Maybe I missed it, but I haven’t seen David Letterman do this one, so I want to tell you what B2B buyers tell us about marketing’s influence on their decisions. Note that every one of these statements comes from real interviews with actual buyers. After all, we don’t believe in making stuff up about buyer personas.
#10. I’m under a lot of pressure to address high-priority initiatives and don’t want to hear about other problems that you think I should take on. I just don’t have the bandwidth.
#9. Your website has all the same useless information as your competitor’s does. So no, I didn’t spend much time there.
#8. I’ve done my research and know about many of the things that I must have to succeed. I want to know whether you can deliver on those before I go any further.
#7. Yes, I have a budget and the authority to buy, but I’m not going to tell you that. I’ll decide when I’m ready to talk to a sales person.
#6. I’m seeing a lot of obvious stuff about value, but nothing that speaks to the way we plan to measure the success of this initiative.
#5. I can’t make this decision without persuading other stakeholders. I need to see something that helps me handle their concerns and priorities too.
#4. I will lose my job if I choose the wrong solution. I need to be convinced that you can address my specific concerns about this decision.
#3. I’m testing your company to see if you fully understand my needs in this area and will be responsive if I do buy from you.
#2. We won’t choose the least expensive solution; we’ll select the one that is the best match for our needs.
And the #1 thing I want you to know: This decision is actually not about price or features. We’ll go with the company that we believe we can trust.
Have you heard these before? It’s easy to see why companies that best address these buyer concerns have a major competitive advantage in this buyer-driven market.
Marketers are learning that they can listen to their buyers, and we mean REALLY listen, to gain the insights that drive the content those buyers want and need. They’re discovering that this level of listening can’t be done through a survey or social media, that marketers need to have a unique kind of conversation with recent buyers, probing beyond the obvious answers until they know precisely how, when and why buyers choose the solutions they market.
These marketers are building buyer personas that focus on the Five Rings of Insight about the buying decision, avoiding the simple demographic profiles that can result in too many personas or not enough useful information about them.
Do your buyer personas reveal the insights you need to address these top 10 concerns? I love to hear from marketers who have truly insightful buyer personas.
If your buyer personas are missing some of this critical information, take a minute to check out the Buyer Persona Masterclass, the prerecorded training that shows you how you can become your company’s buyer expert. Or contact us to learn how you can schedule a private workshop for your team of four or more marketers.
Solutions that report on marketing results have been around for decades. Demand for useful data has produced mature marketing automation solutions at prices that make them affordable for companies of every size.
So why do marketers still struggle to gain credibility for their results? Why can’t anyone tell me how much revenue they are generating?
As I see it, the problem with attributing revenue to marketing results can only be partially addressed by technology, especially in B2B companies with complex sales cycles that extend for months or even years.
We can easily measure the number of marketing touches: how many times prospects downloaded a white paper and who attended a webinar, for example. With the right technology, we can even say how many times a particular person visited our website, where they went, and how long they stayed.
In short, we have access to plenty of data about “what” buyers are doing. Big data promises even more answers to this question. The problem occurs when we try to attach meaning to those statistics. As Mark Twain famously reported in his autobiography, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”
The holy grail of marketing metrics requires us to prove that a given marketing interaction had an impact on whether we won or lost that buyer’s business. If we understood that cause and effect relationship, we could assure our stakeholders that doing more of X will generate N qualified sales leads and Y revenue.
I’ve spent decades presenting results based on these marketing metrics. I’ve run A-B tests and crunched numbers in an attempt to relate our investment with the desired (or undesired) results. But correlations are not proof of cause and effect, a fact that I’ve personally had to admit far too many times. Who’s to say that the deal wouldn’t have happened anyway?
As it turns out, the missing piece of the puzzle is a byproduct of the interviews that are required for the Five Rings of Insight about buyer personas. Because marketers are interviewing recent evaluators of the company’s solutions (including wins and losses), they can ask probing questions about what influenced the buyer to make a particular choice.
By merging these persona findings with data from their marketing automation systems, these marketers gain unbelievable clarity about their marketing ROI.
Here’s a completely made up example about a company that is marketing laptop computers to small business owners (note that we can never publish real insights for buyer personas because our clients wouldn’t want their competitors to have this information).
In this example, we see that our PR and LinkedIn activities are working well. The Small Business Owner was impressed by the coverage we got in the The Wall Street Journal and told the Office Manager to include us in the evaluation.
But then our marketing automation solution tells us that only 20% of office managers who did that evaluation continued to include us in their “top 5″ options. Through the buyer interviews, we learn why: that the Office Manager, not the Small Business Owner (economic buyer), is our target buyer persona at this critical phase, and that she’s relying on case studies and blogs to determine that the battery life and size of our laptops doesn’t meet her needs. Our marketing activities need to improve in this area.
We also learn that our displays at Best Buy and sales training are working with the subset of buyers who do continue to evaluate us. The Office Manager is impressed with the feel of our keyboards and screen resolution – features that our website is effectively communicating.
By combining this information with the Five Rings of Insight for each of these buyer personas, this team knows what type of content they need to deliver (top priority: address erroneous data about size and battery life) and that they must get case studies and blogs working to their advantage.
Best of all, the team has transcripts of interviews with actual buyers to prove that these insights are impacting revenue so they can rally the company around a strategy to fix the most critical issues.
What is your experience? Have you asked your buyers to tell you their story about their buying experience, probing beyond their obvious first answer to get to the truth about why they chose you? Are you using these insights to fill in the gaps in your knowledge about your marketing ROI?
I hope you’ll share your comments, questions and experiences.
It was 8:30 a.m. Pacific Time on January 28, 1986. This would be my second day as an Account Executive at Regis McKenna, the PR firm that Apple, Intel and most of the successful technology companies at that time trusted for their positioning and marketing strategies. I had a bit of marketing experience from my prior tech company job, but frankly, I was filled with anticipation and nervous about working for a famous PR firm.
I was in a conference room with a few of my new colleagues, preparing to learn more about my first assignment: conducting buyer interviews as a foundation for positioning an upcoming Intel launch.
Before we started our meeting, we decided to watch the televised launch of the Challenger space shuttle. Christa McAuliffe, a school teacher and the first “regular person” to become an astronaut, was among the 7-person crew. Christa’s inclusion was a part of a 1984 presidential initiative to promote the importance of teachers, science, and the space program, which meant that millions of school children were watching as the doomed shuttle exploded just 73 seconds after take-off, killing everyone on board.
Social media and the Internet had not yet been invented, but 85 percent of Americans knew about the tragedy within the first hour. The president’s plan to promote science was shattered, and the shuttle program itself was on hold for 32 long months.
It would be years before I fully appreciated how much I had learned that first week on the job. The research into the cause of the Challenger disaster demonstrated that internal pressure can override reason, resulting in stupid, even fatal, mistakes. Over the decades I spent in executive marketing and consulting, I learned just how critical it is for internal experts to be recognized and appreciated for their knowledge, and how difficult it is to convince an organization that a popular idea is flawed.
I also learned that marketers are rarely the trusted resource for knowledge that can prevent otherwise successful products from crashing and burning. This has got to change.
The training I got at Regis McKenna during that week in 1986 never mentioned buyer personas. They trained me to conduct “internal and external audits,” a terrible name for a great idea that involved interviewing internal stakeholders to understand their strategy, followed by buyer interviews to understand their point of view. I learned that I could market even seriously obscure technology if I simply listened to both perspectives to find the spot where they intersected. I learned that no one in most companies is a buyer expert, and that only marketers can prevent companies from pursuing a plan that has a good chance of exploding seconds, weeks, even years, after takeoff.
The Regis McKenna experience gave me the confidence and courage, in 1987, to start my own PR and market research company. A few years later, I sold it and accepted a position as VP of Marketing for a company that wanted me to build a market for a seriously obscure new solution.
The story of how buyers led me to a successful strategy in my first role as a VP is where I started my new interview with Matt Grant, managing editor and host of MarketingProfs’s popular Marketing Smarts podcast series.
In my 31 minute interview with Matt Grant, we chat about:
I hope you’ll have a listen and enjoy!
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.
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?