Questions to Ask Prospective Personalization Vendors

It’s November – and that means hunkering down for the retail event of the year while simultaneously getting together a 2016 plan for your brand. Quite possibly, this may include evaluating personalization vendors — which is a difficult task. To help, here are a few questions to ask your prospective personalization vendor:

1. Are you using a Segment or Individual based approach to Personalization?
When marketing jargon on vendor sites all sounds the same, it’s hard to really know your options. Segmentation is characterized by grouping together a large number of shoppers based on a shared demographic, device, behavior, etc. And Individualization essentially treats each shopper as their own segment, examining their unique preferences and responding in real time with a relevant experience just for them. To determine which approach is right for your business, you may also ask:

  • Is data tracked at the individual shopper level?
  • How are shopper segments formed in your solution?
  • How is performance measured for segments? For individuals?

2. Do you deploy experiences through campaigns, or automation?
These vastly different methods require different skill sets and time commitments from your team. Campaigns are more manually managed programs that can respond to certain situations you define and then result in specific actions you wish to happen. As such, campaign-focused tools require much more hands-on implementation and management as well as more time from your team. Automation uses machine learning algorithms to analyze and respond to shopper data, looking at preferences to optimize the experience. Whichever method you choose will directly impact your team’s day-to-day activities, so to get a better sense of fit, you may ask:

  • Can your solution respond to new shopper data within the same session?
  • How much time does it take to create a campaign?
  • What is your background with algorithmic personalization?
  • Do you design algorithms specific to my business / vertical?

3. What data is available about my shoppers?
It’s important to know what data informs the decision making for campaigns or algorithmic optimization. The relationship between a shopper’s transactions, context, historic and current behavior can make the difference between a conversion and an abandon cart. To break down data availability, ask your vendors:

  • Can your solution read and react to contextual data (location, weather, device, etc.)?
  • What behavior is tracked? How and when is it applied to personalization efforts?
  • Is historical data available? Can existing transaction or loyalty data be uploaded?

4. What is the average time to implementation?
Vendors make it seem like implementation is instantaneous and as a result, it’s easy to overlook a simple question: “how long is the average implementation?” Some systems require a lot of pre-learning and can take months before they start impacting conversion rates, whereas others take far less time to start showing positive impact. Knowing which camp your prospective solution falls into will help your team with expectations and resource planning. To help build a timeline, ask your vendors:

  • What are the steps to implementation? How long does each take?
  • How long does it take to have a solution live that’s customer facing and customer impacting?
  • What data and resources do I supply? What are the tasks and estimated time commitment?
  • What’s my role in ongoing maintenance or program monitoring? Services role?
    • If you contract for services, it’s helpful to define whose team is responsible for what.

And ask these questions on a referral call:

  • What was your overall experience with onboarding?
  • How accessible was the vendor? Did you have a set schedule for check-ins?
  • How much time passed between the approved contract and the vendor completing integration?

How can I see the business impact of your solution?
This is the part of the pitch where success stories are whipped out — so don’t fall for a conversion lift of 3-5% when this is an industry average. You clearly want your program to be better than average, and will likely have a mix of dashboards, segment, shopper and product views for insight. Ask yourself which of these views are valuable to your program and ask your vendors:

  • How do you measure performance and against what control group?
  • Do we see results come through in a phased approach or all at once?
  • What metrics (Conversion, AOV, and Engagement) are available? How is impact shown?
  • Do you integrate with my other analytics tools?

As you go through the process of evaluating personalization vendors…
Use these questions to start a conversation with your internal team, decide any initial vendor requirements and more important, what goals your business wants to accomplish in the next month, quarter, and year. Personalization is a strategic decision that needs to align with your goals and become engrained in your team for the best chance of success — so figure out what you want and then make sure your vendor of choice can deliver.

Kurt Heinemann

Kurt is Reflektion’s CMO. His resume includes CMO positions at Marketwired and Monetate. He’s also held senior executive positions at Priceline, Time Warner and Walker Digital Companies. Despite living in Yankees territory, Kurt is a die hard Tigers fan.