Sales teams, marketers, and customer service representatives want accurate, useful customer data. That could be as simple as making sure an updated email address is on file or as specific as knowing about a customer’s most recent shoe purchase on your company’s website. With that data, salespeople can personalize offers, marketers can create specific customer journeys, and customer service representatives can solve problems quickly and efficiently.

Gathering customer data is more difficult than it may seem, especially when we want it fast. Heck, we want the data right now, don’t we?

Using progressive profiling is one way to collect data about your current customers or new leads. The main goal of progressive profiling is to add information to customer profiles over time — without overwhelming them and turning them away. In B2B lead generation campaigns, this usually means using forms on your landing pages. Activating conditionals can display only the form fields specific prospects haven’t filled out in the past. A broader view of progressive profiling can simply mean paying attention to user behavior in emails, polling your customers (more on this later) and using live content.

However you slice it, the important takeaway is that progressive profiling is not an immediate solution. It’s something that you should implement over time (and in unique ways) while being keenly aware of user experience. It’s like dating. We find out the basics on our first few dates, maybe even playing it safe; later, more intimate questions and answers may make the relationship stronger and more personal.

Here are a few ways to use progressive profiling to create smooth customer experiences:


1. Start broad


The details matter, especially if we’re trying to build relationships with customers or prospects and reach them on a personal level. But drilling into specifics too soon might turn people away. Take it slow at first by gathering general demographic information (name, date of birth, etc.) and maybe a fun tidbit.


2. Shorten those forms


Sometimes, it’s best to”take a breather” with forms. Having too many fields can dissuade users from filling out forms. Shoot for four to six fields in each form. If you can get away with it, make form completion even easier with fewer, more relevant fields. (Remember: You don’t have to gather every piece of customer information in one form.)


3. Pick the right time


Have you ever received a survey in your inbox when you have an unresolved customer service issue? Now, that’s bad timing.

Likewise, sending a welcome email with a survey to a brand new customer, for example, might not be the best first impression. The implication sounds like this: “Welcome to the crew, Cindy! Now, fill out this survey.” Sounds a bit pushy, doesn’t it?

On the other hand, it’s a different story to use behavioral data from a five-email welcome series to determine if you should send a survey in the final email in the series, perhaps. Establish a hint of a relationship first before you pick a time to ask for more data.


4. Use more than just forms


Forms aren’t the only way to build customer profiles. While progressive profiling might start with an email newsletter sign-up form, there are other ways to gather information. You could ask a multiple choice or yes/no question in one of your email campaigns. A customer could simply click an option to submit their answer to the question, and that information can be immediately inserted into their profile. Imagine using the answer to that question to implement dynamic content in a promotional email.

For example, what if Northern Trail Outfitters solicited responses from a targeted list of customers who have purchased ski apparel in the past by asking, “What brand of ski apparel are you most interested in?” Answers could list three possible brands. The answers to that question could then be added to the customer’s profile and leveraged in future email and ad campaigns.

Here’s another quick example. If marketers at Northern Trail Outfitters have limited data on customers who have not purchased anything, they might ask a question like: “Which of these vacation destinations are you most interested in?” Multiple choice answers could range from Vail, Colorado to Grand Canyon National Park. Emails could then display products that correspond to the answers (such as ski apparel for Vail and hiking equipment for Grand Canyon.


5. Know which data you really need


Before you ever start gathering more data to build out customer profiles, it’s a must to know which data will help you meet not only your sales and marketing goals but also your customer’s goals. 

In B2B, this might mean asking a prospect to provide their company size — but do you really need that information? And will it help you solve your marketing and sales goals?

For a retail brand, is having a customer’s birthday useful if the company isn’t going to send a birthday message or offer?

If you’re just beginning to explore how to use progressive profiling in email marketing, keep in mind that, like many data collection efforts, it’s a process. That means the best thing you can do is have a clear marketing or sales strategy in place before you begin asking for customer data.

Check out the 2017 State of Marketing report to find out how leading marketers view data as a part of personalized customer experiences.