Solutions that report on marketing results have been around for decades. Demand for useful data has produced mature marketing automation solutions at prices that make them affordable for companies of every size.
So why do marketers still struggle to gain credibility for their results? Why can’t anyone tell me how much revenue they are generating?
As I see it, the problem with attributing revenue to marketing results can only be partially addressed by technology, especially in B2B companies with complex sales cycles that extend for months or even years.
We can easily measure the number of marketing touches: how many times prospects downloaded a white paper and who attended a webinar, for example. With the right technology, we can even say how many times a particular person visited our website, where they went, and how long they stayed.
In short, we have access to plenty of data about “what” buyers are doing. Big data promises even more answers to this question. The problem occurs when we try to attach meaning to those statistics. As Mark Twain famously reported in his autobiography, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”
The holy grail of marketing metrics requires us to prove that a given marketing interaction had an impact on whether we won or lost that buyer’s business. If we understood that cause and effect relationship, we could assure our stakeholders that doing more of X will generate N qualified sales leads and Y revenue.
I’ve spent decades presenting results based on these marketing metrics. I’ve run A-B tests and crunched numbers in an attempt to relate our investment with the desired (or undesired) results. But correlations are not proof of cause and effect, a fact that I’ve personally had to admit far too many times. Who’s to say that the deal wouldn’t have happened anyway?
As it turns out, the missing piece of the puzzle is a byproduct of the interviews that are required for the Five Rings of Insight about buyer personas. Because marketers are interviewing recent evaluators of the company’s solutions (including wins and losses), they can ask probing questions about what influenced the buyer to make a particular choice.
By merging these persona findings with data from their marketing automation systems, these marketers gain unbelievable clarity about their marketing ROI.
Here’s a completely made up example about a company that is marketing laptop computers to small business owners (note that we can never publish real insights for buyer personas because our clients wouldn’t want their competitors to have this information).
In this example, we see that our PR and LinkedIn activities are working well. The Small Business Owner was impressed by the coverage we got in the The Wall Street Journal and told the Office Manager to include us in the evaluation.
But then our marketing automation solution tells us that only 20% of office managers who did that evaluation continued to include us in their “top 5″ options. Through the buyer interviews, we learn why: that the Office Manager, not the Small Business Owner (economic buyer), is our target buyer persona at this critical phase, and that she’s relying on case studies and blogs to determine that the battery life and size of our laptops doesn’t meet her needs. Our marketing activities need to improve in this area.
We also learn that our displays at Best Buy and sales training are working with the subset of buyers who do continue to evaluate us. The Office Manager is impressed with the feel of our keyboards and screen resolution – features that our website is effectively communicating.
By combining this information with the Five Rings of Insight for each of these buyer personas, this team knows what type of content they need to deliver (top priority: address erroneous data about size and battery life) and that they must get case studies and blogs working to their advantage.
Best of all, the team has transcripts of interviews with actual buyers to prove that these insights are impacting revenue so they can rally the company around a strategy to fix the most critical issues.
What is your experience? Have you asked your buyers to tell you their story about their buying experience, probing beyond their obvious first answer to get to the truth about why they chose you? Are you using these insights to fill in the gaps in your knowledge about your marketing ROI?
I hope you’ll share your comments, questions and experiences.
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’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.
I used to think that creative genius and rare intelligence separated great marketers from those who toil away in relative anonymity. It was easy to imagine that something as unmanageable as luck and native talent determined one’s place at the top of the marketing profession.
Then, I had the opportunity to work side by side with some of these “experts.” Yes, they have a keen intelligence. But over the decades I’ve spent as a marketing executive, consultant and trainer, I’ve met hundreds, perhaps thousands, of equally talented people who never got much recognition for their hard work, their products or their companies.
In whatever role they take on, the experts I know have selectively chosen an area of knowledge and turned it into a golden career advantage. They started by learning as much as they could from what’s already known about a given topic or discipline. Then, everything they engaged in became another opportunity to gain new perspectives. Every meeting was a chance to listen, ask questions and build on their expertise.
These experts had the same internal pressures and to-do checklists as everyone else, but the experts consciously chose to focus their minds on a different path. They chose to become a central repository of important insights that cannot be found anywhere else.
Every time I meet people who feel stuck in a tactical role – as many marketers are, despite adding “strategic” to their titles – I encourage them to take stock of their situation. How much focus have you given to developing knowledge or skills that are truly unique and respected?
I recently wrote an article for CMO.com, suggesting that marketers need to build a distinctive competency that would position them as buyer experts. This is an area where no one in the company is focused. And there is a vacuum of insight into how buyers make decisions to buy a company’s products, a competitor’s or to do nothing at all. That’s because no one in any company, in the normal course of business, has the exposure to the buyers’ thinking that this role requires.
Some companies think that sales people are buyer experts. But talk to any sales rep about why he lost a deal and you’ll hear about price and features. When marketers engage in direct conversations with those same buyers, the story is rarely about these concerns, revealing facts that the buyer has not yet shared with anyone.
In fact the only way for marketers to become buyer experts is to engage directly with buyers through unscripted conversations. The buyers’ first answer to any question is never surprising, so the marketer must learn how to skillfully probe for as-yet-unarticulated facts about how and why buyers make the choices the company wants to impact.
Marketers who are buyer experts gain real insight into which buyers make a buying decision and who to target. They know which marketing tools and programs they need to build to influence buyers. They can address the barriers the sales people face in moving deals through the selling cycle, identifying ways to align buying and selling processes to gain competitive advantage.
If you take this approach, you will soon become a buyer persona expert. And you will likely watch your credibility and stature grow in the organization. As you do, start preparing for your next promotion – because it’s definitely coming.
If you’d like to become a buyer expert, join Adele this Thursday, Oct. 18 for her in-depth workshop, the online Buyer Persona Masterclass. (Enrollment is limited, so register today.)
When I founded Buyer Persona Institute a few years ago, I made it my mission to educate B2B marketers about how to develop and use buyer personas. So it worries me when I see so many people focused on “buyer personas” that are little more than a generic list of demographics and obvious business priorities. This information, while interesting, falls far short of what marketers need to build marketing content, messaging strategies, and sales tools that persuade buyers to choose their solutions.
In a new guest blog post for Content Marketing Institute (CMI), I look at four common mistakes that marketers will want to avoid when developing and using buyer personas as the basis for their content marketing strategies. (For those of you attending Content Marketing World 2012, hosted by CMI, I’m presenting a pre-conference workshop, “Building Your Buyer Personas,” on Sept. 4.)
My post was prompted by the confusion I see out there about buyer personas – what they are, what they aren’t and how to develop them – even among the experts. If we aren’t careful, buyer personas could become another empty buzzword. And that would be unfortunate because personas are such an essential marketing tool.
That’s why it’s helpful to go back to definitions. In my eBook, The Buyer Persona Manifesto, I describe a buyer persona as an archetype; a composite sketch of the real people who buy or might buy products like the ones you market based on what you’ve learned about how real buyers make decisions to buy your category of solutions.
Decades of experience tell me that you can’t get an accurate picture without actually talking to buyers. If you make stuff up based on second-hand information from internal sources, your content will be based on existing knowledge and look almost exactly like it did before you built buyer personas.
These helpful templates provide a framework for getting started with buyer personas. Most people require a little practice and coaching to hone the skills that lead buyers to disclose the non-obvious insights you really need. It takes a some skillful probing to uncover the information you need to position your solution as exactly the one your buyers are looking for.
What do you think? Do you think you can still develop buyer personas without interviews? What mistakes do you see made with buyer personas? Please share your perspective here and on my guest post, Developing a Buyer Persona? Avoid These 4 Common Mistakes.
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?
If you want just a quick, easy way to “say” you’ve done buyer personas, make them up based on what the sales guy in the next cube tells you about the company’s ideal customer.
Recently, I was surprised to see several bloggers advising content marketers to do just that. If you follow my blog or participate in my buyer persona workshops, you know how strongly I feel about the dangers of making stuff up.
So when Jeff Ogden, the host of Mad Marketing TV, asked me to come back for a second episode about the most common buyer persona mistakes, I knew exactly what I wanted to say.
Here is the video of my interview with Jeff where I cover the typical mistakes that marketers make with buyer personas. I also provide some tips on how to ensure a successful buyer persona initiative.
See this video on YouTube: Mad Marketing TV Episode 2: The Mistakes That Threaten Your Buyer Persona Initiative. Link to episode 1 on You Tube: Mad Marketing TV Episode 1: Understanding Buyer Personas
In Episode 2 of my YouTube interview with Jeff, I share these common buyer persona mistakes:
#1 Using made-up information about buyers
If you just make stuff up about your ideal customer, your message and marketing content is likely to result in “preaching to the choir,” with content that’s generic and no more persuasive than anything you created without buyer personas. B2B marketing stakeholders have a right to expect a far better ROI on their investment.
The purpose of buyer personas is to learn something new, factual and insightful about your target buyer’s decision to solve the problem(s) you address with your product, service or solution. Your insights should be non-obvious, something that your competitors probably don’t know.
The only way to get non-obvious information is to have unscripted, probing conversations with the real people you want to influence – the buyers themselves. With a few hours of buyer persona training, marketers can learn how to have conversations with buyers that will uncover clear, unexpected insights. That information will help you develop targeted marketing campaigns and messages that persuade buyers that your approach is an ideal fit for their needs.
#2 Including irrelevant or trivial information
Some marketers make the mistake of including information about buyers that doesn’t help them with their marketing initiatives. Incredibly, I’ve seen B2B marketing teams get bogged down in debating whether their buyer persona is a man or a woman.
In my e-book, The Buyer Persona Manifesto, I urge marketers to short-circuit all of the trivia and focus on what I call the Five Rings of Insight™. These five insights help us discover how to reach undecided buyers, addressing their priority initiatives, success factors, perceived barriers, buying process and decision criteria.
#3 Producing too many buyer personas
In my MadMarketingTV interview with Jeff, I talk about the pitfalls of producing too many buyer personas. Many marketers believe they should segment B2B buyer personas by job titles. Not so.
This mistake can get out of hand for any company, especially those that already segment by demographics such as industry or company size. One of my clients originally came up with 24 different buyer personas. But when we got into the work with them, we were able to pare that list down to 11, and we expect to reduce it even more soon, because the marketers are continuously conducting interviews that reveal new insights.
As I explain in the video, it’s better to group buyers according to the insights that we uncover during the interviews rather than on demographics or job titles. Because those insights drive messaging and content marketing strategies, it is only logical to use them to define the buyer persona segments.
These are just a few of the most common buyer persona mistakes that I see. I cover others in my workshops and my presentations to various groups. I hope you’ll have a look at the YouTube interview and share it with your colleagues.
What misconceptions or mistakes do you see? I’m interested in your thoughts on buyer persona best practices.