I’m concerned that so many people think that buyer personas begin and end with a description of a person. This demographic approach to buyer personas typically results in far too many personas, and information that is obvious or irrelevant for most marketers.
When marketers start with the objective to understand how buyers make the decision they want to influence, they’re building about half as many personas and uncovering insights that tell them exactly what they can (and cannot) do to impact those buyers’ decisions.
I think I understand the origin of the confusion. Companies have always segmented their markets by demographics (company size, industry, geography), so it’s natural to expect that personas simply extend that model to focus on the buyers in those segments.
Consider which of these data points would help you understand what you can do to persuade buyers to choose the solutions you market:
Demographics are a Dangerous Distraction
Countless blog posts and ebooks perpetuate the demographic approach to buyer personas. One marketer told me about a buyer persona training where they were advised to begin by choosing a name and a photo to represent their buyer. Other marketers are telling me about six-figure investments in buyer personas that contained endless demographic details but nothing they could really use.
I’m determined to correct these misperceptions.
Until recently, Buyer Persona Institute has primarily trained marketers whose companies scheduled one of our customized workshops for their teams. Today, we’re announcing that the Buyer Persona Masterclass is available on demand to any marketer, in two parts:
We will also recognize marketers who engage in best practices for buyer personas through our Certified Practitioner program. This program provides a path for graduates of the Buyer Persona Masterclass to demonstrate proficiency with this unique approach to interviewing buyers and building buyer personas. Certified Practitioners will be featured on our website, display the Certified Practitioner badge on their own websites, and contribute content to the Buyer Persona Blog.
I look forward to hearing from those of you who want to become the buyer expert marketers that stakeholders trust for persuasive marketing strategies.
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!
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 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?
In your marketing strategy meetings, do you discuss Jason’s reaction to the new launch, and why Sharon is the target for the upcoming campaign?
Experienced buyer persona users know that a well-researched buyer persona generates high confidence in marketing and business decisions, while transforming a marketer’s ability to impact buyer attitudes on solutions and brands.
In my February 23 seminar at Marketing Profs, I’ll talk about the insights that are needed to build buyer personas that deliver on these promises. I’ll talk about how they break down barriers between sales and marketing by enabling both groups to address buyer needs and visualize their respective contributions to revenue.
As companies learn to appreciate personas’ ability to predict buyer behavior with uncanny accuracy, marketers can find themselves awarded a place at the strategy table thanks to their insight on key issues influencing buyers, which, in turn, determine the company’s future. When all media channels answer the buyers’ exact questions in plain language, trust in that brand builds and competition melts away.
This ‘magic’ only happens when buyers see that a brand offers a solution that perfectly fits their definition of a problem.
The buyer persona value proposition
Although the value proposition for buyer personas is well understood, confusion still exists about what to include and how to build them. The concept is equally likely to be oversimplified or overcomplicated.
Marketers know that personas have the capability to deliver access to incredibly actionable, unambiguous information on how to reach and motivate target buyers through example buyers that are both real and persuasive.
Deep accurate buyer insights guide marketers, enabling them to gain in decision-making confidence in nearly every aspect of marketing, from content to product design, lead generation to business strategy and sales enablement to segmentation.
There have been many retweets about ‘eight personas that sales people need’, ‘four consumer buyer personas’ and ‘six ways to build your personas simply by observing their online behavior’.
If only it were that easy.
To be effective, personas need to be defined by more than demographics – marketers ultimately need buyer personas that are real and persuasive enough to allow internal stakeholders to be on first-name terms with each of them.
Creating effective buyer personas
Buyer personas are a tool and, like most tools, their attributes and the investment needed to create them vary dramatically depending on the marketing situation.
Always start the creation process with a specific goal that allows you to be practical about your investment.
It is important to impress stakeholders as quickly as possible to secure their support for the training and resources involved in broader persona implementation.
Planning your buyer persona initiative involves weighing up relevant insights and determining the required confidence level in persona performance.
Determine which buyer insights are relevant
The insights you include in your persona must be focused on a specific product, service or solution the buyer is considering.
It is highly unlikely that such insights will be the same for all your solutions.
Relevant insights vary according to the decisions you want to impact; for example:
Establish the required persona confidence level
It can be helpful to equate ‘confidence’ to the required ‘sharpness’ of the tool…….
The complete absence of a buyer persona means you are working with a very blunt instrument indeed – Making Stuff Up.
At the other extreme is a blade that’s been finely honed through extensive (expensive) qualitative and quantitative research on each one of the twenty or so buyers who impact every decision on every strategic marketing solution.
Deciding what confidence level you need in your persona is greatly influenced by the level risk involved in making the wrong decision.
Focusing on a given decision allows the team to make the best choices on both insights and confidence.
Start creating your personas
The general starting point for buyer persona creation is five-to-eight in-depth interviews with two or three different types of buyers.
These personas are typically key target segments in a critical launch or other important initiative where it is obvious that the old blunt tools are inadequate.
In especially critical or high-risk decision-making, the number of interviews should be expanded or a survey be used to validate the interview findings.
A final word of caution: “Move slowly.”
I’ve seen companies that try to accomplish too much too quickly. Personas can drive significant changes in culture, process and training and these changes evolve naturally in companies that right size their initial investments.
To learn more about how to build and apply buyer personas, please join me on Feb. 23, 2012, at 12 p.m. for my MarketingProfs online seminar, How to Build Personas that Persuade Buyers and Increase Sales.
This blog post was also published on the Smart Insights blog for Better Marketing.
The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) thinks it knows how to solve the problems with sales and marketing alignment. According to a just-released report, within 10 years, marketing will report directly to sales.
“For too long, the trend has been towards separate marketing and sales,” said David Thorp, CIM’s director of research and professional development, in a new “Marketing and Sales Fusion” white paper. “We believe that, in the next decade, more and more companies will see reintegrating marketing and sales as a smart move that brings real rewards.”
Could it be true? I hope not.
Nothing in my three decades of experience in B2B technology marketing suggests that this notion has merit. And since I personally ran a combined sales and marketing organization for five years, I know firsthand that fusion of the teams creates more problems than it solves.
The reason is simple. The marketing function influences markets full of buyers. The sales function influences one buyer at a time. The skills and timing of activities that influence markets have nothing in common with those that influence individual buyers. Combine the functions under one executive, and the focus inevitably shifts to individual buyers for near term revenue. This is vitally important, but when the company’s ability to influence the market is lost, so is its future.
Admittedly, the problems between sales and marketing are real and deserve attention. However, I find it unconscionable that an organization like CIM, which is celebrating 100 years as “the world’s largest organization for professional marketers” would just throw in the towel.
I haven’t been able to get my hands on the full report yet, but the CIM report overview makes their position clear enough:
“Marketing as a discipline has its roots in sales. Over time, due to the ambitions of the new science of marketing, the two became separate and in many cases, estranged. In our centenary year, we believe it’s time for The Chartered Institute of Marketing to say mea culpa and to try and make amends… We feel there’s no time to waste in burying the hatchet so that marketing can evolve from a discrete, some sales professionals might even say elitist, discipline to reunify with sales. There is inescapable evidence why businesses will benefit enormously if we bring them back together.”
Inescapable evidence? This U.K. based organization can’t seem to send me a PDF of the report – I need to wait two weeks for a print copy. So I haven’t seen their “evidence” yet. But I can tell you that during the five years when I was SVP of Sales and Marketing at a technology firm, my marketing team suffered. Even as a career marketer, I found that the pressure to achieve 90-day quotas whittled away at my bone-deep commitment to strategic marketing.
Just a few weeks ago, a speaker at the Sales and Marketing 2.0 conference, Gerhard Gschwandtner (@gerhard20) of Selling Power, forecast that: “Of the 18 million salespeople in 2011, only 3.6 million will be needed by 2020.” This radical prediction resulted from a report by the Sales Executive Board that said that buyers are 60 percent of the way to a decision before they ever talk to a sales person.
I’m not sure that I agree with Gerhard’s prediction, but I do know that the shift reported by the Sales Executive Board is forcing companies to learn how to engage buyers on their own terms.
Engaging buyers requires a department or function to be the buyer experts – a feat that can be accomplished only by interviewing buyers, looking for patterns and trends, and grouping buyers into buyer personas according to their findings. Then, this function needs to develop marketing content that those buyers find helpful. I wrote about this role for marketers in my e-book, The Buyer Persona Manifesto.
Frankly, I’ve never met a sales person who wanted this job. That’s because it’s a marketing job.
Then, someone needs to be there to help the buyer travel the final 40 percent of the buying process, answering the questions that are unique to each account.
Now, that’s a sales person’s job.
What do you think? Should sales and marketing remain separate or become one department?
At noon Eastern time today, a new web TV channel focused exclusively on practical content for marketers is going live with its first weekly episode.
Now here’s the best part – in the inaugural interview, Jeff Ogden, host of MadMarketing TV and author of the Fearless Competitor blog, talks to me about buyer personas!
Jeff asked me to address four questions:
We’re hoping that people will get useful ideas from this roughly ten-minute overview on my favorite topic. Please check it out on You Tube and let me know what you think.
Jeff asked me back for Episode 2 to talk about how to avoid the four most common mistakes with buyer personas. He’s got a whole new format planned so it should be really interesting.
The show will normally air every Thursday, but they’re skipping a week due to Thanksgiving. That means that Episode 2 will air on Thursday, December 1.
Please give me your thoughts on the first interview. Plus let me know if there’s a hot “mistake” that you want me to cover in the second interview.
Today David Meerman Scott launched his 8th book, “Newsjacking: How to Inject Your Ideas into a Breaking News Story and Generate Tons of Media Coverage.” I’ve just read it and am confident that it will be another huge success for David, who is best known for the bestseller “The New Rules of Marketing and PR”.
I first met David in 2005 when he was a relatively obscure marketing consultant. At the time I was leading the seminar I built for Pragmatic Marketing and we had recently won a very large contract. I was overwhelmed with too much work, so I put the word out that I was looking for someone who could take on a few classes. Jon Bachman suggested his friend David.
A quick talk on the phone and we struck up an agreement. For the next few months, David and I traveled and taught the seminar together. He frequently talked about his blog, but I was barely listening. The marketers in the seminar were not exactly engaged either. We had to work just to explain the concept and people fretted about whether it was a good idea for B2B marketers.
Then David released a little ebook entitled “The New Rules of PR”. Three months later, applying only his new rules to spread the word, more than 150,000 people had downloaded the book. A few months passed before Wiley Publishing asked David to write a “real” book that would expand on the ideas.
I thought that was very cool, but never anticipated the breakthrough that David was about to experience. A short six years later, The New Rules of Marketing and PR has sold over 250,000 copies, was recently released in its third edition, and is available in 25 languages. David is one of the industry’s leading keynote speakers, commanding a very impressive five-figure honorarium for a single hour’s work. CEOs and CMOs in the largest and most famous companies in the world meet with him and seek his advice.
And now David has published his 8th book, with another breakthrough idea that will soon be mainstream.
Watching David’s rise to fame and fortune has taught me a lot about the value of focus. In whatever topic they pursue, experts are always watching for a high-value issue that is not well-understood. Experts don’t wait around for anyone to tell them to solve the problem – they take the initiative before someone else can grab the opportunity.
Initially, the expert’s goal is to assimilate as much as they can from the information that already exists about their topic. This doesn’t seem to create more work for the emerging expert; it is simply a matter of prioritizing their thinking. Every activity is an opportunity to observe, to gain a fresh perspective or insight on the chosen subject. Every meeting is a chance to ask questions and listen. These people aren’t creating new ideas (yet), they are a central point of information for knowledge that is all around them but not aggregated, analyzed or appreciated.
Are you an expert on a topic that, in your company, is perceived to be both high value and rare? If you are in a tactical role, consider how much focus you have given to mastering a skill that can be readily outsourced or that few people respect. Or maybe you have devoted your energies to product expertise, which is more valued but certainly not unique.
Whether your company has identified the problem or not, it needs (and lacks) deep insight into the motivations, preferences and influences that drive buyers to choose your solutions, your competitors’, or to maintain the status quo. The role I call buyer persona expert describes a marketer who can articulate their target buyers’ priorities and perceptions with confidence and clarity. Is anyone in your company focused on this expertise? Can anyone predict, based on factual data, the likely outcome of a product or marketing strategy that has yet to be implemented?
David and his publisher know that his new book will be a huge success. David has so much focus on his buyer personas that winning is a foregone conclusion.