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.
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?
Download a PDF of Pragmatic Marketer Magazine
In the last month, I had a chance to deliver sessions about insightful buyer personas at two of my favorite conferences, Content Marketing World and Marketing Profs’ B2B Marketing Forum.
After each event, marketers peppered me with questions. The biggest concern? How to convince their client or in-house executives about the importance of deep buyer insights.
If you’re dealing with this issue, too, I suggest that you begin with a comparison of sales and marketing. After all, sales people have the opportunity, executive support and skills training to know their buyers before they speak.
Does it make sense that marketers would have none of these?
Think about how you could discuss these points with your resistant stakeholders:
- Would anyone ever question the need for a sales rep to listen carefully to a prospective buyer before formulating an account strategy?
- And which is more difficult, developing a plan to persuade one buyer at a time (the salesperson’s job) or building a strategy to persuade a market full of buyers (marketing’s job)? (Note: If the answer to this question isn’t instantly obvious, replace “buyer” with “voter” and suggest that they think like a politician.)
It isn’t logical that companies readily encourage sales to invest “as needed” for buyer discovery on a single deal, while marketers struggle to allocate a few hours for the buyer interviews that would benefit every aspect of their marketing strategy.
Plus it isn’t clear how marketers are supposed to already know how to conduct a probing buyer interview. Everyone fully appreciates that a sales rep’s listening and probing skills improve substantially when they have a proven framework and effective training.
Sometimes I’ll hear that the pushback originates with the company’s belief that they know their buyers. This is a bit more challenging, because people don’t know what they don’t know.
When this is the issue, I use our 5 Rings of Buying Insight for buyer personas to query stakeholders about their knowledge of their buyers:
1. Priority Initiative: At the moment when a buyer starts looking for a solution such as this one, what triggers that search? And what is different about the buyers who are looking for this solution and those who are not?
Don’t accept a simple “pain point” answer to this question. Everyone has pain but they’re not all shopping for your solution. We want to know what business triggers or events justify the company’s investment in this type of solution.
2. Success Factors: What does this type of buyer expect to be different if they invest in this solution? In the buyer’s words, what will the result look like?
If you hear an obvious answer (for example: we’ll grow the business, reduce operating costs, be more efficient, etc.), probe to see if anyone can tell you anything insightful about that result. For example, which part of their business will grow? Why can’t they achieve this growth without our solution? How much growth does the buyer expect?
3. Perceived Barriers: Why do some buyers believe that a solution that addresses this issue isn’t necessary? And what causes some buyers to choose a competitor’s solution instead?
Don’t accept easy answers. Buyers make decisions based on value and trust, not price and features. Ask follow-up questions to find places where your stakeholder is missing details. This insight is often one of the most surprising parts of the buyer persona.
4. Buyer’s Journey: When buyers start looking for this type of solution, what do they do first to evaluate all of their options? And then, what do they do to narrow their options and choose one? What resources do they trust? Which buyers are critical to the decision to include or exclude us each time they narrow their options?
5. Decision Criteria: Which attributes of our solution or company do buyers evaluate? Which are nice to have and which do buyers consider essential?
Listen carefully for jargon answers. If someone says that buyers choose your solution because it is easy to use, or because you are the industry leader or provide the best customer service, probe for details. What does the buyer expect to be easy to use? For whom should it be easy to use? How much training does the buyer expect to invest in before it is easy? How do buyers determine that our solution is easiest to use?
It may also help to show your stakeholders the example buyer persona that is now available on our new website here. Many people confuse relatively useless buyer profiles with the truly valuable information in these buyer personas, so once they see the depth of information you will discover, they should be more supportive.
A word of caution: Feel free to use these ideas to talk to your clients or internal stakeholders, but please do not interview your buyers using this post as a script. These questions are far too direct and put too much of the emphasis on you. Buyer interviews should ask people to provide candid feedback about what worked and what didn’t as they evaluated a solution like yours. This should be an engaging and non-confrontational experience that results in surprising information that buyers have not shared with anyone. To guide these conversations, you’ll need to know how to lead an unscripted, agenda-driven interview that probes on every response, because the buyer’s first answer to any question will be obvious data that isn’t insightful. You can learn more about how to interview your buyers here.
I hope you will try out these ideas on your clients or internal stakeholders and let me know how it goes. If they are still resistant, tell me what they said and I’ll follow up with another post.
Given the big investments that companies make in content marketing, you’d think that buyers would be impressed. You’d also expect that company executives would be enthusiastic about marketing results. Yet, marketers continue to struggle for budget, and buyers regularly tell us that vendor-supplied information isn’t helpful.
I’m talking about a solution to this dilemma during my presentation at this year’s Content Marketing World, which will rock the Cleveland Convention Center September 9-12. Thanks go to the “godfather of content marketing” Joe Pulizzi for inviting me back for a second year.
I’m building my CMW presentation around a buyer persona for a marketer who is considering an email marketing solution. Many people have asked me for an example buyer persona and I’ve always regretted that I had to say no. I fully understand, however, why our clients will never allow us to share their competitive insights.
So I decided to develop this persona for an imaginary company, and could use two or three more volunteers for the interviews. If you have evaluated an email marketing solution within the last six months and can spare 30 minutes to be interviewed about that decision before August 27, please contact me. It’s fun and you’ll get to hear how we conduct buyer persona interviews.
At CMW, I will explain how marketers can become a strategic resource by changing the conversation with buyers and internal stakeholders. I’ll explain the 5 Rings of Buying Insight for the example persona and show everyone how I would use those insights to drive a competitive content strategy. I’ll also talk about how to show up as a buyer expert at planning and sales meetings, and how this small step repositions marketers as a high-value strategic asset.
I’ve decided to keep the example buyer persona secret until after Content Marketing World. But shortly thereafter, I’ll publish it here on my blog for those who cannot attend.
Want a preview of the conference? TopRank Online Marketing recently published this wonderful ebook – Content Marketing Rocks! 36 Tips from Rock Star Brands and Marketers. Thank you, Lee Odden, for including my quote (on page 27).
If you will be at Content Marketing World this year, please email me or contact me through the conference app. I don’t want to miss seeing you there!
How are you positioned? I’m not asking about your products, I’m asking about you, a career marketer who needs to be positioned as an expert that clients or internal stakeholders will trust to market their solutions.
I had a quick look recently at how marketers are writing their LinkedIn summaries. The preferred formula seems to combine years of experience with the results produced in prior jobs. While this appears to work for securing the next position, I wonder how much impact it has once the marketer is on the job.
Imagine telling your clients or other stakeholders that they should not change the message you created because you’ve been doing this sort of thing for 10 years. Or saying that your recommendation to dedicate some of the budget to email marketing is appropriate because you successfully employed that technique in prior high-performing campaigns. Will this approach overcome the company’s objections to your carefully crafted message or allay concerns for the executive who has just read about the demise of email marketing?
What if your recommendations are absolutely correct, and you aren’t able to implement them because you don’t have the clout to carry the decision?
What happens if she learns that it isn't real?
Many people believe that my work is focused on buyer personas, but the more accurate view is that I’m obsessed with elevating the role of marketing. I take it personally when I see smart people toiling away on endless lists of deliverables, operating with little more autonomy than a factory production worker.
So while I’m thrilled that there is so much interest in buyer personas, I’m increasingly concerned that they could become just one more “Bright Shiny Object” on the marketers’ to-do list.
I’m seeing too many blog posts advising marketers to simply fill in templates that capture internal notions about the buyer or readily available, completely obvious external data.
For example, you can spend 10 minutes on LinkedIn and find your buyer’s job description. From that you can easily conclude that your buyer wants to grow revenue, improve productivity, reduce costs, etc. Would buyer personas created in this way really add any value?
The simple truth is that companies have a vacuum of true insight into how and why buyers make decisions. And marketers who step up to fill this void are the source of a compelling strategic advantage.
It’s also true that the comfort of existing approaches such as surveys and internal interviews won’t reveal anything compelling. But buyers will tell you exactly what you need to know, sharing insights they haven’t yet shared with anyone else, once you learn how to engage them in a structured, unscripted interview.
I’ll close with congratulations to Irakli Beselidze @premiersv, John Fox @b2bmarketing, and Julie Squires @juliesquires for completing our Certified Practitioner Program, which we recently launched to recognize marketers who build insightful buyer personas and use them to drive strategies for messaging, positioning, content marketing, targeting, segmentation, and sales enablement. You guys rock!
I’m concerned that so many people think that buyer personas begin and end with a description of a person. This demographic approach to buyer personas typically results in far too many personas, and information that is obvious or irrelevant for most marketers.
When marketers start with the objective to understand how buyers make the decision they want to influence, they’re building about half as many personas and uncovering insights that tell them exactly what they can (and cannot) do to impact those buyers’ decisions.
I think I understand the origin of the confusion. Companies have always segmented their markets by demographics (company size, industry, geography), so it’s natural to expect that personas simply extend that model to focus on the buyers in those segments.
Consider which of these data points would help you understand what you can do to persuade buyers to choose the solutions you market:
Demographics are a Dangerous Distraction
Countless blog posts and ebooks perpetuate the demographic approach to buyer personas. One marketer told me about a buyer persona training where they were advised to begin by choosing a name and a photo to represent their buyer. Other marketers are telling me about six-figure investments in buyer personas that contained endless demographic details but nothing they could really use.
I’m determined to correct these misperceptions.
Until recently, Buyer Persona Institute has primarily trained marketers whose companies scheduled one of our customized workshops for their teams. Today, we’re announcing that the Buyer Persona Masterclass is available on demand to any marketer, in two parts:
- Five pre-recorded modules for viewing on our website at your convenience (total viewing time is 2 hours)
- A 90-minute live interactive session that includes coaching and mock interviews
We will also recognize marketers who engage in best practices for buyer personas through our Certified Practitioner program. This program provides a path for graduates of the Buyer Persona Masterclass to demonstrate proficiency with this unique approach to interviewing buyers and building buyer personas. Certified Practitioners will be featured on our website, display the Certified Practitioner badge on their own websites, and contribute content to the Buyer Persona Blog.
I look forward to hearing from those of you who want to become the buyer expert marketers that stakeholders trust for persuasive marketing strategies.
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:
- Part 1: Building a market for “seriously obscure” products (1:50)
- Part 2: How we identified the buyers who would be receptive (4:00)
- Part 3: A story about a product that was doomed to fail (12:15)
- Part 4: Ad Age says that Marketers get no respect, the future of Marketing (15:20)
- Part 5: What is unique about your approach to interviewing buyers (22:15)
- Part 6: Why your Buyer Persona Manifesto recommends radical change (27:16)
Link to ebook and workshop mentioned in the podcast.
I hope you’ll have a listen and enjoy!
If the button above does not work, you can listen to the Marketing Smarts podcast here.
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:
- Your buyers’ investment in weighing alternative approaches and making a choice
- Your buyers’ opinion about the financial, operational and/or personal consequences of making the wrong decision
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.
Now I believe that a much more controllable characteristic, the discipline of focus, sets marketing experts apart from their colleagues in the trenches.
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 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?