To get the most out of anything worthwhile takes persistence, perseverance, hard work, intuitiveness, and grit. It is advice we offer to our friends, family, and children. Often in helpful conversations with marketing and sales leaders, I usually am posed the question of how to get the most out of buyer personas.
A common theme is many have invested in buyer personas but are not reaping perceived benefits. It is a perplexing dilemma for executives who have sponsored such efforts. Much of the disappointment comes from not attaining new revelations about buyers or as one executive put it to me – “it’s as if we got window dressing on things we already know.”
Going Deep Enough
At the core of this dilemma is buyer personas can be treated superficially and are often misrepresented as a quick profiling exercise. Teams in marketing and sales receive a one-page or two-page document with the obligatory picture. The content, however, amounts to many factual items and data the organizations has spent time collecting over the years.
Most prominent is plotting in sales or product management factual data into a one or two-page document. Simply stated – it does not go beyond this level or deep enough. There is no actionable insight or foresight to act upon.
In my counsel to marketing and sales leaders, I often stress buyer personas are a component of buyer insights research. When buyer personas are “built” without the context of research, there are bound to be problems in getting the most out buyer personas. And the research should not be confused with traditional sales or product management data gathering. By research, we refer to qualitative research and buyer ethnography designed to attain deep buyer insights.
To go beyond conventionally available information and attain deeper game-changing insights about buyers, I recommend taking the D.I.V.E. deeper approach to buyer personas (D.I.V.E. is define, insights, visualization, and enable):
Define: Far too often, buyer personas are not thought of within the framework of a defined problem. While buyer personas have risen in awareness due to content marketing, a downside has been the idea you create buyer personas – just because. If “just because” you are doing a marketing campaign is the only reason for investing in buyer personas, then it may be tough to get deep insights, as a result. A sound research principle is to identify clearly the problem, which provides the framework for insights-gathering and buyer personas.
Insights: Once the problem is clearly defined, it helps to pinpoint the level of insights, which are needed. It also helps define the participants needed for the research. For example, one Fortune 500 organization I worked with had a clearly defined problem in the area of renewals and an eroding SMB customer base. They had a good handle on the initiatives, decision-criteria, buying processes, and etc. of their industry through meticulous sales data gathering. They needed to go deeper. Deeper involved taking an ethnographic approach to understanding the problem. By going deeper, they uncovered three very specific insights as well as goals as to why renewals and their SMB customer base were eroding.
Visualization: To help executives to understand what is at the core of buyer problems, buyer goals, and why a problem may exist, using visualization tools is essential. Buyer personas, in essence, are a visualization tool. They represent the characters in the story of your buyers. Many organizations can misinterpret the end means of buyer personas is to simply wind up with a one-page to two-page “profile” of their buyer. For executive sponsors, pay attention to this area for you can wind up paying exorbitant fees from agencies or consultants – who are providing profiles instead of authentic buyer personas.
Enable: A key purpose of conducting buyer insights research and producing buyer personas, as your visualization tool, is to help enable critical decision-making. They should guide and inform decisions in corporate strategy, potential business models, problem resolutions, new market entries, marketing strategies, and sales strategies.
Do The Deep D.I.V.E.
To get the most out of your buyer personas, it is important to approach this effort as one of your “deep dives” into understanding buyers. Buyer insights research and the visualization through buyer personas should tell the unfolding grand story of your buyers. They can also help to pinpoint the underlying “why” to well-defined problems.
If you are a marketing or sales leader struggling with looking at a one-page or two-page “buyer persona profile” – and wondering what you are supposed to get out of it – ask yourself if your organization has done the true “deep dive” needed. If not, then the well-defined course of action here is to D.I.V.E. deeper.