One of the biggest challenges when you’re leading  a website project is bridging the divide between the marketing and development teams, especially when you’re trying to create a new set of requirements for the site. With all of the personalization possibilities in Sitecore, this becomes an even more difficult task, since many marketers struggle to translate their ideas and needs into the very specific language that the development teams need for their work. We sat down with our internal expert on this matter, Vincent Bernard, to hear his take on getting around this issue.

How do you approach writing requirements for Sitecore websites generally?

People buy Sitecore because they want to provide the best experience to their users with a tailor-made journey. There’s a tremendous amount of potential to deliver unprecedented personalization, improve your relevance, and create really cool experiences for your users.

The problem is trying to fit your “big ideas” into the frame of what can work in Sitecore.

The possibilities are endless for these big ideas, but at the end of the day, these ideas need to be broken down and translated into requirements that can be consumed by the system. We often see advanced customization in Sitecore, and while it can help integrate more quickly business requirements, it makes everything a little bit harder in the long run. Sitecore is packed with advanced marketing functionalities based on best practices; you should be able to find a way to integrate those big ideas into the “vanilla” or standard system.

Why is there this divide between the “big ideas” for personalization and the requirements?

First off, it comes down to language. The groups that are setting the strategy and everything you want the website to do, i.e. the marketing and business teams, are often not technical by nature. That’s a gap there that we need to bridge. Even if they are really well-versed in what Sitecore can do, it’s still going to be hard to convert that object into the very, very specific technology requirements and tasks that can be into integrated into an agile sprint, for example.

This is one of the reasons why I always recommend that the marketing team stays engaged in the project from start to finish. You often see the marketers show up at the beginning of the project, discuss the goals and objectives, but then move on to other projects as the implementation gets under way. Marketers need to take an active role throughout the project, especially as these requirements start to get rolled out.

Personalization in Sitecore is complex. How do you recommend that development teams approach this project?

First, make sure you have requirements. It seems obvious, but you’d be surprised by how many development teams get started with vague objectives like “we want personalization” without really understanding what that means to the marketing team.

Second, start small. I often start with the most basic persona, push some contextual information and content to Coveo, and then show some progress. It gives you some insights and starts to show the capabilities of personalization. Coveo is really just sitting on top of your Sitecore personas, so it’s an easy way to start showing how the personas can influence content and the experience without having to go through a lot of work. 

Simplifying Personalization in Sitecore xDB

How are you seeing the personalization requirements conversation change with the xDB and Sitecore 9?

It’s really getting more advanced, which is exciting because the universe is so wide open for what you can do with your Sitecore website. You can scale your website and personalization to the universe and the massive capabilities for personalization are quite advanced for the market.

It does come with great complexity though. After you have gone through all of the phases with design and development, you’ll often see people deciding to deal with this complexity and their marketing goals in “Phase 2” of their website. “Phase 2” is where your ideas go to die. You want to be able to deliver a personalized experience — that works — as soon as possible, rather than just settling for not having technical issues with your website at launch.

I would also encourage Sitecore development and marketing teams to not just live or die by personalization with personas. There’s a lot of marketing artifacts in Sitecore besides personas that are really powerful. You can know so much about your users, completely track their journey and align it with your goals and objectives. I’ve seen clients do this and it’s amazing how powerful it can be. Even something as simple as setting a “Welcome Back” screen to returning users is very exciting. Walk before you run. Personalization with personas is definitely running, but there’s some exciting walking to get done.

How can site search play a role in helping development and marketing teams to “walk” with their Sitecore website?

The search box is the voice of your customer. View everything they do as they search as them explaining their needs. You really can’t ignore it.

You can use this data to avoid some of the stumbles we often see with personalization. Many times, I see teams relying on their own understanding and assumptions about the people visiting their website to create personalization requirements and personas. You need to do this with real data, and you can find quite a bit of that by looking at your Sitecore and search usage analytics dashboards. You have a lot of data right at your fingertips about what your visitors want from your website. Start there to construct your experiences.

You also need to view your search usage analytics and your personalization strategy as a feedback loop. Personas and personalization requirements are not “set and forget.” You need to constantly revisit them to tweak and review their performance. There’s a lot of value you can get out of your personalization without getting bogged down  in a lot of complex requirements.

What Sitecore has done is really amazing and there are so many possibilities for your development and marketing teams. Once you’re aligned and started to see some of that value, it’s really exciting.

How are you personalizing with the xDB? If you’re struggling to maximize the capabilities of Sitecore personalization or finding ways to “walk before running,” check out our latest ebook written by two Sitecore MVPs: Simplifying Personalization in Sitecore xDB. 

Simplifying Personalization in Sitecore xDB