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.
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:
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.
Knowing your buyer isn’t exactly a new idea. I first learned to interview buyers in the 80′s when I was with Regis McKenna, the PR firm that represented Apple, Intel and many other technology leaders at the time.
Over the next decade, my focus on the buyer accounted for my success as VP of Marketing for three companies that sold seriously obscure technology and services. The buyers taught me how to think about the value of the solutions we offered. It was just logical, therefore, to put buyer personas at the center of the workshop I authored and led for thousands of Pragmatic Marketing attendees for nearly a decade.
Much has changed about B2B marketing since I began my career. The companies I worked with in the 80′s and 90′s were inventing technology. Buyers didn’t have many choices or easy ways to learn about their options. Many were locked into a particular operating environment. As they say in real estate when housing is in short supply, it was a “sellers’ market.”
That was long ago. Just about everyone I know today is competing in a buyers’ market. Buyers have exponentially more choices and virtually instant access to information about them. Long before they talk to a sales rep, buyers are conducting research and making up their own minds about what’s important to them, eliminating companies on the basis of whatever information they can easily discover.
During the interview, I built the case for marketers to invest a few hours learning how to become a buyer expert, someone who knows how to get a B2B buyer to tell the story of how they make decisions about high consideration solutions.
Together, we walked through the key insights that marketers need to know about their buyers. These are what I call the Five Rings of Insight.
We also had a chance to talk about For Compelling Content, Let Your Buyers Be Your Guide, the new eBook I co-authored with Maribeth Ross. I shared some highlights, such as our 3 Rules of Buyer-Driven Content Marketing:
Rule #1. Your Buyer is the Center of Your Universe. Too often, we are drinking so much of the corporate Kool-Aid that we lose sight of how our target buyers think about the problems we’re solving. It’s important to make the buyer’s perceptions about their options so real, so compelling, so persuasive, that the company is willing to take direction from what they’re saying.
Rule #2. Get Everyone Aligned Around What the Buyer Cares About. That’s the purpose of building the buyer persona. But it’s not focused on gathering the B2B buyer’s demographics, their marital status, their gender, their industry, or their company size or other extraneous data. All of that is mostly meaningless noise. What’s important is how the buyer makes the decision we want to influence. And to do this, we have to talk to real buyers. It’s absolutely essential.
Rule #3. Lose the Jargonese. Once we know precisely what matters to buyers, it’s important that we leave the jargon behind. We need to hit the delete button on all of the flexible, scalable, compatible, enterprise wide and other BS in our content. In its place, we need to focus only on the points, the criteria and the topics that buyers want to learn about, using the words and tone that will resonate with our audience.
By following these 3 simple rules, marketers can focus on what I call the content of the content. Too often, we are too preoccupied with where to put the content, how to design the content, and all of the tactical details involved in delivering the content. I’m not saying that effectively managing our projects isn’t important. I’m just saying that it’s easy to lose sight of what our buyer wants to hear – the content – unless we spend time hearing them out on this subject. When we get in synch with our buyers, the content virtually writes itself.
So what are your rules of content marketing? How do you make sure you build content that buyers will find useful and will want to consume?
If you’d like to hear my entire conversation with Pamela, you can:
For more tips and insights, you can also download our new free eBook, For Compelling Content, Let Buyers Be Your Guide.
Once or twice a year, you may attend a client dinner or an industry conference. But even if your company hosts a customer advisory meeting several times a year, it will probably spend at least 80 percent of this time presenting to customers, and whenever a customer is speaking, the topic will focus on solution support or usability, not the customer’s buying experience.
If you’re like most marketers, you rely on the sales people for your information about how and why buyers make their decisions. Since sales reps typically talk to customers all day, you could assume that they know their buyers.
But, to paraphrase the the Gershwin song from “Porgy and Bess,” it ain’t necessarily so. If sales is telling you that price and features dominate the buyer’s concerns, you can be darn certain it ain’t so.
Many of you will identify with my client Dave (not his real name) who related that his organization was so focused on making the sale and pitching to clients that “we were just shooting ourselves in the foot.”
Dave is a product marketer. His organization had a common problem. Years ago, management saw a specific business problem and brought to market a solution to address it. Each new customer had a brand new set of enhancement requests, and the company had been completely focused on solving the current customers’ needs. Suddenly a competitive threat emerged that would require senior management to redeploy limited resources.
This dilemma provided the perfect opportunity to slow down, take a deep breath and listen to buyers. And that’s exactly what Dave did. He started interviewing recent evaluators. Each interview became another opportunity to get comfortable with the probing questions that revealed surprising insights. After a relatively small number of interviews, he began to see the themes that spanned all of them.
From these conversations, Dave knows how his product addresses a pervasive problem in the industry. He knows what the buyers are saying about the competitor’s approach, including their strengths and weaknesses. Analyzing his product’s successes and failures, he can apply this insight to potential market segments.
This is a starting point for building the buyer personas that Dave needs to develop an effective marketing and sales enablement strategy. Dave has even found a novel approach to developing highly qualified leads that he hadn’t thought of before.
All of this information came from simply stopping the endless selling (and marketing) and starting to listen and learn from the only people that really matter – the target buyers.
Why do many marketers never get around to talking to customers and buyers?
I’ll let Dave answer: “Sales people keep saying they just need more leads, ROI calculators and that sort of thing. We’re so busy working on our marketing checklists that there is never enough time to get out,” he told me. “I always knew my opinion was irrelevant but I never guessed that the opinions of the sales people were also irrelevant.”
While I’ve changed Dave’s name and a few minor details, everything else I’ve shared here is true. I’ll keep Dave’s secrets about what he actually learned from talking to customers though. That information is an advantage that would be lost if his competitors got their hands on it.
I’m excited to see more marketing agencies among our workshop attendees because by training just one agency to develop actionable buyer personas, we can help many more companies.
To get a sense of how agencies are leveraging buyer insights in the messaging, content marketing, advertising and campaigns they deliver for their clients, I interviewed recent Buyer Persona Institute graduate Julie Squires, CEO of Softscribe Inc. Her Atlanta branding, marketing and public relations agency serves clients in hospitality, travel, multifamily housing, and federal government and enterprise markets.
Q: How did you decide to build buyer personas for your agency clients?
Julie Squires: “I like to tell the story of Henri Matisse, who didn’t start painting until his late 20s when he was recovering from appendicitis. His first teacher looked at his work and told him, ‘You were born to simplify painting.’ We feel we were born to simplify marketing – that’s what we do for our clients. Our focus is to increase sales 20 percent to 25 percent through marketing. And buyer personas give us an effective process to do that.”
Q: How are personas helping you better serve your clients?
Julie: “Messaging is going micro and it’s going visual. If you only have six to eight words [to get a message across], how do you know you’re picking the right words? Buyer personas give us a way to break through the noise level. For us, they’re a discipline for grabbing hold of the voice of the customer. We hand-build this into persuasive messaging that captures the buyer’s attention.”
Q: Do you think marketers are getting too caught up with data, forgetting that marketing is both art and science?
Julie: “I do think we’re getting too algorithmically hypnotized. But we’re starting to see a swing back toward incorporating more of the human element and storytelling back into marketing in service of the business goals.”
Q: What did you do first after attending the buyer persona workshop?
Julie: Our team quickly completed 6-8 solid interviews for a client with buyers who made win or loss purchase decisions within the last 30-90 days. We found that we were able to tap into the voice of the customer at a visceral level and understand the essence of who the buyers are and what they want. Buyer personas are now embedded in our agency culture as part of our BEAM methodology – with the ‘b’ standing for buyer personas.”
Q: Do you think that buyer personas will help you win new business?
Julie: “Yes, it’s one way we’re getting new business…Our clients trust us to lead them into the next new, effective way to communicate to increase sales. So we’re seeing a lot of interest. And it’s already paying big dividends for our existing clients.”
Q: How have buyer personas helped your clients?
Julie: Here’s what’s cool. Our first buyer persona initiative resonated so well that our client rolled out the messaging in all their ads, trade show booth verbiage, and videos. At the sales meeting, everyone was enthusiastic and had confidence in the work [because it was based on real interviews with real buyers].”
Q: What advice would you give for others who are considering using buyer personas?
Julie: “Templates, e-Books, webinars and a wealth of other resources can help you get started. It’s a big procedural shift. You need to invest in training. Teach your team how to incorporate buyer personas into their marketing and PR processes. Also, it’s not enough to talk to in-house experts; interviews with real buyers are essential to gathering competitive and other insights you need to build effective sales-oriented messaging that gets results.”
I want to thank Julie Squires for participating in this interview and sharing her experience. If you have a success story about buyer personas, I’d like to hear from you.
I’ve seen this question posed to several of the industry’s most renowned marketing experts, but I have never heard a really good answer. The differences between B2B and B2C remain mysterious – so much so that marketers rarely cross from one side to the other during their careers.
Some believe that buyer personas, which are helping to shift the B2B industry’s attention to the people who make corporate buying decisions, will have the additional benefit of blurring the distinctions that have locked so many marketers into their original career path.
If this attitude helps marketers expand their job options, this is probably a good thing. However, I believe the logic is faulty.
That’s because a marketer’s role and contribution is not distinguished by the company’s focus on B2B or B2C solutions, but by the degree of “consideration” a buyer gives to the decision the marketer wants to influence. For the most part, B2C products are “low-consideration” decisions, where branding plays a major role in the buyer’s choice, while B2B products tend to be “high-consideration” decisions where buyers need specific information before they commit.
The fact that levels of buyer consideration so frequently align with industries might explain the longstanding divide between B2B and B2C marketing. But there are exceptions, and the interest in buyer personas is amplifying the need for a more nuanced view.
A simple example of a low-consideration decision is the B2C buyer’s impulsive purchase of a new type of magazine or candy at the checkout counter. On the opposite end of the consideration scale, however, B2C buyers make relatively high-consideration decisions when they invest in a home, major appliance, retirement plan, or private school for their children. A mid-range B2C buying decision might involve planning for an upcoming vacation.
Note that this same person may have a job where she invests weeks, months, or even years on a team that is evaluating a new technology solution for her company. She also makes relatively low-consideration B2B decisions about sending members of her team to an industry conference.
I’m not saying that brand is irrelevant to buyers of high-consideration solutions, or that information is unimportant to buyers of low-consideration products. Instead, I am suggesting that there is an enormous difference in the weight that buyers give to these factors, and that this has a huge impact on expectations and investments in marketing.
By thinking about the following two factors, it is fairly easy to understand where your product, service or solution fits on your buyer’s continuum of “consideration.” Think about:
This distinction is important for buyer personas because marketers of low-consideration products can improve their marketing and branding decisions by identifying “personal” buyer attributes such as gender, age, hobbies, marital status, income levels, commuting patterns, and so forth.
However, marketers of high-consideration products, services, and solutions are justifiably perplexed about how to use buyer personas that focus only on the buyer’s personal or demographic details. These marketers, whether B2B or B2C, need insight into the information needs of a targeted group of buyers as they make the decision to purchase their product, a competitor’s, or to do nothing at all. That’s where the Five Rings of Insight are essential to the marketer’s success.
Levels of buyer consideration also impact the marketer’s options for building buyer personas. Because we know that buyers of low-consideration products cannot reliably explain their own choices, these marketers will need to invest in sophisticated research by third-party professionals.
On the other hand, buyers of high-consideration products can and will tell you exactly how and why they made a recent decision. Marketers who learn how to conduct a uniquely structured but unscripted conversation with these buyers can uncover critical details that the buyer has not yet shared with anyone. These invaluable insights are the foundation of competitive and effective messaging, content marketing, segmentation and sales enablement for high consideration solutions.
I’ll give a brief overview of the buyer insights that are essential for marketing high-consideration solutions at an upcoming free webinar, Get More Leads by Identifying and Targeting Your Buyer Personas, with Janet Driscoll Miller, President and CEO of Search Mojo, on November 15, 2012 at 2:00 p.m. ET. I hope you’ll join us.
Most marketers focus their buyer personas on information gained from their sales people, a product expert, the latest analyst reports, or purely demographic data such as job title, industry and company size. While quick and easy, these sources cannot tell you what your buyers are thinking about as they evaluate their options to solve a particular problem.
My concern about the missing parts of buyer personas motivated me to co-author with B2B marketing veteran Maribeth Ross, vice president of Marketing at NetProspex, a new eBook, “For Compelling Content, Let Your Buyers Be Your Guide.” This free resource launches today at Content Marketing World, where I’m presenting my “Building Your Buyer Personas” workshop.
To understand why the quick-and-easy approach to buyer personas won’t help you develop better content, let’s consider a typical scenario.
Our marketer, Kristen, talks to the in-house subject matter experts. She takes plenty of notes and learns about industry trends by reading trade magazines and analyst reports. Given her sources, most of what she learns focuses on the features and benefits of the company’s product or service. Any information about the target audience is probably basic demographics: the buyer’s job title, role in the decision, company size and industry.
Now consider a different approach.
Kristen kicks off her content initiative by interviewing recent buyers to probe for the Five Rings of Insight, her target buyer’s perspective on the five factors that influence the decision to buy a particular product, service or solution. These insights include the buyer’s Priority Initiatives, Success Factors, Perceived Barriers, Buying Process and Decision Criteria for the solution Kristen needs to message.
Kristen doesn’t rely on a survey or focus group. She has one-on-one conversations with recent buyers to discover how they evaluated and compared her company’s products and services to their other options. These interviews tell her exactly what outcomes resonate with buyers, their concerns about the company’s approach, which aspects of the solution they use to compare their options, and where they get the information they need to make a decision.
Imagine if you could develop all your content based on direct conversations with the people who are your target audience. Here are three tips for putting buyer insights to work in your content marketing.
1. Interview buyers to gain real insights. It’s not enough to know the title, age and gender of the target buyer. And if you make stuff up about your buyer personas, your marketing content won’t look any different than it did before you took that step. You need to have a specialized kind of conversation with recent buyers, probing for insights that buyers have not yet shared with your sales people, your competitors, or anyone else for that matter.
2. Focus on the decisions you want to influence. Interview people who recently evaluated your solution to hear exactly how they compared your approach to your competitors’ offerings. This gives you the data and confidence to define a messaging strategy that communicates the information that will motivate those buyers to choose you.
3. Lose the jargon. Probe deeply on your buyer’s use of words like “streamline,” “robust” and other generic words that your competitors also use. When you know exactly what the buyer expects to be “robust”, your content can speak directly to the outcomes and concerns that are most critical to them.
By gathering key insights from unscripted interviews with recent buyers, you will become the buyer expert. When you make your buyer the focal point for your marketing initiatives, they’ll show their appreciation by choosing your company’s solutions with increasing frequency.
I hope you enjoy the new content marketing ebook and look forward to your comments and questions.
Just because you’ve met with internal stakeholders and can tick off buyer pain points– increasing operational efficiency, reducing costs and minimizing risks—doesn’t mean you know your buyer personas.
Marketers need to go beyond the obvious, generic stuff and understand the real questions buyers ask as they evaluate the solution you are marketing. For example, what initiatives trigger your buyer’s search for alternatives to their current approach? What objections will you have to overcome to persuade the buyer to consider you?
More often than not, companies’ knowledge of their buyers is limited to obvious data based on job title and role. It’s even worse when their personas focus on trivial points about B2B buyer’s hobbies or personality.
Buyer personas are useful to B2B marketers when they convey specific insights gathered from first-hand conversations with recent buyers. You can easily learn how to engage in direct conversations with your buyers, discovering exactly what you need to do to persuade them to choose you. The result is a buyer persona that is unexpected, factually correct, and not available to your competitors.
These templates will help you get started, showing you exactly what you need to know about your buyer personas.
Part 1. Use the Core Buyer Persona Template (left) to capture your buyer’s demographic information and priority initiatives. This template captures only the basic information about a buyer persona that would not be influenced by the products, services or solutions you are marketing. This information is helpful for targeting the most receptive buyers, but Part 2 of the buyer persona is needed for every other marketing decision, including messaging, content marketing, segmentation, marketing mix, and sales enablement.
Part 2. Use the Product-Persona Connection Template (below) for data that varies depending on the product, service or solution you are marketing. This template focuses on the information you will need to define strategies, messaging and content, including the buyers’ description of their success factors, perceived barriers, buying triggers, decision criteria, influencers and resources.
It is important that your source for the content in these templates is from direct conversations with your buyers. You will need to master just a few new skills to conduct the unscripted interviews that lead buyers to disclose facts they haven’t yet shared with anyone else.
We call these facts the Five Rings of Insight because they provide a clear picture of everything you need to know to impact your buyers’ decision:
These buyer persona templates are freely available without registration. I hope they will inspire you and your colleagues to begin talking to real buyers and building your own buyer personas. As always, I welcome your feedback on the templates to help me continue to improve them.
Adele Revella will teach marketers how to interview buyers in her “Building Your Buyer Personas” workshop at Content Marketing World on Sept. 4, 2012. Find more information about buyer personas at www.buyerpersona.com.
When I ask B2B marketers about their personal priorities, they describe their desire to participate in strategic, high value decisions. Too often, this goal stands in stark contrast with their stories about a typical workday, toiling away with little more autonomy than a production-line factory worker.
No one questions that the finance department is best qualified to keep the books or that the engineers have the authority to build useful products. However, it seems like everyone has a better idea about how marketing should function. From content marketing to launch strategy and messaging, marketing tends to be everyone’s playground.
Why is this? The fundamental problem is that the marketing discipline lacks a perceived core competency: a unique strength that positions marketing as the respected authority on decisions within its own purview.
The Strategic Gap
Until we address this competency question, marketers cannot become the strategic resource that will contribute bottom-line benefits and deliver clear competitive advantages to the organization
In a new article for CMO.com, I offer my proposal for addressing the problem. In my view, the best way for marketers to bridge the gap is to build the necessary skills and knowledge to become buyer experts.
Just check out the invite list whenever executives meet to devise strategies to reach new markets, achieve difficult goals or overcome competitive obstacles. Does anyone at that meeting have the factual insights about how and why different buyers will respond (or not) to a given course of action?
Now imagine a different approach to the role of marketing. By talking to real buyers in 1:1 conversations, marketers would gather the critical insights that would make them among the company’s most valuable competitive assets. (For a brief summary of these buyer insights, see my “Five Rings of Customer Insight” in the July/August 2012 issue of Sales and Marketing Management.)
As a result, marketers would be the source of information to help inform many of the decisions at the highest levels of the company. After all, the buyer’s perspective should be at the heart of every business decision – from acquisitions to market expansion and product introductions. It’s also the missing link that would enable marketers to develop effective content and successful campaigns targeting the right buyers with the right messages.
This essential skill – which I teach in my buyer persona workshops and coaching – would help marketers finally close the competency gap, building the credibility and authority to gain a seat and a voice at the strategy table.
What do you think? How can marketers overcome the core competency gap? Please share your perspective with your colleagues here and on the CMO.com forum for my article What is Marketing’s Unique Core Competency?