One thing I’ve learned in the twenty or so years I’ve been involved with marketing and sales teams is that there’s one area that’s always been a challenge: understanding who your customer is and why they buy your product or service.
Whether it’s been with an international consulting firm, a major medical device company, the next cool app startup, or a funded SAAS provider, everyone struggles with customer insights and aligning sales and marketing. We may not have called them buyer personas twenty years ago, but the idea of interviewing your ideal customers about how and why they buy has been a consistent contributor to successful campaigns since I began.
There’s a lot of focus right now on marketing tackling buyer persona development, presenting those personas to senior management, and then letting those personas drift off to a quiet, forgotten corner of a slide deck somewhere on a laptop hard drive. This is unfortunately the most common approach to personas, and isn’t terribly helpful to either marketing or sales (let alone the rest of your organization). They quickly become outdated, are difficult to share, and are based on nearly useless demographic data (35 year old woman with 2 kids, living in Boston??).
Truly useful adaptive buyer personas are living, breathing representations of your ideal buyer. They’re easy to share, update, and constantly refined (by sales AND marketing—perhaps even by your CRM and marketing automation tools). Given this, it’s imperative that your sales and marketing teams have adaptive personas to achieve better alignment, strategy, leads and closed deals.
1. Guide Sales and Marketing Strategies and Programs
Properly developed personas help identify the patterns, attitudes and influencers that drive the buyer decision making process. Essentially, you can stop guessing at what messages will convince your buyer to pick you, what content to create when, and what to say to close that deal once you snare them as a qualified lead. An adaptive persona will tell you the buyer’s story, opening you up to all sorts of buyer-centric truths about your products and services, the market, and ultimately—your buyers.
Buffer has a nice intro-level persona guide available on their blog. This is great if you’re just starting out, and don’t have direct access to buyers. This isn’t typically enough for a more advanced B2B sale. For these cases you’ll want deeper insight into the buying process. How do we get these?
2. Higher Pressure to Deliver ROI
Frankly, as marketers, we’re under pressure to deliver better ROI than ever before. With marketing automation tools, Google analytics, heat maps, Facebook Insights and more big data tools popping up every day, we’ve got a tidal wave of data that brings along an undertow of accountability in its wake—and we can’t escape it.
From the top down—if it can be measured—it should be (or so the current thinking goes). And if it can be measured, it can be leveraged to make better decisions (which it should), and we should be accountable for those decisions. But in all reality—we know that marketing and sales aren’t just about the data (gasp!!), but also about the people. It’s about connecting with your buyer, displaying understanding and empathy for them, and finding the solution that’s right for them.
3. Deep Insights into Buyers
Okay, yes we can all get our hands on the demographic and firmographic data. And it’s important. But what about the reasons, the preconceptions, the influencers—more importantly, the challenges—that your buyers face? Those don’t get answered by demographic and firmographic data.
An adaptive persona will provide you buyer insights that will help you create specific marketing programs that are relevant to your customers. They will help you create targeted (not boring) pitch decks. They will provide you insight into the pain points that you need to solve for. You won’t get insight into this through generally accessible data, but through interviews with your buyers that provide you with their unique buying stories. But, let’s get back to why you need adaptive buyer personas.
4. B2B Sales Decisions are Highly Conscious
In B2C, the reason a consumer made a sale can be hard to articulate. “Why’d you buy that Coke on the way out?” might be met with, “I was thirsty.” Historically we could point to “brand” and “advertising” and “mindshare.” But these are all slightly hazy concepts, and nearly useless in B2B marketing. In B2B marketing, purchases aren’t made on a whim. They aren’t arbitrary. You won’t lose your job for buying the wrong pack of gum (wrong Latte perhaps), but you could lose your job if you bought the wrong server.
Decisions made in the B2B world are very conscious and conduct a lot of research before buying. According to MarketingProfs, “94% of B2B buyers say they conduct some form of online research before purchasing a business product.” A properly developed persona will help you understand the unique challenges your buyer is trying to solve, the “job” they are hiring your product or service to perform, the conscious critical decision points they face, and will provide you with valuable talking points, product positioning data, and even influencing the product and service you’re delivering.
5. Determine Influencers
Nearly no B2B sale is conducted in a vacuum. Even small, five-dollar-a-month SAAS subscriptions get an unofficial internal “Hey have you seen XYZ yet?” water cooler conversation. It’s worse for bigger purchases. The buying cycle for many products or services can be three to six months—or longer. We recently met with one client who estimated that it took 18 months—minimum—for them to close a deal.
During this process your buyer—the decision maker—will most likely need to run your product or service through any number of other departments in their organization. Influencers might be financially focused, user-based, or simply an operational gatekeeper, but they will most certainly have some impact or influence on the decision. An ideal adaptive buyer persona will inform you of many (if not all) of the influencers that will impact the buying process.
6. Become Your Company’s Internal Voice of the Customer
How many of your products or services have evolved over time, because someone internally thought “wouldn’t this be a GREAT idea?” Many great ideas have been started by internal product development teams or engineers. Now think about how many great products or features have been lost to time because buyers just didn’t agree (70-80%)? In an article on crowdsourcing, Julie Schlack, SVP of Innovation and Design, makes a great point about product development. “It’s more about needs than solutions.” An adaptive persona will tell you what challenges your buyers face, and help you develop products, services and solutions that meet those needs. This data can be very powerful when sitting around a table brainstorming ideas.
7. Become Truly Customer-Centric
If you are serious about becoming a customer-centric organization, then you need to put your customer at the center of everything: product development, marketing, sales, delivery, service and support. If you don’t have a persona around your ideal customers, and if you don’t have insights into their behavior, how can you truly put them at the center of all of your activities? Without adaptive buyer personas, how do you know the problems and challenges they face that you might be able to solve? How will you know what barriers stand in the way of them selecting your product or service? How will you provide them with support via the most convenient channel for them?
8. Better Create, Organize and Optimize Your Content
In a great article titled “How to Easily Create Remarkable Content With Marketing Personas” Hubspot author Kirsten Knipp makes the point that content created without a persona can be inconsistent. Not only that, but if you don’t build content based on a persona, how do you know that your content is truly valuable, or useful, to that person?
A buyer persona will tell you what content needs to be created for that buyer, what type of content is needed for each stage of their buyer’s journey, and what keywords, hashtags and phrases are important to use within your content. Without this information, your content marketing and sales presentations are less likely to succeed.
9. Understand Where and How Buyers Spend Their Time
How DO people spend their time? According to Statista, Americans use electronic media more than 11 hours a day. USNews has a great chart on how American men and women spend their time (in general). But this doesn’t help you know where YOUR buyer spends their time. An interview with your key buyers will tell you where they get their information, what sources they trust, how long they spend researching products and services, and what are key factors in the buying decision process.
10. Identify the Barriers that Stand in the Way of Them Buying from You
Go ahead and Google “barriers to closing the sale” and you get 25,000,000 hits. You can find the 3 major barriers to closing more sales, the 5 barriers to better sales and revenue, and more. Why? Because even when we do our most amazing work: we do the research, create personas, map targeted messaging, develop amazing campaigns, build perfect conversion funnels, nurture visitors to leads, generate “hot lead” reports, touch them the perfect number of times, have EXACTLY the solution they need, even then sometimes they don’t close. Often there’s some sort of complex challenge preventing your prospect from choosing you.
A properly developed adaptive buyer persona can help you identify and prepare for common, yet complex, barriers like these:
Not completely understanding the pain points a customer is trying to solve with your solution. Getting a sense of their specific circumstances can shed light on this. Many times we get so close to the target, but still miss. Insight earlier in the process can illuminate most (if not all) of the pain points, and help you create compelling and natural responses.
Clients are too busy, increasing your sales cycle. A well defined buyer persona will inform you of the right content that your prospect needs, at the right time, and through the right channel. This can “wake up” a client, get them out of a rut, and get them moving through the buyer’s journey, instead of letting them stagnate.
Abandoned leads. “What?” You might exclaim (dramatically, I might add). “That’s not a barrier!” Well, technically it is. If something stands in your way of closing a sale, then it’s a barrier. How many leads come in via your marketing automation (or even a plain old web form) that never make it to the appropriate sales person? The process of activating an adaptive buyer persona can help map out the buyer journey and identify opportunities for the sale to die, including abandonment. By using your persona to develop a lead scoring system, you can more highly define the quality of a lead, thus improving the chance that a sales person will close that lead, leading to an increase in them leveraging the leads you create.
11. Help Define What “Qualified” In Qualified Leads Means
The “discussion” about the rift between MQL (marketing qualified lead) and SQL (sales qualified lead) rivals that of sales barriers. According to MarketingSherpa (via Hubspot), 79% of marketing leads never convert into sales. Lack of lead nurturing is the common cause of this poor performance.
While every company establishes where the handoff will happen, a buyer persona can provide insight into the influencers (external and internal) to the decision making process and the buyer, letting you know what goals, content, and desired amount of sales interaction the user wants. In many cases, particularly B2B purchases, buyers only want to talk to a sales person WHEN THEY ARE READY TO BUY. In this case, marketing and content creation carries the weight for educating, nurturing and funneling the prospect through their buyer’s journey. Leading to…
12. … Sales Channel Partner Enablement
I was recently on a call where a major distributor was struggling with channel partners. “We provide them with everything they need,” she said, “including major brand backing, marketing strategy, sales collateral, marketing campaigns, sales support, training, and an engineer when needed to close the deal.” And deals still weren’t closing at the forecasted rate. Why? Partners didn’t have the right sense of where the handoff happens. Some wanted more control over the sale. Some wanted to walk in and close the deal. Some wanted the brand represented by an engineer. Some thought that was intruding. What are they all missing? What the buyer wants.
An adaptive buyer persona will not only tell you what the buyer wants, but extend to the sales process so that each and every interaction with the prospect adds to the persona, informing both marketing AND sales. Every sales and marketing effort should further build and evolve the persona so that you are no longer guessing, but knowing.
13. Higher Pressure to Close These Deals
In a conversation 2 weeks ago, I was talking to the Marketing Manager for a billion dollar technology company. She was receiving pushback from channel sales partners. Why? Customers are coming to the table more educated than ever before. The proliferation of search has driven search-based marketing (SEO). SEO drove the development of content marketing. Content marketing has driven the development of higher value/higher quality content.
Enter the empowered buyer. Buyers are more empowered, more educated and more savvy than ever before—and prefer it that way. Again with MarketingProfs: “71% prefer to conduct research and purchase on their own.”
For sales people, a shallow understanding of products and services just aren’t enough to seal the deal—your customer might know more about how the solution meets their needs than sales—if they even want to talk to you. This isn’t typical—but it WILL become the reality. With increasing pressure to close these deals and fewer opportunities to even meet with buyers, it’s critical to know everything you can about the companies, challenges, and your buyers as you are able, and an adaptive persona will do that.
At the End of the Day
Buyer personas can make or break your entire marketing and sales program, whether you believe in them or not. I’m not talking about the regular-plain-jane-demographic-persona either. Those have their uses—as compost. I’m talking about the hard-earned, bloody knuckles, marketing strategy-driving adaptive personas that your entire organization can leverage. The ones that provide clear insight into the challenges your buyers face, their motivations for taking action, their unique stories that inform you as to what they are truly trying to accomplish. As a next step, read more about what adaptive buyer personas can do for sales and marketing. Or, if you are looking for help creating (or updating) your buyer personas, and are interested in our unique approach, engage us in a conversation today.