What has become abundantly clear to is this: understanding your prospects and customers is essential. B2B companies who outperform their competitors are doing so with deep insights into how their buyers are behaving. More importantly, learning the “why” of the behaviors driving their customers and prospects to make a purchase decision.
Behind The Curve
Many B2B companies are trying to get out from behind the curve of where their buyers and competitors have advanced. Struggling to get a clear picture on how disadvantaged they may be. Realizing practices put into place, even as short as three to five years ago, may be out of date. This includes using out of date research methods with buyers.
As I have helped companies recently with reviews of their buyer personas, there is a strong correlation between the quality of their buyer personas and their buyer insights research. What I see are very out of date buyer insights research practices as well as buyer persona creation practices. Let me highlight:
- Use of reports only. This is an easy one. Companies have pulled data from their CRM, SFA, or Marketing Automation systems and created buyer personas based on the data pulled. These buyer personas are of little value since they involve no buyer engagement.
- Interview sales reps only. I have seen this one often. While the input from sales is very valuable, buyer insights research should not stop at the cubicle of a sales rep. The buyer personas created became a reflection of how the sales team views buyers and not grounded in validation.
- Product marketing generated. Many buyer personas are coming out of product marketing these days. Usually they are created from traditional product marketing research methods such as competitive reports and analyst reports. These are also very prone to issues related to projection of one’s own views on how a customer is seen.
- Win-loss interviews. This has become all too commonplace recently. Pulling a list of recent deals won or loss and substituting true qualitative research with out of date win-loss interviewing. More problematic is how this method is being called buyer insights research but is in fact still win-loss interviews.
- Use of surveys only. While surveys can be helpful, they are very limiting and do not lend itself to probing for revealing and deep insights. I have seen very out of date buyer personas where surveys were used.
- LinkedIn only. This one is, as some will say, plain wrong. While LinkedIn can provide valuable information, I have seen buyer personas, which suspiciously looked like a LinkedIn profile. Lo and behold they were near exact replicas of LinkedIn profiles. I advocate for stopping this practice. It does not serve the purpose of insight into buying behaviors and could harm versus help.
Most of the above mentioned out of date buyer research and buyer persona practices have something in common. Which is, they are oriented towards quantitative analysis thinking. It is like we cannot help ourselves. As soon as we hear the word research, it conjures up the need to get in front of a computer and crunch. Get away from the computer.
Quantitative analysis can help us to understand the “how” of buyer behavior. Where it is deficient is in helping us to understand the “why” of buying behaviors. The aim of buyer insight research and buyer persona development is to understand the “why”. We seek to understand why the goals of buyers are important.
The only way to get at the crucial “why” is through direct interaction and research with buyers. Using qualitative buyer research methods such as on-site buyer interviews, field observation techniques, and day-in-the-life experiences with customers.
Up The Game
To get ahead of the curve on buyer behaviors, B2B companies will need to take buyer insights research up a few notches. The main reason is buyers are speeding ahead of sellers in terms of how they are rapidly changing. If stuck in out of date practices, it is likely such companies will fall further behind.
Here is a danger B2B companies need to be wary of: if their buyer insights research and buyer personas originate from out of date practice, they may not know it. It is easy to be lulled into believing you have what you need when a out of date buyer persona is in front of you. It is the back-story of how it was created that matters more.