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At the Crossroads of Customer Privacy and Personalisation

Posted in: Buyer Engagement

Are you using prospect data, predictive analytics and automation responsibly?

Today, the availability of data helps us predict potential customers’ buying preferences. And automation helps us follow up on that potential with highly personalised engagement.

However, these great new opportunities come with pitfalls – and responsibilities.


The first of these responsibilities is ethics. Yes, you want insight into a buyer’s potential behaviour. But you don’t want to overstep.

The Facebook data breach, for example, marked a departure from an understood contract: that personal information would be used to provide direct value to users. When it turned out that consumer data was being used for more, the public was understandably angry.

My take: the ethics of data use hinge on intent. Disingenuous use of data for customer influence is not only ineffective in the long term, but wrong. However, using available data to truly provide a more personalised customer experience benefits both you and your customer. In fact, research has shown that customers are happy to share data when it leads to impactful results and creates value for the buyer. Balancing both perspectives is a delicate act, but it can be done.

Success lies in recognising the importance of intent and the human behind the numbers. Transparency in data use and selectivity in the information that you choose to track create a strong foundation for ethical collection. As for turning data into customer value – that’s a separate issue.


We know that somewhere between 30 and 60% of B2B sales opportunities end in no action; and, according to a CEB study, 40% of B2B purchases are followed by ‘second guessing’.

The reason for this: too much reliance on automation.

Consider prospecting: you can feed all the data that you want into the system, but outreach done without tact and thoughtfulness will be more off-putting than intriguing. The case of Target sending a teenager ads for baby gear before she or her family knew about her pregnancy illustrates this. There, the customer was treated like a statistic, not a person, because data was calling the shots.

Similarly, sales reps often make the mistake of assuming that automation will steer them down the right course. I frequently receive prospecting emails with openings like, “Hey, Haley; how are you?” or “Hope you’re doing well” – greetings that are far too familiar for the early stages of a relationship.

Data is telling reps that it’s time to engage with me, but they’re forgetting that we’re strangers – they’re not thinking about the human on the other end of that cold email. Mitigating this, however, is simple.


Personalisation – the kind that only a trained sales rep can do – is key. 65% of buyers find value in discussing their situations with salespeople, according to Aberdeen Group research. So, while automation can provide guidance, it’s paramount that businesses look to sales reps to create value.

To achieve this, I invest in developing and educating my salespeople. One area of focus is the where, what and how of buyer engagement.

‘Where’ the buyer is engaged depends on which channels the buyer uses most. It could be via email, LinkedIn or even Facebook, depending on their work. Multiple touchpoints create an omnichannel approach to engagement and help to build an emotional connection.

‘What’ refers to the content and insight used to engage the buyer. Ensuring that content is appropriate and relevant for the buyer and the journey stage is critical. For instance, through research you may know when it’s your buyer’s birthday. But using that information in a cold email is more ‘stalker’ than sincere.

‘How’ is the method used to educate and inform the buyer, which changes as the relationship develops. A rep may begin with formal emails and then transition to casual, friendly check-ins over text once closer to closing a deal – when a relationship has developed.

Being aware of these three elements creates a framework for continued and successful personalisation throughout the buyer’s lifecycle.


Data privacy and personalisation is a big topic with ample room for exploration. While you should be mindful of how data is used, that doesn’t mean it should be avoided for fear of mis-stepping.

Successfully done, data and automation can support (not drive) personalisation efforts.