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.
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.
This Thursday, I’ll deliver an online seminar at Marketing Profs that I’m really excited about.
I’ve delivered countless presentations about the need for effective buyer personas, but this is the first time where I’ve got 90 minutes to focus on how to effectively use them.
The idea for this session came from a recent ITSMA survey where marketers were asked if they felt their buyer personas were being used effectively. The vast majority – 83% – answered “somewhat.”
That’s obviously not the response we want for a tool that can be incredibly powerful in the right hands. So how do we leverage these personas and the insights we gain from them to make a measurable difference in marketing ROI?
This Marketing Profs Pro Online Seminar focuses on three important aspects of the application of buyer personas.
The first is building your message and core value propositions. Finding the essential message of a marketing campaign is tough stuff. Delivering 15 to 20 words that compel a buyer to learn more is harder yet. Too many marketing groups opt for a summary approach – “We’re the market-leading provider of scalable flexible compatible enterprise greatness” – that doesn’t give a buyer anything they haven’t heard dozens of times before.
Once you have the 5 Rings of Buying Insight™ for your persona, the most difficult part of the messaging effort is complete. Armed with this detailed list of your buyers’ expectations, it’s relatively easy to identify the engaging, actionable information that positions your solution as a perfect match for that buyer’s needs.
The second topic I’ll talk about on Thursday is building a solid content marketing strategy. Employing the 5 Rings of Buying Insight around each buyer should give you a list of 20 to 25 thoughts and concerns that the buyer has through the purchasing cycle. These are rich fodder for long-form content or multi-touch marketing – blog posts, white papers and other venues where you can address topics served up to you in your buyer’s own words.
And the third topic is sales enablement. We talked about this a bit in last week’s blog post, but this week’s presentation will give me a chance to talk about how buyer personas change the relationship between sales and marketing. I’ll focus on the buyer insights that motivate salespeople to follow new leads and land new customers.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of everything you should be doing to leverage your buyer personas, but it’s three things that should be at the top of your list.
I’ll be going into everything above in much more detail during Thursday’s online seminar. I hope to see you there.
If you’ve been reading this blog, you’re well aware of the impact that properly-constructed buyer personas can have on sales and marketing. But – and this might seem strange – for best results, you don’t want to send your personas straight to the sales team.
There’s one more step, and it’s crucial, because sales people are one of the primary beneficiaries of the deep insights you’ve uncovered. A misstep has consequences that can cast your persona initiative in a less than favorable light.
Remember that an insightful buyer persona talks about what buyers want from solutions like yours. Sometimes buyers want something your solution can’t deliver. Or the buyers may describe expectations where you need to give some thought to your response.
Here’s an example – say “easy to use” is an important part of your persona’s decision criteria. From the interviews that we conducted with real buyers, we know that buyers who say “easy to use” want it to “work just like other programs I use, so I won’t need any additional training.”
But your product might not work just like these other programs. It might need additional training. So Marketing would work with involved departments to make the training something that can be minimized – say with a 30-minute video that will bring users up to speed simply and effectively.
Now Sales can address “ease-of-use” with a direct, factual response that keeps the company honest. “It’s just a 30-minute video.”
When Marketing communicates buyer expectations without describing the appropriate response, it can lead to a lot of counterproductive behavior, including that classic move where Sales makes things up to impress the buyer. Or Sales may avoid following up on your leads, feeling defeated because they can’t deliver on every expectation.
Marketers also need to remember that sales people are trained to treat every buyer as unique. Talk about buyer personas and you could spend your time defending the entire concept of an example buyer, distracting everyone from the powerful insights you’ve uncovered and how your salespeople can leverage that knowledge in their sales calls.
Sales people are reluctant to follow up on leads when they don’t have experience with a particular solution and buyer. Understandably, they’re concerned about what questions might arise or how the competitors might derail their sale. With buyer personas, we can give them advance warning – here is the type of buyer that you’ll be talking to at every step in the sale. These are the expectations that each person will bring to the table. And, best of all, here are the resources you need to address those expectations and close the sale.
Keep your personas in marketing, but by all means communicate the insights you’ve uncovered and your strategies to address them.
It’s been almost three years since I published The Buyer Persona Manifesto, and so much has changed.
In 2011, few marketers had even heard about buyer personas. That’s why I devoted a sizable portion of the book to explaining what a buyer persona is about and why they are important.
Fast forward to 2014 and buyer personas are in use or under development by 73% of B2B marketers who completed a recent survey by ITSMA.
The interest in buyer personas has exploded, but the need to understand them hasn’t changed. In fact, at the Buyer Persona Institute we hear from marketers every day who lost their way as they attempted to build or leverage this important tool.
So I decided to publish a Second Edition of The Buyer Persona Manifesto to clear the waters and lay down a proven foundation for using buyer personas to produce reliable, actionable results in marketing.
In this completely updated ebook, I talk about:
- How to move beyond the buyer’s picture and capture her voice, focusing precisely on the narratives that are crucial to the marketing mission
- How buyer personas differ based on the amount of consideration a buyer gives to the buying decision
- How to avoid the traps of too many buyer personas that reveal too little in the way of insights
- How to interview buyers, including who to interview and what to ask
- How to put buyer personas to work for marketing and sales enablement
The one thing we didn’t change? All of our buyer persona resources, including this new ebook, our buyer persona templates, and the ebook I co-authored with Maribeth Ross: For Content Marketing, Let Your Buyers Be Your Guide, are still available absolutely free. And the ebook is published under a Creative Commons license to encourage everyone to share it with anyone who might benefit.
I believe that buyer personas are one of the most powerful resources in a marketer’s toolset. I want to make sure that every single person using them has the reaction that inspired the opening sentences of The Buyer Persona Manifesto:
“It’s almost like cheating, like getting the exam paper weeks before the final. Instead of guessing what matters, now I know… not only what the customer wants; I know how she goes about deciding. It’s fantastic!”
So please read, share, and connect with me on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to ask any questions you might have.
People ask me why I decided to focus on buyer personas.
Easy. I like to impress people.
And it’s easier to impress people when you know what they want.
Very early in my life, I learned that I could exceed expectations by figuring out what mattered most to the people around me. I learned how to ask good questions, and to listen intently to the way the person interacted with me about the topic.
People would often give me short answers that weren’t very helpful. But through persistence and interesting follow-up questions, I was able to learn the most amazing things.
This is the approach that landed me in the technology field more than 30 years ago. I had zero background in computers, but because I was genuinely interested, not only in how it worked but also why it was important to people, there was always someone willing to talk to me.
When I got into marketing, this simple approach began to pay big dividends. By then I had learned that information that was easy to get wouldn’t set me apart from anyone else. So I quickly observed that the best way to impress my boss, the salespeople, and a whole lot of other people was to make a positive impression on the buyers who were looking for solutions like ours.
No one told me that directly, mind you. In fact, the people I worked around didn’t even talk about our buyers. Every conversation was centered around our company’s products, strategies, or goals. We had endless meetings to evaluate options to talk about what we were doing and deliver that message to the market.
But no one ever talked about what the buyers wanted.
My colleagues would sometimes talk about “the market.” But this never seemed like a very useful conversation. “The market” seemed to consist of relatively meaningless statistics about the size of the companies or industries where our buyers worked.
Sometimes we’d hear what the analysts were saying about “the market,” which was mainly their perception about how we were doing compared to the competition. This led to discussions about how we could be better or different than the other companies.
None of this addressed my deeply-held conviction that success comes easiest to those who know what matters to real people. During our meetings, I’d ask questions like “what do the buyers want?” and “if we make these changes, will the buyers care?”
I generally got blank stares.
But I persisted, because I knew that if I had these answers, I could use them to build strategies that worked for everyone. I knew that I had to find the place where our products, strategies and goals intersected with what the buyers actually wanted.
I started finding ways to talk directly to buyers. Since one of my key goals was leads and demand generation, I was extremely curious about why some buyers had suddenly decided to make it a priority to investigate a solution like ours. So I found opportunities to talk to people who had recently bought our solutions.
I’d start the conversation by asking them about what happened on the day when they started looking for a solution like ours. After probing on that theme for a while, I’d get the buyers to tell me their whole story about what happened as they evaluated all of their options. I never accepted an easy, obvious answer. The process was one of digging around, looking for real insight.
I saw again and again that people want to engage in an open conversation about what matters most to them. I listened intently as people got caught up in the dialog and provided information I could have never thought to ask about.
It didn’t take long to see patterns in our buyers’ stories. It didn’t take long to notice that some of the distinctions we’d had about market segments were largely irrelevant. And it didn’t take long before I could build and defend strategies and tactics that I knew would resonate with our buyers.
I know that this simple idea is the reason that three different companies asked me to serve as the executive responsible for their product management, marketing and sales teams. Through that experience, I saw the power of buyer personas to impact every one of these functions
So in 2001, when I built the product marketing workshop for Pragmatic Marketing, buyer personas were the organizing principle for the entire course. Over the next ten years, I traveled the world, attempting to cram everything I knew into two action-packed days. The feedback forms always told me that buyer personas were the most important part of the workshop.
In the emails that followed, I saw that people needed more guidance. I saw that conducting this type of interview didn’t come naturally to many people.
I realized that I had to build structure and training around the interviews or marketers would create buyer personas that were only skin deep. I noticed that larger companies needed help with the cultural and process issues that emerge when the buyer’s voice is a part of the workflow. And I saw that many companies preferred to have buyer personas built by people who were already experts.
Once again, I listened intently to what really matters to people and founded Buyer Persona Institute to answer that need. This gave us the opportunity to impress hundreds of clients, thousands of marketers, and countless buyers all over the world.
This cycle of listening and impressing buyers is the reason that we say that our sole aim at Buyer Persona Institute is enabling marketers to say: “This is what matters to our buyers. So here’s the plan.”
Top Resolutions for 2014
I wonder if the companies that help us to get fit or organized realize just how lucky they are. They have the luxury of perfect timing, confident that once each year the clock will strike midnight, the ball will drop in New York’s Times Square and millions of people will suddenly be motivated to BUY NOW.
Those of us in B2B marketing can learn a lot from this extraordinary shift in buyer priorities. Consumer buyers have likely wanted to lose weight, quit smoking or clean up their messy closets for a long time. They have been the target of extensive marketing programs extolling the benefits of perfectly relevant products and services. Yet throughout the year, only a fraction of them invested the time or money to make that happen.
Then every year on January 1, approximately 45% of consumers* make a decision to adjust their priorities. Within a few short weeks, they’ll consume marketing content at an unprecedented rate and spend money on solutions that had been there all along.
Although B2B marketers will never experience anything like this dramatic shift in their buyers’ priorities, this annual event tells us a lot about why our marketing frequently inspires such a disappointing response rate. We can see that every buyer’s journey begins with a deep motivation to achieve a specific goal, and absent that commitment, they’re simply not listening.
Our buyer’s attention is almost always focused on priorities that we do not address. Then “something happens” and whammo!, solving this problem is suddenly at or near the top of the buyer’s priority list. This is the moment when that buyer will find the time, budget and political capital to solve the problem that we’ve been talking about for so long.
B2B marketers will never have the confidence of New Year’s Eve for market timing, but we can understand how the buyer’s internally driven circumstances impact their decision to consider the solutions we are marketing. This Priority Initiative insight (one of the 5 Rings of Buying Insight™ for buyer personas) tells us what we need to do and say to look like a perfect match for whatever inspires that resolution to take action now.
Most marketers know very little about these triggers. They can talk about their solution’s pain points and benefits, statements that are usually reverse engineered based on the features and functions of their products or services. But very few companies can explain, in their buyer’s own words, why so many people choose to live with that pain. Nor can they say what is unique about the circumstances that drive buyers to resolve that pain.
I’m not suggesting that we should stop marketing to people who aren’t currently evaluating our category of solutions. I’m saying that if at all possible, we need to learn how to do or say something that captures the attention of buyers whose priorities lie elsewhere. I’m also noting that achieving this outcome is more difficult and protracted than we would hope, and that our best chance to motivate any buyer is to understand what really triggers their peers to take action.
With so much emphasis on the buyer’s journey, it’s interesting that marketers seem to know the least about the very first step. Insightful buyer personas tell marketers exactly what drives their buyers’ resolve, clarifying the marketing activities that will capture a disproportionate share of that buyer’s attention and business.
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?
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