Why stalking your website visitors isn't a very good idea

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 9-Feb-2012

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I recently received a LinkedIn message from someone whose profile I had accidently visited, saying something along the lines of “I just noticed that you visited my profile on LinkedIn. Please let me know if there is anything I can help you with.” This is the second time this has happened in the past couple of weeks, and I hope that it doesn’t become a habit, because this feels awfully like stalking.

Stalking website visitorsBy the way, my response was to declare that my purpose in visiting their site was because of my research into the ugliest profile photos on LinkedIn, and to offer my congratulations to them as a short-listed finalist. Which amused me, although it didn’t appear to amuse them ☺

You might want to do something similar if it ever happens to you, because stalking website visitors in this way is clumsy, and discouraging people from adopting it as a habit can only benefit society.

I’ve socialised this with a number of friends and colleagues, and enough of them seem to feel the same way about this overt stalking approach for me to believe that it’s a risky strategy. I believe the same thinking applies to contacting your website visitors. Now, I know that today’s technology allows us to capture tremendously useful information about our website visitors and which pages they have been interested in. All I’m arguing for is a little subtlety about how we use it.

Web visitor stalking is the modern-day equivalent of the hapless shop assistant (or the bored vendor sales person at an exhibition) approaching you with “can I help you?” The question encourages a negative answer, and may provoke negative feelings if you feel that your personal space has just been invaded in an unprompted, unwanted and boorish fashion.

There is a better way, and it’s to rephrase your approach so that’s it’s more likely to promote a positive response. I’m not sure that even having them complete a form means that it’s a good idea to reveal that you’ve been perched on their shoulder all the time they have been browsing your site.

Instead of coming right out with it and telling your prospect that you’ve noticed that they have just visited pages x, y and z on your website, and how can you help them, how about coaching your people to use some variation of the following:

“Thank you for getting in touch. We’ve been working a with a growing number of companies in your space recently, and they often tell us that they are interested in x, y and z - and I wondered if this might be of importance to you as well?”

If yes, great - and even if no, you’ve kept the door open for continuing the conversation in a different and more relevant direction.

There are a couple of things going on here: first, you’ve a better chance of building empathy if you suggest that you understand the issues they are likely to be interested in, and imply that you’ve got relevant customer experience in the area. Second, you’re introducing the topics you know they have visited without clubbing them over the head with the fact that their every movement has been recorded.

It just feels a little more natural, and a lot more likely to evolve into a productive conversation. But for heaven’s sake, be truthful about what you choose to claim. Don’t imply that you’ve got great experience in an area where in truth you know nothing, because you’ll get found out. But then you’d probably be qualifying those enquiries out to work on better ones, wouldn’t you?

What’s your experience? Have you ever felt that you’re being stalked when you visit websites? And have you found ways of using the intelligence that modern web platforms can collect in a less intrusive, more human fashion?

Topics: B2B Marketing