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How Professional Services Can Use Personalization to Engage Website Visitors

Tim ThurnWritten by Tim Thurn
Apr 18, 2016 9:38:20 AM

Business are people working with people, not contacts in a database. So isn’t it time we treat our prospects as people instead of records in a CRM? When it comes to professional service industries some words come to mind. Words like: trust, fear, uncertainty and security. You want your clients to associate you with trust and security, not fear or uncertainty. One way to build this trust and feeling of security is to personalize their experience with you from the first time they visit your website. After all, people do much more research by themselves nowadays before ever reaching out to a business. So, how do we personalize this experience?

personalization form

First, What is Web Personalization?

Web personalization is what happens when we set our website up to respond automatically to the behavior of our visitors. This is not to be confused with customization, which is what happens when users choose a preference and the experience chances accordingly. For the user, personalization just happens whereas customization is a result of the user asking for something to change.

Setting Yourself Up for Success

First, you have to analyze your website and see where and how you might be able to personalize the experience. Next, set yourself up to collect and analyze visitor data. Finally, you have to return that value to your visitors in the form of a personalized experience.

When you’re set up to capture data on your visitors and leads, you can shorten your sales cycle. Plus, the sooner you can learn about your prospect the more likely you can be the one to gain their trust and get them to do business with you. This data might include analyzing behaviors such as what device type they’re on, where they are located, blog posts they’re reading, what content they are skimming on your site, what eBooks they’ve downloaded, and more. As your visitors engage with your site, you can ask for information from them in return for the content they are seeking. If they’re truly interested, they will have no problem trading a little personal information for valuable content.

However, following through and delivering on this value trade is paramount. What I mean is, you cannot ask for information from your visitors without using it to give them something in return. For instance, if you ask for their location you’d better be prepared to give location-specific information or present nearby locations to your visitors. If you’re asking for their phone number it should be in an appropriate setting such as on a form to schedule an introductory call. If you’re offering an emailed ebook, there is no reason to be asking for someone’s phone number and it will feel like an invasion or privacy to do so.

Personalization Starts with Content

In this recent Huffington Post Business article “Why Legal Firms are Racing to Adopt Content Marketing,” Brian Hughes discusses how more and more legal websites are blogging and posting about issues such as data privacy, intellectual property, and more.

The struggle is, content that will truly engage and be helpful to your visitors is not written like a lawyer would write it. Professionals like lawyers tend to have a wealth of information to share. However, putting that information into words that those unfamiliar with the industry can understand can be challenging. Marketers for professional services industries must translate the organization’s intelligence into content that is digestible and accessible to existing and potential clients. This will allow your organization to demonstrate thought leadership while simultaneously building brand awareness. Meanwhile, you can track how visitors are engaging with this content to learn more about them and personalize their experience based on this information.

It’s also important to remember that making legal or other professional services content approachable does not necessarily mean “dumbing it down.” It may just mean using more descriptive language or perhaps simpler vocabulary. It should still be professional but it is not a scholarly publication or a researched paper. A touch of lightheartedness can go a long way, when appropriate. In other instances, being straight to the point and removing all the superfluous jargon can make a world of difference.

“When people have a legal question or are worried about the fallout from an old DUI, immigration case, or felony conviction, they turn to Google [first] for information." (Grant Bettencourt)

While lawyers may have worries about protecting themselves from liability, this can be alleviated by simply making it clear that their content is not intended to be legal advice. In Contently’s post titled “The Surprising New Adopter of Content Marketing: Law Firms,” Julia Schur mentions that, while lawyers are traditionally risk-averse, with a strategy in place content marketing can become second nature.

How Can Personalization Better Engage Visitors?

Personalization is a great way to make users feel at comfortable on your site and communicate that you understand them and their needs. This will build trust and credibility along the way. While most people who hear personalization think of it as that creepy thing that displays your name on a page, it is much more than that. People do business with people they trust. This is true no matter how technology changes. I like to think of it as the “Starbucks effect.” When you visit the same Starbucks location on a consistent basis, the baristas get to know you and your order. At first they might just greet you with a friendly hello but after a handful of visits they’ll likely be addressing you by name. It’s nice to be greeted by a friendly face who knows my name and is ready to get me my morning caffeine fix as I walk through the door. However, we can agree it would have been quite creepy if the second day I returned to this Starbucks location, they already knew my name and drink and had it sitting, ready and waiting. Making personalization work for your site also means walking the fine line between helpful and creepy. When done well, personalization can improve the overall experience of your site and drive more conversions.

What are some best practices?

Listen and Respond

Listening is one of the best things you can do to better personalize the experience visitors to your site will have. By listening I mean watch, collect information, and analyze it. How are visitors finding your site? Are they coming from social media or certain referral sites? What types of content are they engaging with the most? What pages tend to be the last ones they visit before leaving?

Protect Visitor Data

Another best practice is to always protect visitor data. Personalization is great but not at the cost of privacy. Establish trust with your visitors by enabling SSL on your website. Allow your visitors to opt into or out of communications with you. Use safety net statements on your forms. This means, when you ask for someone’s email, say something like “we’ll keep your email completely private” near the form field. Avoid using stop words such as “spam” or “sell.” By this I mean, do not say “we will never spam you or sell your email address.” Simply saying you will keep their information private is straightforward and positive.

Strategic Planning is Vital

Use both implicit and explicit information to tailor your marketing. First, define your audience segments by creating buyer personas. Think about the different roles of the people who are visiting your site. Consider the time of day, season, location and user device type of those visitors. Ask questions to help identify the prospect’s needs and point them in the right direction. Figure out the path users take when engaging with your site and what type of content they look for at different stages of their process. Then, configure your site to respond when users indicate they’re at a specific stage.

Keep It Simple

Delivering personalized content does not have to be incredibly complex. Start out small with something like segmenting your visitors into two groups with a question on your homepage. Perhaps show different information to someone who came to your site via a Google search vs. social media. Simple segmentation will make it easier to match your content up with your visitors’ needs.

Have the Right Technology in Place

It can be incredibly difficult to use personalization to deliver unique and targeted content without the proper technology. You can leverage any data you already have in your CRM to divide up your known contacts into persona segments. Then, your CMS and marketing tools to deliver personalized content to your visitors. Personalization can happen in the form of emails, in-content calls-to-action, dynamic website experiences, recommended content, responsive design, retargeting, and more.

Truly successful personalization means understanding each prospect’s priorities and decision making process. Being successful with personalization requires collecting accurate data, creating valuable content, and a willingness to experiment. You probably won’t get it right the first time around and it certainly won’t happen overnight. Personalization is a process that takes time and necessitates ongoing adjustment. It’s not just something we can simply automate or use an algorithm to figure out. It takes work. We have to worry less about the technology and more about human emotions. What triggers people to take action? This is what will help you achieve intent-driven personalization.

What Should You Avoid Doing?

The more targeted we can get with our messages the more likely we are to connect with a prospect. However, there is a point where personalization can go too far. There is a growing willingness to trade in a bit of privacy to get a more personalized experience and quality information. However, you have to gain users trust without abusing it. Be sure to return value when you’ve asked for information from a user. Show them you’re using their information to help them by pointing them in the right direction toward what they’re looking for.

Avoid being creepy and showing users what you know about them just for the sake of doing so. It may not be necessary to greet them by name or fill in their company name on a page. Present personalized content in a way that helps your users, eliminates confusion, builds trust and encourages engagement.

Personalization can be tough, but when you get it right you’ll surely see the results. Not only can personalization, when done well, optimize your sales funnel and increase conversion rates, it helps you make deeper, longer lasting relationships with clients. This leads to repeat business and happy clients who will become advocates for your organization.

Topics: Marketing

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