When it comes to personalization in B2B ecommerce, the goal is to deliver a customized user experience that shows the seller understands customers’ needs, builds customer loyalty, and increases conversions through a better buying experience.
Ecolab Inc., a water treatment and purification systems manufacturer, concluded in 2020 that it needed to revamp its website personalization engine to get personalized content in front of its buyers. Ecolab sells to 100 buyer segments across 14 company divisions, making that chore more challenging.
Ecolab wasn’t always so focused on many buyer segments. In the past, it had taken a horizontal or generalized approach to personalization, focusing on serving up content geared to a product category, such as healthcare, as opposed to the personalized content it now serves up to individual customers on its web pages.
Finding the right personalization formula
“We found we had a lot of weeds growing on our digital lawn, in that we had vertical markets with a lot of horizontal offers,” says Craig Burkart, senior manager of interactive. “Our approach was to personalize a general page for most customers, when what we needed was a personalization strategy that fit our reality, which is that each vertical market has its own customer persona.”
Given Ecolab’s small website team — which includes two full-time and three part-time developers, a content and training specialist, and 100 part-time content authors — the manufacturer signed on with RBA, a Wayzata, Minnesota-based digital consultancy. The collaboration yielded a new approach to personalization, starting with a strategy to determine when to trigger personalization during the customer’s online journey.
The two companies devised a plan to score the value of each page in a customer’s online journey on Ecolab’s website based on their number of page views and click action, such as clicking into a page for additional information. The system also tracked the cumulative score through a site visit, and when the total score exceeded 100, it triggered personalized content on the visitor’s next visit based on their past page views and click activity.
The more valuable the content on the page, the higher the score for that page, Burkart says. Ecolab even devised a formula to rank-order pages that achieved the same score. Ecolab, which generates about $13 billion in annual sales, has localized versions of its website in 72 countries in 29 languages.
“Our goal was to get users to exceed the point threshold on the first visit,” Burkart says. “Having a score that triggers personalization is a simple solution to a complex problem.”
Triggering personalized pages
To trigger the personalized content, Ecolab and RBA programmed the scoring threshold into Ecolab’s Sitecore XP 9.3 user experience platform, which Ecolab installed in 2020. With the foundation for its new personalization strategy set, Ecolab focused on developing user personas for its various vertical markets and presenting them to buyers, even if buyers had not registered on the site and were anonymous.
Because multiple divisions within Ecolab can sell into the same vertical market, the company designated a lead division for each vertical market responsible for personalizing the home page content for that market. For example, the home page would show industry-specific news and branding marketing messages.
Once Ecolab gathered enough data about the customer as they moved through the site, it adopted an account-based marketing approach, which bases the marketing message on the specific attributes and needs of the pertinent account or customer. Account-based marketing also encourages upselling and cross-selling. Content on personalized pages can include brand pillars, brand taglines, blogs, market success stories and primary, secondary and tertiary solutions and programs.
“The home page becomes our default page, and once we know who the customer is, we can start showing personalized content specific to them,” Burkart says.
Given Ecolab’s small Sitecore-dedicated staff, the company has been rolling out its personalization strategy across its different verticals one at a time. “The focus is to get one right, then expand,” says Burkhart.
Continuous testing is critical to finding out what works and what doesn’t when it comes to personalization. “We constantly study everything we do to find out what works and what doesn’t,” he says. “Our approach is, do it, test it, and if it fails, fix it. Proof of concept is always important with a project like this.”
Among the lessons Ecolab has learned so far is that, while personalization can improve customer engagement, it can take more than one visit before the customer starts seeing personalized content. Ecolab continually looks for ways to trigger the personalization score, such as by bringing visitors to the site through promotional links or clicking on high-value pages.
Up next: content for executives and engineers
Another critical lesson, Burkhart says, is to devise a personalization strategy that clearly spells out what steps on online seller needs to take to deliver the kind of personalized content customers want and find someone within the company to champion the strategy.
“As digital marketers, we are young, and sometimes the whole organization isn’t ready,” Burkart says. “But if you can find someone that can take the project on, it can get done, even if it is a multiple-year project.”
Looking ahead, Ecolab expects to create personalized content for specific customer types, such as engineers and senior executives, continue documenting performance though testing, and train the company’s various business units how to develop personalized content for their specific vertical.
“As a small team, we can’t do all the personalization work for each vertical, so our goal is to teach others how to do it,” Burkart says. “No digital journey has an end; it needs to keep on evolving as you go.”
Peter Lucas is a Highland Park, Illinois-based freelance journalist covering business and technology.
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