Episode 5: Understanding Buyer Personas – Adele Revella

Predictable Prospecting
Understanding Buyer Personas - Adele Revella
00:00 / 00:00
 Buyers are more than demographic statistics. They have sophisticated needs and are frustrated when companies fail to understand. Effective marketing requires alignment with the entire buying journey. To achieve this goal many marketers use the information in a buyer persona to guide sales interactions, advertisements, and content. Gaining true insight into the buyer’s journey takes far more than compiling search data. We will discuss how to create effective buyer personas with today’s guest Adele Revella. Adele Revella’s mission is to educate marketers about how to harness the power of buyer personas. She’s spent over two decades in marketing perfecting marketing tools such as personas. Her experience led her to develop the Buyer Persona Institute. With available content, workshops, and the Buyer Persona Masterclass the Institute utilizes the power of buyer interviews to teach modern marketing mastery.

adele_revellaEpisode Highlights:

  • Goals of an effective buyer persona
  • How to utilize personas for sales funnels & automation
  • Is the buyer’s journey a linear process?
  • The fundamental question to ask when creating content
  • Why are buyers reducing engagement with marketers?
  • What do studies show about the main buyer influence?
  • Guidelines for discovery interviews

Resources: Buyer Persona Institute Buyer Persona Masterclass Buyer Personas Book Follow Adele on Twitter

Episode Transcript

Marylou: Adele is on a mission. Her goal? To educate marketers and help them harness the power of buyer personas. Just type in Buyer Persona on Amazon and you’ll find out that she literally wrote the book telling how to gain and use insights about buying decisions. Her book is titled Buying Personas: How to Gain Insight Into Your Customers’ Expectations, Align Your Marketing Strategies and Win More Business. Designed and written to help you see your offerings to the eyes of buyers and become more effective at marketing. Adele is the founder of the Buyer Persona Institute that can be found at buyerpersona.com, a great source of studies and resources to help you on the journey of understanding your target audience. In this Podcast, Adele reveals four unique insights. One, how to look beyond the facts and gain buying insights. Two, how you’re annoying your leads and how to be helpful instead. Three, the key question you have to ask before creating any content. Last but not least, ways to conduct discovery interviews and get the initial intel you need. Adelle: Because we’re interviewing buyers every single day, we have probably two dozen interviews going on today with buyers. Every single one of the buyers is frustrated with their inability to quickly get the information they need to make an important buying decisions. It doesn’t matter whether they’re engaged with the marketing content or the sales people. We hear repeatedly, people aren’t prepared to talk about what matters to the buyer. We’re in there and we go in and we have the company prepared story present. We really haven’t built that story from a clear understanding on what the buyer wants to hear. That’s what our work is meant to resolve. People have weird ideas about Buyer Personas like we’re just going to get a name and a picture and we’re going to put it in the wall. Everybody got empathy with the buyer, we’re all going to feel good about that. That’s really not our thinking about Buyer Personas at all. We want when we do the researcher or when people engage in our approach to the research, they’re learning how to interview buyers about a buying decision and to get what we call buying insights. So buying, not buyer right? It’s an important distinction because when we get buying insights, we get the kind of considerations and expectations that buyers have that factor into every engagement, every encounter we have with the buyer whether it’s an initial marketing encounter or whether it’s a sales call later on. We want to know who the buyer is but that’s a small part of the Buyer Persona. We also want to know how, when and why they make the decision to solve the problem that we solve for them. The how, when and why is the buying insight and the who is the buyer insight. Together, they form a complete picture so that they could really prepare us to meet the buyers where they are and to deal with them in their terms rather than our terms which is what buyers are so upset about, it’s why the buyers are increasingly saying I’m going to avoid talking to you and engaging with you for as long as I can because you’re not very helpful to me. They’re not saying that out loud to us but we’re seeing that in the data that buyers are resisting the sales encounters and the marketing encounters for as long as possible cause we’re not helping, we’re not talking to them about what matters to them. We don’t we call it B to B versus B to C, we call it the level of consideration a buyer gives the decision. Have you recently been engaged doing a long search for something that was hard to find. You have, right? Okay, you got something in your mind. Now, I want you to think about what you did and I want you to think about all the steps you took and all the encounters you had and how very different that is than walking to the grocery store and buying the same bread you buy every week or the same milk you buy every week. It’s a very different kind of buying process. First of all, I want people to think about—let’s say this was a consumer purchase. I want people to think about the fact that there’s a difference in the way we need to engage with our buyers depending on how much consideration they’re giving the buying position. For a decision where buyers spend hours, weeks or months doing that, or even years for some of our clients looking for something that’s a perfect fit for their needs, searches this big in the overall aspects of everything that goes on. On the other hand, if I know exactly what I need. I want to buy the same vitamins that I bought last month, I bought them online. I go and type it in search. Maybe I do a search on price and I buy it, I order it. It’s over. I always want to make that distinction in these interviews because some of the people you’re talking to are engaged in very long, complex sales cycles where there’s multiple buyers involve. Some are engaged in things like which bakery do I go to buy my bread or which restaurant do I go to. That’s a different kind of consideration process. I think when search is being talked about, like okay we’re just going to look at our search data and that’s going to give us our buyer persona. Or we’re going to look at what’s happening in our website and that’s going to give us our buyer persona. It depends a lot on how much offline work your buyer is doing to really make the cracks of that decision. When we talk to B to B buyers, if they go search at all, it’s mostly like, oh yeah, oh yeah and we also went out, we do the whole search. I have never yet interviewed someone, ever, and we’ve done thousands of interviews who was engaged in a complex buying decision, who told me that the vendor that they selected was initially discovered through search. Not once. Not once. Not once. It’s a bit upsetting but that’s part of why I’m talking this and writing about it is because we’ve sort of collapsed these spots. It’s really important to make these distinctions around where is our buyer’s mind, what are they thinking about as they go through a buying decision. It’s a very different thing than just grouping you and me because we happen to both be the same age, we both work from home or we whatever we have in common, we still, what buying decisions worth emphasizing in our lives right now. The process we go through might differ dramatically have nothing to do with our demographics. The other one is market maturity. It’s just a product that I know a lot about as the buyer because I’m on my fifth version of CRM and now I’m looking to improve it. Or is it something around predictive analytics where I’m doing something that’s much more leading edge and I’m trying to really do a lot of research about that. This sort of one size fits all idea that we’re just going to go look at our online data or search and we’re going to build our buyer persona is just ridiculous and it’s appealing because it’s easy. My thinking is that if we’re going to go through the trouble to do buyer personas, they ought to give us a competitive advantage. They ought to tell us something that’s not obvious, that our competitors don’t know but if we know, that will change the game and allow us to be truly more effective than anyone else. We’re looking for insight and that’s why we call it the five rings of buying insight. We’re looking for insight, we’re looking for something that’s an aha moment. We use the word insight casually but if you look at what the word insight means, it’s really a game changer. We aren’t going to get this by just taking what we know and putting into a new template or just mining data from our online data. We have to really go a little bit outside the box and start to think about what do we really need to know about how, why, and when our buyers make the decisions we want in for us. It’s frustrating. In hindsight, you go why did I have to do that? I think that the internet has spoiled us but we don’t expect to have to do that. Think about that. If your buyer is like that then think about being the company that has understood that buyers’ buying experience so well, understood what they were thinking about that you can now be there with the swipe right, swipe left. You can be there instantly. That kind of source of competitive advantage. The other thing that’s really interesting about that, those long searches for the right solution. Price almost, prices are relatively small aspect at the end of the day. We can’t be outrageous, it has to be affordable for us in our budget. But at the end of the day, buyers that invest in these important decisions, these high consideration decisions, prices are minor aspects to this so we don’t have to be the low priced option. It’s huge. First of all, we really ought to try to find out whether the sales pipeline matches the buyer journey at all. Marketing automation is a part of this. Everybody has this idea that there’s this very linear process that people go through and sales pipelines always look like that. I think that what we have now realized, those of us that are investing a lot of time and understanding the buying experience is that the purpose of the sales pipeline ought to be the report to management about which deals are going to be likely to close in the next few months. We’re really looking at how many deals do we have and what is their likely close date and that’s the sales pipeline. A buyer’s’ journey is fascinating because it isn’t linear at all. Buyers go through fundamentally the same kinds of steps. In other words, anybody who’s buying a swimming pool goes through the same kinds of decision criteria issues to build a swimming pool but they don’t go through them in the same order. The sort of theory that we’re going to have a marketing automation solution that’s going to say on the first visit you get this and on the second you get this, the third encounter you get that. It’s really bogus. It’s not aligned with the buyers want. Where we need to get to—and I’ve just done a whole thing about personalized marketing—is right now, personalized marketing, we know just enough about the buyer to be completely annoying. The same thing is true about marketing automation. We’re at a level of sophistication with that that we can now be even more efficient at being annoying. If you’ve ever been online and searched for something and bought it and for the next week had an app for that same thing, or for me, I’m searching for different clients that we’re doing business with and for a week I’ll get their ads. We know just enough to be perfectly annoying. I see a future where we actually use these tools to be helpful to buyers. We’re not there and we got to be really careful right now because we’re so likely to just irritate everybody to death that some major, I don’t know, whether the government comes in or somebody comes in like do not call us and just shuts us all down. We need to show some restrain around this and we need to say—our question has to be all the time when we’re making decisions whether they’re marketing decisions or sales decisions, do we know enough about our buyer to ensure that this engagement is helpful. What’s the content of a helpful engagement with our buyer? I don’t care if you’re on Pinterest or YouTube, they’re on your website or whether it’s a white paper or data sheet. What I care about is the data, is the content helpful? Does it answer your buyer’s questions? We’ve got to be asking that more. Telling me who you are doesn’t tell me how to do that. I have to get insight into your buying decision before I can be helpful to you. Yes, they can but it takes a first step. I just wrote an article for a brand quarterly magazine, the title was There’s Nothing Automatic About Automation. It was all about the things we need to do before we do automation. We’re automating, we’re taking our 368 pieces of content and we’re just plugging them into this marketing automation machine and we’re just sort of assigning them to these made up stages in the buying process. Now, we got names for Suzie Qi or Smart Sam and we’ve given those names. We’re feeling good about ourselves because it feels like what we’re seeking is control, right? We’re seeking control and that’s a worthy objective. We’ve gotta stop and realize that the buyer is in control, we’re not in control. Kind of like cleaning,  if I’m really depressed I go clean a drawer because it makes me feel better. I think there’s a sort of sense of we’re not doing this right if we just clean this out and we get it organized, we’ll have more control and it’s not working. What do we have to do? We have to first understand what our buyers really want to know about. Then, we need to rewrite the book on the way we do messaging, build our content to give our buyers access to the real information that’s helpful to them and to put that into our marketing automation engine. Not we are the world’s leading provider of flexible, scalable, compatible interruptible market leading, double neutral. Yes, cause that’s what we’re doing. It’s because we’ve reverse engineered all of our content. We’ve taken everything we do and we’ve looked at it and we said we can solve this and this and this. And then we reverse engineer the message, we go out and we say now our buyers need to be educated them we can do this and this and this. Instead of if we didn’t reverse engineer but if we engineered it from the buyers’ perspective, then we’d go to interview buyers to find out where they are, what matters to them, and then we’d build that path for them. We really live in a buyers’ world and we’re acting as if we live in a sellers’ world. The internet’s been around since the eighties. The fact is that it’s really that everything that’s been built around the internet in terms of expectations that buyers have. Just like we’re talking about a few minutes ago, people want it to be at their fingertips and it’s not. I don’t know if you saw the Gartner study, I wrote a blog post about it. Gartner says they did a study worldwide of B2B buyers and they found that through the entire buyer’s’ journey through every phase that buyers go through, they’re only engaged with either our sales people or our marketing contact for 32% of that journey. 68% of the time, they’re not even talking to us or looking at anything we wrote. What’s really scary about that is that’s when they’re deciding who’s in their consideration set, that’s when they’re deciding is this a problem I care about solving. I think there’s one way we could look at this like oh my gosh, we’re sunk. I say no, I say shame on us. The reason that they’re turning elsewhere is because we’re not doing a good enough job of being helpful to them. We did I don’t know how many hundred buyer personas last year. The only thing that every single one them has in common is every single buyers starts with their peers. What concerns me is I’ve been in sales and marketing for more than thirty years, not saying how long exactly. I see us very gradually losing control over our ability to influence the buying decision. That’s what we’re here for. That’s why our company hires us is to influence a buying decision. If we can’t do that, it’s happening and the buyers are saying enough. It’s like we figured how to buy cars essentially without having to talk to the car sales people. And we have, we have essentially made our decision before we ever show up in the car lot. We know what price we’re going to pay, we know what car we want, and the rest of it’s kind of just sort of we got to shop to buy it, to pick it up. The last time I bought a car, I was literally at the dealership for less than an hour. I’ve phoned the person and said this is the car I want and I’ll be there in an hour. I want to send the paperwork and be out of there in an hour and I was. What if that happens across all? Cars should be a high consideration buying decision, they are. It’s all occurring where it’s hard to watch. Big data and everything’s going around that allows us to get inside that as long as the buyer is online. In most high consideration buying decision including yours, the key influence point didn’t occur online. You picked up a telephone, unbelievable instrument and just phoned someone. No digital footprint. Let’s consider this. What if the suggestion he made you wasn’t verified? I’m not trying to freak you out, Marylou. What if there were other even better options that you didn’t learn about. See. Because by this time you’re just exhausted and frustrated and so like I said, we’re losing the ability to influence the outcome of the buying decision. The buyer, this is where we get a little altruistic maybe it sounds like but we’re also not serving the buyers because we’re not giving them the benefit of knowing that we really do have a better option for them. I think we’ve got a win-win situation here, we’re just taking shortcuts because it’s new muscles we have to learn to exercise to think this way and work this way as companies. Buyer personas buying large aren’t getting people there. It’s because they’re not doing it right. We’re seeing this proliferation, my gosh we’re inundated with people saying we need buyer personas. When I started the Buyer Persona blog in 2006, buying buyerpersona.com was the easiest thing in the world. Right now you couldn’t get it free. Nobody, I remember looking at Google Analytics or wherever they had in a day to see how much traffic there was around buyer personas, none. Now, you look all over the map, it’s crazy. People are taking the fewest possible steps. Okay, we’ve got buyer personas, but do you have buying insight? Do you know how to influence that buying decision for that buyer? It would be helpful to your buyer, the answers is no. We’re starting to see this generation first when I wrote the book to try to get people not to give up on buyer personas cause I said if it keeps going this way, people are going to pretty much say we tried buyer personas and it didn’t work. They’re a waste of time. That’s really bad for me. What happens to the value of my domain then? The buyerpersona.com would be available for a nickel. I said I gotta really take at least,write it all down. It doesn’t mean people are going to read it, does mean they’re going to do it, doesn’t mean they’re going to hire us to do it, but at least I will upset it, it would be out there. This is what you need to do to get buying insights and not just to know who your buyer is. It’s not enough. The first thing is this is a very specialized kind of interview. You can’t do surveys, you can’t do focus groups and you don’t need a discussion guide. The hardest part of this process for people to get, it’s a simple idea, is that you want to get people on the phone who have recently solved the problem that you solved for your clients. You want to have them walk you through every step of their story. I’d love to interview you about that buying decisions we’re just talking about. I could get inside. Tell me what happened, Marylou, on the day that you decided that you needed to go solve this problem. And then, you could probably walk me through. I can see it in your eyes, we talked about it. There’s angst around this. I’m going to get to the emotional highs and lows of this experience, everything you tried and everything that didn’t work. What I’m gleaning from that is that I’m starting to get a picture of what you at least, one person, not a persona, but what one person is doing and thinking about is there in that decision cycle and all that criteria they have to solve this problem. I’m going to do that a number of times. Surprisingly, you don’t have to have a whole bunch of interviews to do this. This is qualitative research and we’re in a discovery mode. We generally find that after about ten interviews, we don’t learn anything new after that, about that. As long as we segment the market crack list, kind of a longer conversation. Then, you can look for patterns. We’ve created sort of a template for that, we have five insights we’re looking for. We call them the five rings of buying insights. We’re going to go and look at every interview and we’re going to look for patterns and trends so this is all unstructured data. We’ve recorded the interviews, we had them transcribed, and now we’re going to look for what did Marylou say and what did Joe say and what did Suzanne say with respect to what triggered their search. We call that the priority initial insight. Then what were the outcomes that they all wanted, we call that success factors. What were their barriers? What sort of obstacles they faced? We call that their perceived barriers inside. What did they think about different approaches that didn’t fit our solution? The fourth insight is decision criteria. We look at all the qualities or attributes of the services or products you cared about as you want through that assessment. And then, the fifth insight is the buyer’s journey. We look at everything. We write down these are all the places she went, these are all the people she talked to, this is everything she did and all the other. If there were the other people involved, maybe your husband got involved or a business colleague and we record all that in the buyer’s journey. We take verbatim quotes from the interviews, we put those in the persona so that everybody who’s looking at that persona gets a whole picture of that story, that is your story about the buying insights, the buying decision. Even if we’re going to spend four hours on this call, I can’t give you enough detail which why I wrote the book. Any bookstore, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the book is called Buyer Personas. It’s easy to find. You can go to our website at buyerpersona.com and we’ll take you there. There’s even a preview of the first three chapters of the book available PDF on our website. You can go to buyerpersona.com and just look at the first three chapters, see if this really fits your goals. There’s a lot to learn about finding the right people to interview, who you want to interview, getting them to agree to talk to you, and then conducting an interview. Whatever answer they give you first to any question isn’t going to be an insight. You have to learn how to ask good probing follow up question and then building the persona from that. Even just as important is now if the book goes into, how do you build your content strategies around what you learned. I decided, a lot of people in business write a book that says you really need to do this, this is a great idea and here’re all these case studies, I didn’t do that. I wrote down everything I know after thirty years of doing this about how to find the people to interview and do this. We disclosed every secret we have about that in the book. I wrote for the person who doesn’t know how to do this. For people who hate to read, we have an online workshop that people can sign up for. It’s called The Buyer Persona Master Class. It’s only two hours and you can just go put in your credit card and watch it at your leisure. I learned my personas, some people like to read, and some people like to listen and watch. We have that option for people who would rather kind of do it in two hours. Unfortunately, we haven’t published an audio version of my book. This is kind of the audio version. Then if you sign up for the Master Class, you get a 90 minute session that I do every month, and you can attend and ask questions about your specific situation. “I’m having trouble with this, what do I do about that,” and so forth. Reading the book and buying the book is useless, reading the book is useless. You actually have to do it. It’s just about how to really do the interviews and not as much about how to use the interviews. I’d say it’s condensed. And of course, most of our business is people hiring us to do it. I was a sales rep for about a whole year of my career back in the 80s. I sold weighing computers if you want to go back that far. And then I ran sales for four years. The five rings of buying insight are derived from the things that I tried to learned about when it count at a time, every time I go in I try to do discovery. This was the 80s, people didn’t have a chance to just go online and find their options. They’d be stuck talking to me and I’d go in and I’d get all this information from them. The first year I was a rep, I was 400% of quota because I really focused on learning what they wanted and presenting my solution as a perfect fit for their needs. Buyer Personas are just a tool to help us do that for a market full of buyers. We can do this one count at a time if we’re really good and we have the opportunity to get into the consideration set for every deal and go in and do that discovery. If we are trying to scale our business and get into more deals and we just don’t have a chance to do that discovery to influence every deal, then Buyer Personas gives us a sense of how a market full of buyers thinks about those five things In the olden days, you can call the company’s receptionist and say I want to talk to the IT director and they’d put you through. We had a different set of challenges. The more winners stand. You got that inside around the asbestos and they just wanted you to put a digital photo on it. That’s really an insight, right? If you have that at the level of the market and none of your competitors knew that then you could exploit that not just for those five accounts but across all of your marketing and in your website and all your engagement. That’s the kind of thing. Sales people intuitively hide out and seek that sort of what button do we have to push to get the buyer to react. Good sales people are really good listeners and they’re really good at figuring that out one account at a time but it doesn’t scale. It certainly doesn’t solve the problem called marketing’s giving us crony leads, the marketing content, the sales tools I’m getting are filled with dribble. I don’t even feel like I could give those to my prospects or when I do give it to them they don’t read it. That’s really what we’re trying to do to with Personas, were trying to get that insight at the level of the market full of buyers. I’ve been selling this for a while. I really understand. I meet with a lot of buyers every time, every day, I think I understand my buyers pretty well. What’s going to be different if I go and build a Persona, how about that? Does that work for you? Because you know that’s true, right? Thank you for thinking that. It’s one of the things sales people think, why do we need to this, I know the people, I meet with them everyday. That’s such a common question, Marylou. The fact is sales people are really good about knowing one account at a time. There’s really several reasons that they don’t really get as much information as we do from these interviews. One is that salespeople aren’t patterns and trends people, they’re really looking for one deal at a time, and what they see, what’s happening in that deal. Keep micro focused on that. The other thing is that buyers are hiding information from the sales people. They simply don’t share everything that’s happening in their organization or all the factors that are affecting the buying decision while that is going on, they’re hiding information from you that they won’t disclose later on. We also talked about the fact that the buyers aren’t even engaged with you for much of the buying decision. You’re getting in late and you’re never talking to buyers who don’t consider you. It’s almost like the self-fulfilling prophecy where you keep selling to the same type of buyer the same thing because that’s what’s being reinforced for you every day. What you’re missing is the ability to break out of that and go into buyers that are considering you and that people in the organization that are beginning to influence the outcome that you don’t ever get to talk to. It’s like this virtual circle where what you’re doing well reinforces continuing doing that. What we want to look at is what’s happening in the market, what’s happening with all these other buyers and how could you just break out of that mode and get into some roll that will radically change your ability to win more business. That’s the objective. Buyer Persona: How To Gain Insight Into Your Customers’ Expectations, Align Your Marketing Strategies, And Win More Business. The reason I wrote the book is because people are building buyer personas, they’re not winning more business as a result of that and that’s got to change. Once you get that buying insight, you can actually use that to win more business. buyerpersona.com I’m also on Twitter @buyerpersona and on facebook.com/buyerpersona. It’s pretty hard to lose me. Thank you. Thanks Marylou.

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