Three out of four marketers believe that marketing changed more in the last two years than in the prior 50 years, according to this study. I see three key reasons why:

  1. Tsunami of data, especially unstructured data
  2. Explosion of social media
  3. Advent of mobile devices – especially smartphones 

These reasons and more have upended the world of marketing like never before. The customer is using more touchpoints and is armed with powerful tools. Watch out.

The shift in power from sellers to buyers means an increased need to get deep insights on your buyers. However, I talk to BtoB marketers almost every day, and there's a lack of understanding of buyer personas.

  • Most marketers think they can get insights on buyers by creating a survey and sending it out  
  • Most believe the data they get from a survey gives them insights into buyer preferences and needs

Nothing is further from the truth.

Adele Revella says, “Surveys don’t tell you anything you don’t already know.” Since surveys have to have predefined questions, they almost never uncover deep insights that could not have been predicted. Buyer Personas are designed to uncover unexpected insights.

When a buyer picks up your content, you have less than 30 seconds to convince her you can help.  You better tell them something from the beginning that blows their mind. To achieve this, you must make your buyer, not your products, the center of your universe.

Definition of a True Buyer Persona

In a true buyer persona, one follows a timeline and asks questions revolving around the 5 Rings of Insight:™ 

  1. Priority Initiatives: Where does the buyer invest time, budget or political capital? Don’t confuse these with pain points that you reverse-engineered on your products. You are looking for their priorities.
  2. Success Factors: Look for the tangible or intangible rewards that this buyer associates with success. These can be specific, like growing sales by 12% within 9 months, or non-specific, like loss of job security.
  3. Perceived Barriers: Why do some buyers choose a competitor and others choose to live with the pain and do nothing at all? This is the most valuable buyer insight, but often missed. What are the personal or business obstacles which could interfere with a chance to achieve success?
  4. Buyer’s Journey: How does the buyer evaluate alternatives and weigh options? The key here is to probe deeply to understand the real decision process on the buyer’s journey. You also should find out what resources the buyers consult and what assets you can use at each step of the journey.
  5. Decision Criteria: How does the buyer arrive at a decision and how did the decision making process change over time? Dig to document the complexity of a company decision process.

When you focus on the obvious pain points of your buyers, your competitors have the same information. But when you ask probing questions and dig deep for insights, you uncover information that is nearly impossible for your competitors to duplicate.

Well-crafted buyer personas give you an unfair competitive advantage.

Conducting Effective Buyer Interviews

The need to ask probing questions means you cannot gain deep insights if you approach the conversation with a script or list of questions. You need to build your questions from the buyer’s previous answer.

Unfortunately, this is a skill that takes training and practice to master. Marketers generally have not had a chance to hone these skills, so it will be uncomfortable at first.  If you’re unwilling or unable to make a big investment in training and practice, turn to Certified Buyer Persona Specialists. Another reason to turn to outside experts is that they have to tools to organize and collage findings.

These seven key attributes of the buyer persona interview will get you started and to help you decide whether to tackle this yourself or contact outside professionals.

  1. Follows an agenda, not a script
  2. Engages the buyer in telling a true story
  3. Convinces the buyer to say more
  4. Prior responses shape the next question
  5. Does not correct false impressions
  6. Ensures intense concentration
  7. Seeks endless detail about how a buyer decides

The best people for you to talk to are those who have fresh memories of a buying process – namely businesses who select your company, your competitor or nothing in recent months.  The key to remember is that you are trying to get actual insights on real decisions, not reactions to hypothetical scenarios.

The Five Rings of Insights are a trademark of The Buyer Persona Institute and are used with permission.


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