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danger trip hazardYou may have heard that buyer personas are a vital tool for salespeople, and wondered if you should feature them in an upcoming launch or sales kickoff.

The first point is that although personas can appear deceivingly simple to create, the most common paths used to to build them generates personas which are NOT valuable to salespeople.

It is a waste of time to assign a name and photo to obvious pain points, or to focus on personal details unrelated to the problems you address. For example, one client showed us personas that included information about their prospect’s recreational activities. Unless you’re selling exercise equipment, your reps don’t need to hear that the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) is 45, married, and attends spin class three times a week. Yes, this make the CMO more human, but it does nothing to help your sales (or marketing) team frame a compelling argument for your data analytics solution.

No Fiction. Facts.

Far from fictitious or idealistic portraits, buyer personas need to be built on well-researched insights into the actual priorities, success factors, and decision criteria that factor into your buyer’s decision to solve the problem you address.

Before you deliver buyer personas to your sales team, make sure you consider these three points:

  1. Ensure Success for that First Sales Interaction

Many personas are built around job titles, with additional notes such as whether that role is risk adverse or tech savvy. This is a start, but not nearly enough to help your salesperson know how to engage this buyer in a first meeting.

Does your persona include specifics on the drivers that cause buyers to reject the status quo and begin to evaluate solutions like yours?  Your reps need to know which buyers are receptive, which are not, and most critically, which company or individual dynamics predict a willingness to change.

These insights also tell you which roles you should target. In a recent study, our client learned that their preferred buyers — those looking for higher-priced quality & guarantees of performance – were least involved in day-to-day operations, which everyone naturally assumed was where the high quality pitch would work. Totally new, totally fresh, this was an insight they were NOT expecting until we interviewed real buyers

By the way: this is what sales reps already LOOK AND LISTEN for when reading the web, watching the news or reading a company’s news releases. The more you can arm reps with KEY INSIGHTS they can use to fine-tune their “sales radars,” the faster they will find real opportunities and weed out time-wasters who just have time to talk.

This approach creates “wedges” to crack open opportunities that a product or ROI pitch simply cannot. Your reps will love these insights as they leave “less informed” competitors in the dust.

  1. Win/Loss Can Only Tell You So Much: Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid

While you may have heard that features or price are high on the list of reasons that buyers don’t choose you, unscripted, “safe” conversations with real buyers prove that these are only a small part of the story. There’s a LOT more to these decisions that buyers are not revealing to sales reps during the sales process, or to whomever is conducting the follow-on win/loss interview.

These unexpressed objections are CRITICAL because they allow your salespeople to address objections your competitors will never discover.

One of the primary objectives for buyer personas is to anticipate the buyer’s questions, and the answers they hope to hear, as they research options, weigh alternatives, and make a selection.

Every rep can tell you story after story of the “deal that almost was,” where everything looked just right and then: NOTHING. The prospect went dark, the deal went cold, it just wasn’t time.

It’s not the things you expect that can kill a deal, it’s the ones you don’t anticipate. Buying insight interviews prove that even the most informed companies have, at most, 90% of the facts about what matters to their buyers.  The missing 10% is slowing down your entire sales pipeline.

  1. Use Buying Insights to Build Synergy between Marketing and Sales Teams

Despite big investments in marketing automation, lead scoring, and shared goals, when you listen to buyers, you’ll hear that sales and marketing efforts remain largely disconnected.

Buyers are frustrated and lose trust in a company when the answers they need aren’t readily available. No one cares whether sales or marketing is at fault – if a buyer perceives the disconnect between themselves and the company, you’ve just added ANOTHER obstacle to the sale.

It helps to start with the understanding that sales people persuade one buyer at a time, while marketing persuades markets full of buyers.  Now conversations between sales and marketing can focus on the perceptions that exist and what the teams can do, separately and jointly, to educate the market and persuade buyers that you have a solution that is a perfect match for the buyer’s expectations.

The goal should be meaningful sales and marketing plays that aren’t based on simple buyer profiles or obvious pain sheets. Instead, your activities are built on facts that aren’t easy to discover, creating a competitive advantage that will be much more sustainable than a price reduction or feature enhancement.

Properly researched buyer personas are far more than a clever way to dramatize WHO “might” be the person involved in a buying decision plus their personality, pains and objectives. To be valuable to sales, they need to provide new insights about how, when and why buyers choose products or services like yours – the very insights salespeople wish they had to close a deal.

In our upcoming webinar series, we will explain how effective buying insights are uncovered using interviews that involve a completely unscripted dialog between an interviewer and real buyers. You’ll see how skills much like a journalist’s uncover the practical, emotional and rational stories related by people who have recently spent money to solve the same problem you address. For more information on interviewing skills, custom buyer persona studies and upcoming webinars, visit www.buyerpersona.com or email info@buyerpersona.com.

A few days ago, Mark Schaefer published an article entitled “Why customer personas may be an outdated marketing technique.” In it he argues that every competitor is marketing to the same people, so if marketers rely on obvious data about their customers to guide their content, they’ll all come to the same conclusion and deliver the same useless content. I agree.

He goes on to relate a story about sitting with a CEO client while her agency asked questions in a persona template. Mark was trying to manage his frustration when the CEO stopped this ridiculous conversation, thank goodness.

The rush to build buyer personas is resulting in too many experiences just like Mark’s. If we don’t stop this insanity and get real about what’s involved in building and relying upon insights into buying decisions, influential stakeholders like Mark (and your CMO) will draw this same conclusion.

Buyers created the need for audience marketing

Let’s stop to remember why audience and content marketing first became vital initiatives. You have probably heard that today’s self-educated buyers are, on average, 60% of the way to a buying decision before they talk to our sales people.

Before the buyers messed this up, it was marketing’s job to build awareness with cleverly crafted and placed messaging about the benefits of our solutions. When buyers needed more information they’d contact us and we’d send in our sales experts, people who had been trained to discover the goals, concerns and purchase criteria for that buying decision. The reps would use these insights to position their solution as a perfect fit for that buyer and win the business.

Once buyers decided to keep salespeople at arms length until they had narrowed the field to just two or three solutions, audience marketing was supposed to keep us on the buyer’s list for as long as it took to get our sales people into the account.

Marketers underestimate the changes buyers have imposed

Few companies understood the magnitude of the responsibilities these buyers had imposed upon marketing. But it did make sense to “know your customer,” so marketers began to rely upon familiar approaches such as surveys, scripted interviews and agency partners to complete profiles for each job title or role who might influence the purchase. By some counts, 80% of marketers will have these templates completed by the end of this year.

But try to find a marketer who says that the purpose of audience marketing is to understand the buying decision so well that they know which questions buyers will ask, the answers they want to hear, and can create content that explains the capabilities that align with that buyer’s expectations.

It’s clear that the agency marketer Mark Schaefer met didn’t know that useful buyer personas require direct interviews with recent evaluators of a similar solution, or that they feature verbatim quotes to tell you, in the buyers’ own words, what triggers their decision to initiate this type of purchase, which outcomes they anticipate, their barriers to purchase, and the criteria they use to weigh their options.

If we don’t get this right, buyers will take things into their own hands

Yes, our goal is to know our buyers, but the knowledge we’re capturing in buyer personas is misguided and rarely used for anything at all.

Now that we have the mandate and automation to deliver content throughout the buying cycle, marketers need to know how to deliver more than the appetizer-grade, benefits-oriented messaging that was always meant for the top of the funnel. It’s time to deliver the beef, the main course that will help the buyer make an educated decision about whether we are the best qualified company to address their problem.

When we fail, buyers rely on their peers, consultants and employee’s prior experiences to decide which options they should consider. At that point, anything can happen.

This isn’t idle speculation. Over the course of the last year we had lengthy, unscripted conversations with 419 buyers who had recently evaluated our client’s high consideration solutions. It wasn’t fun to report back that we are losing deals, at least in part, because buyers couldn’t get the information they needed from their sales and marketing interactions.

We can change this outcome, but first we must realize that we have big shoes to fill. Salespeople have a much better chance of convincing one buyer at a time, but the buyers we interview don’t seem likely to make this any easier for us.

Buyer Personas You might have noticed that I haven’t published updates on this blog and that my presence on social media has been scarce over the last few months. I wish I could tell you that I’d been sailing the seas or lolling around on a beach somewhere, but in fact I’ve been heads down in my office and barely noticed the passing of spring or summer.

In March of 2015, John Wiley & Sons will publish the book that kept me locked away all these many months: Buyer Personas: How to Gain Insight into your Customers Expectations, Align your Marketing Strategies, and Win More Business.

It’s an incredible honor to be published by one of the world’s leading presses for business professionals. And I’m thrilled that the foreword is by David Meerman Scott, international bestselling author of The New Rules of Marketing & PR and The New Rule of Sales and Service.

David had been bugging me to write this book for years and I knew that he was right. As the interest in buyer personas has gone global, there is enormous confusion about how to discover and utilize the insights they should reveal. The misdirection I find online and the questions we field in our daily client interactions consistently confirm the need for a definitive guide on this topic.

But the simple truth is, I don’t like to write. I’d rather interact with people. Put me in front of an audience and I’m never at a loss for words, but I’ll procrastinate forever on a writing assignment. When I forced myself to sit down and write a 256-page book, I learned a lot about myself.

Psychologists Katharine Briggs and Isabel Meyers have a great explanation for the difference between introverts and extroverts. They say an introvert is someone who gets energy from being alone and with that energy, they can then go be with people for a while. An extrovert, on the other hand, gets energy from being with people and uses that energy to handle being alone. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I am definitely an extrovert.

Now I know why I get sleepy when I write, and why it’s always been easier for me to edit something written by others. When I’m editing someone else’s work, that’s almost like a stand-in for having a person in the room that I can engage with. I can see what I need to say to alter a perception or explain a concept that wasn’t clear. I understand what is already understood and how to avoid boring the person with information that might be interesting to me but irrelevant to my audience.

I learned a lot about myself by stepping out of my comfort zone to write this book, and even came to see how this aspect of my personality underlies my commitment to buyer personas as a method for marketing strategies. We don’t create buyer personas while sitting alone in a room. We talk to real people and we use the insights they give us to reflect on their actual needs, interests and concerns. With a persona as a stand-in for the buyers we need to influence, we know exactly what we need to do and say to engage those people, adjust their perceptions, and avoid boring them to tears.

While reflecting on these personal insights a week after submitting the manuscript, I decided to dedicate the book “to every marketer who questions the wisdom of making stuff up.”

I’m grateful to the many clients and colleagues whose questions and stories kept my energy flowing so that I could meet Wiley’s deadline. By showing me how real marketers were employing my methodology and finding success with it, you helped me to dig deep and tell the whole story. I hope that it is helpful to many marketers and look forward to the next step in our journey together.

I’ll tell you more about Buyer Personas: How to Gain Insight into your Customers Expectations, Align your Marketing Strategies, and Win More Business in the coming months. You can pre-order the book on Amazon here.

Spotlight on 5One of the life experiences I credit most for teaching me about marketing was the five years I spent in sales. I came to that job in a roundabout way – a division of Wells Fargo Bank wanted a paperless office and asked me to make that happen. I knew nothing about technology (and ultimately failed to create paperless-ness) but I quickly fell in love with computers.

My boss at that company helped too, giving me some of the best career advice I’ve ever received. He told me “You’ve got to love the core business you’re in or you’ll never get ahead.” I hated the core business I was in (banking), so I cut bait and started trying to find a job as a salesperson in a technology company.

My first assignment was a sales “overlay” position that focused on winning more business from the current customer base. I loved it and grew revenue by 300%, but the reps weren’t happy that someone else was making money from their customers. Management didn’t want to irritate the reps, so they eliminated my position and offered me a job in marketing.

Fast forward ten years, and in another company I spent four years in charge of both sales and marketing teams.

So while I consider myself a marketer, those five years in sales helped me see that several aspects of the way we differentiate the two roles is illogical and costly.

Consider this:

1. Sales and marketing are both about persuasion. The sales person’s job is to persuade one buyer at a time, while the marketer’s job is to persuade markets full of buyers.

When I was in sales, it was marketing’s job to get a buyer to notice us, and then it was my job to persuade that buyer to choose us. This was a great division of labor, because it’s way more difficult to persuade a market full of buyers than one at a time. But today’s buyers have changed the rules, navigating 60% to 80% of their decision before they talk to a salesperson. Companies that haven’t made the shift to persuasive marketing risk elimination before the salespeople have a chance to do their job.

2. Salespeople have the opportunity, permission and training to listen to buyers before they build a strategy to persuade them. Marketers have none of these things.

As a sales rep, I learned to dedicate the first part of every sales call to listening to my buyer, gaining real insight into that account’s needs and expectations. Then it was my job to describe our solution in a way that established a perfect fit between that buyer’s needs and our product. Go tell sales management that you want their reps to stop listening to buyers before they sell to them, and they’ll look at you like you’re crazy. But everyone expects marketers to do just that.

3. Sales people have to optimize their time to persuade buyers to buy now, but marketers have to optimize their investments to build pipeline for the future.

By the time I started running sales, I completely understood the importance of marketing.  However, it wasn’t long before all of my time and attention shifted to the salespeople. Faced with the urgency of meeting this month’s numbers, our longer-term investments suffered. I learned that it’s really difficult to balance short and long term priorities, and that marketing metrics need to focus on results that impact the next quarter or next year, even if this seems less tangible.

4.  While there are dozens of things that every good sales person learns about each buyer, the ability to be persuasive hinges on just 5 key insights.

When I decided to help marketers understand their buyer personas, I knew that many of the things I learned about buyers in sales only worked when I had the opportunity to build a strategy to persuade one buyer at a time. It was easy to see that tracking all of these distinctions about buyers would cause a lot of confusion and far too many different strategies. So I started thinking about what really helped me to be a persuasive sales rep, and that’s how the 5 Rings of Buying Insight™ became the foundation of buyer personas.

5.  Despite everything you’ve heard about price, the company that wins the buyer’s trust wins their business.

The solutions I had to sell were invariably more expensive than our competition. So we didn’t win on price. We competed for the buyer’s business by being the best listeners and using our insights to persuade buyers that we were best qualified to meet their expectations. Now that buyers can avoid sales contact for so long, a lot of that responsibility belongs to the marketing team.

I think it’s fair to say that when I was in sales, we had a lot more impact on the outcome of a deal than the reps I know today. And because this change is driven by buyers who have ready access to the information they think they need, this trend is unlikely to reverse itself. It’s time for marketers to gain the deep buyer insights that have always been the foundation of successful sales.

danger trip hazardIf you’ve been reading this blog, you’re well aware of the impact that properly-constructed buyer personas can have on sales and marketing. But – and this might seem strange – for best results, you don’t want to send your personas straight to the sales team.

There’s one more step, and it’s crucial, because sales people are one of the primary beneficiaries of the deep insights you’ve uncovered. A misstep has consequences that can cast your persona initiative in a less than favorable light.

Remember that an insightful buyer persona talks about what buyers want from solutions like yours. Sometimes buyers want something your solution can’t deliver.  Or the buyers may describe expectations where you need to give some thought to your response.

Here’s an example – say “easy to use” is an important part of your persona’s decision criteria. From the interviews that we conducted with real buyers, we know that buyers who say “easy to use” want it to “work just like other programs I use, so I won’t need any additional training.”

But your product might not work just like these other programs. It might need additional training. So Marketing would work with involved departments to make the training something that can be minimized – say with a 30-minute video that will bring users up to speed simply and effectively.

Now Sales can address “ease-of-use” with a direct, factual response that keeps the company honest. “It’s just a 30-minute video.”

When Marketing communicates buyer expectations without describing the appropriate response, it can lead to a lot of counterproductive behavior, including that classic move where Sales makes things up to impress the buyer. Or Sales may avoid following up on your leads, feeling defeated because they can’t deliver on every expectation.

Marketers also need to remember that sales people are trained to treat every buyer as unique. Talk about buyer personas and you could spend your time defending the entire concept of an example buyer, distracting everyone from the powerful insights you’ve uncovered and how your salespeople can leverage that knowledge in their sales calls.

Sales people are reluctant to follow up on leads when they don’t have experience with a particular solution and buyer. Understandably, they’re concerned about what questions might arise or how the competitors might derail their sale. With buyer personas, we can give them advance warning – here is the type of buyer that you’ll be talking to at every step in the sale. These are the expectations that each person will bring to the table. And, best of all, here are the resources you need to address those expectations and close the sale.

Keep your personas in marketing, but by all means communicate the insights you’ve uncovered and your strategies to address them.

It’s been ahotoffthepresslmost 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.

Top 10 2014 Resolutions

Top Resolutions for 2014

I wonder if the companies that help us to get fit or organized realize just how lucky they are. They have the luxury of perfect timing, confident that once each year the clock will strike midnight, the ball will drop in New York’s Times Square and millions of people will suddenly be motivated to BUY NOW.

Those of us in B2B marketing can learn a lot from this extraordinary shift in buyer priorities. Consumer buyers have likely wanted to lose weight, quit smoking or clean up their messy closets for a long time. They have been the target of extensive marketing programs extolling the benefits of perfectly relevant products and services. Yet throughout the year, only a fraction of them invested the time or money to make that happen.

Then every year on January 1, approximately 45% of consumers* make a decision to adjust their priorities. Within a few short weeks, they’ll consume marketing content at an unprecedented rate and spend money on solutions that had been there all along.

Although B2B marketers will never experience anything like this dramatic shift in their buyers’ priorities, this annual event tells us a lot about why our marketing frequently inspires such a disappointing response rate. We can see that every buyer’s journey begins with a deep motivation to achieve a specific goal, and absent that commitment, they’re simply not listening.

Our buyer’s attention is almost always focused on priorities that we do not address. Then “something happens” and whammo!, solving this problem is suddenly at or near the top of the buyer’s priority list. This is the moment when that buyer will find the time, budget and political capital to solve the problem that we’ve been talking about for so long.

B2B marketers will never have the confidence of New Year’s Eve for market timing, but we can understand how the buyer’s internally driven circumstances impact their decision to consider the solutions we are marketing. This Priority Initiative insight (one of the 5 Rings of Buying Insight™ for buyer personas) tells us what we need to do and say to look like a perfect match for whatever inspires that resolution to take action now.

Most marketers know very little about these triggers. They can talk about their solution’s pain points and benefits, statements that are usually reverse engineered based on the features and functions of their products or services. But very few companies can explain, in their buyer’s own words, why so many people choose to live with that pain. Nor can they say what is unique about the circumstances that drive buyers to resolve that pain.

I’m not suggesting that we should stop marketing to people who aren’t currently evaluating our category of solutions.  I’m saying that if at all possible, we need to learn how to do or say something that captures the attention of buyers whose priorities lie elsewhere. I’m also noting that achieving this outcome is more difficult and protracted than we would hope, and that our best chance to motivate any buyer is to understand what really triggers their peers to take action.

With so much emphasis on the buyer’s journey, it’s interesting that marketers seem to know the least about the very first step. Insightful buyer personas tell marketers exactly what drives their buyers’ resolve, clarifying the marketing activities that will capture a disproportionate share of that buyer’s attention and business.

For nearly a dDoes Marketing Matterecade, 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

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.

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