Are You A Creep? How Far Is Too Far In Personalization Marketing & Sales Tactics?

Business.com / Sales / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Technology creates for opportunities to be a creep when it comes to selling. Where do we draw the line between personalization and stalking?

Technology creates for opportunities to be a massive weirdo creep when it comes to selling. Does finding someone's number on ZoomInfo really work? What's too far, and how to know you've pushed the boundaries ?

Technology and big data have opened the door to personalization marketing. Bespoke messages increase click through rates, email opens, and conversion rates. In fact, customers have come to expect content to be tailored to their specific personalities and lifestyles. Seventy-four percent of online consumers get frustrated with websites when content (ads, offers, promos) is completely irrelevant to their interests. And because of this expectation, marketers and salespeople scour the Internet to collect data on any and every customer.

But is there a line between personalization and cyber-stalking? We all remember how Target’s algorithm predicted the pregnancy of teenage girl and started sending her baby coupons (the algorithm was right, much to the surprise of her father). When does knowing too much about a person become creepy?

Related Article: Retargeting in Real Life: Beacons And Big Brother

“The creepiness factor”

According to a study conducted by Ithaca College assistant professor Lisa Barnard, tailoring online messages to individual behavior is very effective. But, if customers perceive you and your selling tactics as “creepy”, they become 5 percent less likely to make a purchase. They will view you as a threat and adopt negative attitudes towards your product.

Take for example, Facedeals, an app that combines Facebook profile data and facial recognition features to target you in brick and mortar stores. Technology like that can easily make anyone feel like they’re in a disturbing Lifetime movie, so the company changed names and removed the face recognition part. “Consumers were just not quite ready,” a spokeswoman told Financial Times. “They wanted the benefits but in a slightly friendlier [way].”

So how to do you lower your brand’s creepiness factor while taking advantage of personalization? Offer opt-outs and give disclaimers about what information you have and with whom it will be shared. “Personalization is only creepy if you make it creepy. Only use personalization in areas where people expect it (after opting in, in emails, etc.),” advises Seth Fendly of ClearPivot via Hubspot. “The goal of personalization is to make a lead or customer feel welcome. The moment they feel welcomed on your site you have succeeded with personalization.”

Related Article: This Time It’s Personal: An Email Personalization Strategy Face-Off

What about social selling?

Social selling is another way businesspeople can cross customer relationship boundaries. But on the flip side, it’s also incredibly effective.  Many studies show that social selling lets a salesperson contact a decision-maker 60-8-% of the time, which is 5x to 8x the performance of other methods. But when salespeople comb social media sites for information about clients, they run the risk of crossing the line of privacy. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ can be used to learn about individuals, while ZoomInfo can provide much more detailed information. Some feel awkward stalking potential clients online, while others don’t mind. So what’s the creepy point of no return?

Wayne Peterson, Principal of the Black Canyon Consulting Group provided WhatTheyThink? with three telltale signs of overstepping boundaries as a salesperson.

  • When it becomes too personal, too fast: When first introducing your product or service to a decision-maker, there is no need to mention the intimate details you discovered about them. Talking about any of the following should be off-limits during the first encounter (or ever): children’s names, hobbies, favorite sports team, investments, favorite TV shows, or what they did last Friday night.
  • When you focus on things other than business: Finding a common ground with someone is a logical sales tactic, but if you are calling a prospect on a matter of business, keep it business. Mentioning a recent product they bought from you is fair game. Bringing their vacationing preferences into the conversation is not.
  • When you brown nose: If you know they’re a public speaker or just wrote a book or something, don’t ingratiate them just to warm them up to your pitch. Don’t be inauthentic just because you figured out how to cyber stalk professional bigwigs.

It’s okay to inform prospects how you found their information, just stay away from the no-no subjects (anything that falls outside of their professional career). Keep content and contact relevant. Nobody wants to feel like you’re hiding in the bushes.

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