BattleIn the last month, I had a chance to deliver sessions about insightful buyer personas at two of my favorite conferences, Content Marketing World and Marketing Profs’ B2B Marketing Forum.

After each event, marketers peppered me with questions. The biggest concern? How to convince their client or in-house executives about the importance of deep buyer insights.

If you’re dealing with this issue, too, I suggest that you begin with a comparison of sales and marketing. After all, sales people have the opportunity, executive support and skills training to know their buyers before they speak.

Does it make sense that marketers would have none of these?

Think about how you could discuss these points with your resistant stakeholders:

  • Would anyone ever question the need for a sales rep to listen carefully to a prospective buyer before formulating an account strategy?
  • And which is more difficult, developing a plan to persuade one buyer at a time (the salesperson’s job) or building a strategy to persuade a market full of buyers (marketing’s job)? (Note: If the answer to this question isn’t instantly obvious, replace “buyer” with “voter” and suggest that they think like a politician.)

It isn’t logical that companies readily encourage sales to invest “as needed” for buyer discovery on a single deal, while marketers struggle to allocate a few hours for the buyer interviews that would benefit every aspect of their marketing strategy.

Plus it isn’t clear how marketers are supposed to already know how to conduct a probing buyer interview. Everyone fully appreciates that a sales rep’s listening and probing skills improve substantially when they have a proven framework and effective training.

Sometimes I’ll hear that the pushback originates with the company’s belief that they know their buyers. This is a bit more challenging, because people don’t know what they don’t know.

When this is the issue, I use our 5 Rings of Buying Insight for buyer personas to query stakeholders about their knowledge of their buyers:

1. Priority Initiative: At the moment when a buyer starts looking for a solution such as this one, what triggers that search? And what is different about the buyers who are looking for this solution and those who are not?

Don’t accept a simple “pain point” answer to this question. Everyone has pain but they’re not all shopping for your solution. We want to know what business triggers or events justify the company’s investment in this type of solution.

2. Success Factors: What does this type of buyer expect to be different if they invest in this solution? In the buyer’s words, what will the result look like?

If you hear an obvious answer (for example: we’ll grow the business, reduce operating costs, be more efficient, etc.), probe to see if anyone can tell you anything insightful about that result. For example, which part of their business will grow? Why can’t they achieve this growth without our solution? How much growth does the buyer expect?

3. Perceived Barriers: Why do some buyers believe that a solution that addresses this issue isn’t necessary? And what causes some buyers to choose a competitor’s solution instead?

Don’t accept easy answers. Buyers make decisions based on value and trust, not price and features. Ask follow-up questions to find places where your stakeholder is missing details. This insight is often one of the most surprising parts of the buyer persona.

4. Buyer’s Journey: When buyers start looking for this type of solution, what do they do first to evaluate all of their options? And then, what do they do to narrow their options and choose one? What resources do they trust? Which buyers are critical to the decision to include or exclude us each time they narrow their options?

5. Decision Criteria: Which attributes of our solution or company do buyers evaluate? Which are nice to have and which do buyers consider essential?

Listen carefully for jargon answers. If someone says that buyers choose your solution because it is easy to use, or because you are the industry leader or provide the best customer service, probe for details. What does the buyer expect to be easy to use? For whom should it be easy to use? How much training does the buyer expect to invest in before it is easy? How do buyers determine that our solution is easiest to use?

It may also help to show your stakeholders the example buyer persona that is now available on our new website here. Many people confuse relatively useless buyer profiles with the truly valuable information in these buyer personas, so once they see the depth of information you will discover, they should be more supportive.

A word of caution: Feel free to use these ideas to talk to your clients or internal stakeholders, but please do not interview your buyers using this post as a script. These questions are far too direct and put too much of the emphasis on you. Buyer interviews should ask people to provide candid feedback about what worked and what didn’t as they evaluated a solution like yours. This should be an engaging and non-confrontational experience that results in surprising information that buyers have not shared with anyone. To guide these conversations, you’ll need to know how to lead an unscripted, agenda-driven interview that probes on every response, because the buyer’s first answer to any question will be obvious data that isn’t insightful. You can learn more about how to interview your buyers here.

I hope you will try out these ideas on your clients or internal stakeholders and let me know how it goes. If they are still resistant, tell me what they said and I’ll follow up with another post.