In the past few years “buyer personas” have become a standard marketing tool or concept. Unfortunately for many, they have become another “box to check” on the ever-growing list of things marketers must do… often without much to show for the effort. So… are personas a real asset to marketers or just another faux marketing fad?
Are personas real or fake?
This makes us wonder if there are any examples of personas that really have made a difference. Are there personas that have unveiled new insights or explained prospect behavior beyond the obvious or redirected marketingactivities in a way that would not have otherwise happened?
Let me share a story about real marketer managing a real product where you would not think a persona would add anything useful, but… well, let’s read on…
Tell me a real persona story!
It was a dark and stormy meeting… at least for the marketing director at this large, well-known (unnamed) security software company. You see, this marketer was just given the assignment to launch the latest version of enterprise-level security software specifically designed for small and medium businesses (SMB).
Naturally, she and her team had just identified all the new features of Version 11 and highlighted how this would solve problems that Version 10 couldn’t touch. Thank God for Version 11! So now it was time to gear up for the launch…
Except that incremental growth for new versions had pretty much stalled in recent years. And growth was needed for this flagship product!
So they considered checking with their persona to see how their messaging resonated before they put the big bucks (and their reputations) behind it.
3 critical surprises
On the surface, this seemed like an unnecessary delay. This company had practically invented the category, they had been selling to SMB for years, and OMG this is Version ELEVEN!!
Seriously – what did they need to “figure out” about this? Why not just identify the top three new features, tell them it’s enterprise-grade, and get going?!?
But… that’s exactly what the marketing managers for the previous versions had done and results had not been stellar. It was decided to do a little persona research to find out how SMB decision-makers actually made decisions about security software.
So they conducted about a dozen (not a hundred!) in-depth exploratory interviews (not quantitative surveys) with carefully-selected individual prospects (not focus groups). This approach yielded lots of insights from relatively quick and inexpensive research effort. (Contact me if you want to know more about this approach).
And what was the real story?
First, they discovered that the last thing their prospects really wanted to know about was the cool new features of Version 11! The more they heard about features they did not really understand – or want to understand – the more FUD they felt. All they needed – or wanted — to know was that this software had been updated and improved nearly a dozen times, so it was certainly good enough for them.
In fact, they were not excited about getting enterprise-level security for their SMB. Instead, they were worried that something that large and complex would overwhelm their small IT infrastructure. They wanted reassurance that the software would let them operate as usual. More was not more… less was more!
In sum, the persona research revealed that the original, logical, and even obvious marketing strategy would have actually suppressed response! And applying this persona insight had the impact of greatly improving marketplace response … and their careers! Now that’s real!
So why did this persona make a difference?
One small but large point about this story… notice that the impact on the business came not from simply “doing” a persona, but from how they did it.
- First, they challenged their assumptions – even though they seemed well-founded – and applied new learningto yield new outcomes.
- Then they conducted real research with real prospects – they did not sit in a conference room and “make up” a persona from their assumptions.
- They explored how prospects thought in an open-ended manner – they did not survey pre-identified questions on how many people said X or Y.
- They made sure to understand the context and process for buying any security software, not just what they liked about this version.
It turns out, this isn’t the only story about personas that pack a punch. There are lots more. In fact, we are putting together a series of a dozen difference makers… just in case you (or your team) needs some fact-based inspiration.
Let me know HERE if you’d like more examples. I hope they will make a difference for you!
There are some things in life that you know how they will end even before they begin. The movie Casablanca is a classic example. You know from the start of the movie WHERE the story is going. You just don’t know HOW. And the HOW is what made it a classic.
A case study is like that. Your prospect knows the outcome before they read it – it’s a story that ends happily ever after (well, the client buys your product). Since they already know where it’s coming out, they don’t need to read it! And we all know how much work they are to get written and approved so that’s not good!
On the other hand, we all know that every single significant B2B purchase (or considered B2C purchase) involves an active search to find how other prospects in similar situations have solved their problems… including what products or services they bought and why. Gee… isn’t that what case studies are supposed to do?
Casablanca or Ishtar?
Which brings us to a key point… it’s not (so much) WHAT you say, it’s (even more) HOW you tell it. Or more specifically, the nine ways you tell it. Here are the first five ways to turn your case studies into selling stories. Look for the final four next week.
1. Focus: people vs. product
Let’s start with asking what your story is about… your product, of course!
Actually, that’s a trick question. If your story is about your product, then there’s no reason to read it (because everyone already knows you’re going to say it’s great) and there are easier ways for you to communicate that (like product brochures and demos).
The real answer (and the real question) is WHO is your story about?
Remember that your B2B prospects yearn for information about how OTHERS have solved similar problems. That means they want to hear about the PEOPLE, not just the product.
This means you want to highlight the PURCHASER rather than the product as the hero of your story. So you need to focus on your purchaser’s PROCESS from problem to solution. What were their goals? Their concerns? Their constraints? And that brings us to the next question…
2. Target: identify the prospects to profile
Which clients do you want to portray in your case study? The answer to that question is also the answer to the question, who do you want to READ the case study? The case studies you pursue should be with the kinds of companies and situations you want to attract. You need to start by identifying your target readers.
Similarly, the cases you write about should tell the purchase stories you want to replicate. This obvious point requires that you diagnose your pipeline to identify where the blockages are. What are the challenges you want to help your prospects overcome?
For example, if establishing perceived value is an important challenge for your sales team, you should write up cases where prospects had to address this issue. You should also include questions about value perceptions in your case study interviews so you are armed with more customer reference points on this topic.
3. Length: S / M / L tailored sizes
How long should a case study be? There is no single answer. In fact, there are three.
- First is the full-length version for your most interested prospects who want to know the details of your implementation, adoption, and support story. This could be a multi-page PDF or dedicated website page.
- In the middle is a 1 or 2-paragraph summary version that tells just the highlights. This could be on a website page with multiple client stories, perhaps with a link to the full story.
- Finally, be sure to pull brief testimonial quotes from the case study that can stand alone as validation of “soft” claims like great client support or easy to use features. These can be used throughout your website, on your collateral materials, and even in the pages of the long case study to highlight key points.
By creating three kinds of output, you can get more value from the work required to create case studies. Maximize your content ROI.
4. Voice: Setting the right tone
In the same way that the story about the purchase process is more important than the product, the WAY you tell the story is as important as what you say.
A good case study takes the part of a conversation with a client just like your prospect who gets to play a role you don’t get to play – an objective colleague who found a solution to the same challenge your prospect has. It’s like a live NPS interview – a client who gives you a “10” rating to the question “would you recommend this product or company to a colleague?”
As a result, it’s critical that you avoid drowning your clients’ authenticity in your own self-promotion. This is a simple and obvious point, but… VERY FEW case studies end up sounding like credible client stories instead of incredible product pitches. And case studies are just too hard to write to see their impact ruined this way.
Remember – you have LOTS of other vehicles for selling your product. Case studies are probably the most difficult and time-consuming of all to create. As a result, if case studies are not bringing a distinctive, additional client perspective to your communications portfolio, don’t bother with them.
5. Results: not what you think
Your readers know the last stage in the case study is the results section. But they also ASSUME that you will be featuring only case studies that are dramatic and positive, so it’s no surprise that your results are dramatic and positive.
In our research, we have found that dramatic results tend to be dismissed more easily than compelling stories that readers can relate to. What actually pulls readers in is the story of HOW their client colleagues got the results they did.
In other words, the results your readers want from reading your case study are the lessons they can apply to managing their solution search and working with your vendor company more effectively.
So that’s a good start! Armed with this prospect perspective and these first 5 goals, we hope you will be engaging your prospects with “the beginning of a beautiful friendship!”
*Originally Posted on MENG
In My Face
A colleague recently asked, “With all the data available to us now, what role, if any, does qualitative research play in b2b prospect intelligence? Isn’t that ‘old thinking’?”
Somewhat in my face, and a tad confrontational, but a good question. To answer the question, I had to take a step back. While stepping, I tripped over a memory of the poem “The Blind Men and the Elephant” by John Godfrey Saxe.
Elephants and Prospecting
In this poem, 6 blind men go off to find out what an elephant really “looks like”. Each blind man is given an opportunity to touch this strange beast, each from a different angle. Each, per their limited experience, develops their own mental image of an elephant – perhaps a tree, a spear, a fan – and then they talk.
So oft in theologic wars, the disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant not one of them has seen!
The argument stops just shy of physical violence. No agreement is ever reached. The point is that data analysis leads to just one view of our prospect.
The Elephant in the Room
The prospect is the elephant in the room, and no one perspective, no one point of view yields a true and complete portrait. There is no monopoly on insight, grasshopper.
A three dimensional view of our prospects can only be achieved by a three-sided equation:
- Data analysis adds an important dimension in recognizing what prospects are doing now. It’s immediate and improves targeting and enables greater efficiency. However, it doesn’t provide depth to the “who” and the “why” of the behavior, which leads us to include Sales’ internal intelligence.
- Internal intelligence – Sales talks to the elephants all day long, every day. They experience how prospects interact with their company. Let’s tap into their real-world knowledge, both of the individuals and the specific accounts. How do prospects articulate their issues.
To complete prospect intelligence Marketing needs more depth on the real people who we are calling prospects.
- Persona research. Creation of a prospect person, or personas, based upon new qualitative research, yields the human insights into the individuals who comprise the buying center, their own values, perspectives, and agendas. It takes the learning from behavioral data analysis and inside intelligence and matches it with motivation.
All of which is to say that one point of view can be true, but not account for the totality of situation. Putting data analysis together with internal intelligence and persona research, we start to get a glimpse of that strange and wonderful beast.
Or, as the great marketer Groucho Marx once said, yesterday I shot an elephant in my pajamas. What he was doing in my pajamas I’ll never know.
The Persona at the End of the Line
Like most marketers, you’ve got “personas” on your “to do” list. You can’t be a self-respecting marketer these days without creating them.
We all have seen the presentations of these B2B or B2C customer types in human form, from Cameron Controller to Pauline Popcorn.
And let’s assume for conversation sake that you’re one of the minority (according to our research) who is blessed with well-built personas that reflect research with actual prospects and uncovers hidden insights that can give you a competitive marketing advantage.
So you can check that box. You’ve “done” your personas. Now what?
Do those personas represent the end of another marketing task (destination) or the start of a journey to new sales and marketing opportunities? And more importantly, how exactly can personas be translated into more effective marketing?
How personas help you do better marketing
Fundamentally, good personas can and should equip you to answer three questions. We will use B2B decision-making as our example since it is more complex (with multiple influencers and decision-contributors) and more in-depth (with multiple layers of messaging at each stage of the consideration process). Here’s where you should apply persona learning:
- Who should we target? The answer to this question reflects the roles you uncovered as most important in the decision process. On average, there are 5.4 key contributors, but this can mushroom with larger deal and larger prospect companies. This is your hit list for ABM (Account Based Marketing) as well as traditional lead-gen marketing.
- What should we communicate? The answer to this question reflects what you learned about what prospects want to hear from a resource such as your company to help them achieve their goals and solve their problems.
- Where / how should we communicate with prospects? The answer to this question reflects the prospect journey you uncovered in the research and the information sources each persona relies upon for each step of the journey.
The output of this process is a three-dimensional plan we call a Marketing Message Matrix both because it’s descriptive (and because I like alliteration). This is where you marry WHAT you say with WHERE (or “when” in the process) you say it to WHOM.
How do make it happen
So now that you know your real destination – marketing that give you a competitive advantage because it’s based on superior persona insights – how to you actually get there?
The key to successful translation is dividing the application into individual steps. There are two processes you should employ once you have your personas in hand:
- identify the best persona-based content to deliver and then
- identify the most effective way to deliver it.
In this article we will focus on the first process; wait for my next post on the second topic or contact me for more information.
You can ensure your brand gets persona-centered messaging that give you a competitive advantage in four simple steps:
- Competitive Message Identification – First we identify the top messages your prospects want to hear to help them solve their problem. A good persona should already identify these. The challenge is to find which messages your company or product can own – the topics where you deliver a competitive advantage. This involves sitting with your product and competitive intelligence SMEs to identify the specific claims you can own and the support for them.
- Message Assessment – Gather your marketing team (and agency, if you have one) to review your current messaging to identify which messages you are and are not yet delivering as well as you should. Focus on the messaging channels most important to your prospects (like your website, event booth themes and collateral, and sales support vehicles). The persona research is a great opportunity to bring people together with fresh input to review your messaging together.
- Message Development – You will discover there are some messages you have not fully developed to your full advantage. Engage your team to create new messages based on the support points you identified in the form most appropriate for each venue. You might want to bring the team together after you have made the additions to bask in your before and after transformation. Good team building!
- Messaging Refinement – We have found a final step to be instructive and powerful, especially if you are launching a new offering or you are about to invest heavily in a marketing effort. In this situation, I recommend you check back with your best persona research participants to share the content you have created based on their input. This has several benefits:
- It helps you fine-tune your messages before you put a lot of effort behind them. We always find there are ways to hone our messages further.
- It provides great prospect support for your efforts. It’s always helpful to have lots of enthusiastic quotes for your sales and product teams that come from real prospects about the marketing you are about to begin. Our favorite is “I wish someone had been saying this when we were in the market!” or “I will look for this the next time we buy!”
- Finally, this research is not only good, it’s fast and cheap! Your prospects are already identified and will appreciate seeing the impact of their input had. And it’s true that some of these have turned into actual customers for our clients!
Got a persona-application story you want to share? We might promote it for you. Feel free to contact me if you are stuck with your personas in the marketing mud and would like an outside perspective or some free ideas.
Some B2B websites are treasure troves of great content just stacked to the ceiling. And the librarians need not implore visitors to whisper… because there are so few visitors anyway.
What does it take to get your website humming like a cocktail party?
The Five Jobs
To get it working for you, you need to understand the five jobs your website needs to perform for your visitors:
- Potential Solutions: Prospects need help learning about or solving a problem so they know what kinds of solutions might be available for their issue.
- Potential Fit: Prospects need to know what solutions might be appropriate for their particular situation
- Priority options: Prospects must identify the best competing solutions in a sea of sound-alike claims
- Proof: Prospects must have evidence to present a strong case internally for their recommended solution and outside vendor.
- Partnership: Prospects considering significant B2B investments don’t just buy a product; they seek a long-term company relationship.
Get Your Website on the Job!
With that framework, today we get to the fun action part – the 12-step program to quickly engage your internal stakeholders to identify and commit to making improvements in your website. The best part is that the whole process is anchored in helping your
prospects make progress on their consideration journeys in a way that favors their including you in it. Besides, it’s kind of fun. But you can tell your team it’s part of your effort to “introduce gamification to the website development process”. It sounds so impressive.
- Gather: Collect a group of your colleagues (and whatever beverages help them think and share freely) for a 2-hour experience. There should be at least as many participants as you have personas. They should come from a variety of departments so you get a variety of perspectives and don’t appear to exclude any customer-facing internal group. This is important.
- Personas: Each selects one of the personas your website needs to win (Feel free to email me if you need help with this).
- Stages: Identify top 1-2 journey stage(s) when your persona tends to use vendor websites (Feel free to email me on this too if you need help).
- Visit: your #1 competitor’s website as your chosen persona in the stage when this persona tends to check vendor websites. Adopt their issue and try out the website as a way to gain help with it.
- Register: sign up for their newsletter with a personal address. See what kind of response, if any, you get. See what they are sharing with their prospects.
- Rate: Give the website ratings on how well it performs each of its 5 jobs. Use a simple 5-point scale and total points.
- Critique: Note the ways that website does or does not help you accomplish your goals
- Repeat: do the same for your #2 competitor website. Stay in character.
- Return: Now that you have assessed two other sites as resources, visit YOUR website. Be sure to stay in your persona and not slip into a defensive “insider” mode. Act as though you had never been to your own site.
- Compare: Now assess all three websites as potential resources for your persona. Identify the competitive strengths that you can apply to your website as well as your weaknesses you want to change. Focus on the top 3-5 changes.
- Plan: Create an achievable, simple implementation plan for the key changes. Benchmark the metrics that will reflect your improvements.
- Repeat: Great job! But keeping your website competitive is not a one-time adjustment. Plan to repeat every 6 months so you always stay competitive, aware of your competition, and thinking like your prospects. Keep coming back – it works if you work it!
So there it is! A simple, fast, and effective to focus your improvement efforts and make some progress now! You know, one day at a time.
What we’re not saying
What’s not to like? There is one challenge (of course). You may have noticed that steps #2 and 3 assume you know your personas and their journeys. But many B2B marketers do not. Or worse, they assume they do, but they don’t really – because they have never done real persona research… you know, talking with actual prospects about why they are not (yet) customers and how they made vendor decisions.
Persona research is NOT a two-hour project, but it is surprisingly inexpensive and timely… and remarkably powerful. (Contact me
for guidelines). If you have NO time or money, then start with your best guesses. But recognize that 99% of the time this contains important errors and costly blind spots if you don’t supplement it with real conversations. (Just ask your spouse about projections vs. conversation). But first things first. It’s about progress, not perfection.
Measuring Program Impact
As a result, you can expect to see 10-20% lift in three categories of metrics:
- Visitation metrics such as session duration, # pages/session, and bounce rate.
- Engagement metrics such as downloads, signups, repeat visits, and average # pages viewed.
- Response metrics outside the website such as # meeting requests, lead conversion rate, and… sales!
Make progress! Keep it simple. One day at a time. Let us know
how it goes!