and empathy:
Change "You'll love this," to "I was looking at your past purchases, and I think this is a good fit."
Change “This is what you need," to "You're ordering so often, why not set up a recurring order?"
Change “I see you’ve had trouble in the past,” to “We know your last experience wasn’t great.”
Now, put yourself in the position of the customer once more. Imagine you’re working through a crowded inbox. Which email would grab your attention?: “I was looking at your past purchases, and I think this is a good fit," or “[first_name], don’t miss these deals!”