We’ve recently completed interviewing CEOs worldwide about their company’s purchasing process, and their individual contribution. It has reinforced our view that some or all of what companies think they know about their prospects is yesterday’s news. The pace of change is astounding:
- Basic needs are being redefined
- Channels of marketing delivery are changing
- Roles and responsibilities to the decision making process are in flux.
It is urgent that we go beyond the obvious in understanding the roles, personalities, and requirements of the players in the buying center, or we become the casualties of change. We’d like to suggest the following 7 best practices to bring you next door to your prospects, and pave the way for your marketing to become a powerful competitive differentiator.
1. It’s not just business. It’s personal.
It’s people that make the decisions and we marginalize their individuality at our peril.If we are to introduce ourselves to new opportunities, if we are to influence the C-Suite, our marketing and sales efforts must incorporate a host of qualitative information, such as:
- How they learn
- The sources they trust, the advice they rely on
- The personal and professional goals that align or don’t
- How they see your company and your competition
- Their role in the decision making process.
The executives we interviewed were clear that what they dislike most are unrequested, unfocused marketing messages.
2. Buyer personas focus efforts on opportunity.
As great a contribution as marketing automation has made, it also puts a screen between us and the individuality of our current and future customers. The person gets lost in the fog of lead generation.
Buyer personas illuminate the individuality by creating a broad human perspective:
- Your prospect or customer, first as a person
- Who they are within the context of the company
- Their view of the challenges they face, both personally and professionally (which many times are at odds)
- How they view alternatives, including your offer.
To be effective, this must be based on new, external voice of customer research. Personas created from information on-hand, which often includes misinterpretations and widely-held beliefs, tend to look a lot like what you had before, but in new clothes. Or, perhaps the emperor is wearing no clothes.
3. Personas help align sales and marketing
I was talking with a colleague and asked how a recent meeting with Sales had gone. “They basically said, ‘we understand our customers perfectly and you don’t have a clue'”. That doesn’t leave a lot of common ground to work on.
New, external persona research, with both camps equally invested, results in a unified view. We can get together and write down all our questions, but the resulting persona is formed the answers indisputably given by the customer.
Alignment can bring you to market more quickly, more effectively, and with fewer missteps along the way.
4. Prospect Personas are more effective.
Prospects, by definition, are very different than customers. They may look and sound like customers, but they haven’t bought from you as yet. Their consideration process is unique. How unique? You should know before you deploy marketing resources.
The Prospect Persona is a specialized process, not only generating a human understanding of who the prospect is, how they learn, and how they make a decision, but concentrating on what it takes for them to hold hands with the rest of the tea, and make that initial leap into your arms.
5. Dig for the most powerful hidden truths. Dig deep.
Don’t view persona research as the simple pursuit of answers to the questions you start with. Rather, view it as an exploration into the life of a person who must solve a problem that your product is designed to address.
In addition to confirming what you thought was true and correcting a few things you thought were true but are not, the real power of persona research comes in the discovery of things you didn’t even know you didn’t know.
This last point is the most exciting. It’s where we learn the answers to questions we didn’t know to ask when we began. But because we take an exploratory approach, we are able to identify new issues that we didn’t even know were important. In every project we’ve ever done, this has always turned out to be the most exciting source of new insights.
6. Be agile.
There is a cost to uncovering insights that grow sales. The cost is not just money. Perhaps more importantly, it’s time. This has four implications:
- Step on it. Time, tide, and the marketplace wait for no one. Set an aggressive schedule and manage to it. You can’t ask every question in the world in the research.
- React to insights. If an interview starts to reveal new insights, follow them.
- Don’t wait. Pivot on insights, If interviews corroborate that there is an unaddressed problem or opportunity, take it now.
- Prove through testing. This is a qualitative process, but the results are not academic. We’ve got to show, that the persona research has made improvements to key metrics.
7. Start with the end in mind.
The best personas build content development right into the process. Personas are not designed just to describe who your prospects are, but to pre-scribe how best you can connect with them.
Lastly, some advice. Experience counts. A track record is like insurance. You get what you pay for.
*Originally posted on the MENG blog
Wayne founded B2P Partners to make B2B marketing more powerful by making it more personal. His passion is to help companies and individuals more effectively and enjoyably serve the people who are their clients. Read More
International author, lecturer and consultant, Scott has worked with clients in all phases of marketing strategy, research and implementation. Read More