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.
This disturbing data was reported in a recent ITSMA study. The sample size was relatively small and limited to the services marketing sector, but I’m seeing indicators that this is a widespread issue.
The problem seems to have little to do with the skills needed to leverage buyer personas. Instead, marketers appear to have latched onto a cookie-cutter format for presenting buyer personas, while missing the fact that building them requires unique research. Too many people are simply recycling existing data or pushing out surveys, which virtually ensures that their buyer personas won’t tell them anything they didn’t already know.
Simply put, these buyer personas lack the breadth and depth of insight that is needed to establish the persona as an authority on the decisions marketers need to make. So nothing changes.
An insight, by definition, reveals new information. It’s something you don’t already know. When I see people recommending that marketers build their buyer personas with readily available or insider data, my hackles rise.
Sure, surveys are a quick and easy way to do research, but it’s impossible to get new information from their multiple choice, question and answer format. They’re better suited for validating and quantifying existing knowledge, assumptions or trends.
Other people believe they can build buyer personas from information provided by their marketing automation solutions. These systems contain a lot of useful data about what actions buyers took (among other things), but they don’t reveal why, for example, the buyer responded to a particular marketing piece or sales offer, or what other information would lead that buyer to eliminate a competitor from consideration.
It’s only through a real-time dialogue, through listening to each buyer’s story and posing questions based on their answers, that you can ferret out new insights: What triggers the buyer’s engagement, his barriers to purchase, or which criteria the buyer uses to evaluate competing solutions – to name just a few of the insights that actionable buyer personas reveal.
Buyer personas based on surveys or existing data are built in an echo chamber where the same theses are endlessly repeated.
To make it easy to share buyer persona best practices with other marketers, we’ve created a new infographic. I’m hoping that people who see it will begin to understand the value of listening to buyers. We want marketers to realize that buyer personas are incomplete when they end with a profile of a person, and that deep buying insights require interviews with the real people they want to influence.
Once these insights are communicated through buyer personas, marketers will have no trouble putting them to work for effective content marketing, messaging, and sales enablement, to name just a few.
I hope you will attend my session at Content Marketing World, where I’ll share the stage with SAP marketing vice president Joan Sherlock. We’ll show you how SAP is using buyer personas to effectively influence a global audience of marketers and buyers. I look forward to seeing you and meeting you there.
Note: This post originally appeared on the Content Marketing World blog.
There’s a wonderful Mark Twain quote that goes like this “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.”
One of the most compelling aspects of buyer personas is their ability to identify the words that inspire buyers to take action. In a content marketing sea of buzzwords, jargon and “me too-ness”, marketers who can say something non-obvious and meaningful have a real competitive advantage.
Here’s an example. I recently arrived early for lunch with a business associate and noticed a Tommy Bahama store next door. Curious, I drifted in and immediately caught the eye of a salesperson who said, “I’ll be right with you, I’m with another guest right now.”
That’s brilliant. If you’re marketing a brand that wants to inspire buyers to spend north of $100 on a Hawaiian shirt, you need to change their mood. By training their sales people to say “guest” instead of “customer”, Tommy Bahama evokes the attitude of a carefree vacation where buyers might actually indulge in such an extravagance.
IBM is the source of a similar example. In 2002, when they bought Price Waterhouse Cooper’s consulting business, they made the deliberate decision to drop the term customers and start referring to clients. The logic? While customers engage in a single sales transaction, clients are involved in a much longer, strategic relationship.
A fascinating article on Salon last week talks about how language influences people’s perception of reality. Cognitive scientist Lena Boroditsky has conducted multiple experiments on words and the emotions they inspire. I thought this one was especially relevant:
“In a series of experiments by Boroditsky and Paul Thibodeau, test subjects were asked to read short paragraphs about rising crime rates in a fictional city and answer questions about the city. The researchers then assessed how people answered the questions based on whether crime was described as a beast or a virus. In one study, 71 percent of the participants called for more enforcement when they read crime described as a beast. When the metaphor was changed to virus, the number dropped to 54 percent.”
Can you imagine achieving a 17% improvement by changing just one word?
While these examples are simple in the retelling, they all began with something that isn’t the least bit easy — choosing the words that will fundamentally alter their audience’s experience. One of the best reasons to build buyer personas is to uncover the insights that clarify those words, and make it possible to rally internal stakeholders around that decision even if it challenges cherished opinions.
This post is contributed by Gordana Stok, a Certified Practitioner of the Buyer Persona Institute methodology.
Last year I decided to learn how to develop buyer personas so that I could become a better content marketer. Having practiced the craft of content marketing for over a decade, I was no stranger at producing content that helps buyers to make a more informed and educated purchasing decision. And, until a year ago, I honestly thought that I was communicating value from the buyer’s perspective.
But when the value proposition that I had helped to create for one of my B2B clients was canned by their new VP of Sales and Marketing, I started to question the very process marketers use and the people who get involved. It wasn’t until I came across an ebook from Buyer Persona Institute that I truly understood the problem.
Like many marketing teams, we had reverse-engineered the product’s value based on its top features and unique selling points – not necessarily on what’s most important to buyers. So when the new VP challenged our value proposition, we couldn’t back up any of our claims with hard data. It became one person’s opinion versus another’s. And guess whose opinion won?
With the term “reverse-engineering” ringing loudly in my ears, I signed up for the Buyer Persona Institute Masterclass and became a Certified Practitioner of the 5 Rings of Buying Insight™ methodology. Having now worked on buyer personas for several companies and interviewed dozens of decision-makers, here are the six most important and surprising things that I have learned so far.
1. You need to win both the hearts and minds of buyers – even in a complex B2B sale.
The first thing that surprised me is just how willing and eager buyers are to reveal details about their buying journey around a specific product – especially when there was a lot at stake for them and their organization. When asked the right questions, buyers will share both the cold hard facts and requirements that shaped their purchasing decision, as well as the doubts, fears, relief, confidence and joy they experienced as they went from status quo to successful implementation. When you hear senior business executives at multi-billion dollar organizations express such strong emotion, you realize you need to do more than just appeal to their intellect. You need to win both their hearts and minds.
2. You can capture a wealth of actionable insights conducting 30-minutes interviews with just 10 buyers.
I’m always amazed when I review the transcripts from the recorded interviews with buyers and I first bring all the quotes into Excel to analyze the data. Conducting 30-minute interviews with just 10 buyers can easily generate over 350 revealing quotes! The key, of course, is to carefully interpret each one, identify the most significant trends and select the strongest quotes to include in the final buyer persona. An art unto itself! The quotes that make the cut are those that provide new or thought provoking insights as well as enough details so that a clear plan of action can be taken. So unlike the “buyer personas” that are created based on generic, demographic data, the insights from interview-based personas provide a real competitive advantage.
3. Only a fraction of what’s important to buyers is typically addressed on a company’s website.
It goes without saying that when you hear buyers express their pain points and needs in their own words, along with the criteria they use to evaluate solution options and make their final purchasing decision, it becomes crystal clear what information they need and how to message them. What I’m repeatedly surprised by, however, is just how far off-course a company’s content can be without these insights. In my experience, only 20% to 40% of what buyers consider to be important is actually addressed on a company’s website. The good news for marketers is that buyer quotes can easily be turned into benefit statements and inspire topics for numerous content marketing pieces. As the President of Buyer Persona Institute, Adele Revella, likes to say, “The content practically writes itself”.
4. Buyers want more in-depth product information so the length of content isn’t as important as relevance and clarity.
Being a content marketer at heart who loves to build understanding and influence people’s views, this is one of my favorite findings from interviewing buyers. When researching solution options, buyers quickly scan a company’s website to determine whether it has a solution worth investigating, so content needs to be brief. But when buyers are seriously considering a solution, they want in-depth case studies, white papers and technical briefs that enable them to assess whether the solution will work in their environment and generate the expected results. Length of content during this phase in the buying journey is not as important as relevance and clarity. What’s more, you can’t possibly create a persuasive argument for purchasing your solution if your argument has holes or isn’t backed by credible data. So go ahead and increase the word count to make sure you’re not disqualified due to insufficient information or a weak argument.
5. Buyers want companies to make it easier for them to evaluate and compare competitive solution options and demonstrate ROI.
One of the questions that I love to ask buyers during interviews is “How could the companies that you considered have made the buying experience easier for you?” The top two responses from buyers, regardless of the product category, industry, size of the buyer’s organization or the buyer’s title, are “Make it easier for me to evaluate and compare competitive solution options” and “Help me to demonstrate the ROI to my executive team”.
The most common complaint buyers have is that it’s difficult to compare solution options because every company uses a different marketing term to mean the same thing. It’s like comparing apples to oranges. Buyers want a company’s website to include a chart that compares their solution’s features with the competition’s using more neutral terms. Buyers realize that the chart will be skewed in favor of the company’s solution, but they still feel it’s a good starting point for evaluating solutions.
Furthermore, buyers need to demonstrate return on investment to their executive team in order to get final sign-off, so any information or tools that a company can provide is extremely helpful. This includes industry research reports that demonstrate the impact the solution category has on an organization’s business and ROI figures tailored specifically for their organization.
6. After experiencing the power of interview-based, buyer personas first-hand, I can’t imagine doing content marketing without it.
This may sound like an exaggeration, but I honestly don’t know how I managed to do content marketing effectively without buyer personas. My perspective has completely changed and I hope to never have to go back to guessing what messages will resonate with buyers or relying solely on the opinions of internal stakeholders. I realize that not all companies may be ready or willing to embark on a buyer persona project for a variety of reasons. But when I work with clients nowadays, my advice to them is this: You can’t know with absolute certainty what’s important to buyers and what information you need to persuade them to purchase your solution until you ask them.
I like to learn about marketing in unexpected places. The U.S. presidential campaigns are especially fascinating because they represent a “high consideration” decision where, like many B2B products, you don’t know exactly what you’re going to get until the deal is done and you “install the solution”.
This isn’t a political blog, but the parallels between political and solution marketing are compelling.
Consider the fact that the goal of every marketing campaign is to shape perception, and then watch closely as well-funded political marketing machines go to work to convince us that their candidate is an exact match for our expectations around policy and personality.
The majority of votes cast in the American system align candidates in a particular party, so the fraction remaining are referred to as “swing” or undecided voters. The 1996 Presidential elections were centered around a very specific kind of swing voter: the “soccer mom.”
“Soccer moms” were, in short, middle-income working mothers with little time in their day in between their careers and their families. Certainly there were many other personas in the voting ranks and many other swing voters. If you look hard enough, you’ll find references to NASCAR Dads, among others. But in 1996, the Clinton marketing team realized that soccer moms had the power to put their man in the nation’s most important office (or not). So they allocated a disproportionate share of their marketing to campaigns that persuade the soccer mom persona.
Another important note is that the soccer mom was still very relevant to the outcome of the election in 2000. But by the 2004 Presidential elections, strategists knew that the “soccer mom” persona had changed. With the cataclysmic events of 2001, terrorism on American soil was a reality. Fears of anthrax in the mail and future attacks transformed the “soccer mom” into the “security mom.” These were still the same people, demographically – but their motivations and concerns were different. They were worried about the safety and security of their children in this newly scary world. And it would take entirely new messaging to reach them – messaging that the Bush campaign successfully delivered.
If you’re a B2B marketer who has been concerned about building buyer personas for every influencer you can think of, take a page from the political marketer’s lesson book. Focus on the buyer who is most likely to swing the vote your way, and don’t be surprised if she changes as a result of significant shifts in market, economic or political conditions.
One of the life experiences I credit most for teaching me about marketing was the five years I spent in sales. I came to that job in a roundabout way – a division of Wells Fargo Bank wanted a paperless office and asked me to make that happen. I knew nothing about technology (and ultimately failed to create paperless-ness) but I quickly fell in love with computers.
My boss at that company helped too, giving me some of the best career advice I’ve ever received. He told me “You’ve got to love the core business you’re in or you’ll never get ahead.” I hated the core business I was in (banking), so I cut bait and started trying to find a job as a salesperson in a technology company.
My first assignment was a sales “overlay” position that focused on winning more business from the current customer base. I loved it and grew revenue by 300%, but the reps weren’t happy that someone else was making money from their customers. Management didn’t want to irritate the reps, so they eliminated my position and offered me a job in marketing.
Fast forward ten years, and in another company I spent four years in charge of both sales and marketing teams.
So while I consider myself a marketer, those five years in sales helped me see that several aspects of the way we differentiate the two roles is illogical and costly.
1. Sales and marketing are both about persuasion. The sales person’s job is to persuade one buyer at a time, while the marketer’s job is to persuade markets full of buyers.
When I was in sales, it was marketing’s job to get a buyer to notice us, and then it was my job to persuade that buyer to choose us. This was a great division of labor, because it’s way more difficult to persuade a market full of buyers than one at a time. But today’s buyers have changed the rules, navigating 60% to 80% of their decision before they talk to a salesperson. Companies that haven’t made the shift to persuasive marketing risk elimination before the salespeople have a chance to do their job.
2. Salespeople have the opportunity, permission and training to listen to buyers before they build a strategy to persuade them. Marketers have none of these things.
As a sales rep, I learned to dedicate the first part of every sales call to listening to my buyer, gaining real insight into that account’s needs and expectations. Then it was my job to describe our solution in a way that established a perfect fit between that buyer’s needs and our product. Go tell sales management that you want their reps to stop listening to buyers before they sell to them, and they’ll look at you like you’re crazy. But everyone expects marketers to do just that.
3. Sales people have to optimize their time to persuade buyers to buy now, but marketers have to optimize their investments to build pipeline for the future.
By the time I started running sales, I completely understood the importance of marketing. However, it wasn’t long before all of my time and attention shifted to the salespeople. Faced with the urgency of meeting this month’s numbers, our longer-term investments suffered. I learned that it’s really difficult to balance short and long term priorities, and that marketing metrics need to focus on results that impact the next quarter or next year, even if this seems less tangible.
4. While there are dozens of things that every good sales person learns about each buyer, the ability to be persuasive hinges on just 5 key insights.
When I decided to help marketers understand their buyer personas, I knew that many of the things I learned about buyers in sales only worked when I had the opportunity to build a strategy to persuade one buyer at a time. It was easy to see that tracking all of these distinctions about buyers would cause a lot of confusion and far too many different strategies. So I started thinking about what really helped me to be a persuasive sales rep, and that’s how the 5 Rings of Buying Insight™ became the foundation of buyer personas.
5. Despite everything you’ve heard about price, the company that wins the buyer’s trust wins their business.
The solutions I had to sell were invariably more expensive than our competition. So we didn’t win on price. We competed for the buyer’s business by being the best listeners and using our insights to persuade buyers that we were best qualified to meet their expectations. Now that buyers can avoid sales contact for so long, a lot of that responsibility belongs to the marketing team.
I think it’s fair to say that when I was in sales, we had a lot more impact on the outcome of a deal than the reps I know today. And because this change is driven by buyers who have ready access to the information they think they need, this trend is unlikely to reverse itself. It’s time for marketers to gain the deep buyer insights that have always been the foundation of successful sales.