Understanding Who Your Buyers Are Is Not Enough

Tony Zambito

Tony Zambito

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“We need to know who our buyers are.”

I hear this often today.  From Chief Executive Officers, Chief Marketing Officers, Chief Operating Officers, and Chief Sales Officers, the confounding question of – Who are our buyers? –  is asked repeatedly.  Even in mature established B2B businesses, this question is often asked.  In fact, more mature B2B organizations run the risk of realizing too late they have moved distantly away from their buyers.  Like the frog that realizes much too late the water has reached boiling temperature.

Guess Who

As I have helped many B2B organizations in the past 15 years with insights based buyer research, this question continues to pop up very often.  Ranging from beliefs buyers are at the most senior C-Suite levels to the most active users in B2B settings being the buyers also.  And, everything else in-between!

Unfortunately, without committing to understanding buyers deeply, this question will continue to cause heated debates within B2B corporate walls.  A potential risk is efforts are initiated to “force fit” acceptance of a specific view of who the buyer is.  More often though, the game of “guess who” is played throughout in attempts to definitively pin down who is the buyer.

The Wrong Starting Point

This question often gets asked at the onset of most sales initiatives, marketing campaigns, new product launches, and etc.  It is supported by supplier-centric, product-centric, and decision criteria thinking.   I have seen buyer profiling – or profiling efforts masked as buyer personas – actually dig a deeper hole for organizations.  Anchoring down profiles with the wrong view of “who their buyers are.”  Finding out as much as two years later – they had it all wrong.

What may sound counterintuitive is this – starting with the question of “who are our buyers?” may actually be the wrong place to start.  It is simply not enough.  All the scurrying around of resources at trying to answer this question can certainly be put to better use.

Where To Start

More so for B2B than B2C, there is the element of complexity in buying as well as an increasingly growing number of people involved in complex B2B purchase decisions.  Thus, trying to answer the question of who are our buyers becomes complex as well.  Trying to answer the question with a single buyer in mind just may not be realistic for B2B in today’s complex world fueled by digital technologies.

How does a B2B organization then get to a deep understanding of its’ buyers and where should they start?  In the larger broad stroke, B2B businesses should start first with buyer insights research.   Beginning with exploring problems associated with a lack of insight into buying behavior.  Exactly where to start, however, is still what perplexes most B2B businesses.  Here is where the essential principle behind buyer insights research provides the clue:

Buyer insights research is the qualitative gathering of insights on the why and how of buying decisions. 

It is through this important form of B2B organizational research we can best then get to the root of who in addition to what, where, and when.  Simply put, as we begin to learn more about why and how, we begin to see who is involved and what role they playing in complex buying scenarios.

Telling Stories With Buyer Personas

Gathering insights on buyers through qualitative research often requires a way of breaking down the complex into an understandable as well as actionable story.  This is one of the key purposes of buyer persona development.  To serve as a way of telling the story of buyers based on the insights gathered.  And, help to illuminate who in the why and how story.

A pitfall for many who explore buyer personas is they start with who and end with who.  Producing descriptive profiles labeled as buyer personas yet lacking in the right form of qualitative research directly with buyers.  Ultimately lacking in truly understanding the story of the why and how of buying decisions and who is involved.  And, even more unfortunate, never really getting the answer to the question of –  who are our buyers?

Not Enough

For B2B organizations, especially those in complex buying environments, understanding who your buyers are is not enough.  It is important to arrive at a profound and deep understanding of the why and how of buying decisions.  Uncovering who, not through guesswork or through a focus on the wrong facts, but through qualitative insights gathering on why and how buying decisions are made.

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3 thoughts on “Understanding Who Your Buyers Are Is Not Enough”

  1. Well said Tony! ITSMA is analyzing a survey on buyer personas right now. Too many B2B companies are relying on demographics to develop their buyer personas and not enough on qualitative interviews with actual buyers. It is no wonder than less than 15% of the B2B companies in our survey that are using buyer personas are seeing positive results.

    1. Hi Julie,

      Thank you for your comments. Survey does sound interesting and yet confirms many issues organizations have with understanding their buyers. There are two issues in play – first is not enough qualitative research and second is a focus on facts vs. insights. In general, supplier-centric data gathering as opposed to qualitative insights-based research. I know you and ITMSA work hard to get organizations on the right track with these issues! Thank you, Tony

  2. Pingback: 7 Big Questions For B2B Marketing Leaders in 2014

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