Technology B2B Marketing Customer Experience

CX in B2B: can we have true personalization without a person?

By Scott Gillum | Carbon Design

March 14, 2022 | 5 min read

B2B marketers have greatly accelerated their digital efforts, but who exactly are they targeting? As part of The Drum’s Deep Dive into The New Customer Experience Economy, Carbon Design’s Scott Gillum looks at whether there’s any concept of the human behind the purchasing power.


There is no ’person’ in any of this so-called ’personalization’ / Adobe Stock

Let’s give credit where credit is due, most business-to-business (B2B) organizations have made the transition from leading with products to being customer- or market-focused. Content is now shaped first by the needs of the target audience (industry, company and buyers).

Many companies make it a regular practice to research ’hot topics’ in the industry, the needs of those buyers and their channel preferences. Personas are shaped around the insights and content and messaging are created to align with needs, then carefully aligned to the buyer’s journey.

So, is that personalization?

What about the customer experience on the website? This is how Forbes describes website personalization.

’Website personalization is the practice of creating a custom experience for site visitors based on who they are and what they want. Rather than providing a single experience for all site visitors, website personalization allows B2B businesses to create unique experiences for visitors based on factors like location, industry and even website behavior.’

OK, got it. Let’s add location, website behavior and personalized digital experiences and we should be good. Does anyone see the problem here? Bueller? Bueller? Anyone?

There is no ’person’ in any of this so-called ’personalization’. There are personas, but they’re most likely role based. Web behaviors are important, yes, but without understanding the motivations behind those actions you’re only left to guess their intentions.

How do you begin to understand behaviors, motivations and preferences? Start with understanding audience personalities.

In almost every industry there are only one or two dominant personalities. If you’re in the life sciences segment, there is a good chance you’ll over-index with ’skeptics’ and ’status quo’ seekers. Selling to a marketing audience? You’re going to find an overabundance of ’influencers’ and ’champions’.

To truly create a world class customer experience, you have to be able to align to the preferences of your audience. Those preferences are not driven by a title or a role.

And it’s not just their preference for channel and content, but, more importantly, how the content is packaged, how it’s messaged and/or how it is created.

Understanding your dominant audience provides the insight to set your marketing, digital and engagement strategy. It provides the level of insight necessary to take your existing activities and assets to the next level.

Webinars appeal to a certain audience, but only if the topic is research or data-backed and presented by a credible speaker. Animated videos are preferred by another audience type, as long as they are sharable and short.

Don’t rest on thinking you have the right content, at the right place in the buying process, in the right channel. It’s not enough. Not all the buyers are the same. They don’t all take the same path, consume the same content and/or prefer the same channel.

In fact, without really knowing their personal motivation and behaviors, most of this insight is based on previous experiences that happened randomly but is assumed to be true for all – and/or based on research with buyers who will say one thing and then do another.

Deep down inside, we know that to be true because we know that buyers are people and people are as unique as their personalities… just as no two buyer experiences are the same.

’Personalization’, as it is defined for B2B today, is more about trying to get the tools to work better than it is about improving customer experience. Technology is an enabler, but it is not personalization. Understanding what makes buyers human is. The process needs to be flipped so that it starts with the goal of understanding buyers at a deeper level. Do that and the tools will begin to work better.

Scott Gillum is founder of the B2B consultancy Carbon Design.

For more on The New Customer Experience Economy, check out The Drum’s latest Deep Dive.

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