marketing automation future webinars

Webinar Recap: Personalization and the Future of Marketing Automation

About the Webinar

Sureshot and Inverta are empowering you to take your personalization game to a whole other level via our on-demand Webinar. Engaging and actionable, you’ll learn how you can:

  • Go beyond basic personalization and wow your target audience
  • Free marketing ops teams from the burden of manual content creation
  • Scale super-personalized campaigns across multiple channels
  • Enable sales to send results-driven personalized campaigns 

Leave equipped with insights and answers from Sureshot CEO, David York, and the marketing ops experts at Inverta.


David York – Sureshot, Founder
For more than 18 years, David has been trusted by technology and business leaders alike, for his unique ability to bridge the two disciplines and empower teams in both camps to work well together. An early adopter of marketing automation, David previously worked as a Senior Marketing Solutions Consultant for Eloqua, a role that gave him a front-row seat to the evolution and exponential growth of the martech industry. Gifted in resolving complex technical issues, and developing apps that allow novices to use tech like a pro, David served as a highly sought after consultant for several years before forming SureShot in 2015.

Kathy Macchi – Inverta, Vice President of Consulting
Kathy considers herself a long-time survivor of the technology industry, bringing over 25 years of sales, marketing and IT experience to her role as Vice President of Consulting at Inverta. Kathy takes a no-nonsense approach to the role of digital skills, processes and tools in today’s complex sale, and her expertise has supported the digital transformations of enterprises such as Citrix, Microsoft, and HP. Additionally, she’s one of the foremost authorities in account-based marketing. Certified by ITSMA as an ABM practitioner in 2007, Kathy has conducted numerous ABM workshops, webinars, and training sessions, and supported the ABM efforts of over one hundred organizations. When Kathy isn’t traveling the world, she enjoys a top-shelf vegetarian breakfast taco at her home in Austin, TX.

Webinar Summary

David: I’m really excited to have Kathy Macchi join me today and share some amazing insights on the strategy of personalization, which is critical to every marketer’s success. As marketers, we often get caught up in “the doing,” and strategy gets left behind, but without great strategy, we will likely fail.

Questions to Think About

  • How would you describe your personalization strategy?
  • What types of data are you using in personalization?
  • What are your biggest challenges in executing a personalization strategy?

Amazon and the Advent of Personalization at Scale

David: When we talk about the future of marketing automation and personalization, it’s important to review the history of how we got to this point. With regards to personalization, its current iteration is marked by the moment Amazon came on the scene and began delivering a curated, personalized experience to the e-commerce consumer. Up until that point, we all had encountered some level of personalization in marketing, but Amazon was likely the first time we saw the proliferation of personalization at scale. From my experience, this advent is when the expectations of the market really started to change about how personalized experiences need to be. For those of us that have primarily worked in B2B, we know that B2C typically sets the course, and then a few years later, those consumer expectations trickle into the business-to-business world.

The History of Marketing Automation

David: The history of marketing automation is relatively new, around 20 years, and in the beginning, it offered basic features and tools, like a database, emails, forms, landing pages, website tracking, drip nurture campaigns, CRM integrations, and lead scoring. When we think about marketing automation’s initial iteration, the primary assumption was that all of the aforementioned tools and features would flow through the marketing automation platform. In the early 2000s, it followed a Hub and Spoke Model wherein the marketing automation platform was the hub or center of the marketing technology stack and all other tools that we used were connected to it. However, this has changed dramatically over the past 10 years, and even more so in the past five years, to what we today call the Shopping Mall Model.

The Shopping Mall Marketing Automation Platform Model

David: An analyst firm called Real Story Group, which I recommend you follow, developed the current theory of the Shopping Mall Marketing Automation Platform Model. In this scenario, martech stacks look more like a shopping mall map with multiple anchor platforms and tools, of which marketing automation is one. Other anchor tools may include the CRM [Customer Relationship Management system], CDP [Customer Data Platform], data warehouse, ABM tools, etc. In addition to the anchors, there are a bunch of other tools working in conjunction with the anchor platforms.

Modern Challenges to Marketing Automation Personalization

David: When martech was centralized via the old Hub and Spoke Model, it was easy to do personalization because all of the data and content were in one place. But in the Shopping Mall Model, marketing data and content is much more distributed, and the tools are much more diversified. Obviously, we have significantly much more data than ever before, and now as B2B marketers we’re faced with meeting the expectations that Amazon has given our customers. Thank you, Jeff Bezos. There is now a much deeper, stronger expectation for personalization and targeting than there ever was before. On top of that, we now have these remarkably complicated technology stacks with which we’ve got to try and make it all happen.

The New Personalization Paradigm

David: In the new personalization paradigm we’ve got loads more content to deal with, as well as more data sources, like intent data, that rains in from all over the web. We’ve got more data around different types of preferences, and purchase history and we’re dealing with significantly more complicated data architectures. And on that note, I’ll invite Kathy to share her insights with us.

Defining Personalization

Kathy: Thank you, David. I’m going to start with how we define personalization at Inverta. We say personalization is modifying your marketing treatment, whatever that may be, in a way that’s engages with your audience in a more meaningful way. When I say, “more meaningful,” I mean by obtaining research, insights, and information about the account and purchases of the individual. Whether you’re an incumbent or you are trying to break into an account, you’ve got to use insights to try to engage your audience and make their experience more personalized. Personalization is a key differentiator.

Personalization Requires Both Data and Insight

Kathy: Providing relevant content that actually matters to your buyers is vital. It’s not the quantity of interactions you generate, but the quality of them. A guy I worked with a long time ago said, “Computers personalize, but humans make it personal.” I think that’s important to keep in mind as you develop your strategy. Yes, you can take loads of data and use it to personalize a piece, but it’s no good without insights. You’ve got to come with the knowledge of what is really going to land special with your buyers. How are you going to stand out from all of the noise out there? That’s what I want to make clear—it’s the insights you bring to your marketing campaigns and how you use the data you have that makes the difference.

Levels of Personalization

Kathy: There are many dimensions or levels of personalization. The most basic level is name, titles, and all the typical firmographic and demographic information. As you move to the second level of personalization, you learn more about your customers by gathering insights from third-party data, such as:

  • She’s a mother of two.
  • She reads the New York Times.
  • She has a subscription to Bon Appetit magazine.
  • She’s into fitness.

At the third level, you begin to mix in insights from your own data, such as:

She regularly downloads content, attends our webinars, and provides information about her interests during these sessions. The fourth level is what I call cognitive, and it includes knowing things such as:

  • She’s frustrated, doesn’t have a seat at the table, and has been in her role seven years.
  • She scores high in steadiness on a DISC personality assessment.
  • She’s active online and produces content in her field.
  • She presents regularly at conferences.

There are different types of personalization you can engage in as you learn more about a person. To go from the basic level, “I just know her name and title,” to a cognitive level, “I understand what’s happening with her in her role,” is the goal. Of course, how personalized you can make your marketing all depends on how much data you have.

Level One Personalization

Kathy: So let’s talk about the levels of personalization.

Level 1: Demographic and firmographic data.

B2C Example: age, gender, marital status, etc.

B2B Example: industry, annual revenue, company size, etc.

Adobe promoted a white paper that went to several B2B’s and they personalized it by changing a single block of copy to highlight the industry of the company they were targeting. If it was sent to Apple, they talked about tech. If it went to NBC, they talked about the entertainment field. If it went to Starwood they talked about hospitality. They took the information they had about these companies, and said, “We know the industry, and can personalize based on that.” But I will tell you now, basic personalization is mere table stakes. People expect that now. It’s considered bare bones. If you really want to have an impact you’ve got to go beyond basic.

Level Two Personalization

Kathy: The second level is what I call Explicit Data, and it’s anything the user provides, typically via a web form. It might be their preferences, requirements, or needs. Sometimes they share their role in the decision-making process, or their current solution. The great news is the user provided it. The bad news is, how do you know if it’s accurate? You don’t know. A lot of times when I fill out forms, I’ll select Belize just because it’s one of the first countries. Getting user data can be very helpful, but you’ve got to mind the four C’s— you’ve got to keep it complete, current, correct, and consistent. If you don’t have all four C’s, your marketing can go south pretty quickly.

Level Three Personalization

Kathy: Level three personalization is probably the most interesting area right now, and it’s where I see a lot of people focusing. We’ll call it Implicit Data. Creating marketing pieces with this level of personalization is a real challenge, but it also offers a real opportunity. The four of areas of Implicit Data include:

  1. Buying Behavior — A typical scenario may be that the prospect signed up for a newsletter. You had a follow-up with them. They download an offering on your site. You have a series of communications that go out to them. They attended a webinar. Personalizing your marketing according to buyer behavior is something that’s truly designed for marketing automation.
  2. Buyer Persona — I define buyer persona differently. A lot of people say, “Oh yeah, I do buyer persona.” And I say, “No, what you likely do is define a role, which is categorizing someone by the demographic, and firmographic information you’ve pulled from a third party.” Persona to me is more solution-specific. It’s understanding how, when, and why someone is going to buy. Let me give an example. Persona would be, “I have CIOs in my database.” There are some CIO’s that are very strategic and they’re brought in for a certain reason. Then, there are other CIO’s that are very operational. The role is CIO and although they share the same title, the message you would have for both types would be completely different. We worked with a company awhile back that divided CIOs into three categories, and based on the three categories, they got different messaging, even though it was the same solution being sold to all three types of CIO’s.
  3. Intent Data — With Intent data, there’s first party, which is your Engagement Data. You capture it on your website, and it’s in your marketing automation system. It is your data, and it’s what you know about that person, like their behavior, and what they’re doing. Third-party Intent Data is information you purchase on the web, that is typically captured by a cookie, or an IP showing what pages someone has been on, which indicates their interest. I’ll discuss the different types of intent data in a moment, but first we’ll cover our fourth area of implicit data.
  4. Buyer-Based Cognitive Information — This is the newest area of personalization, and I’ve had it done to me, and I was impressed. The folks that did it said, “Oh, we do these personality assessments where we look at your profile on the web, and we have seven categories that most people fall in.” I first looked at this sort of personalization as having the merit of horoscopes, but when they sent over a profile on me, it was fairly accurate about how I like to engage with vendors. I think as we get more into AI, and gather more information about people, that this level of personalization is one that really has a lot of possibilities, especially when combined with some of the other levels.

Types of Intent Data

Kathy: There are different types of Intent Data, and a few examples include:

  1. First-Party — This is the data you collect from your site.
  2. Co-Op — This is third-party data from companies like Bombora, Madison Logic, QuinStreet, etc. These folks have a large set of all the B2B publishers. They have a taxonomy they work with. They know when you’ve been on a website, and what article you read. An example of how this works is say you’ve been on CIO…well then, you must be interested in this.
  3. Review — This is a type of third-party data that comes from review sites, like TrustRadius.
  4. Social — There are third-party data companies focused on social, and they’ll scrape whatever people have engaged with on social channels and build a profile for you.
  5. Exchange Data— This is when companies like Demandbase, Intensify, and Aberdeen, pull data off of ad exchanges. They cast a much wider net and use an IP address to track what pages people visit.
  6. Private Wealth — This is when a company, like International Data Group (IDG) has their own set of websites where people sign up and read articles and they sell data that indicates the level of interest people have based on their accounts or what they were reading. David, anything to add to that?

David: No, I think you’ve covered it. The thought that’s dominating my mind right now is that this is a lot of data!

Kathy: It is a lot.

Plumbing the Levels of Personalization

David: There’s so much information, and you and I have collectively laid out how different the landscape looks now, but I think our viewers are thinking, “Well, where do I start in the personalization process?” If I’m just doing the Level One personalization, where I use a first name and company and title and industry— how do I go from that to executing the deeper levels of personalization you just described, like intent. How do I go from basic personalization to, for example, leveraging something like intent data, which I have access to? Obviously, the starting point is getting intent data, or getting some kind of third-party provider to gather it, but what are the first steps that a marketer needs to think about when they want to get to that next level of personalization?

Personalized Advice

Kathy: Most third-party companies that deal in intent data have operationalized it. However, the intent is typically not tied to a person, but to an account. The companies that do intent data well bring it in and put it on the account record in Salesforce. Once it’s there you want to categorize it. For example, Bombora uses the term surge to describe intent. Essentially, they track baseline activity from every account and when there is a spike or surge, it signals intent. For example if an account at a big company typically has a baseline of 1,000 searches for digital transformation and you see that number spike to 50,000 then you know for you, David, there might be a project there.

Focus on Keywords

Kathy: It’s important to spend a lot of time on your keywords. You need to know what keywords indicate top of funnel, middle funnel, and bottom of funnel intent? What keywords stand out? The more time you spend on your keywords, the better you’ll be able to act on this.

Acting on Intent

Kathy: One of the easiest ways to act on intent data is to track surges on keywords from accounts that you are interested in pursuing. Of course, you want to have content ready based on intent that you can send.

It’s important to think about modularizing your content. So based on your keywords, what content do you have in your library that would be a good follow-up? In this scenario you can either use marketing automation or engage in sales enablement. Sales people are a great channel for personalization. Simply give them the information and say, “Hey, we’re seeing activity around these topics, so here’s some outreach you may do with your sales script, and here’s some content you can send that aligns to those topics.”

Capitalizing on Keywords

Kathy: Knowing whether a prospect is early, mid or late in their sales journey will inform you on how to follow up with them using your marketing automation system. Start paying attention to the intent keywords that move people to the top, middle or bottom of the funnel. At Inverta, we’ve done a lot of work around GEO. There are different keywords people are going to use to search based on where they are located, even between various regions in the US. The intent data you can get at a location level has a lot of insights tucked inside. For example, if you know someone at a prospective account is searching from Massachusetts, not California, then you know that’s where their sales center is and not their service center.

Leveraging Competitor Keywords

Kathy: I make a point of tracking competitor keywords. This allows me to know if prospects or customers are searching for a competitor and reading about them, and it signals to me that maybe I need to do something—perhaps up the frequency of content they are getting. I send content to my database at least once a month, but if I’m seeing a surge on some topic, I send out content more often. There’s a number of things you can do when you’re seeing a spike in activity. If you’ve spent a lot of time on your keywords and you group them, your sales reps should be able to follow-up and you should be able to act on this intel using regular marketing automation. David, thoughts around that?

David: I agree. If intent data is available, and I have the ability to get access to it; then to your point, figuring out how to operationalize it is where you want to begin.

Challenges to Personalization at Scale

David: You and I were talking earlier about a report that said that having the content necessary to do personalization at scale is one of the biggest challenges. I think that’s another important issue—having the time and the resources needed to be able to get programs up, which means I also have to have the content. I think most marketers would say we never have enough content to be able to do these types of things. So what are your thoughts around that issues? You mentioned categorizing your existing content as a starting point, but what are some of the other recommendations or tactics around overcoming that hurdle?

Leveraging Categorized Content to Enable Sales

Kathy: A lot of times just getting content categorized so you can see your gaps—what’s missing and what’s needed—is good. I think connecting with your sales reps regularly regarding content, and giving them some direction, like here are topics you want to talk to customers about, makes a big difference. Sales is definitely a forgotten personalization channel, but we as marketers can’t just dump a ton of intent data on them. We’ve got to make sense out of it, so they can consume it. For example, if you have basic nurture campaigns, take your keywords and match them. It’s better than sending something generic. If you know certain keywords indicate top of funnel, then make sure you’ve got top of funnel nurture content. I think when it comes to intent data, people can get overwhelmed and just get paralyzed. They say, “Well, I don’t have the content. I don’t have the system.” But I say you’ve got to start somewhere.

Escaping Perfection Paralysis

David: I think we as marketers are blending art and science together in this process, and I know I for me personally, I want to put something out there that’s award-winning. So there is this paralysis that you can go through when you want to get everything right, and have it hitting on all fronts. I think we have to be willing to just take a few small steps, and although it may not be exactly what you want, you’ve got to start somewhere. When it comes to content, I think we can over-analyze what we have versus what we don’t have. We oftentimes think we need the perfect piece of content for a topic, but to your point, there’s probably something we already have that’s close enough and good enough. Here again, some personalization is better than no personalization.

Activating Content

David: One of the things that we talk to our customers about on the technology side is how to activate all the content they already have floating throughout various databases in their company. You may not want to use all the content your sales reps have, (especially the pieces they have built on their own), but you likely have enough stuff out there that you could probably get to the next stage of personalization. You may not be sending one-to-one communications based on 17 different parameters or data points, but at least you’re not just saying, “Dear, Kathy,” anymore!

Kathy: Right.

David: Getting your customers and prospects that next piece of content or communication that is more and more targeted is the goal.

Kathy: Yes, I say just experiment. It’s the only way you’re going to get there. No one’s perfect out of the gate when it comes to personalization.

Kathy’s 5 Tips for Preparing to Personalize

Tip 1: Make Time
What I’ve come across as we work with customers on automating personalization is that you need to give yourself time to do it. You get a campaign out the door and then you’ve got to get the next one done. Build some time into your schedule to develop a personalization strategy. Spend the time needed to try to map out your processes and plans.

Tip 2: Maintain Data Quality

Earlier I mentioned the four Cs of data. You need to make sure your data is complete, current, correct, and consistent. Now no one’s data is perfect, so get over it. No one’s is. I’ve never had a customer say, “Oh yeah, our data is in great shape.” However, there are tools out there that can help you improve and maintain your data quality, and that’s always a wise investment.

Tip 3: Invest in Third-Party Data

Make it a priority to get beyond demographics and firmographics. Buy third-party data when you need to, whether it’s intent or some other kind of data. Remember that quality is more important than quantity when it comes to data.

Tip 4: Segment Contacts and Categorize Content

Divide your contacts into various buckets, like I talked about earlier, and adjust the message. Good personalization is not about how many areas you target, it’s about how that message is going to land. The more you can develop modular content, the better. Whether you’re changing an intro or changing something else in a marketing piece, this is one of the easiest ways to being implementing personalization.

Tip 5: Invest in People, Not Just Tools

A lot of times, companies get all these tech tools, but they forget they need marketers who have the skills to use them, to develop the processes and to write the content. Tools cannot personalize on their own. You can’t go in and say, “Oh, we bought this tool, David. Now, make everything personalized.” You need input. You need people that know these tools and how to use them.

Bonus Tip: Don’t forget to enlist the help of sales in personalizing content for customers.

David: There’s a great question that came in from an attendee that says: Is there a chance that some B2B customers will feel it’s too intrusive to have overly personalized communications, especially when their business is confidential? What’s your take on that, Kathy?

Kathy: The research does not bear that out, and so I think it depends on what you mean by personalization. Most business take the stance of, know me, know my business. If you’re not doing that upfront or working to know what’s important to them, they are not going to want to hear you come in and say, “Well, tell me what keeps you up at night?” If you have the data to do basic personalization, and you know the stuff that matters to them—I believe that’s the level of personalization they are looking for. Again when it comes to B2Bs, I don’t think you have to use personal data, it all boils down to: know me, know my business. More importantly, demonstrate that you know my business in your outreach to me. Otherwise, why make me do the work if you don’t know what your solution can do for me? David, your thoughts?

David: I agree with you. People can always take things too far in the right context or the right circumstance, but in B2B, even if we’ve got enough information to be really offensive with our level of personalization, we know not to go there. In fact, I would wager that most folks (when personalization is done right) do not inherently realize you’re personalizing content for them to that extent. They’re just looking at a communication you sent and thinking, “Hey, what a great piece of content.” When personalization is done well, in my experience, it’s very seamless and you don’t even realize that the company is actually personalizing it to that degree. We’re not serving up Instagram ads based on something you and your spouse were talking about. It’s quite the opposite.

Kathy: When you have done your homework, prior to personalization, a company will be able to appreciate your approach. Understand, you can’t just use firmographics and say to me, “I understand as Head of Consulting Kathy…” because that may or may not hit. As you get to know more about me and my business and where we are, then you can say that and it probably will land. Know the challenges I’m going through, otherwise, I’m going to delete the message, because it’s not relevant (personalized). You want to be heard above the noise and you’ve got to have a message land, but you have to do your homework to figure out what that’s going to be.

5 Key Takeaways

David: Five key things marketers need in order to do personalization right are:

  1. Recognize there’s a technology element that you have to have in place.
  2. Personalizing at scale really requires multiple dimensions of information, and not just contact or account information.
  3. Content is one of the things you need to be thinking about when it comes to personalization.
  4. The channels you use to communicate with customers are a part of their personalization experience. Understanding your buyers and going where are they are, and where they want to be reached is important.
  5. Personalization is really complicated. There’s a lot of technology. There’s a ton of data, and there are high expectations. We all have deficiencies in different areas, and I think the lasting thought that I would leave everybody with today is, you have to take it one step at a time. Baby steps to better personalization as Bill Murray in the movie What About Bob? might say. Take baby steps to personalization, because if you try and bite off too much or you try and build out the perfect strategy and implement it, you’re not going to be successful because you’re going to get overwhelmed. Doing better personalization at some level is better than no personalization at all.

About David York, Founder & CEO of Sureshot

David is trusted by technology and business leaders alike, for his unique ability to bridge the two disciplines and empower teams in both camps to work well together. An early adopter of marketing automation, David previously worked as a Senior Marketing Solutions Consultant for Eloqua, a role that gave him a front-row seat to the evolution and exponential growth of the martech industry. Gifted in resolving complex technical issues, and developing apps that allow novices to use tech like a pro, David served as a highly sought-after consultant for several years before forming Sure Shot Media in 2010, a martech consulting company. David joined forces with fellow martech experts, Connexio Labs in 2015 to form Sureshot Labs. To date, the company has already made waves in the martech sphere by developing a connector framework that restores simplicity and efficiency to integrations.

About Sureshot

At Sureshot, we help marketers orchestrate their revenue engine through a combination of software, integrations and services. Leading companies trust our solutions to help them navigate the increasing complexities of their marketing technology stacks. We enhance the revenue orchestration capabilities of B2B marketers by providing data, messaging and customer journey solutions that restore simplicity and functionality to complex processes.