Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 2.10.17 PM

Back in my door-to-door sales days, personalization became the core tenet of my technique, directly influencing my approach to marketing and optimization today. If I could have an authentic, personal conversation with a prospect, we were both put at ease, making it a cinch to get in the door.

It took time, but eventually I was able to walk up a driveway and spot something unique that I could use to spark a slightly more intimate exchange. Would you believe I actually studied different species of plants and flowers so I could comment on people’s landscaping or window boxes? And a shiny BMW in the driveway was usually an invitation to ask about engines and acceleration speeds. The effect on the prospect was disarming.

Here’s an impersonal exchange:

Me: “Hello, sir. Do you have a home security system?”
Prospect: “I’m not interested” (Sound of door slamming in my face.)

Now a personalized approach:

Me: “Hello, ma’am. Your daylilies are amazing! How do you get them to grow in this climate?”
Prospect: “Oh, thank you. The key is to plant them in the very late fall. Do you garden?”

And we’re off.

The Stages of Personalization

Historically, door-to-door sales technique has been organized into five stages:

  1. Attention
  2. Interest
  3. Desire
  4. Conviction
  5. Action

You can think of these as a breakdown of the conversion funnel, which has similarly been dissected into (1) brand awareness, (2) brand evaluation, and (3) conversion. Whichever way you break it down, personalization is crucial to every stage. I learned this on the ground and have seen it play out in digital. Here’s how:

Capture Attention and Build Interest

The first step is capturing your prospect’s attention so they don’t slam the door in your face. The difference between door-to-door and digital is that when someone comes to the door, you have their total attention; when someone lands on your site, they may have 16 other browser tabs open, the TV on, and a buzzing cell phone. Face-to-face salespeople are at a distinct advantage because they can pull individuals away from most distractions and watch their interest and attention level change moment by moment. It’s easier to accurately test your approach when there are fewer competing variables (although crying kids and steaming kettles can get in the way just the same as tweets and music videos).

What’s the lesson here? We want to reach the digital customer as organically as possible, replicating that on the doorstep experience. That means placing attention-worthy content in the context of the visitor’s unique experience. Native advertising across multiple search engine, social media, and mobile app platforms can place you square in the prospect’s door frame.

Adobe had great success using LinkedIn sponsored updates to share relevant content with a targeted audience of marketing executives. We put “valuable thought leadership content … that aimed to help marketers achieve greater success in their digital strategies” in a forum in which they were already actively engaged.

After capturing the attention of marketing decision makers, LinkedIn found that they were 50 percent more likely to see Adobe as “shaping the future of digital marketing” and nearly 80 percent “more likely to agree that ‘Adobe can help me optimize my media spend.’”

Fuel Desire and Conviction

Once you’re in the door, you can create desire for your product in several ways, from emotional appeals, to communicating the product’s value, to hands-on demonstrations. During this stage, prospect’s are not just evaluating your product, they’re further evaluating you. In digital, that means your brand and content.

The individual is wondering, does this brand and product satisfy a need or solve a problem? Does it fit with who I am or the identity I aspire to? Is it worth my investment and then some, delivering what I perceive to be real value? This is not an entirely conscious process, but it will determine the outcome of the sale.

For online consumers, storytelling and customer reviews can have a powerful influence. You might not be able to stop a prospect from comparison shopping, but you can put their browsing to work for you with value-packed content marketing. Build your brand’s thought leadership presence so the comparison phase leads them back to you: a trusted voice.

Just don’t forget that desire and conviction are founded on value and trust. It’s not about dazzling the customer or showing them tricks. People don’t care about so-called “personalized” promo items like the pens and key chains some salespeople dole out; they want relevant, valuable, products, and content that enhance their personal brand or image. It’s that extra ounce that pushes people beyond latent desire to conviction; they believe that you’re the best on the market and are ready to act on that now personal opinion.

Encourage Action

When you’ve done a good job fueling visitors’ desire and conviction, conversion is only a nudge away. Whether it’s a special offer available to social media followers, a targeted banner ad, or a well-timed email urging “Buy NOW and save an extra 25 percent!”, the visitor is primed to click buy.

Encouraging action is all about the last-minute incentive—suddenly making what already looked good appear too good to miss. This doesn’t have to be discounts and freebies. Maybe it’s a case study demonstrating how your product just helped a competitor’s business make big bucks. Maybe it’s a news story on your company impacting the community. Maybe it’s a chance to be part of an exclusive beta community of users. Think about what excites your market, and get creative.

Personalization Is Its Own Reward

If you aren’t genuine they’ll sniff you out. Actually listen, and actually care. We personalize content to build a connection and earn trust, with the continual goal of customer loyalty.

One lesson I’ll never forget is that getting personal is actually more rewarding for the salesperson. By being open and conversational with prospects, I had the privilege of being invited into unique settings and making connections with people I might never have met otherwise. In Memphis, I found myself sampling the city’s best BBQ while every other family prepared for the annual cook-off. In New York and Long Island, I sat down for home-cooked Italian meals and lively stories, invited in like one of the family. In my role as CO, I’ve seen firsthand that responding to visitors as individuals can turn mundane data streams into fascinating human encounters.