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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.

BattleIn 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.

Are you wondering whether you should build your own buyer personas or turn to third-party researchers for these insights? Since we have considerable experience in both roles — conducting buyer research and leading workshops for marketers who want to do their own research — we have a unique perspective about the short and long-term results that each approach delivers.

I thought you might find it useful, therefore, to see an unbiased overview of the considerations that factor into the buy vs. build decision. First, the four trade-offs:

There are also three myths associated with the “buy or build buyer personas” decision that I want to debunk :

Myth #1. Buyers won’t talk to or disclose the complete truth to the company’s marketers or their consultants.  This is a falsehood that is perpetuated when people attempt to conduct interviews without the benefit of training or a properly structured methodology.

If you don’t ask the questions correctly, it is true that buyers will either withhold information or deliver misleading answers. But buyers will readily share the unvarnished truth with anyone who uses the right approach and was not involved in the sales process. (I’ve also heard people say that buyers will only talk to someone from within the company and won’t reveal anything to third parties. This is equally false, and I find it interesting that opposite versions of this myth co-exist).

Myth #2. Extensive training is needed before you can conduct this type of research. While some research objectives require professionals with significant experience, marketers of high consideration solutions need only a few hours of training to learn how conduct the interviews that reveal buyer persona insights.

We have seen hundreds of marketers learn how to gain surprising insights and eliminate bias through an unscripted conversation about how, when and why recent buyers have compared their options to make the decision the marketer wants to influence. They just needed a structure and training that focuses on in-depth probing to uncover insights that buyers have not yet shared with anyone.

When marketers need buyer persona insights for very low consideration solutions, or for the rare situation where nothing similar exists in the market, we always recommend our professional researchers.

Myth #3. You need to interview a lot of people and marketers don’t have the bandwidth. Buyer persona insights are usually discovered through a relatively small number of one-on-one interviews that average 30 minutes each.

Revealing buying insights generally emerge from as few as six interviews, given that the focus is on the buyers’ decision to choose a particular category of solution. We typically recommend eight interviews before compiling any results, and have occasionally seen the need for ten if the solution category is not well defined. But more than ten is rarely needed or even helpful. If the buyer persona insights will guide a highly strategic decision, we recommend a follow-on quantitative survey with a larger sample to confirm results and solidify the persona’s credibility with key stakeholders.

Are you ready to hear about the One Ideal Option?

Clients sometimes ask us to research an urgently needed buyer persona, with concurrent training for their marketers through our live team workshops or our online masterclass so they can conduct their own buyer interviews.  We then welcome these newly trained marketers to listen in and follow along as we develop and deliver the first buyer persona. This builds the marketing team’s confidence in their new skills while addressing the need for answers to urgent or especially strategic questions.

Since many companies do not have the circumstances or budget to justify a blended approach, I hope that this post has helped you to determine the best option for your needs. I look forward to hearing your comments and questions.

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.

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:

Which would you rather know?

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

I look forward to hearing from those of you who want to become the buyer expert marketers that stakeholders trust for persuasive marketing strategies.

If you’ve developed buyer personas, does your content show it?  When persona-guided content looks much the same as it always did, it’s a sign that the underlying personas are missing key insights.

Most marketers focus their buyer personas on information gained from their sales people, a product expert, the latest analyst reports, or purely demographic data such as job title, industry and company size. While quick and easy, these sources cannot tell you what your buyers are thinking about as they evaluate their options to solve a particular problem.

My concern about the missing parts of buyer personas motivated me to co-author with B2B marketing veteran Maribeth Ross, vice president of Marketing at NetProspex, a new eBook, For Compelling Content, Let Your Buyers Be Your Guide.”  This free resource launches today at Content Marketing World, where I’m presenting my “Building Your Buyer Personas” workshop.

To understand why the quick-and-easy approach to buyer personas won’t help you develop better content, let’s consider a typical scenario.

Our marketer, Kristen, talks to the in-house subject matter experts. She takes plenty of notes and learns about industry trends by reading trade magazines and analyst reports. Given her sources, most of what she learns focuses on the features and benefits of the company’s product or service.  Any information about the target audience is probably basic demographics:  the buyer’s job title, role in the decision, company size and industry.

Now consider a different approach.

Kristen kicks off her content initiative by interviewing recent buyers to probe for the Five Rings of Insight, her target buyer’s perspective on the five factors that influence the decision to buy a particular product, service or solution. These insights include the buyer’s Priority Initiatives, Success Factors, Perceived Barriers, Buying Process and Decision Criteria for the solution Kristen needs to message.

Kristen doesn’t rely on a survey or focus group. She has one-on-one conversations with recent buyers to discover how they evaluated and compared her company’s products and services to their other options. These interviews tell her exactly what outcomes resonate with buyers, their concerns about the company’s approach, which aspects of the solution they use to compare their options, and where they get the information they need to make a decision.

Imagine if you could develop all your content based on direct conversations with the people who are your target audience.  Here are three tips for putting buyer insights to work in your content marketing.

1.  Interview buyers to gain real insights. It’s not enough to know the title, age and gender of the target buyer. And if you make stuff up about your buyer personas, your marketing content won’t look any different than it did before you took that step. You need to have a specialized kind of conversation with recent buyers, probing for insights that buyers have not yet shared with your sales people, your competitors, or anyone else for that matter.

2. Focus on the decisions you want to influence. Interview people who recently evaluated your solution to hear exactly how they compared your approach to your competitors’ offerings. This gives you the data and confidence to define a messaging strategy that communicates the information that will motivate those buyers to choose you.

3.  Lose the jargon. Probe deeply on your buyer’s use of words like  “streamline,” “robust”  and other generic words that your competitors also use. When you know exactly what the buyer expects to be “robust”, your content can speak directly to the outcomes and concerns that are most critical to them.

By gathering key insights from unscripted interviews with recent buyers, you will become the buyer expert. When you make your buyer the focal point for your marketing initiatives, they’ll show their appreciation by choosing your company’s solutions with increasing frequency.

I hope you enjoy the new content marketing ebook and look forward to your comments and questions.

Just because you’ve met with internal stakeholders and can tick off buyer pain points– increasing operational efficiency, reducing costs and minimizing risks—doesn’t mean you know your buyer personas.

Marketers need to go beyond the obvious, generic stuff and understand the real questions buyers ask as they evaluate the solution you are marketing. For example, what initiatives trigger your buyer’s search for alternatives to their current approach? What objections will you have to overcome to persuade the buyer to consider you?

More often than not, companies’ knowledge of their buyers is limited to obvious data based on job title and role. It’s even worse when their personas focus on trivial points about B2B buyer’s hobbies or personality.

Buyer personas are useful to B2B marketers when they convey specific insights gathered from first-hand conversations with recent buyers.  You can easily learn how to engage in direct conversations with your buyers, discovering exactly what you need to do to persuade them to choose you. The result is a buyer persona that is unexpected, factually correct, and not available to your competitors.

Getting started

These templates will help you get started, showing you exactly what you need to know about your buyer personas.

Part 1. Use the Core Buyer Persona Template (left) to capture your buyer’s demographic information and priority initiatives. This template captures only the basic information about a buyer persona that would not be influenced by the products, services or solutions you are marketing.  This information is helpful for targeting the most receptive buyers, but Part 2 of the buyer persona is needed for every other marketing decision, including messaging, content marketing, segmentation, marketing mix, and sales enablement.

Part 2.  Use the Product-Persona Connection Template (below) for data that varies depending on the product, service or solution you are marketing. This template focuses on the information you will need to define strategies, messaging and content, including the buyers’ description of their success factors, perceived barriers, buying triggers, decision criteria, influencers and resources.

It is important that your source for the content in these templates is from direct conversations with your buyers. You will need to master just a few new skills to conduct the unscripted interviews that lead buyers to disclose facts they haven’t yet shared with anyone else.

We call these facts the Five Rings of Insight because they provide a clear picture of everything you need to know to impact your buyers’ decision:

  • Priority Initiatives:  three to five business problems or objectives that the buyer is dedicating time, budget or political capital to addressing, and how those relate to your solutions.
  • Success Factors:  tangible or intangible rewards that the buyer associates with success for each priority initiative.
  • Perceived Barriers:  the buyer’s reasons to question whether your solution or company can achieve the success factors.
  • Buying Process:  the process the buyer will follow to explore and select the product, service or solution.
  • Decision Criteria:  aspects of the product, service, solution or company that the buyer will assess in evaluating solutions.

These buyer persona templates are freely available without registration. I hope they will inspire you and your colleagues to begin talking to real buyers and building your own buyer personas.  As always, I welcome your feedback on the templates to help me continue to improve them.

Adele Revella will teach marketers how to interview buyers in her “Building Your Buyer Personas” workshop at Content Marketing World on Sept. 4, 2012.  Find more information about buyer personas at www.buyerpersona.com.

When I ask B2B marketers about their personal priorities, they describe their desire to participate in strategic, high value decisions. Too often, this goal stands in stark contrast with their stories about a typical workday, toiling away with little more autonomy than a production-line factory worker.

No one questions that the finance department is best qualified to keep the books or that the engineers have the authority to build useful products. However, it seems like everyone has a better idea about how marketing should function. From content marketing to launch strategy and messaging, marketing tends to be everyone’s playground.

Why is this? The fundamental problem is that the marketing discipline lacks a perceived core competency: a unique strength that positions marketing as the respected authority on decisions within its own purview.

The Strategic Gap

Until we address this competency question, marketers cannot become the strategic resource that will contribute bottom-line benefits and deliver clear competitive advantages to the organization

In a new article for CMO.com, I offer my proposal for addressing the problem. In my view, the best way for marketers to bridge the gap is to build the necessary skills and knowledge to become buyer experts.

Just check out the invite list whenever executives meet to devise strategies to reach new markets, achieve difficult goals or overcome competitive obstacles. Does anyone at that meeting have the factual insights about how and why different buyers will respond (or not) to a given course of action?

Probably not.

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?

When I hear about buyer personas built on input from the sales people, I think about all the times that I asked our reps why a customer chose us (or didn’t).

For deals we won, it was always some version of “I have a great relationship with the customer.” And when we lost, the story revolved around a competitor’s rep who had a prior relationship with the account, that our solution was too expensive, or because we were missing a key feature.

Go ask your reps. I bet you’ll get a similar response.

A recent LinkedIn discussion reminded me about a question-asking technique that was originally developed by Toyota. The methodology, now widely used in quality initiatives such as Six Sigma, is known as the “Five Why’s” because researchers determined that it took five tries to get to the root cause … the real answer to their question.

Here’s an example from a Wikipedia article on the Five Why’s:

The vehicle will not start. (the problem)

  1. Why? – The battery is dead. (first why)
  2. Why? – The alternator is not functioning. (second why)
  3. Why? – The alternator belt has broken. (third why)
  4. Why? – The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not replaced. (fourth why)
  5. Why? – The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule. (fifth why, a root cause)
  6. Why? – Replacement parts are not available because of the extreme age of the vehicle. (sixth why, optional footnote)

You can see that the first answer was obvious and that the truly useful information only came after repeated questioning. This is one of the key reasons that surveys or structured interviews will confirm or invalidate existing assumptions but fail to reveal new insights.

Probing interviews require skill. Anyone would be incredibly annoyed by someone who, like a three-year-old child, responded to every answer by asking, “Why?”

And I’m not suggesting that you pursue this line of questioning with your sales people. The buyer hasn’t shared this level of detail with your rep and is unlikely to do so, especially when they didn’t choose you.

But if you ask the right way, buyers will open up to you, revealing facts they haven’t yet shared with anyone. When they give you information your competitors don’t know, your buyer insights are a source of competitive advantage. This is the real purpose (and value) of buyer personas.

I’m leading a deep-dive Buyer Persona Masterclass online workshop on May 10 for marketers who want to master these specialized buyer interviews. Workshop participants will learn unique approaches and practice the new skills in interactive role playing. We’re doing the class online, but trust me, this won’t be like any online workshop you’ve ever attended.

The key to buyer personas is to get beyond the obvious first answer about what matters to your buyers. Do you know the real reasons why your buyers choose you or your competitors, or decide to do nothing at all?

Enrollment is extremely limited. Register today to reserve your seat at my Buyer Persona Masterclass online workshop on May 10 from noon to 4 p.m. EDT.

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