This is the first of many upcoming blog posts from Steve Rankel, who joined our team last summer as COO. Steve is a 30-year veteran of marketing and sales, and an expert at decoding why customers buy, and transforming buying insights into actionable content strategy and content.
No matter your political persuasion, I think we can agree that recent events are contributing to increasing degrees of uncertainty and distraction for almost everyone.
As I write this, management teams, marketers, and agencies around the world are huddled in conference rooms asking the same question: “Okay, so what do we do now? How does this affect our content marketing strategy? What new content decisions do we need to make to more effectively market to our target audience – and ensure this new reality doesn’t affect this year’s metrics?”
And while those are good questions – there is one fundamental problem: they’re being asked of the wrong person.
That’s because there is no buyer, buyer representative, or buying insight in those meetings.
If you’re not asking this question of a buyer – someone whose MBO’s, reputation, 2017 bonus, and maybe job depends on the right choices about the kind of solutions you sell – then you’re going to get a bunch of opinions.
Making stuff up in a conference room, on a whiteboard, with smart people, as brilliant as it is, is just an educated guess.
Which is a common trap we see when content marketers “invent” their own fictional buyer persona.
A VP we interviewed recently explained a significant CapEx request he put in front of his CFO. The CFO said, “OK, I’ll approve this with your name on it. But if it doesn’t work, it’s your tombstone.”
What do you think that VP will share if you ask him? Opinions? Guesses? No. He’ll share war stories. Scars. Wounds. Emotions. REAL STUFF.
The world has become more confusing, complex, and distracting — for you and your buyers – to bet anything as important as your revenue, content strategy, sales training, maybe even your career, on a GUESS.
So you & I as marketers have several options:
- Involve your smartest people to invent a new content strategy on a whiteboard
- Keep guessing, but do it harder, and more earnestly
- Hold more meetings with your agency, to ask their opinion
- Meet with your analyst or research firm, to get their opinion
- Gather focus groups, and record their opinions
- Work your salesforce harder
- Generate MORE content in MORE formats – in the hopes that something sticks
OR we can go out into the market – interview buyers – and build actionable buyer personas that will reveal a content strategy and content marketing plan that matters to THEM.
(NOTE: I’m NOT talking about interviewing customers. They have a relationship with you. They have already aligned themselves with your firm. They think more like you than prospects do. You need to understand the buyers who HAVEN’T BOUGHT FROM YOU).
DECISION TIME: What will you do now? Will you increase the risks you face by relying on guesswork? Will you follow approaches like “Use a template to create a semi-fictional character representing your buyer,” and create content based on that?
Or, will you ask REAL BUYERS to tell you the truth about how they’re now approaching these decisions in 2017?
Go directly to the horses’ mouth. Your 2017 will be better for it.
People often ask us how they can tell if their buyer personas are accurate and actionable. In a recent survey we heard questions such as “How do I really know if my buyer personas are right? And, “How can I make sure they tell me what matters to buyers and prospects?”
The short answer is that buyer personas work when they reveal how buyers think about the buying decision you want to influence.
While many companies use interviews to source their buyer personas, most of those interviews are conducted with the company’s salespeople or customers. Instead of a factually correct representation of their buyers, including those who prefer a competitor’s approach, these personas have a strong bias in favor of the company that develops them.
There is a pressing need to eliminate self-serving personas. It makes no sense to invest in describing only the ‘ideal’ buyers who are delighted by our story when those customers represent a small part of the market we need to influence.
Fortunately, the truth about real buyers is readily available through interviews with people who have recently evaluated for purchase a solution, product or service similar to yours.
Important point: this is not what most people mean when they talk about buyer personas, which would be more accurately labeled as buyer profiles in that they focus on describing people, not buying decisions. Even if these profiles are based on solid research and buyer interviews, they fall short of fulfilling our mission to know what we need to do and say to persuade buyers to choose us.
Asking yourself the following questions will guide you to more accurate buying insights:
- Did your buyers say it matters? If not, it’s a guess or an opinion.
- Less is more. In every persona segmentation study we’ve ever conducted, we’ve identified the need for fewer buyer personas than the client expected. Why? Because personas should only be segmented based on differences in HOW and WHY PEOPLE BUY – not your product lines, industries or job titles. If buyers are of like minds about the buying decision you want to influence, they will respond to the same sales and marketing activities. You are only making work for yourself by building multiple personas.For one client we looked at several of their major markets, and discovered three buyer personas—based NOT on market or industry, but on unique insights we uncovered about each buyer’s approach to this type of buying decision. A previous vendor had created dozens of personas, confusing everyone and virtually guaranteeing the persona work would sit on a shelf. Don’t get lured into demographic or product-based segmentation. You care about differences in your buyers’ thinking about a buying decision. Besides- who can market to 28 personas?
- Interview people who have recently been buyers. Find buyers who decided that the status quo had to go and it was time to change, and have invested time or money to solve the same problem. People act and think very differently than they think they will when budget is on the line, which is why so much ‘opinion’ research turns out to be misleading. The interviews that will give you real insights are conducted with people who have a true story to tell about what happened when they DID IT.
- Your first interview question is: “Take me back to the day when you decided (problem to solve) was important…” Then ask the person to tell you what was special about that day and why they didn’t act sooner. Spend five or ten minutes on this moment and you’ll know a lot about why and when buyers are receptive to hearing from you.
- Don’t work from a script—ask the buyer to tell you everything they did and thought about as they evaluated their options and made a decision. Whatever they tell you is something that was very important to them or they would have forgotten it by now.If you really listen and are interested in what the buyer has to say, you’ll be amazed at how engaged the buyer will get in telling their story and how much they’ll reveal. Leave your agenda behind. These are golden insights that you’re not going to find if you present your ideas—and God forbid, “Was it less important, highly important, somewhat important, shoot me” – like typical market research involves.
- Ten interviews may not seem like much, but unless you want to find differences between different segments of buyers, ten is enough. Whatever you hear in interview number 11, 17 or 26 won’t be worth the investment. If you are accustomed to surveys this might sound strange, but remember: you are looking for game-changing insights that a) the competition doesn’t now and b) you can exploit in your marketing and sales interactions – not charts and tables filled with data. If you need certainty, commission a quantitative study after the interviews to validate your findings.
- Your objective is to capture ACTUAL BUYER QUOTES and comments—not the opinions of your researchers, internal staff or agency. This is a big one. With traditional qualitative research, ethnographic studies and focus groups, you are paying for a research firm’s OPINIONS about what they heard. Your personas should reveal the buyers’ actual words summarized with headlines that reveal patterns across the interviews. We recommend organizing the quotes and headlines around the 5 Rings of Buying Insight™ -- Priority Initiative, Success Factors, Perceived Barriers, Decision Criteria and Buyer’s Journey. Click here to see an example buyer persona.
If you follow these seven steps and go to the source for your buyer personas—actual buyers—no one will worry if you got them right.
You may have heard that buyer personas are a vital tool for salespeople, and wondered if you should feature them in an upcoming launch or sales kickoff.
The first point is that although personas can appear deceivingly simple to create, the most common paths used to to build them generates personas which are NOT valuable to salespeople.
It is a waste of time to assign a name and photo to obvious pain points, or to focus on personal details unrelated to the problems you address. For example, one client showed us personas that included information about their prospect’s recreational activities. Unless you’re selling exercise equipment, your reps don’t need to hear that the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) is 45, married, and attends spin class three times a week. Yes, this make the CMO more human, but it does nothing to help your sales (or marketing) team frame a compelling argument for your data analytics solution.
No Fiction. Facts.
Far from fictitious or idealistic portraits, buyer personas need to be built on well-researched insights into the actual priorities, success factors, and decision criteria that factor into your buyer’s decision to solve the problem you address.
Before you deliver buyer personas to your sales team, make sure you consider these three points:
- Ensure Success for that First Sales Interaction
Many personas are built around job titles, with additional notes such as whether that role is risk adverse or tech savvy. This is a start, but not nearly enough to help your salesperson know how to engage this buyer in a first meeting.
Does your persona include specifics on the drivers that cause buyers to reject the status quo and begin to evaluate solutions like yours? Your reps need to know which buyers are receptive, which are not, and most critically, which company or individual dynamics predict a willingness to change.
These insights also tell you which roles you should target. In a recent study, our client learned that their preferred buyers — those looking for higher-priced quality & guarantees of performance – were least involved in day-to-day operations, which everyone naturally assumed was where the high quality pitch would work. Totally new, totally fresh, this was an insight they were NOT expecting until we interviewed real buyers
By the way: this is what sales reps already LOOK AND LISTEN for when reading the web, watching the news or reading a company’s news releases. The more you can arm reps with KEY INSIGHTS they can use to fine-tune their “sales radars,” the faster they will find real opportunities and weed out time-wasters who just have time to talk.
This approach creates “wedges” to crack open opportunities that a product or ROI pitch simply cannot. Your reps will love these insights as they leave “less informed” competitors in the dust.
- Win/Loss Can Only Tell You So Much: Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid
While you may have heard that features or price are high on the list of reasons that buyers don’t choose you, unscripted, “safe” conversations with real buyers prove that these are only a small part of the story. There’s a LOT more to these decisions that buyers are not revealing to sales reps during the sales process, or to whomever is conducting the follow-on win/loss interview.
These unexpressed objections are CRITICAL because they allow your salespeople to address objections your competitors will never discover.
One of the primary objectives for buyer personas is to anticipate the buyer’s questions, and the answers they hope to hear, as they research options, weigh alternatives, and make a selection.
Every rep can tell you story after story of the “deal that almost was,” where everything looked just right and then: NOTHING. The prospect went dark, the deal went cold, it just wasn’t time.
It’s not the things you expect that can kill a deal, it’s the ones you don’t anticipate. Buying insight interviews prove that even the most informed companies have, at most, 90% of the facts about what matters to their buyers. The missing 10% is slowing down your entire sales pipeline.
- Use Buying Insights to Build Synergy between Marketing and Sales Teams
Despite big investments in marketing automation, lead scoring, and shared goals, when you listen to buyers, you’ll hear that sales and marketing efforts remain largely disconnected.
Buyers are frustrated and lose trust in a company when the answers they need aren’t readily available. No one cares whether sales or marketing is at fault – if a buyer perceives the disconnect between themselves and the company, you’ve just added ANOTHER obstacle to the sale.
It helps to start with the understanding that sales people persuade one buyer at a time, while marketing persuades markets full of buyers. Now conversations between sales and marketing can focus on the perceptions that exist and what the teams can do, separately and jointly, to educate the market and persuade buyers that you have a solution that is a perfect match for the buyer’s expectations.
The goal should be meaningful sales and marketing plays that aren’t based on simple buyer profiles or obvious pain sheets. Instead, your activities are built on facts that aren’t easy to discover, creating a competitive advantage that will be much more sustainable than a price reduction or feature enhancement.
Properly researched buyer personas are far more than a clever way to dramatize WHO “might” be the person involved in a buying decision plus their personality, pains and objectives. To be valuable to sales, they need to provide new insights about how, when and why buyers choose products or services like yours – the very insights salespeople wish they had to close a deal.
In our upcoming webinar series, we will explain how effective buying insights are uncovered using interviews that involve a completely unscripted dialog between an interviewer and real buyers. You’ll see how skills much like a journalist’s uncover the practical, emotional and rational stories related by people who have recently spent money to solve the same problem you address. For more information on interviewing skills, custom buyer persona studies and upcoming webinars, visit www.buyerpersona.com or email email@example.com.
I am fascinated by a recent Gartner study about the journey of 700 enterprise buyers across the U.S., EMEA, Brazil, India and China. According to a recent interview with Hank Barnes, Research Vice President at Gartner, the study focused on four areas:
- During the buying process, what types of activities and information do you use, independent of the firm you are evaluating?
- What type of content do you use from the provider itself?
- What marketing activities get your attention?
- What are you expecting from sales interactions?
The findings? Buyers spend only 32% of their journey interacting with supplier-side content or sales people. Two thirds of the buyer’s journey is devoted to internal assessments, peer networking, and the recommendations of external experts.
According to Barnes, buyers “have access to all this stuff from vendors, but making sense of it, interpreting it, understanding that they have the right stuff is where they’re really struggling.”
This data quantifies exactly what we hear every day in our buyer persona interviews. And as a career sales and marketing professional, I am amazed that every company hasn’t realized that filling this void could be the best way to gain a competitive advantage.
In an article I wrote for CMO.com a few months ago, I related our experience interviewing buyers who say that marketing materials do nothing to help them make a decision, as competing solutions relate the same obvious benefits rather than useful information. The buyers’ experience with sales people is mostly a continuation of this theme, as sales arrives with the same marketing message rather than the critical details that help buyers gain confidence in their decision.
We know that many marketers are trying to explain the value of interviewing buyers to understand their needs and expectations. Maybe now that we have a report stating that vendors are privy to only 1/3 of the buyer’s journey, we can make it clear that it doesn’t work to build buyer personas by culling information from salespeople and marketing automation solutions. We’re seeing a very small part of the decision we need to influence.
A few days ago, Mark Schaefer published an article entitled “Why customer personas may be an outdated marketing technique.” In it he argues that every competitor is marketing to the same people, so if marketers rely on obvious data about their customers to guide their content, they’ll all come to the same conclusion and deliver the same useless content. I agree.
He goes on to relate a story about sitting with a CEO client while her agency asked questions in a persona template. Mark was trying to manage his frustration when the CEO stopped this ridiculous conversation, thank goodness.
The rush to build buyer personas is resulting in too many experiences just like Mark’s. If we don’t stop this insanity and get real about what’s involved in building and relying upon insights into buying decisions, influential stakeholders like Mark (and your CMO) will draw this same conclusion.
Buyers created the need for audience marketing
Let’s stop to remember why audience and content marketing first became vital initiatives. You have probably heard that today’s self-educated buyers are, on average, 60% of the way to a buying decision before they talk to our sales people.
Before the buyers messed this up, it was marketing’s job to build awareness with cleverly crafted and placed messaging about the benefits of our solutions. When buyers needed more information they’d contact us and we’d send in our sales experts, people who had been trained to discover the goals, concerns and purchase criteria for that buying decision. The reps would use these insights to position their solution as a perfect fit for that buyer and win the business.
Once buyers decided to keep salespeople at arms length until they had narrowed the field to just two or three solutions, audience marketing was supposed to keep us on the buyer’s list for as long as it took to get our sales people into the account.
Marketers underestimate the changes buyers have imposed
Few companies understood the magnitude of the responsibilities these buyers had imposed upon marketing. But it did make sense to “know your customer,” so marketers began to rely upon familiar approaches such as surveys, scripted interviews and agency partners to complete profiles for each job title or role who might influence the purchase. By some counts, 80% of marketers will have these templates completed by the end of this year.
But try to find a marketer who says that the purpose of audience marketing is to understand the buying decision so well that they know which questions buyers will ask, the answers they want to hear, and can create content that explains the capabilities that align with that buyer’s expectations.
It’s clear that the agency marketer Mark Schaefer met didn’t know that useful buyer personas require direct interviews with recent evaluators of a similar solution, or that they feature verbatim quotes to tell you, in the buyers’ own words, what triggers their decision to initiate this type of purchase, which outcomes they anticipate, their barriers to purchase, and the criteria they use to weigh their options.
If we don’t get this right, buyers will take things into their own hands
Yes, our goal is to know our buyers, but the knowledge we’re capturing in buyer personas is misguided and rarely used for anything at all.
Now that we have the mandate and automation to deliver content throughout the buying cycle, marketers need to know how to deliver more than the appetizer-grade, benefits-oriented messaging that was always meant for the top of the funnel. It’s time to deliver the beef, the main course that will help the buyer make an educated decision about whether we are the best qualified company to address their problem.
When we fail, buyers rely on their peers, consultants and employee’s prior experiences to decide which options they should consider. At that point, anything can happen.
This isn’t idle speculation. Over the course of the last year we had lengthy, unscripted conversations with 419 buyers who had recently evaluated our client’s high consideration solutions. It wasn’t fun to report back that we are losing deals, at least in part, because buyers couldn’t get the information they needed from their sales and marketing interactions.
We can change this outcome, but first we must realize that we have big shoes to fill. Salespeople have a much better chance of convincing one buyer at a time, but the buyers we interview don’t seem likely to make this any easier for us.
I was saddened by Radio Shack’s recent bankruptcy filing. Its convenient stores and helpful staff are easy to find in any city I’m visiting. There is even a store in the tiny community where I live.
Radio Shack’s 60-year rise and fall is a case study in what happens when a company’s vision isn’t balanced by insight into its customer’s expectations.
When Charles Tandy bought a small-time chain of nine stores in 1963, advances in technology and automation pointed to a future where we would all enjoy lives of leisure, freed of the need to spend eight hours a day at the office. Radio Shack would become a place for tinkerers and hobbyists with lots of free time and a desire to explore the brave new world of technology.
Radio Shack employees were drawn from the same pool of hobbyists, so they were ideally suited to engage shoppers with enthusiasm and knowledge. By the mid-1970s, the citizens band radio craze had made the company incredibly profitable. At it’s peak, the company had 7,000 stores.
But as we all know, technology didn’t give us more free time. In fact, in 1979 the average American worker was on the job for 1687 hours a year. By 2007, that number had ballooned to 1868 hours – adding more than a month of extra work hours every year.
We can only speculate about what might have happened had Radio Shack focused on its origins when it jumped into the personal computer market in 1977 with the TRS-80. This was a time when computers were often assembled from kits, but Tandy chose to sell his pre-assembled in one box. Radio Shack had found success marketing to “do-it-yourselfers,” so why would they not continue to do so with their computers? It’s hard to say, but the TRS-80 is now barely a footnote in computing history, and marked the beginning of the decline for the corporation.
Over the next few decades, the company flailed about, expanding their product selections to focus more on consumer electronics and launching a mail-order catalog business. Their ability to solve a unique problem for their buyers continued to deteriorate, as there were plenty of other players in the consumer electronics space, and the Internet quickly made mail-order catalogs obsolete. Attempts to launch a “big box” electronics chain failed, and the company sold off the electronics manufacturers that made their house brands to focus on third-party products, with disastrous results.
By 2011, stock prices had fallen from $24.33 to $2.53 a share, and in January the company announced they were filing for bankruptcy.
Radio Shack is only one of many market leaders who lost their way as their vision came face-to-face with customer expectations. Similar failures to understand their target buyer and deliver on their specific needs have defeated behemoth companies like Unisys, Digital Equipment Corporation and countless others.
The changes that cause large, successful companies to fail are rarely sudden, which is why they are so easy to dismiss and also why they are so disturbing. Like Radio Shack, most companies have many opportunities to adjust their strategies to align with their buyers’ needs. Radio Shack might well have survived had they maintained their focus on their audience of electronics hobbyists and adjusted their strategies accordingly. Instead, they pursued a “me too” strategy that stripped them of their purpose, steadily reducing their unique product offerings to sell mobile phones and consumer gear that could be purchased anywhere. The hobbyists went elsewhere, and in the end, Radio Shack couldn’t serve any buyer better than some other store could.
It’s too late for Radio Shack, but it doesn’t have to be too late for your company. If you’re developing strategies without understanding your customer’s expectations, consider the possibility that you might be missing facts that will be retold in a story like this.
And beware of the online tools that help you build buyer personas without interviewing real buyers. As the people at Radio Shack can attest, it is incredibly dangerous to recycle your internal mis-perceptions into a new template and rely on your own hopes and vision.
P.S. My new book “Buyer Personas: How to Gain Insights into your Customer’s Expectations, Align your Marketing Strategies, and Win More Business” (Wiley) is now shipping.
I just made an important buying decision. Since Wiley will release my first book on March 9, I wanted to hire a PR firm to do the launch right. I started out the way most buyers do when they initiate a “high consideration” buying decision. I asked my peers for recommendations.
I had phone conversations with three of the agencies they suggested, talked about my book, and received written proposals from all them. They each had good ideas, and I realized that the choice wasn’t going to be easy.
Then my buyer’s journey was disrupted by another buying influencer (something that happens frequently in high consideration decisions). In this case, it was my publisher, John Wiley & Sons, who suggested that I consider one of the firms they had worked with before. I was frustrated to be back at the beginning of a process I had hoped to complete by then.
The interesting thing about selecting an agency to launch my book is that they all do, essentially, the same thing. They contact media, try to get coverage, and help with positioning and messaging for the launch. And of course they are all smart enough to know that they can’t promise results. No one can assure me that the Wall Street Journal, Forbes or any of the other publications I hope to reach will actually interview me or write about my book.
I found myself in the same situation as the buyers we interview every day, relying on the same resources to make a significant investment in a service that is difficult to evaluate. And if I made the wrong choice, I was going to spend a lot of money and miss a big opportunity.
Wiley initially sent me a list of 20 or so agencies to consider, but after a bit of pleading they narrowed it to three. So I visited the agency’s websites.
The first firm had a site that was hyper-focused on their successes in the eBook market, with plenty of detailed case studies from satisfied authors. But I’m not publishing an eBook (although there will be an electronic edition). So that focus turned me off, despite their obvious competence.
The second firm’s site was professional, but generic. The authors and books they’d launched were impressive, but they looked a lot like the other agencies I was already considering.
But when I reached the homepage for the third company, Stern + Associates, my attitude changed in an instant. Right there, in larger text than their company name, was a simple message that spoke directly to me — “We build thought leaders.”
My motivation for writing my book wasn’t to “sell a lot of books,” although that would be nice. I wanted to change the conversation about buyer personas and end the confusion with buyer profiles. I wanted every buyer persona to feature the buying insights that help marketers make better decisions. I wanted to lay a foundation for marketers to become the buyer experts their companies trust to help them win more business.
From my first visit to the Stern home page, through the sales call that followed, I heard about thought leadership. I knew that I had found an agency that understood my motivations and could help me achieve them. My choice was suddenly clear and I was more willing to invest in the budget they suggested.
Stern didn’t use buyer personas to design their messaging or website. It’s clear that their focus on thought leadership is part of their core business strategy and that it was simply fortunate that Wiley referred me to a firm that was a direct match for my needs.
But this story about my buying decision is the precise reason that companies need to break free of the generic messaging that sounds the same for every competitor. It’s the reason that persona interviews must probe for the insights that identify an exact match between our solutions and a buyer’s needs.
We want every buyer to find the solution they’re seeking, and every marketer to know how to make that happen. That’s why I wrote Buyer Personas.
In case you’re looking to make your 2015 New Year’s resolutions a few days after the fact, here’s five your buyers want you to consider.
- I’ll find the time or budget to interview buyers and understand their mindset.
- I’ll bring the buyer’s perspective to our company’s internal discussions and decisions, replacing “I think” with “we’ve been listening to buyers and they think”.
- I’ll align with our salespeople by focusing on how we can work together to be helpful to buyers.
- I’ll ensure that our time and budget is allocated to creating content and resources that provide clear and useful information to buyers.
- I’ll stop making stuff up.
If this is too many to take on all at once, I highly recommend the final one, and that you’ll start with a plan to stop making up your buyer personas. Too many marketers are treating buyer personas as a creative exercise, with predictably disastrous results.
For example, we recently completed a buyer persona study for a company that had been delivering content to the executive buyer of their technology solution by focusing on its business benefits.
Here’s a verbatim quote from one of the buyers we interviewed:
“I’m looking for a level of detail that would need to be provided by an engineer. I’m not interested in a colorful brochure. I’m not interested in one that has been extensively wordsmithed. I’m just looking for a particular set of capabilities.”
In the next sentence, this executive described the capabilities he wanted in this type of solution. Then he talked about the perceived limitations of each of the solutions he had considered. He said that the business benefits were obvious, available from every vendor, and that marketing materials that focused on those points were useless.
This marketing team is not alone. Countless marketers have made similar mistakes by segmenting their buyer personas by job title and guessing about the content that will be useful to those people. It’s not that these marketers are wrong about the need to focus on business value, but it’s difficult if not impossible to guess about what it will take to persuade that executive that their solution is the best way to achieve a specific goal.
As I look towards the new year, I’m thrilled about the enthusiasm that marketers are showing for buyer personas. But I’m also alarmed about the long term prospect for buyer personas if marketers don’t realize that the purpose of buyer personas is to gain insight into the buyer’s mindset.
I hope that 2015 will be the year that marketers resolve to become buyer experts, and that my upcoming book from Wiley — Buyer Personas: How to Gain Insight into Your Customer’s Expectations, Align Your Marketing Strategies, and Win More Business – will be an easy way for marketers to understand what’s required. The launch is scheduled for March, and the Kindle and hardcover editions are now available for pre-order here.
You might have noticed that I haven’t published updates on this blog and that my presence on social media has been scarce over the last few months. I wish I could tell you that I’d been sailing the seas or lolling around on a beach somewhere, but in fact I’ve been heads down in my office and barely noticed the passing of spring or summer.
In March of 2015, John Wiley & Sons will publish the book that kept me locked away all these many months: Buyer Personas: How to Gain Insight into your Customers Expectations, Align your Marketing Strategies, and Win More Business.
It’s an incredible honor to be published by one of the world’s leading presses for business professionals. And I’m thrilled that the foreword is by David Meerman Scott, international bestselling author of The New Rules of Marketing & PR and The New Rule of Sales and Service.
David had been bugging me to write this book for years and I knew that he was right. As the interest in buyer personas has gone global, there is enormous confusion about how to discover and utilize the insights they should reveal. The misdirection I find online and the questions we field in our daily client interactions consistently confirm the need for a definitive guide on this topic.
But the simple truth is, I don’t like to write. I’d rather interact with people. Put me in front of an audience and I’m never at a loss for words, but I’ll procrastinate forever on a writing assignment. When I forced myself to sit down and write a 256-page book, I learned a lot about myself.
Psychologists Katharine Briggs and Isabel Meyers have a great explanation for the difference between introverts and extroverts. They say an introvert is someone who gets energy from being alone and with that energy, they can then go be with people for a while. An extrovert, on the other hand, gets energy from being with people and uses that energy to handle being alone. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I am definitely an extrovert.
Now I know why I get sleepy when I write, and why it’s always been easier for me to edit something written by others. When I’m editing someone else’s work, that’s almost like a stand-in for having a person in the room that I can engage with. I can see what I need to say to alter a perception or explain a concept that wasn’t clear. I understand what is already understood and how to avoid boring the person with information that might be interesting to me but irrelevant to my audience.
I learned a lot about myself by stepping out of my comfort zone to write this book, and even came to see how this aspect of my personality underlies my commitment to buyer personas as a method for marketing strategies. We don’t create buyer personas while sitting alone in a room. We talk to real people and we use the insights they give us to reflect on their actual needs, interests and concerns. With a persona as a stand-in for the buyers we need to influence, we know exactly what we need to do and say to engage those people, adjust their perceptions, and avoid boring them to tears.
While reflecting on these personal insights a week after submitting the manuscript, I decided to dedicate the book “to every marketer who questions the wisdom of making stuff up.”
I’m grateful to the many clients and colleagues whose questions and stories kept my energy flowing so that I could meet Wiley’s deadline. By showing me how real marketers were employing my methodology and finding success with it, you helped me to dig deep and tell the whole story. I hope that it is helpful to many marketers and look forward to the next step in our journey together.
I’ll tell you more about Buyer Personas: How to Gain Insight into your Customers Expectations, Align your Marketing Strategies, and Win More Business in the coming months. You can pre-order the book on Amazon here.
We frequently talk about how buyer persona insights add value to sales, messaging and content, but how does that work in a company with more than a thousand marketers around the globe? Over the last two and a half years, we’ve had the opportunity to explore that challenge with SAP.
We started with a clear business objective – ensure that global campaigns would engage strategic audiences in targeted buying centers and be implemented effectively by any SAP marketer throughout the world.
In Spain, Germany, France, and each of the 188 countries where SAP supplies software, marketers work with finite budgets to achieve all of the same goals as any marketer. To simplify marketing and conserve funds they want to leverage these global campaigns, but they need to have confidence that they will drive results with their own country’s buyers.
You might think that our next step was to conduct buyer persona research in each of these regions. However, we were concerned about scalability and, more critically, knew that the differences among buyers in different parts of the world, while relevant for certain tactical activities, would be unlikely to affect the SAP core messaging and marketing content.
So we started by building personas and extracting insights based on interviews in North America. Then the global marketing team used them to guide development of campaign materials including email copy, infographics and videos.
The next step is where things really got interesting. For its demand generation campaigns, selected SAP marketers work together in a virtual team that includes participants with different functional responsibilities plus field marketers from key countries. In online meetings, we presented the buyer persona insights to each virtual team, fielding questions and comments about the findings. We gave the marketers in Latin America a chance to look at the personas and say “does that look like the kind of things we’re hearing in our part of the world?” The marketing teams had the opportunity to think about the buyers in their regions before they decided if the messaging resonated and which campaigns to build.
Over the next year, SAP will conduct quantitative research to validate the buyer persona insights in some of the countries, bolstering confidence in the insights and identifying regions where more qualitative research will be needed.
I’m thrilled to be speaking with Joan Sherlock, VP of Marketing for Worldwide Marketing Programs at SAP, at Content Marketing World this September 9th in Cleveland. We’ll talk about results of this program to date plus the exciting new ways that buyer personas will be used at SAP in the next year. We hope to see you there.