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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.