Prompted by the talk on surveillance and eavesdropping in our Internet of Things episode, one of our listeners who works as a digital marketing wrote us a run-down of the techniques their industry uses to collect and exploit data on its customers to get them to purchase their products and services. It's fairly hair-raising. We've published it, unedited, below. Thank you, anonymous listener.
How it works, the truth about how we know just what you are thinking as marketers.
Ok, So I am a part of the system for which I will be describing here, I want you to know that up front so you can read the following understanding that this is not just a matter of conjecture. I have done all of this and it works and I'm half way writing this to just put the whole mess on paper so I can marvel at it all!
The process of tracking customers for the purpose of discerning buying patterns and figuring out what a person or business is going to need buy or want goes back long before the internet was born, I have no idea how those poor folks were able to do it before the technologies that we have today were created. It must have taken an army of people creating files on potential or past customers just to get the most rudimentary information about the prospect. Those poor souls...
Lets start with the long list of sources that Sales Automation architects use in order to feed the beast that is customer profiling.
Videos you watch (And where you start and stop videos more on that later), websites you visit, The part of the website you hover over with your mouse (often referred to as heat mapping), things you click on and then abandon a site from, phone numbers you call, phone numbers you call them from, computer brands and operating aystems you use, Browser brands you use, phone brands you use, surveys you answer, surveys you don't answer, emails you open or don't open, what you do and say on literally all possible social media platforms and even forums you post on and what you say there.
I'm sure there are other ways that you can score a prospect but the above usually is enough for my uses.
Regarding scoring, most of the sales automation systems I know of use some sort of arbitrary scoring model to rank a prospect within a campaign that they have been sorted into based on some sort of interaction of a prospect with the various forms of media I have listed above.
Lets say we pick 125 as the attainment score that would warrant a call from a bubbly sounding company representative. When a customer gets to that score we are willing to invest a human call into that prospect. To get to 125 the prospect will have to take positive action within the campaign by viewing websites, lets say certain pages are worth 1 point per minute and other more jury pages like case studies that show advantages of my product over all others are worth 5 points per minute. A video is worth 25 points the first visit and worth 50 points the second time you watch it. Perhaps there is a place where you can download a manual and to do so you have to give your email or phone number you just straight up ring the bell with 125 points!
(Top Tip! Companies also use scoring to decide if you are a problem customer in their service tracking software. If you call a company and are irate your score will be low and getting anything out of the company will be harder for you. Or they might treat you better due to your low score if they are a decent company...)
The above is a description of a very simple campaign. Most medium sized companies can easily muster this level of tracking, However, the innovative ones or the ones with the largest budgets have much more tricks in order to figure out what you are after and when you are likely to buy it.
A campaign is like a choose your own adventure novel but where at the end you buy something and we know more about you than you really want us to...
My tactic has always been to create several websites that talk about the same thing and score a visit to each in a positive light, this means you are shopping around and is a strong buying sign. (We had to train sales people to not talk about the page the customer was on when we called as we were able to see in real time as customers were clicking on the website, what pages they clicked through to get where they were at the time and so on.) Also, if you get an email solicitation from one site and unsubscribe, we can move you to another site's mailing list and still bother you about our products!
Ever ask someone for advice on twitter and suddenly every ad you see is for that thing? Click on the ad and the solution on the page is not only the thing you were looking for but it was EXACTLY what you were looking for and the bullet points were the same ones you used in a message to your wife on Facebook when you were selling her on the idea and trying to get your Facebook friends to chime in too and back you up? Not a coincidence. This is what we call variable data compiling.
Your Tweet: Thinking of getting a new camera, any suggestions?
Your Facebook post: I should get a new camera to take pics of the kids soccer matches, our vacations and Becky's recitals.
Ads with little girls in tutu's and Nikon cameras show up everywhere linking to a page with a video of a dad nabbing that magic goal that the son scored using his Nikon!
Good systems will let you attach content to keywords and auto compile a web page or an email based on the score that a prospect has for certain terms. Let's say that you hover your mouse over a section of a website that talks about the speed of your product vs. your competitor for a full 10 seconds, this will be an indication that speed matters to you so your score for that term is high, lets also say that you have been sent 2 emails and you only opened the one with the subject referring to how secure the product you offer is. Your next email will likely be custom tailored to show how safe and fast my product is and if you open it, you will likely get a call from my bubbly associate!
That bubbly associate will likely be reading the profile that we have on you while on the phone and will see your recent relevant posts on social media and other relevant or perhaps irrelevant details we have on you. We will likely know if you have a good opinion of us or a competitor and there may even be a generated estimate of your income, your buying habits and the last large purchase you made and the date of that purchase based on what you tell Facebook and share with everyone or friends of friends that we are "friends with" she may be looking at your profile pic and the last 3 profile pics you have posted and see if you are smiley or if you use your pets or kids as your profile...
Then we get to my personal favorite end result of sales automation, Jerry.
So after seeing all the ways we could create emails and websites that seemed to be custom made for you I built a test to see if I could make a campaign that used variable data to make a fake sales person seem real. We named him Jerry. Jerry would interact with our least likely customer prospects and personally email them with long range (6 months after last interaction) customers to see if we could get their scores up. Jerry was really just a signature that got added to variable data emails and suggested that you go read a certain case study or watch some new video that might change your mind about our product or us. It helped us put a face to an otherwise out of the blue email about something you walked away from. Funny thing is, Jerry worked!
We had customers come up to us at trade shows and ask if Jerry was there because they were already working with him. This led us to building an online cart system for our 5K plus software and service product just to see if we could get a customer that never spoke to a human being to buy. It was about a week after launch that Jerry made his first sale. The customer bought from Jerry when an automated email went out to him from Jerry after reaching our "Ask them for the order" score for Jerry's campaign. Jerry even thanked him for the order and let him know that based on his zip code he was the first in his area to buy our solution! Jerry even emailed him a few weeks later to ask him if he was willing to recommend any colleagues for our product or join our "expert exchange" by writing a recommendation for our website. He did. Jerry made some more sales and became well known in the western PA group of doctors he was targeting.
Jerry was one of our best sales people in the first 6 months on the job.
How do they know who I am!?! You might ask. Well, most tracking systems track everyone, all the time even if we don't know who you are yet. Lets say you visit my site from a Google search 3 years ago from your home, then you visit my site again from work a year later, then you follow an email link on your phone 2 days ago. All of those visits are unrelated right? Well not really.When you opened the email on your phone I knew you at that email address opened my email, but then you opened the email again when your phone was connected to wifi on your home network. Then again from your work computer in a browser. Every time you load the images from my email in another location all of the previous activity from that location over the years gets linked up in your profile. I suddenly know it was you 3 years ago. Now I also know where you work, where you live, and what kind of phones and computers you use at home and at work. Based on your homes zip code I can guess your income level, whether you live in a house or an apartment, your education level and your marriage status based on readily available census data for your zip code. This may not be 100% but it gets a marketer in the ballpark. Now that I know where you live and work from you reading an email (I know your email address now too!) we can search the web with a script and see if your name and phone number show up next to your email address anywhere on a list or on a company website or (if your crazy and put your phone number or email on social media), on Facebook, LinkedIn or elsewhere (do you use the same username on multiple sites?). It all populates the profile...
If you don't feel creeped out you should, the information you share online may seem harmless one share at a time until you see all of it blended together and filtered to show the kind of data that can be gleaned about you from simple likes, shares and tweets.