Buyer personas the right way: Q&A with Adele Revella


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If there’s a buzz word or phrase bigger than Account Based Marketing (ABM) in 2015, it might be buyer personas.  But to cut through the noise and truly understand what these terms mean (and how to leverage their power), you often have to go back to before the fad, before the noise, and find the source.

For buyer personas in particular, that source might as well be Adele Revella.  Her content and advice relative to personas is second to none, and her new book is Buyer Personas: How to Gain Insight into your Customer’s Expectations, Align Your Marketing Strategies, and Win More Business.

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Adele to talk about the new book, the buzz about personas, and how more marketers can get on board.

This may seem obvious to you, but it’s still lost on so many marketers: why are B2B personas important?

Marketers are surrounded by conversations about what the company wants. There’s nothing in the normal course of the marketers’ job to help them step out of that conversation and wrap their heads around what matters to their prospective customers. So most marketing activities are either very product-centric or based on a lot of guesswork about what might impress target audiences.

A properly researched buyer persona helps marketers balance the company’s goals with real insight into the relevant aspects of a buyer’s mindset. It helps us to understand what the customer is thinking and doing about the problems we solve and what actually factors into their decision to choose one option over another.

A recent Gartner study of 700 global B2B buyers reported that only 32 percent of the buying decision involves interactions with supplier-generated marketing content and sales people. It didn’t publish comparative data for prior years, but our anecdotal data suggests the buyer’s respect for our input is trending in the wrong direction. As a career sales and marketing professional, this worries me a lot.

There are some who think personas can be developed in an hour or so with intuition and guesses.  Why do successful personas require much more than that?

It’s easy to engage in guesswork about our buyers’ interests, conduct online research about them or solicit input from internal stakeholders. But this isn’t going to help us break out of our own thinking and gain new insight — to learn something about what’s important to buyers that isn’t obvious or readily available to competitors.

Personas that are built by compiling information that is commonly understood doesn’t leave us any wiser than we were before we started. I have no idea why we even need personas if we’re just going to make them up. It’s better to skip that step if we’re only going to document the thinking that led us to our current marketing strategies.

You talk about personas as plural, yet many marketers think in terms of a single customer/buyer. Talk about the importance of multiple decision-maker personas, how does that make content & marketing more valuable?

It’s an interesting question, Matt, because in my experience it’s the opposite. The B2B marketers I hear from are developing far too many personas, thinking they need them for everyone who influences the buying decision in every industry, geography or size of company they target.

Most companies need more than one persona, but not nearly as many as they think. The correct number of personas becomes clear when marketers break out of traditional approaches to demographic segmentation and commit to learning how, when and why people make the decision to invest in a solution like the one they are marketing. This is when the company discovers how one or more of the dimensions of their personas (e.g., job title, industry, geography) is actually irrelevant.

Remember, the goal is to gain insight into how people make buying decisions so that buyers will experience your marketing as more relevant and engaging. Then it is easy to see you need multiple personas only when you have real insight about how different types of buyers approach the buying decision you want to influence.

Many marketers create content focused on their products. How do personas help marketers focus instead on challenging a target’s status quo?

We definitely don’t want to create content focused on our products. This is one aspect of the problem we discussed a minute ago when marketers are too focused on what they want to achieve. That’s a huge mistake. But if you think about it, challenging the buyer’s status quo is just another version of focusing on our goals. We want to change the buyer’s thinking so that we can sell more stuff, but what does the buyer want?

If there’s ever a marketing problem where we need buying insights, this is it. And specifically, we need to interview recent buyers to discover what we call the Priority Initiative — an insight that tells us what happened on the day they decided that the status quo is unacceptable.

For example, let’s say a CRM vendor wants to challenge prospective customers to reevaluate their existing solution and implement one that has better capabilities for personalization or analytics. We’d begin by interviewing recent evaluators to understand what triggered their willingness to conduct that assessment. We’d want to probe deeply on the attitudes, goals and concerns that made this investigation a priority.

We’d also want to understand the Success Factors insight, to see how recent buyers describe the outcomes they couldn’t achieve without these capabilities. And then, through the Perceived Barriers insight, we’d want to learn what prevents buyers from taking advantage of these capabilities.

Armed with these insights, we have a credible chance to identify a strategy to help other buyers come to the same conclusion as the people we interviewed.

How can marketers get their broader organizations (including sales & customer service teams) ready to embrace the value and application of buyer personas?

I am not a fan of sharing personas with sales or customer service people. Personas are a tool that is perfectly designed to help marketers make better decisions about how to do their own jobs. There is no reason to expect sales or service people will make the connection to the problems they encounter in their own daily interactions.

A better approach is to use the persona to build the marketing results the company does respect. Let’s take my previous example and say we want to help our salespeople persuade prospective customers it is time to reevaluate their CRM system. We’ve done the research and have the buying insights I just described. Our next step is to use those insights to build the sales tools and content that addresses these buyers’ needs and expectations. Now we can talk to salespeople about what recent buyers told us, while pointing to the tools and campaigns that will help them win that customer’s business.

I suspect the interest in socializing buyer personas may be grounded in the problem that so many companies haven’t learned how to use the personas to build more effective marketing strategies. Marketers naturally want something to show for the investment they’ve made in building buyer personas. Once we’re using personas to help the company build the business, we will have everyone’s attention and can share the tool with anyone who cares to know how we managed to be so successful.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Matt Heinz
Prolific author and nationally recognized, award-winning blogger, Matt Heinz is President and Founder of Heinz Marketing with 20 years of marketing, business development and sales experience from a variety of organizations and industries. He is a dynamic speaker, memorable not only for his keen insight and humor, but his actionable and motivating takeaways.Matt’s career focuses on consistently delivering measurable results with greater sales, revenue growth, product success and customer loyalty.


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