For nearly a decade, I developed and led a marketing workshop for Pragmatic Marketing, the leader in training courses for B2B product managers and marketers. I wrote this article for the Fall issue of Pragmatic Marketer Magazine, released yesterday in celebration of the company’s 20th anniversary.
It was the second day of a Pragmatic Marketing course I was teaching, when a senior director’s question sucked the oxygen out of the room: “How do I know that anything would change if I eliminated the marketing organization?”
While Tom’s harsh words and choice of forum stunned me, his question did not. I’ve worked with enough CEOs and participated in enough reorganizations, budget cuts and executive transitions to know that only slightly less-threatening versions of this question are commonplace. And easy answers don’t cut it.
Metrics Can’t Answer The Real Question
Many marketers have been asked to explain how much incremental revenue they generate. They are asked how much less they could spend without taking a revenue hit. Or if higher levels of spending would improve results.
There is little evidence that B2B marketers of complex solutions will ever have definitive answers to any of these questions.
Sure, we can report that a webinar was attended by someone who later downloaded a white paper and then purchased our solution. However, I’d like to have a nickel for every time the marketing impact is unknown because the salesperson was calling on that account for years.
When a company meets its revenue and profitability goals, senior management generally seems willing to adhere to the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” rule. Most budget requests are approved, and the marketing team operates with relatively little interference.
But miss a few revenue or profit targets and marketing will quickly find itself in the spotlight. This is the moment when someone will start wondering if we could do better, or if a new team and reporting structure would fix things.
Part of the Problem or of the Solution?
Many of the metrics we track have unintended consequences when we report them to other departments. What should stakeholders conclude about our role and value, if they only see the output and measures of our production activities?
Is it possible that the strategic role of marketing is being subverted by the way we interact with our stakeholders?
I’m not suggesting that marketing leads, content and sales tools aren’t important. And I’m certainly not recommending that we discontinue our efforts to track results. Performance metrics help us to refine countless strategies and tactics.
What I am saying is that we need to balance the way we interact with stakeholders, focusing in equal measures on our strategic and tactical contribution.
This begins when we subtly shift the conversation in meetings, presentations and hallways away from project charts and deliverables. It requires marketers to become the source of information about what markets full of buyers are saying about how, when and why they choose solutions like ours.
Consider your company’s perception of marketing ROI if your head was filled with buyer conversations of strategic value to your stakeholders:
- Which buyers will be receptive to your new marketing strategy, and why?
- For those who aren’t, why not? What would engage these types of buyers?
- Why do some buyers prefer X competitor?
- What role does each potential target in the buyer’s organization play in the decision? Which are most likely to choose us and why?
If you scanned these bullet points, rather than contemplating their meaning, note the emphasis on the “why” aspect of each of these questions.
Most companies believe they know what the market needs, but few can predict the path to achieving the goals they imagine.
Marketers Are Missing Buying Insights
In recent years, buyer personas have gained popularity as a tool to improve a marketer’s focus on buyers. Today more than half of B2B marketers report that they have developed buyer personas.
Yet, few of these marketers have enough confidence in their perception of the buyer to define, defend and deliver strategies that don’t conform with the internal perspective. So companies make decisions based on inadequate information about the market’s receptivity, and marketers are on the hook to persuade buyers who don’t care. In other instances, perfectly good products fail because the company didn’t identify and communicate with buyers who have the need.
There is a lot of confusion about the content of buyer personas and how to ensure that they uncover compelling insights.
Some marketers fall into the trap of only collecting knowledge about the buyers internally. This has some value but doesn’t prepare the marketer to persuade the same stakeholders who contributed the information.
Others retain expensive third parties to deliver a lovely set of PowerPoint slides or posters that are soon put away and forgotten. One marketer spent more than $100K on her buyer personas. When she contacted me for advice about how to leverage them, I was horrified that they described little more than the buyer’s role and priorities—information readily available to her competitors with just a few hours of research on LinkedIn.
What Buyer-Expert Marketers Should Know
The value of buyer personas is directly proportional to the quality of insights about how, when and why buyers choose solutions like yours.
If your buyer persona simply recasts obvious and readily available information such as industry, job title and responsibilities, then this is a very low-value effort.
To change the conversation about the value of marketing, buyer personas need to be the result of in-depth, unscripted conversations with actual buyers. Fewer than 10 well-executed interviews can lead to five compelling insights:
Priorities. What happens to make this investment a priority for this type of buyer? Don’t confuse this insight with pain points, because many or most of your target buyers have this pain and still aren’t looking for a solution like yours. Your buyer personas should tell you what drives some buyers to address the pain, while others remain satisfied with the status quo.
Success factors. This tells you what results or outcomes the buyer expects as a result of purchasing a solution like yours. Success factors resemble benefits, but when you hear them from recent buyers you will have a shorter list that is far more specific and compelling than anything you can reverse engineer based on the capabilities of your solution.
Perceived barriers. I often refer to this as the “bad news” insight, because it tells you exactly why this buyer would be unlikely to purchase your solution. Barriers could relate to prior attempts to solve the problem, negative (and even inaccurate) perceptions about the suitability of your product or company, or internal resistance from other departments or personas.
Buyer’s journey. This identifies the stages your buyers pass through to evaluate their options, eliminate contenders and choose one solution. It specifies the stages when this buyer persona will be pivotal to keeping your solution under consideration and when other personas will be more critical. You’ll be completely clear about when and why social media, content marketing, sales engagement and other resources have the most impact—and what you can do to improve your efforts.
Decision criteria. The final insight reveals the three to five capabilities that have the most impact on this buyer. Decision criteria frequently include specific features or attributes of the implementation or company. Pricing (or value calculations) can also be relevant to these decision criteria. This insight is critical for sales enablement, because it identifies which buyers will be concerned about specific features and why.
The Marketing Credibility Problem Is Expensive
While Tom’s question may have never been spoken in your presence, the hand-wringing about the merits of marketing take a toll on every one of us. There are even those who predict the demise of marketing as a profession.
I can’t imagine that marketing will ever disappear, but there are plenty of reasons to believe that we are not positioned to deliver the value that B2B companies truly need.
Too many really smart marketers toil away in organizations where they operate with little more autonomy than factory production workers.
Imagine the chaos that would ensue if financial statements were subjected to as many reviews as your most recent messaging document. Could engineering ever deliver a new product, if its role and management team were redefined every 18 months?
The endless debate about the value of marketing ultimately interferes with our goal of building the value of marketing. This needs to stop, and buyer personas give you a lot more power to rewrite the rules than you may have known. When will you begin?
Download a PDF of Pragmatic Marketer Magazine
It’s been seven years since I started The Buyer Persona Blog, and I am pleased to publish our very first guest post. I hope you enjoy these recommendations from Irakli Beselidze, CEO of Premier SV in Russia, presenter of Marketing Guru TV show, and now a Certified Practitioner of Buyer Persona Institute.
It’s rash to conclude that the concept of target audience is a meaningful tool for building a marketing strategy. Just because someone is a member of a socio-demographic group doesn’t mean they’ll buy your products. People buy because they want to improve something about their lives, or their business, with the help of your solution, and you need to know how they think about that.
Have you ever woken up with the idea that you belong to a particular target audience, and must consume marketing messages no less than three times a week in order to decide which product to purchase? Absolutely not! People focus on how to solve their current problems, and they don’t want to be distracted by anything that doesn’t help them make a good decision.
While developing a marketing strategy, it’s crucially important to understand what problems people think they will solve by using your product and what communication context unites them during their decision-making process. To identify and provide a structured description of the context a person delves into during the buying process, Premier SV conducts qualitative research on buyers. The result is a detailed description: a buyer persona. It’s these personas that should serve as the basis for developing a communication strategy.
Here are six situations where buyer personas are a much better tool than a target audience that is determined by socio-demographic characteristics.
1. Your products aren’t spontaneously purchased within 10 minutes of discovery. Your buyers prefer to evaluate all possible options because the consequences of making the wrong decision are costly.
If we are dealing with a high-consideration purchase, branding based on knowledge of your target audience and spontaneous brand awareness are no guarantee buyers will choose you. Often, these consumers will ignore your slogans and advertising messages to rely on objective reviews from your former clients, their friends and coworkers.
2. Your target audience includes a lot of people who are not a potential customer.
If only 1 out of 10 people in your target audience needs your solution, while the other 9 aren’t prospects, it means you simply waste 90% of your efforts and resources. Though you may increase your brand awareness among your target audience and eventually increase sales, it’ll be impossible to identify if this is the direct result of your marketing campaign.
3. Your marketing activities are repetitive and very similar to your competitors.
Since companies in direct competition have the same target audience, it’s unlikely that they’ll have distinctive strategies for marketing campaigns. The result can be intense competition of creative ideas which aren’t relevant to the buyers’ context, but are just focused on framing the solution in new and exciting ways. This might not seem bad, but the further you are from the buyer’s context, the less likely the buyer will understand you and your messaging. Your marketing should be specific, clear and concise, and focus on how you’ll solve your buyers’ real problem.
4. You’re not exactly sure what people need to hear to choose you.
Messaging for target audience and buyer personas are different as in the first case you’re talking about the product while in the second case – about solving a problem. For example, a well-known slogan created by Premier SV for Herschi-Cola’s target audience of 10-20 year olds was “Herschi-Cola – the taste of victory.” While clever, it doesn’t reveal any particular reason for buyers to choose it. The same goes for the slogan “Always Coca-Cola” – it is just a way to show the value of the product, without paying attention to the context of its purchase. That’s why the winner in these messages’ battle will be the one with a bigger media budget.
Premier SV has decided not to participate in these competitions anymore. After analyzing Onduline’s buyer persona, we’ve transformed the slogan for their roofing materials and male target audience of 30-55 year olds from “Doesn’t rust, doesn’t leak, doesn’t make noise” to “Onduline – easy roof repair”. We’ve stressed the core value for buyers – the simplicity of solving the problem of a leaky roof as it stacks up to other options.
5. You’re not sure if you’ve chosen the right communication channels.
It’s difficult to find a brand that’s 100% sure their chosen media plan is the best, even if their marketing campaign is already in place. The reason why we’re unsure can be connected to an inability to understand how communication channels affect a consumer’s decision to buy a product. Traditional effectiveness metrics only reveal the number of contacts within your target audience, but no one understands how these contacts transform into an interest in a product or sales.
You won’t have these problems with buyer personas, because they uncover the sources of buyers’ decisions at each stage of the buying cycle, and identify the particular sources of information that influenced the decision.
6. Your target audience is mixed, or decisions are made by a group of people belonging to different socio-demographic groups.
The classic example of this situation appeared in Premier SV when we were researching buyers for the latest model of Toyota RAV4. We found that in most cases, both men and women contributed to the final decision to purchase the car. Additionally, in most cases both parties had equal weight in the buying process, but opposite evaluation criteria. What should be done in cases like these? Since Toyota is focused on traditional marketing methods, they decided to concentrate on male buyers. Typically, men and women use different sources of information and perceive the RAV4’s merits differently, so they decided to ignore the section of their target audience which wasn’t perceived as important.
B2B brands can also encounter the need to target 5-6 people with varying job titles, who work in different departments and all influence the decision-making process. Curious how to solve this problem?
Give up the idea of using your target audience as a tool for identifying decision makers, and start studying buyer personas. This will help you identify their roles in the decision-making process, evaluation criteria and many other factors that help buyers differentiate you from others and assure them that your product will make their life better.
Each year consumers become more savvy and sophisticated in making purchase decisions. To continue influencing them efficiently, you need to better study their behavior in the process of buying your product. Buyer personas are a step forward in this direction. When you research your buyer’s decisions, you’ll understand your buyers and create more effective marketing communications.
Has your company already interviewed buyers to build buyer personas? What was the most challenging part? Please share your ideas with us.
In the last month, I had a chance to deliver sessions about insightful buyer personas at two of my favorite conferences, Content Marketing World and Marketing Profs’ B2B Marketing Forum.
After each event, marketers peppered me with questions. The biggest concern? How to convince their client or in-house executives about the importance of deep buyer insights.
If you’re dealing with this issue, too, I suggest that you begin with a comparison of sales and marketing. After all, sales people have the opportunity, executive support and skills training to know their buyers before they speak.
Does it make sense that marketers would have none of these?
Think about how you could discuss these points with your resistant stakeholders:
- Would anyone ever question the need for a sales rep to listen carefully to a prospective buyer before formulating an account strategy?
- And which is more difficult, developing a plan to persuade one buyer at a time (the salesperson’s job) or building a strategy to persuade a market full of buyers (marketing’s job)? (Note: If the answer to this question isn’t instantly obvious, replace “buyer” with “voter” and suggest that they think like a politician.)
It isn’t logical that companies readily encourage sales to invest “as needed” for buyer discovery on a single deal, while marketers struggle to allocate a few hours for the buyer interviews that would benefit every aspect of their marketing strategy.
Plus it isn’t clear how marketers are supposed to already know how to conduct a probing buyer interview. Everyone fully appreciates that a sales rep’s listening and probing skills improve substantially when they have a proven framework and effective training.
Sometimes I’ll hear that the pushback originates with the company’s belief that they know their buyers. This is a bit more challenging, because people don’t know what they don’t know.
When this is the issue, I use our 5 Rings of Buying Insight for buyer personas to query stakeholders about their knowledge of their buyers:
1. Priority Initiative: At the moment when a buyer starts looking for a solution such as this one, what triggers that search? And what is different about the buyers who are looking for this solution and those who are not?
Don’t accept a simple “pain point” answer to this question. Everyone has pain but they’re not all shopping for your solution. We want to know what business triggers or events justify the company’s investment in this type of solution.
2. Success Factors: What does this type of buyer expect to be different if they invest in this solution? In the buyer’s words, what will the result look like?
If you hear an obvious answer (for example: we’ll grow the business, reduce operating costs, be more efficient, etc.), probe to see if anyone can tell you anything insightful about that result. For example, which part of their business will grow? Why can’t they achieve this growth without our solution? How much growth does the buyer expect?
3. Perceived Barriers: Why do some buyers believe that a solution that addresses this issue isn’t necessary? And what causes some buyers to choose a competitor’s solution instead?
Don’t accept easy answers. Buyers make decisions based on value and trust, not price and features. Ask follow-up questions to find places where your stakeholder is missing details. This insight is often one of the most surprising parts of the buyer persona.
4. Buyer’s Journey: When buyers start looking for this type of solution, what do they do first to evaluate all of their options? And then, what do they do to narrow their options and choose one? What resources do they trust? Which buyers are critical to the decision to include or exclude us each time they narrow their options?
5. Decision Criteria: Which attributes of our solution or company do buyers evaluate? Which are nice to have and which do buyers consider essential?
Listen carefully for jargon answers. If someone says that buyers choose your solution because it is easy to use, or because you are the industry leader or provide the best customer service, probe for details. What does the buyer expect to be easy to use? For whom should it be easy to use? How much training does the buyer expect to invest in before it is easy? How do buyers determine that our solution is easiest to use?
It may also help to show your stakeholders the example buyer persona that is now available on our new website here. Many people confuse relatively useless buyer profiles with the truly valuable information in these buyer personas, so once they see the depth of information you will discover, they should be more supportive.
A word of caution: Feel free to use these ideas to talk to your clients or internal stakeholders, but please do not interview your buyers using this post as a script. These questions are far too direct and put too much of the emphasis on you. Buyer interviews should ask people to provide candid feedback about what worked and what didn’t as they evaluated a solution like yours. This should be an engaging and non-confrontational experience that results in surprising information that buyers have not shared with anyone. To guide these conversations, you’ll need to know how to lead an unscripted, agenda-driven interview that probes on every response, because the buyer’s first answer to any question will be obvious data that isn’t insightful. You can learn more about how to interview your buyers here.
I hope you will try out these ideas on your clients or internal stakeholders and let me know how it goes. If they are still resistant, tell me what they said and I’ll follow up with another post.
Given the big investments that companies make in content marketing, you’d think that buyers would be impressed. You’d also expect that company executives would be enthusiastic about marketing results. Yet, marketers continue to struggle for budget, and buyers regularly tell us that vendor-supplied information isn’t helpful.
I’m talking about a solution to this dilemma during my presentation at this year’s Content Marketing World, which will rock the Cleveland Convention Center September 9-12. Thanks go to the “godfather of content marketing” Joe Pulizzi for inviting me back for a second year.
I’m building my CMW presentation around a buyer persona for a marketer who is considering an email marketing solution. Many people have asked me for an example buyer persona and I’ve always regretted that I had to say no. I fully understand, however, why our clients will never allow us to share their competitive insights.
So I decided to develop this persona for an imaginary company, and could use two or three more volunteers for the interviews. If you have evaluated an email marketing solution within the last six months and can spare 30 minutes to be interviewed about that decision before August 27, please contact me. It’s fun and you’ll get to hear how we conduct buyer persona interviews.
At CMW, I will explain how marketers can become a strategic resource by changing the conversation with buyers and internal stakeholders. I’ll explain the 5 Rings of Buying Insight for the example persona and show everyone how I would use those insights to drive a competitive content strategy. I’ll also talk about how to show up as a buyer expert at planning and sales meetings, and how this small step repositions marketers as a high-value strategic asset.
I’ve decided to keep the example buyer persona secret until after Content Marketing World. But shortly thereafter, I’ll publish it here on my blog for those who cannot attend.
Want a preview of the conference? TopRank Online Marketing recently published this wonderful ebook – Content Marketing Rocks! 36 Tips from Rock Star Brands and Marketers. Thank you, Lee Odden, for including my quote (on page 27).
If you will be at Content Marketing World this year, please email me or contact me through the conference app. I don’t want to miss seeing you there!
Are you wondering whether you should build your own buyer personas or turn to third-party researchers for these insights? Since we have considerable experience in both roles — conducting buyer research and leading workshops for marketers who want to do their own research — we have a unique perspective about the short and long-term results that each approach delivers.
I thought you might find it useful, therefore, to see an unbiased overview of the considerations that factor into the buy vs. build decision. First, the four trade-offs:
There are also three myths associated with the “buy or build buyer personas” decision that I want to debunk :
Myth #1. Buyers won’t talk to or disclose the complete truth to the company’s marketers or their consultants. This is a falsehood that is perpetuated when people attempt to conduct interviews without the benefit of training or a properly structured methodology.
If you don’t ask the questions correctly, it is true that buyers will either withhold information or deliver misleading answers. But buyers will readily share the unvarnished truth with anyone who uses the right approach and was not involved in the sales process. (I’ve also heard people say that buyers will only talk to someone from within the company and won’t reveal anything to third parties. This is equally false, and I find it interesting that opposite versions of this myth co-exist).
Myth #2. Extensive training is needed before you can conduct this type of research. While some research objectives require professionals with significant experience, marketers of high consideration solutions need only a few hours of training to learn how conduct the interviews that reveal buyer persona insights.
We have seen hundreds of marketers learn how to gain surprising insights and eliminate bias through an unscripted conversation about how, when and why recent buyers have compared their options to make the decision the marketer wants to influence. They just needed a structure and training that focuses on in-depth probing to uncover insights that buyers have not yet shared with anyone.
When marketers need buyer persona insights for very low consideration solutions, or for the rare situation where nothing similar exists in the market, we always recommend our professional researchers.
Myth #3. You need to interview a lot of people and marketers don’t have the bandwidth. Buyer persona insights are usually discovered through a relatively small number of one-on-one interviews that average 30 minutes each.
Revealing buying insights generally emerge from as few as six interviews, given that the focus is on the buyers’ decision to choose a particular category of solution. We typically recommend eight interviews before compiling any results, and have occasionally seen the need for ten if the solution category is not well defined. But more than ten is rarely needed or even helpful. If the buyer persona insights will guide a highly strategic decision, we recommend a follow-on quantitative survey with a larger sample to confirm results and solidify the persona’s credibility with key stakeholders.
Are you ready to hear about the One Ideal Option?
Clients sometimes ask us to research an urgently needed buyer persona, with concurrent training for their marketers through our live team workshops or our online masterclass so they can conduct their own buyer interviews. We then welcome these newly trained marketers to listen in and follow along as we develop and deliver the first buyer persona. This builds the marketing team’s confidence in their new skills while addressing the need for answers to urgent or especially strategic questions.
Since many companies do not have the circumstances or budget to justify a blended approach, I hope that this post has helped you to determine the best option for your needs. I look forward to hearing your comments and questions.
How are you positioned? I’m not asking about your products, I’m asking about you, a career marketer who needs to be positioned as an expert that clients or internal stakeholders will trust to market their solutions.
I had a quick look recently at how marketers are writing their LinkedIn summaries. The preferred formula seems to combine years of experience with the results produced in prior jobs. While this appears to work for securing the next position, I wonder how much impact it has once the marketer is on the job.
Imagine telling your clients or other stakeholders that they should not change the message you created because you’ve been doing this sort of thing for 10 years. Or saying that your recommendation to dedicate some of the budget to email marketing is appropriate because you successfully employed that technique in prior high-performing campaigns. Will this approach overcome the company’s objections to your carefully crafted message or allay concerns for the executive who has just read about the demise of email marketing?
What if your recommendations are absolutely correct, and you aren’t able to implement them because you don’t have the clout to carry the decision?
What happens if she learns that it isn't real?
Many people believe that my work is focused on buyer personas, but the more accurate view is that I’m obsessed with elevating the role of marketing. I take it personally when I see smart people toiling away on endless lists of deliverables, operating with little more autonomy than a factory production worker.
So while I’m thrilled that there is so much interest in buyer personas, I’m increasingly concerned that they could become just one more “Bright Shiny Object” on the marketers’ to-do list.
I’m seeing too many blog posts advising marketers to simply fill in templates that capture internal notions about the buyer or readily available, completely obvious external data.
For example, you can spend 10 minutes on LinkedIn and find your buyer’s job description. From that you can easily conclude that your buyer wants to grow revenue, improve productivity, reduce costs, etc. Would buyer personas created in this way really add any value?
The simple truth is that companies have a vacuum of true insight into how and why buyers make decisions. And marketers who step up to fill this void are the source of a compelling strategic advantage.
It’s also true that the comfort of existing approaches such as surveys and internal interviews won’t reveal anything compelling. But buyers will tell you exactly what you need to know, sharing insights they haven’t yet shared with anyone else, once you learn how to engage them in a structured, unscripted interview.
I’ll close with congratulations to Irakli Beselidze @premiersv, John Fox @b2bmarketing, and Julie Squires @juliesquires for completing our Certified Practitioner Program, which we recently launched to recognize marketers who build insightful buyer personas and use them to drive strategies for messaging, positioning, content marketing, targeting, segmentation, and sales enablement. You guys rock!
Maybe I missed it, but I haven’t seen David Letterman do this one, so I want to tell you what B2B buyers tell us about marketing’s influence on their decisions. Note that every one of these statements comes from real interviews with actual buyers. After all, we don’t believe in making stuff up about buyer personas.
#10. I’m under a lot of pressure to address high-priority initiatives and don’t want to hear about other problems that you think I should take on. I just don’t have the bandwidth.
#9. Your website has all the same useless information as your competitor’s does. So no, I didn’t spend much time there.
#8. I’ve done my research and know about many of the things that I must have to succeed. I want to know whether you can deliver on those before I go any further.
#7. Yes, I have a budget and the authority to buy, but I’m not going to tell you that. I’ll decide when I’m ready to talk to a sales person.
#6. I’m seeing a lot of obvious stuff about value, but nothing that speaks to the way we plan to measure the success of this initiative.
#5. I can’t make this decision without persuading other stakeholders. I need to see something that helps me handle their concerns and priorities too.
#4. I will lose my job if I choose the wrong solution. I need to be convinced that you can address my specific concerns about this decision.
#3. I’m testing your company to see if you fully understand my needs in this area and will be responsive if I do buy from you.
#2. We won’t choose the least expensive solution; we’ll select the one that is the best match for our needs.
And the #1 thing I want you to know: This decision is actually not about price or features. We’ll go with the company that we believe we can trust.
Have you heard these before? It’s easy to see why companies that best address these buyer concerns have a major competitive advantage in this buyer-driven market.
Marketers are learning that they can listen to their buyers, and we mean REALLY listen, to gain the insights that drive the content those buyers want and need. They’re discovering that this level of listening can’t be done through a survey or social media, that marketers need to have a unique kind of conversation with recent buyers, probing beyond the obvious answers until they know precisely how, when and why buyers choose the solutions they market.
These marketers are building buyer personas that focus on the Five Rings of Insight about the buying decision, avoiding the simple demographic profiles that can result in too many personas or not enough useful information about them.
Do your buyer personas reveal the insights you need to address these top 10 concerns? I love to hear from marketers who have truly insightful buyer personas.
If your buyer personas are missing some of this critical information, take a minute to check out the Buyer Persona Masterclass, the prerecorded training that shows you how you can become your company’s buyer expert. Or contact us to learn how you can schedule a private workshop for your team of four or more marketers.
Solutions that report on marketing results have been around for decades. Demand for useful data has produced mature marketing automation solutions at prices that make them affordable for companies of every size.
So why do marketers still struggle to gain credibility for their results? Why can’t anyone tell me how much revenue they are generating?
As I see it, the problem with attributing revenue to marketing results can only be partially addressed by technology, especially in B2B companies with complex sales cycles that extend for months or even years.
We can easily measure the number of marketing touches: how many times prospects downloaded a white paper and who attended a webinar, for example. With the right technology, we can even say how many times a particular person visited our website, where they went, and how long they stayed.
In short, we have access to plenty of data about “what” buyers are doing. Big data promises even more answers to this question. The problem occurs when we try to attach meaning to those statistics. As Mark Twain famously reported in his autobiography, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”
The holy grail of marketing metrics requires us to prove that a given marketing interaction had an impact on whether we won or lost that buyer’s business. If we understood that cause and effect relationship, we could assure our stakeholders that doing more of X will generate N qualified sales leads and Y revenue.
I’ve spent decades presenting results based on these marketing metrics. I’ve run A-B tests and crunched numbers in an attempt to relate our investment with the desired (or undesired) results. But correlations are not proof of cause and effect, a fact that I’ve personally had to admit far too many times. Who’s to say that the deal wouldn’t have happened anyway?
As it turns out, the missing piece of the puzzle is a byproduct of the interviews that are required for the Five Rings of Insight about buyer personas. Because marketers are interviewing recent evaluators of the company’s solutions (including wins and losses), they can ask probing questions about what influenced the buyer to make a particular choice.
By merging these persona findings with data from their marketing automation systems, these marketers gain unbelievable clarity about their marketing ROI.
Here’s a completely made up example about a company that is marketing laptop computers to small business owners (note that we can never publish real insights for buyer personas because our clients wouldn’t want their competitors to have this information).
In this example, we see that our PR and LinkedIn activities are working well. The Small Business Owner was impressed by the coverage we got in the The Wall Street Journal and told the Office Manager to include us in the evaluation.
But then our marketing automation solution tells us that only 20% of office managers who did that evaluation continued to include us in their “top 5″ options. Through the buyer interviews, we learn why: that the Office Manager, not the Small Business Owner (economic buyer), is our target buyer persona at this critical phase, and that she’s relying on case studies and blogs to determine that the battery life and size of our laptops doesn’t meet her needs. Our marketing activities need to improve in this area.
We also learn that our displays at Best Buy and sales training are working with the subset of buyers who do continue to evaluate us. The Office Manager is impressed with the feel of our keyboards and screen resolution – features that our website is effectively communicating.
By combining this information with the Five Rings of Insight for each of these buyer personas, this team knows what type of content they need to deliver (top priority: address erroneous data about size and battery life) and that they must get case studies and blogs working to their advantage.
Best of all, the team has transcripts of interviews with actual buyers to prove that these insights are impacting revenue so they can rally the company around a strategy to fix the most critical issues.
What is your experience? Have you asked your buyers to tell you their story about their buying experience, probing beyond their obvious first answer to get to the truth about why they chose you? Are you using these insights to fill in the gaps in your knowledge about your marketing ROI?
I hope you’ll share your comments, questions and experiences.
I’m concerned that so many people think that buyer personas begin and end with a description of a person. This demographic approach to buyer personas typically results in far too many personas, and information that is obvious or irrelevant for most marketers.
When marketers start with the objective to understand how buyers make the decision they want to influence, they’re building about half as many personas and uncovering insights that tell them exactly what they can (and cannot) do to impact those buyers’ decisions.
I think I understand the origin of the confusion. Companies have always segmented their markets by demographics (company size, industry, geography), so it’s natural to expect that personas simply extend that model to focus on the buyers in those segments.
Consider which of these data points would help you understand what you can do to persuade buyers to choose the solutions you market:
Demographics are a Dangerous Distraction
Countless blog posts and ebooks perpetuate the demographic approach to buyer personas. One marketer told me about a buyer persona training where they were advised to begin by choosing a name and a photo to represent their buyer. Other marketers are telling me about six-figure investments in buyer personas that contained endless demographic details but nothing they could really use.
I’m determined to correct these misperceptions.
Until recently, Buyer Persona Institute has primarily trained marketers whose companies scheduled one of our customized workshops for their teams. Today, we’re announcing that the Buyer Persona Masterclass is available on demand to any marketer, in two parts:
- Five pre-recorded modules for viewing on our website at your convenience (total viewing time is 2 hours)
- A 90-minute live interactive session that includes coaching and mock interviews
We will also recognize marketers who engage in best practices for buyer personas through our Certified Practitioner program. This program provides a path for graduates of the Buyer Persona Masterclass to demonstrate proficiency with this unique approach to interviewing buyers and building buyer personas. Certified Practitioners will be featured on our website, display the Certified Practitioner badge on their own websites, and contribute content to the Buyer Persona Blog.
I look forward to hearing from those of you who want to become the buyer expert marketers that stakeholders trust for persuasive marketing strategies.
It was 8:30 a.m. Pacific Time on January 28, 1986. This would be my second day as an Account Executive at Regis McKenna, the PR firm that Apple, Intel and most of the successful technology companies at that time trusted for their positioning and marketing strategies. I had a bit of marketing experience from my prior tech company job, but frankly, I was filled with anticipation and nervous about working for a famous PR firm.
I was in a conference room with a few of my new colleagues, preparing to learn more about my first assignment: conducting buyer interviews as a foundation for positioning an upcoming Intel launch.
Before we started our meeting, we decided to watch the televised launch of the Challenger space shuttle. Christa McAuliffe, a school teacher and the first “regular person” to become an astronaut, was among the 7-person crew. Christa’s inclusion was a part of a 1984 presidential initiative to promote the importance of teachers, science, and the space program, which meant that millions of school children were watching as the doomed shuttle exploded just 73 seconds after take-off, killing everyone on board.
Social media and the Internet had not yet been invented, but 85 percent of Americans knew about the tragedy within the first hour. The president’s plan to promote science was shattered, and the shuttle program itself was on hold for 32 long months.
It would be years before I fully appreciated how much I had learned that first week on the job. The research into the cause of the Challenger disaster demonstrated that internal pressure can override reason, resulting in stupid, even fatal, mistakes. Over the decades I spent in executive marketing and consulting, I learned just how critical it is for internal experts to be recognized and appreciated for their knowledge, and how difficult it is to convince an organization that a popular idea is flawed.
I also learned that marketers are rarely the trusted resource for knowledge that can prevent otherwise successful products from crashing and burning. This has got to change.
The training I got at Regis McKenna during that week in 1986 never mentioned buyer personas. They trained me to conduct “internal and external audits,” a terrible name for a great idea that involved interviewing internal stakeholders to understand their strategy, followed by buyer interviews to understand their point of view. I learned that I could market even seriously obscure technology if I simply listened to both perspectives to find the spot where they intersected. I learned that no one in most companies is a buyer expert, and that only marketers can prevent companies from pursuing a plan that has a good chance of exploding seconds, weeks, even years, after takeoff.
The Regis McKenna experience gave me the confidence and courage, in 1987, to start my own PR and market research company. A few years later, I sold it and accepted a position as VP of Marketing for a company that wanted me to build a market for a seriously obscure new solution.
The story of how buyers led me to a successful strategy in my first role as a VP is where I started my new interview with Matt Grant, managing editor and host of MarketingProfs’s popular Marketing Smarts podcast series.
In my 31 minute interview with Matt Grant, we chat about:
- Part 1: Building a market for “seriously obscure” products (1:50)
- Part 2: How we identified the buyers who would be receptive (4:00)
- Part 3: A story about a product that was doomed to fail (12:15)
- Part 4: Ad Age says that Marketers get no respect, the future of Marketing (15:20)
- Part 5: What is unique about your approach to interviewing buyers (22:15)
- Part 6: Why your Buyer Persona Manifesto recommends radical change (27:16)
Link to ebook and workshop mentioned in the podcast.
I hope you’ll have a listen and enjoy!
If the button above does not work, you can listen to the
Marketing Smarts podcast