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Strategic Marketing & Skyrocketing Sales Starts With Buyer Personas

by David Meerman Scott

7 minute read

    In today’s landscape, buyer personas are critical for marketing success. The old rules of only communicating product features no longer work. And before you think your marketing is on the right track, here’s a newsflash.

    quotemark Focusing on product benefits is the most common marketing mistake of this day and age.

    Here’s why. Today’s intelligent, global and well-informed customers care less about an egotistical site shouting the features and benefits of your products and services. People only care about themselves and answers to their problems.

    If you can solve their problems, they’ll happily become your customers. It’s as simple as that. So how do you solve their problems? Well, you must first understand them.

    That’s why one of the five core strategies in mastering new marketing is understanding your audience through the creation of buyer personas. The buyer persona framework is the most comprehensive tool to ensure everyone in your company is aligned in understanding your audience so you can reach your buyers through targeted marketing and sales.

    In this article, you will discover what buyer personas are, why they’re crucial, how they have helped companies skyrocket their sales, as well as how you can create and apply buyer personas to scale your business.

     

    A Collision Of Sales And Marketing (and how to align them instead)

    To scale your business, your sales and marketing teams must operate in alignment. No exceptions.

    In my days as vice president of marketing at several technology companies, I distinctly remember how difficult it was to align my team of marketing professionals with the salespeople in the company.

    The salespeople didn’t care about the brochures or websites the marketing team built. The marketing team, in turn, complained about how the salespeople are too lazy to close on the sales leads the marketing team has generated. Overall, our marketers and salespeople questioned the others’ skills and their commitment to the job.

    It was clear we needed to align our sales and marketing if we wanted to grow our revenue and scale the business.

    The solution we found was incredibly simple: Buyer personas.

    Through buyer personas, the marketing team shortened the sales cycle for the sales reps who followed their strategies. Only then did the salespeople respect what the marketing team had to say, and both teams seamlessly worked together to rapidly create leads and close sales.

    So what are buyer personas, why are they so powerful, and how can you leverage them?

     

    How Buyer Personas Are Replacing The Old Approach Of “Writing About Benefits, Not Features”

     Buyer personas are essentially a detailed description of people who would become your customers or followers. Here’s an example of a buyer persona.


    Buyer Personas

    Buyer personas are not limited to companies selling products and services. A politician’s buyer personas include voters, supporters, and contributors; universities’ buyer personas include prospective students who might apply, their parents who will foot the bill, and alumni who might donate; a golf club’s buyer personas are potential members; and a non-profit’s buyer personas include corporate and individual donors.

    The more you understand your buyers, the better aligned your marketing and sales becomes. This will automatically result in increased sales and business growth.

    This is what makes the strategy of buyer persona research an incredibly powerful way to rise above the competition and scale your business.

    Unfortunately, the old ways of marketing have taught many marketers to simply “write about the benefits of your product, not the features.” This dusty old marketing approach is misleading and I’d like to correct it now.

    The problem I have with the “benefits” approach is that nearly every marketer on the planet simply reverse-engineers product features in order to make up benefits. Almost nobody does the work required to:

    1. Truly understand buyers
    2. Truly understand their problems
    3. Engage the language buyers use to describe their problems

    Shift your focus from reverse-engineering benefits to solving your customers’ problems, and you can skyrocket your sales.

     

    The Impact Understanding Your Customers Will Have On Your Bottom Line

    Let’s look at some real results companies have achieved when they began implementing buyer personas in their sales and marketing.

    RightNow Technologies’ buyer persona exercise kicked off when Steve Bell, the Product Marketing Manager, wanted to transform their website from an informational website into a website that sells. To build appropriate information which would achieve this goal, they developed detailed buyer personas for four different personas:

    Atul: Director of IT (technical evaluator of RightNow Technologies)
    Chuck: CS Director (operational prospect for RightNow Technologies)
    Oliva: SVP (a RightNow Technologies strategic prospect)
    Trinh: Financial Analyst (a RightNow Technologies information seeker)

    These buyer personas go beyond just a name and job title. It goes deeper into the wants and needs of each persona, such as:

    • Chuck wants to improve his team's efficiency, due to his inability to fund new hires to keep up with demand.
    • Chuck wants to decrease his staff's call and email volume, so they can spend more time with customers who really need help instead of routinely answering the same questions.
    • Chuck needs to find a solution that doesn't involve IT and can be implemented quickly.
    • Chuck wants to improve customer satisfaction, but he assumes that will happen if he can reduce his team’s call and email volume.
    These are just a few examples of what goes into developing a buyer persona. Other characteristics which go into buyer personas include their demographics, values, personality, goals, challenges, influences, and buying decisions.

    The new website was then created with conversion paths for each persona. Additionally, the personas also became the basis for all marketing content beyond the website.

    The result exceeded Bell’s expectations. Here are a few before (August '08) and after (November ‘08) metrics:

    • 4x increase in overall conversions
    • 5x increase in live demo request conversions
    • 3.4x increase in Flash demo conversions
    • The CEO blog is new and now has subscribers in the thousands
    Here’s another true story which illustrates the power of buyer personas. Nick Woodman wanted to sell cameras with a waterproof housing. A “benefits, not features” approach would have used language like, “protect your camera while it is in the water.”

    Nick however did much more than reverse-engineer benefits from the features. He interviewed surfers to learn about their problems around shooting photos in the waves. Surfers told him they found it challenging to paddle into a wave with a camera, stand, get into balance and trim, and then only having a second to take a photo. It was too awkward to do with the cameras available on the market at the time.

    The key learnings from the interview is surfers don’t look for the benefit of "protecting my camera in the water". Rather, they want to know “how can I take photos while surfing".

    And that’s how in 2004, the GoPro was born and have since sold millions of cameras.

     

    3 Steps To Create Effective Buyer Personas

    As these real life examples show, doing your research to create buyer personas can make a world of a difference. Here’s a quick guideline to help you understand your buyer personas and effectively implement it in your sales and marketing.

    Step 1: Identify And Interview Your Buyer Personas
    The first step is identifying discrete buyer personas and then interviewing representatives of each group.

    “It took five or six months to get through all of this because you really do need to sit down with a lot of people,” said Paul Mlodzik, Vice President, Marketing and Communications who implemented buyer personas at his organization, The Co-operators Group Limited, a Canadian-owned insurance co-operative.

    “We would interview them on the phone to figure out what are the common characteristics of the things that they’re saying. We generated a very large database of actual verbatim quotes to see how people are thinking and the type of words that they’re using.”

    This kind of research is time consuming but when done well yields incredibly valuable information.

    “When we came out with the group of personas, we had a whole vocabulary around each persona about the types of things that they would say,” Paul says. “We learned about technology use, how they live, where they live, who they ask for advice and how they go about interacting with different types of products and services, not just in our market but in general, and then specifically in our market.”

    TIP: Make sure the people you interview aren’t already your existing customers. Take 20-30 people who fit each persona and ask them open-ended questions that are not necessarily related to your product or services. These questions should help you understand what motivates them and what problems they want to solve.

    Step 2: Create Profile(s) For The Persona(s)
    Take the information you have gathered from your interviews and come up with a profile for each group. Give each of your personas a name and a face. If your business is a hotel, for instance, your buyer personas might include Wedding Wendy, for ladies planning their wedding receptions; and Business Traveler Ben, for corporate business professionals. Remembering about the needs of your different buyer personas is so critical that some companies have placed pictures of their buyer personas throughout offices and on the walls of conference rooms.

    Step 3: Marketing To Buyer Personas With Targeted Content
    In order to effectively market to buyer personas, you will need to create content that targets these segments. For instance, for the newlyweds, you might have a blog that talks about wedding bands. The buyer personas are unique in what they need and how you market to them. Before you start a campaign, ask yourself, “What would Wedding Wendy say about this?” or “Would this piece of content appeal to Business Traveler Ben?”

     

    Strategic Marketing To Scale Your Business Starts With A Buyer Persona

    Buyer personas help your marketing come alive. It’s so much better than merely talking about your products or services, and it aligns everyone in the company through the understanding of your customers.

    So stop guessing what your target audience wants. Stop reverse-engineering benefits from features, or worse, making up benefits out of thin air. And start researching, creating, and using a detailed buyer persona to execute a more strategic, targeted, and thoughtful content strategy.

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    David Meerman Scott

    David Meerman Scott

    David Meerman Scott is a marketing strategist, bestselling author of eight books including three international bestsellers, and a professional speaker on topics including marketing, leadership, and social media. David serves as an advisor to emerging companies including HubSpot, Eloqua, VisibleGains, Speakerfile, GutCheck, and Newstex, as well as nonprofits including the Grateful Dead Archive at UC Santa Cruz, HeadCount, and Nashaquisset. Previously, he was on the board of directors of NewsWatch KK (sold to Yahoo Japan) and Kadient (merged with Sant). He is a recovering marketing VP for two U.S. publicly traded technology companies and served as Asia marketing director for Knight-Ridder, at the time one of the world’s largest newspaper and electronic information companies. David has lived and worked in New York, Tokyo, and Hong Kong. He currently lives in the Boston area.

     
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