Buyer PersonasHundreds, if not thousands of CMO’s across the globe make similar comments.  Understanding exactly how buyers are behaving and thinking is becoming more of a premium for achieving success in marketing today.  It can make the difference between getting your marketing strategy right – or not.

 

(To learn more about how buyers are changing and how this affects demand generation, see the CMO’s Guide To Stimulating Demand

 

The concept of research-based buyer personas gives companies the knowledge and insight to make informed decisions.  One thing that has not changed since my involvement in originating the concept of buyer persona development in 2002 is the definition of buyer personas:

 

  • Buyer personas are research-based modeled representations of who buyers are, what they are trying to accomplish, how they think, what goals drive their behaviors, how they buy, and why they make decisions.

 

The popular rise in the term “buyer personas” undoubtedly has spawned many different definitions.  They have strayed far and wide in many circles from their original purpose. The term buyer personas is commonly used in the context of content development.  While helpful in shaping a content marketing plan, this limited scope fails to leverage the full power of buyer personas to inform strategy.  Information you need to orient your marketing strategy on the right track.   Information you also need to align with sales and be on the same page about customers.

 

If you thought of buyer personas as only a content development tool, let me share four ways in which they are much more than that:

 

1. Validate Assumptions

You have been there before.  It is 5:00pm on a Thursday afternoon and you just sat through your fifth meeting of the day.  Like Jimmy Stewart racing up the bell tower in the movie Vertigo, your head starts to spin with that uneasy feeling.  The feeling that you are sure everyone is guessing.  Your teams are saying we need dollars for a new content marketing initiative.  Your sales leader is banging on the door because he or she wants a specific lead generation program that is sure to be a home run.    Your President walks down the hall and says he had dinner with one of the board members last night.  Charlie had a great idea.  Let us try it out. 

 

What do you do? 

The process of conducting qualitative in-depth research with buyers is essential to validating assumptions.  The buyer persona is the vehicle to communicate the findings – not the end means itself.  Here are the words of a President who got this a few years ago after a buyer research and buyer persona effort:

 

  • “We had the organization gung-ho about the new product launch and strategy.  Nearly $3 million was committed to it.  If we hadn’t validated how buyers think and would respond, which we found out they wouldn’t positively, it would have been $3 million disappearing in a black hole.”

 

I want to state a strong point of view here.  When I speak of qualitative in-depth buyer interviews, I am not talking about win/loss analysis or your marketing teams picking up the phone and talking to a few customers.  I strongly advocate skilled third party qualitative research for obtaining unfiltered deep insights free of company assumptive thinking.  

 

2. Market to the Right Buyers

You have heard the phrase, “we already know everything about our customer”, more times, than you care to remember.  If you hear it one more time, you just might up and leave! You know this is not true.  Buyers are dynamically changing as we speak.  Buyers are experiencing their own customers changing which in turn is forcing them to change. 

 

What do you do?  

While your company may have been marketing to one particular role for some time, undoubtedly that role has changed due to market and technology forces.  It is time to find out how and tell this story through buyer personas.  Here is how one CMO I interviewed put it:

 

  • “I am constantly battling with the senior team over this.  I hear the same thing over and over again – we already know our customer.  Part of that is true but we have new types of customers because our technology has changed.”

 

3. Top Heavy on Analytics

There they sit before you on your laptop screen.  Your are trying to makes sense of the slides of analytical data provided by your marketing operations manager.  You stare at them.  In your head you are thinking, there must be a strategy in here somewhere.  You are also thinking this should not be this complex.

 

The rise of analytics comes with many promises that you are going to know everything you need to develop a marketing strategy.   While insights on what buyers are doing and how they are doing their activities are possible, analytics alone may not answer the most important question – why? 

 

What do you do?  

The Moneyball analogy has gotten a lot of play recently in marketing.  While analytics can help improve the performance of a baseball team, it still cannot predict with accuracy whether a game will be won or loss on the field.  Understanding the qualitative side can be riveting.  Such as the fan glove that got in the way, the missed call by the umpire, and the squirrel that ran across home plate.  Buyer personas provide the qualitative side of your buyer’s story, revealing at a deeper level how buyers buy and why they buy.  Do not miss the whole story.  Here is how one marketer put it to me last year in an interview:

 

  • “We recently put in marketing automation and an analytics package.  We are getting great data about visits to our website and what is downloaded.  Still though, we are not getting at the kernel of truth as to why they are there.  It is still the mystery.”

 

4. Make Obsession with the Customer a Reality

As you drive home at the end of the day, you are thinking about how difficult it is to get your message across about being customer focused.  Another meeting and everyone nods their heads yes but no documentation happened.  You preach the gospel everyday about the need to be customer focused, improve customer experience, and think outward-in of the customer first.  You have been at this for two or three years and it still feels like a roller coaster ride.  Two steps forward and then one-step backward.

 

What do you do?  

Buyer research and buyer personas give you the opportunity to document the customer insights into actionable strategy.  Once documented, you become the company’s storyteller of the customer’s issues and challenges.  You not only become the voice of the customer but you become the voice of how to help them. 

 

  • To understand the winds of change driving buyer dynamics, review one of my favorite analysts and predictors of future consumer, buyer and Internet trends, Mary Meeker of Kleiner, Perkins, Caulfield, and Byers.  Check out her annual 2012 Internet Trends presentation – it is a gem.

 

Four Things to Do Well

If you have considered buyer personas pigeonholed in the area of content marketing only, it is time to grab a hold of it for a greater purpose.  Start leveraging the information power that is possible for you.  Do these four things well and elevate the customer in your organization:

 

  • Challenge assumptions
  • Ensure you market to the right buyer
  • Balance the equation between qualitative and quantitative
  • Document the customer and make them a reality

 

These will create a path towards building the customer obsession you seek.  One thing we can all agree upon is that consumers and buyers are changing.  The lines are certainly blurring between the two.

 

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Tony Zambito