Sad but true: most B2B marketers fly blind when it comes to understanding what makes our buyers tick. We lack solid insights into buyers’ perceptions, their purchase motivators, specific buying criteria or other factors they take into account when making “high consideration” buying decisions.
If we’re blind to what matters most to these buyers during their buyer journey, even our best marketing programs won’t reach their full potential. Our sales people and partners will under-perform. And yet this is business-as-usual for all too many B2B organizations.
Busy, But Still Flying Blind
It doesn’t have to be this way. Today’s B2B marketers are smarter and busier than ever. We have more tools at our disposal than ever before. We’re becoming an integral part of the “revenue engine.”
As a result management’s expectations for tangible results are higher than ever, especially when investing thousands of dollars each month on marketing automation.
In return we are laser-focused on messaging, content marketing, value prop refinement, sales enablement and lead gen. We’re scrambling to be even more accountable, to improve revenue attribution via tech-enabled demand gen programs or lead nurturing.
Yet we have a nagging feeling that we’re not getting enough bang for the buck from our investment in technology or data-driven processes. What’s wrong?
Surely we understand our customers and what motivates them?
The marketer’s need to understand the market is hardly new. But the depth of insight required is increasing exponentially as technological advances demand that organizations rethink how they sell everything…. ‘What we are selling is changing; who we are selling to is changing (some are people we’ve never sold to before); and how these customers want to be engaged, marketed, and sold to is changing, too.’
— Adele Revella, Buyer Personas (c) 2015
Are We Looking in the Right Places?
We do all the usual things to stay in touch with our market. We google everything. We scrutinize LinkedIn and social media. We attend webinars and industry events, read white papers, talk to channel partners, monitor competitors closely.
When budgets aren’t too tight, we invest in research, such as syndicated reports by industry analysts, or episodic probes via primary research.
Perhaps we make annual investments in brand monitoring, customer advisory panels, NetPromoter scores, or VOC surveys. We conduct focus groups. We spend hours talking to our best salespeople or product/industry SMEs.
Helpful as these resources might be, they’re not enough. When it comes to what buyers think or believe, we still don’t know what we don’t know.
Fortunately, there’s a better way — buyer persona research, a practical methodology that can generate actionable insights about buyers and their buying process. It works.
Seeking Insights from Buyers
Just think how effective our sales and marketing initiatives would be if we truly understood:
- What business factors or other motivations cause some buyers to go looking for a solution like ours? Why will others ignore us no matter what?
- What does our buyer expect to achieve as a result of implementing our solution? What outcomes do they expect? What operational results or personal wins are they looking for?
- What attitudes, perceptions or other issues might prevent our solution or brand from being considered? What might cause buyers to believe that our solution or company is not their best option?
- What does the buying process look like, at each stage? Who else is involved? How do they evaluate the options? Where do they look for information or “evidence” of what works best?
- What factors have the greatest influence on the decision making process? What criteria do buyers apply when making their decisions? Which factors matter most to them? And why?
A Better Method for B2B Buyer Research
B2B marketing expert Adele Revella says the best way to get actionable buying insights is through interviews with people who have recently engaged in a buying process for solutions like yours. Ideally, you’d interview a mix of people, looking for those whose buyer journey took place within the past few months:
- buyers who chose to buy your solution;
- buyers who considered your solution or your organization, but ended up going elsewhere;
- people who might have been good prospects but never considered you in the first place.
Revella advocates a method that combines probing questions and keenly attentive listening. The heart of her process is inviting buyers to tell richly detailed stories about their buying experience. (I’ve learned firsthand that buyers really enjoy participating in this type of interview.)
[We] will show you how you can listen to your buyers’ stories to gain insight into the factors that trigger their search, how they define success, and what affects their final decision that a particular approach is the best one for them. We’ll show you how the buyer’s personal narrative reveals language and phrases that will resonate with other buyers with similar concerns, and how to define and focus on the activities that compel buyers to take action. You will see how giving buyers the clearly articulated information they seek, in the language they understand, when and where they need it, is the essence of effective marketing.
— Adele Revella, Buyer Personas (c) 2015
I’ve become a fan of this buyer research methodology, which is laid out in Adele Revella’s Buyer Personas: How to gain insight into your customer’s expectations, align your marketing strategies, and win more business.
I’ve taken her 5-part buyer persona master class, and applied it to some client projects.
I’ve relished the enthusiastic thank-you emails I get from the people I’ve interviewed. Best of all, I love clients’ excitement when they get the results of buyer persona research, and start talking about what they need to change in order to put the findings into action.
It’s wonderful to see the promise of better buyer-marketer alignment.