We have discussed how to create buyer personas, and why you should do so. The benefits are so alluring that it sounds like a no-brainer. Who could argue with the idea of getting to know your customers better, and all the gains that implies?
But a survey of 194 marketing and sales professionals last year by the Information Technology Services Marketing Association (ITSMA) found that only 44% of companies surveyed were using buyer personas. What’s more, only 15% of them thought that they were doing so very effectively, and none thought that they were extremely effective. That doesn’t sound nearly so promising.
Filling the gap between expectation and reality
So why the gap? The answer lies in exactly what you do to create your buyer personas, and then how you use them.
The secret is that the quality of a buyer persona is absolutely related to the quality of the data that you use to build it. It’s a bit like anything else: garbage in, garbage out. Too many companies and teams only use the information that they already have. You can get a lot of good information from analytics and market research surveys, and from customer-facing teams within your company. But what you don’t get is new information.
Putting the information together in one place might help a bit, because you’ve pooled all the knowledge. But it’s unlikely to lead to serious insights, without new information. Market research surveys are useful, but they only tell you so much. After all, you choose the questions to ask, and the options for reply. By definition, they tend to reflect back the insights that you already have.
So where are you going to get this new information? From your customers. Only they can give you the key insights into what they want, and how you can help them to solve their problems. And you have to do it properly, with detailed interviews, listening carefully to the answers, and perhaps even more importantly, what they’re either not telling you, or telling you as a throwaway.
If you still doubt whether this is important, then consider this. The Buyer Persona Institute says that one CMO found, from talking to customers, that a massive 70% of the company’s marketing spend, and 40% of its sales effort, had no effect on the customer decision. That’s an awful lot of money to waste on something that doesn’t affect the bottom line. Talking to customers could possibly be even more important than creating buyer personas.
The information that you need is in five areas:
- Customers’ priority initiatives, or why some make your category a strategic choice, and others don’t;
- Success factors, which explain what customers expect to change using your product and why;
- Perceived barriers, which tell you why some customers won’t see you as providing the ideal solution for them;
- The buyer’s journey, which tells you about the criteria that buyers use to evaluate possible solutions, and why; and
- Decision criteria, which tells you which buyers are involved in the decision and what resources guide their thinking.
Buyer personas in the marketing-sales dynamic
Buyer personas might even be a way to resolve the gap between sales and marketing. This is because the process of gathering information to create the personas puts marketing in a much better position to understand their buyers.
Creating buyer personas helps to ensure that companies can provide what their customers want, including good content. This is useful early on in the sales process, as customers gather information, but also much later on, when sales teams are in contact with potential buyers. The key is to ensure that the marketing content that has already been produced for buyer personas is provided to the sales team. That means not waiting until the sales team starts looking for the content, but proactively providing it.
You can also use buyer personas to assess the success of various items of content in sales. For example, if a particular piece of content consistently receives favourable responses from one persona, what insights can you gain? Sales teams are well-placed to seek that feedback and ensure that it improves content for the future.
Crucially, marketing teams producing high quality buyer personas can equip sales teams with the tools and content that they need to make sales. Collaboration makes sense to the bottom line, and that’s what really matters.