In my days as vice president of marketing at several technology companies, I distinctly remember how difficult it was for my team of marketing professionals to command the respect of the salespeople in the company. No matter how much product knowledge we had, that wasn’t enough. We were finally successful in doing so, but only by becoming the buyer experts at our company.
The salespeople didn’t care about the brochures we produced or the websites we built. They rarely commented on the email newsletter or the trade shows we spoke at. But by effectively understanding and defining our buyer personas, we shortened the sales cycle for the reps who followed our strategies. Only then did the salespeople offer respect and kudos.
But most sales teams and marketing teams continue to operate out of alignment. The marketers and salespeople question the others’ skills and their commitment to the job. They fight over the quality of the leads. I remember hearing of a sales team that snidely referred to the marketing department as the “T-shirt department” because they said all the marketers had accomplished was the production of T-shirts imprinted with the company logo. Others call the marketing department the “branding police.”
Marketers, in turn, complain about how the materials they produce fail to be used by the salespeople. They bitch and moan because the sales leads they generate are left untouched, claiming that sales staffers are too lazy to pick up the telephone.
Think about your own organization’s last launch event. Were the salespeople hanging on every word as the marketers described the features of the latest product, service, or product marketing plans? If you’re like most people I speak with (if they are honest), the salespeople were bored, probably poking at their smartphones instead of paying attention.
But, if you delivered a talk to the salespeople about each of your important buyer personas including the attributes that indicate who will buy, that would get their attention!
Becoming the Buyer Expert in Your Company
Most marketers make stuff up. They sit in nice comfortable offices and imagine what interests buyers and then create “copy” and “campaigns” typically with the help of equally clueless agencies.
But as I’ve said many times at Business Mastery over the past several years, the more you know about buyers, the better aligned your marketing and sales becomes. The strategy of buyer persona research is an incredibly powerful way to rise above the competition.
Buyer personas, the distinct demographic groupings of your potential customers, are critically important for successful marketing that leads to sales success.
Creating marketing and sales initiatives that target specific buyer personas is a strategy that easily outperforms the results you get from sitting on your butt in your comfortable office making stuff up about your products.
For those of you who don’t work for a company that sells products or services, my use of the word buyer applies to any organization’s target demographic. 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 nonprofit’s buyer personas include corporate and individual donors. So go ahead and substitute the way you refer to your potential customers in place of the phrase buyer persona if you wish. But do keep your focus on this fundamental and powerful concept.
By working to understand the market problems that your products and services solve for members of your buyer personas, you’ll gain the insight you need to quickly develop a product or service that will resonate with buyers.
And once the product is ready to ship, an understanding of buyer personas transforms your marketing from mere product-specific, egocentric gobbledygook (that only you and the other employees in your organization understand) into the sort of valuable information people are thrilled to consume and eager to share. When people are educated and informed by your organization, they frequently make the choice to do business with you in return.
How Buyer Personas Drives Marketing at the Co-operators Group
At a recent presentation I met with Paul Mlodzik, Vice President, Marketing and Communications at The Co-operators Group Limited, a Canadian-owned insurance co-operative, to learn how he has implemented buyer personas at his organization. Indeed, The Co-operators is among the very best examples of marketing strategy based on understanding buyers I’ve ever seen.
Through its group of companies the Co-operators Group offers home, auto, life, group, travel, commercial and farm insurance, as well as investment products. The company sells to people from all ages and backgrounds and is both a B2C and B2B marketer.
The first step was 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,” Paul told me. “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 one-on-one telephone or in-person 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.”
Name each persona to make them come alive
To ensure that Paul and his team are completely dialed into each persona, they named each and then created very detailed profiles used by the team to create their marketing strategies. So that others in the company are aware of personas, they created posters out of them, which are located around the company offices.
Maria, whose short buyer persona profile is included here, is an example of the sort of detailed information that Paul and the team learned by speaking with many people who are representatives of the persona. They have also created an interactive persona exhibit which will be touring offices across the company.
“By actually doing the work and doing it properly from a research-based perspective, you get a tremendous sense of confidence about things,” Paul says. “I really like the fact that I was surprised by some of the things we learned. As a marketing veteran, you think you know about buyers. But I like being surprised because it gives me something else to work with. It gives me a hole to plug. It gives me a new need to go after.”
The confidence that Paul and the team developed through research means that he can focus on only the most important strategies and tactics. It gets them away from the “list marketing” that so many people do when they are unclear about the best way to reach buyers.
“We’re doing less things but each more intensely,” Paul says of how he does marketing now vs. before the research. “We have found we’re doing less activity and getting more results.”
The process also helps to align marketing staff with the right roles. “As a result of doing this work, you end up freeing up headcount,” Paul says. “Instead of replacing people in roles that become vacant, we created different roles with different areas to focus on based on what we discovered during the persona process. It has changed the way that we do business.”
The same process works for smaller companies as well. The more you understand your buyers, the better aligned your sales and marketing becomes. Business growth is sure to follow.
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