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To create a successful marketing campaign, you need to become familiar with both the composition and the size of your market. Knowing your market, however, is not the same as knowing your buyers. It is one thing to know which country buyers live in, which industry they operate in—even their age. But, what does that tell you about what they think and what motivates them to buy?
In B2B scenarios, marketers are guilty of targeting companies and departments within companies without truly understanding who the actual buyers are. Even when B2B marketers know the titles of their target customers, what else do they really know about them? How do these customers view products such as yours? How do they buy? Do they even have the authority to buy? Are there any other obstacles in the way?
In B2C marketing, knowing the age, gender, and hometown of your buyer tells you only so much. Even knowing their interests may be enough to segment them adequately. For example, consider all the cohort of female twentysomethings in your area who like to read. Beyond this single common characteristic, they could be completely different individuals. If you are trying to sell them an e-reader, like Amazon’s Kindle, knowing what they read, how often they read, and if they travel would be very useful. High-income voracious readers looking to lighten their load on business trips would be a good persona to target.
How can marketers acquire a better understanding of prospective buyers and their behaviors? One effective strategy is to create a composite profile, or archetype, known as the buyer persona. The buyer persona clarifies who the buyers really are, what motivates them, how they think and talk, and what issues they face in their jobs, for B2B, and everyday lives, for B2C. Marketing that takes these factors into account will be more effective.
The best way to start the process for a B2B market—assuming you are working for an established business with existing customers—is to interview a few salespeople to find out whom they typically sell to. If you sell via retail to consumers, then you may need to talk to the sales associates on the floor. If you are a new company, or if you are bringing out a new product with a different buyer, you will need to make some assumptions based on your knowledge of the market. You can also analyze competing or similar products to obtain insight into the behaviors of the people who purchase them. In each scenario, you are looking to identify the profile that most often buys your product. Knowing more about these individuals will make your marketing more effective in many ways—buying the right lists, creating meaningful tools, speaking their language, and teaching new salespeople the traits of their prospective customers.
Interviews are critical to developing a good buyer persona. Actually speaking with the buyers can uncover insights that would never come to light otherwise. Yet, many marketers never take this step. Why not? One obvious reason is that contacting real buyers is a difficult and challenging task. You need to find buyers who are willing to talk, as well as sales reps who are comfortable allowing their marketing people to speak directly to their customers. Another challenge is the potential embarrassment associated with asking questions that the buyer assumes you should know. (So, why did you buy our product?) You need to make a concerted effort to overcome these challenges. Rest assured, the results are worth it.
One vital rule in conducting effective interviews is to make certain that you are speaking to the actual buyer. This might sound obvious, but not all sales reps know who these individuals are. Especially at larger accounts, where one salesperson may be in charge of the relationship for his or her company, he or she may deal only with the top person, and this person may not be the decision-making buyer.
Interviews should be conducted by the marketing team without the sales rep present (if possible). You don’t want a sales rep jumping in and answering questions you put to the buyer. Interviewing buyers over the phone and face-to-face are both fine. It is always better, however, to have a dedicated note taker present so that the interviewer can focus on developing rapport with the buyers. Here are some sample questions for B2B buyers, organized by theme:
Role and Responsibility
- What is your role? What responsibilities do you have?
- What department are you in? What does your reporting structure look like?
- What is the biggest challenge to getting your job done?
Key Initiatives and Objectives
- What are your key initiatives? How do they relate to your business?
- What are the major hurdles to your accomplishing them?
- How does your organization measure success?
Buying Process and Decision Criteria
- What made you decide to buy a product like ours? What factors drove that decision?
- Take me back to the day you decided to start looking for products like ours. When was that, and how did it happen?
- What was it that finally convinced you to buy our product?
- Who else got involved in the decision and why?
- If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be?
- How do you think your role compares with those of your peers?
- What advice would you give to college graduates looking to land a job like yours?
The questions you ask can take any form you think will give you the background and insight you are looking for. You will likely not get through all of them in an interview. Asking open-ended questions and listening carefully are essential to getting beyond merely courteous answers. You should probe and ask deeper second-level questions to get to the heart of the matter. Most important, just get the subject talking, telling his or her story. After you have conducted half a dozen interviews, you probably will have accumulated enough material to build a profile. How many interviews you conduct, and if you segment by market or geography, are decisions you will need to make based on the nature of your business.
The buyer persona should be compiled into a short document that other members of the sales and marketing teams can reference. Content—insights—is more important than format, but a good B2B persona should contain the following:
- Profile – A brief description of the person—what the person’s title or role is, whom he or she reports to, typical career path, age range, and other useful details. Some people choose to name their personas for easy reference and to get to “know” them as a person. In my experience, I have found that this strategy more often than not causes cynicism on the part of those outside the process. A common mistake is to spend too much time on this piece of the persona, and not enough on the items below, which are where the real insights come from.
- Role and responsibility – What is this person’s job, and what is he or she responsible for? Understanding this completely, even in areas that don’t directly pertain to your product, can offer critical insights. For example, a nurse might make a recommendation to a doctor on a new piece of equipment, unofficially, and have some influence.
- Career aspirations – Who does this person want to be when he or she grows up? Perhaps your product can help this person get there. This can be the most powerful insight you gain from the interview. People always act on their personal motives.
- Purchasing process – Where does this person find information about products like yours (you should be advertising there), and how does he or she buy products like yours (make sure you have the right channel)?
- Blockers – What makes this person’s job difficult (time in the day, people, process), and what rivalries might exist with others? It is amazing what you will find out, and removing these blockers with your product or process can help ramp up your revenue.