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The Buyer Persona Manifesto


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Persona marketing clarifies buyers’ real concerns with actionable insights other marketing strategies cannot match. But skillful execution is crucial.

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The Buyer Persona Manifesto

  1. 1. TheBuyer Persona ManifestoPersona marketing clarifies buyers’ real concerns withactionable insights other marketing strategies cannot match.But skillful execution is crucial. Adele Revella
  2. 2. Contents Click these white arrows to navigate throughout the book 1. Confessions of a buyer persona evangelist 2. So what is a buyer persona? 3. What can the buyer persona help you see? 4. What you don’t know, what you really need to know 5. Interviewing in search of insight 6. Putting your insights to work 7. How the buyer’s voice empowers Marketing “The buyer persona goes a critical step further to reveal the story behind About Adele business that doesn’t come to you.” (page 5)Back to cover page
  3. 3. 1. Confessions of a buyer persona evangelist It was an insight that changed my way of a seminar, Effective Product outlook and defined my life’s work. Marketing,™ that I authored and led for Pragmatic Marketing®. Over the As a marketing executive I faced course of 10 years I taught progres- an insurmountable obstacle: a rock sive marketers all over America and threatening to sink a start-up with many other countries. an ingenious solution to an emerging enterprise software issue. But since When we started, the buyer persona companies had not yet realized the was a brand-new concept. We could problem, nobody was tasked with solv- see clearly its benefits as a strategic ing it. We thought we knew who should tool. What we lacked was the body of be concerned with the issue, but we experience needed to equip market- could not get them to focus on it. ers with a proven execution road map. I’ll tell you the story further on. But Looking back, I have to confess how after years of losing money as we critical that execution piece is. struggled to overcome this obstacle, Adele Revella I had an insight that not only led to a Steering the proverbial supertanker solution; it turned the company into a is a snap compared to introducing runaway success. any new idea in a major corporation. With a ship, at least you know that if I didn’t have a name for it at the time. you crank the helm hard, it will even- But when I later heard about a then- tually come round. new strategic marketing tool called “buyer personas” I was an instant Plus, I’ve come to realize that while believer. I had already felt its power. the buyer persona is a tool every bit as sharp as predicted, it is not like —3— Having seen the light, I soon became scissors, something anyone can pick– back to table of contents – an evangelist for buyer personas by up and use right away.
  4. 4. More than 5,000 people attended my insightful strategic application; and seminar over 10 years, and many have skillful execution. stayed in touch, emailing to report on the joys and frustrations of working But as this e-book will show you, the with buyer personas. Some rave about payoff goes way beyond impressive the amazing feats they have achieved. sales growth. Others need a hug as they relate how it all went wrong in execution. Togeth- Applied with skill and determina- er we puzzle through why and how. tion, this tool can transform market- ing from a passive, outward-facing Having seen literally hundreds get function to a key source of strate- it either right or wrong, I now know gic insight closely watched — and all the snakes and ladders by heart. respected — by top management. That’s why my focus has changed from telling marketers what the buyer This e-book is not a how-to guide for persona can achieve to coaching mar- dabblers. It is a manifesto for radical keters, step-by-step, as they execute. transformation, aimed at progressive B2B marketers who won’t sit still Realizing the value of buyer personas for the status quo. If that’s you, read takes focused and sustained effort; on… and enjoy! This e-book is not a how-to guide for dabblers. It is a manifesto for radical transformation… —4—– back to table of contents – …read on
  5. 5. 2. So what is a buyer persona? It’s an archetype, a composite competitor’s customers, your recent picture of the real people who buy, conquests — and perhaps even or might buy, products like the ones those who have never considered you sell. buying simply because they had no idea that a workable solution was It’s an avatar you craft from what within reach. you learn in direct interviews with as many buyers as possible. And from This distinction between buyer and behavior observed anywhere else: customer is critical, because market- at industry conferences; in online ers assume all-too-often that cus- forums; through social media. tomer experience tells the full story. The buyer persona goes a critical If crafted with skill and insight, the step further to reveal the story behind person who emerges in this picture business that doesn’t come to you. may become as real to you as anyone you can ever remember meeting. In I recommend looking at the buyer your mind’s eye, this person becomes from two perspectives. three-dimensional to the point that you can see the world through his or The “Core Buyer Persona” seeks her eyes. to understand the buyer in his own environment — without reference to Expect other characters to appear whatever you might want to sell him. through this lens: bosses, internal This tells you whether the buyer is users, finance functionaries and rivals looking for solutions like yours, or is “…If crafted with skill and — and others with input into your buy- busy with other priorities. The sec- insight, the person who emerges er’s decision-making process. ond perspective — what I call the in this picture may become as “Product Persona Connection” — real to you as anyone…” —5— These composite people are not your reveals the buyer’s attitudes about– back to table of contents – long-time customers. They are your your product and company.
  6. 6. In tandem, these two perspectives that borders on euphoric: “These bring the issues that matter to buyers people get it! They understand exact- into sharp focus — allowing market- ly what I want!” ers to see their product as the buyer sees it. Every time that happens, you have a chance to form a bond of trust that So instead of talking at the buyer, rivals may not be able to overcome Instead of blurting blurting out a “me-me-me” narrative — even with substantially lower out a “me-me-me” with absolutely no consideration of pricing. narrative, his real concerns, marketers can get marketers can straight to the heart of the matter. The buyer persona’s buzz-saw ability get straight to to “cut the crap” in messaging is only When buyers find they don’t have to the beginning of the story. Read on to the heart of the wade through reams of irrelevant learn how the buyer persona can yield matter. babble to get straight answers to insights that provide decisive guid- their concerns, I’ve seen response ance to overall corporate strategy. —6—– back to table of contents –
  7. 7. 3. What can the buyer persona help you see? Ask the boss at almost any company justified by rational factors about if his people know who their buyer product and pricing. Any number of is, and how that buyer decides, and subjective factors can distort the you can expect a confident answer, process: office politics, conflicting “Of course, we do!” priorities, nationalism, you name it. Ask the same question down in Not that anyone on the buyer side will Marketing and you are likely to get a tell your sales rep about any of this. more nuanced answer. Savvy practi- Everyone likes to put on a rational face. tioners know that far too much guess- work is involved. The truth is that, The buyer persona is a tool that beyond a few very basic binary data can help you see way deeper than a points (e.g. “67% liked this; 33% scratch into the buyer’s thinking. Once didn’t”), most companies have only the you get down there, you will uncover faintest idea what lies behind the buy- unexpected answers. You may even ing decision. We presume an awful lot. find the person you thought was your buyer has no interest in considering What’s more, most companies lack your proposition. a way to usefully model and apply what they already know. To harness In fact, that was the revelation that whatever insights they have, market- opened my eyes to this approach. ers need a three-dimensional way to share their understanding of the As mentioned earlier, a long time buyer’s story, among themselves and ago I headed marketing for a startup throughout the enterprise. based on an ingenious solution to an enterprise software issue. Scratch the surface and you are —7— likely to find that buying decisions Corporations were just switching– back to table of contents – are driven by emotional factors then from building software from scratch
  8. 8. to licensing off-the-shelf software could find and phoning everyone I could platforms for key business applica- think of. I volunteered for industry task tions. But since licenses didn’t come forces and attended any conference with “source code” there was an inher- where I might meet potential buyers ent risk in the arrangement. What if and influencers in a non-sales setting. I the software vendor went bankrupt? wanted to see how they thought. We’d spent Our answer was simple but inge- When I came across the answer I felt years talking to nious: “software escrow.” As a trusted like an anthropologist discovering a third party we held the source code lost tribe in the Upper Amazon. the wrong end for release to the licensee if the ven- of the horse! dor could no longer support its prod- I found this obscure workshop for uct. We were sure executives and people with a job title that I didn’t their attorneys would snap at this realize existed. They were “contract bait like hungry bass. administrators,” functionaries hidden deep in the corporate bureaucracy. As this was pre-internet, we adver- tised in relevant trade publications We had been pitching way up the and targeted direct mail to all the rel- food chain to executives who should evant executives we could identify. have been worried by their depen- But when we managed to get one on dence on third-party software. But the phone, our sales reps often said they were too focused on immediate they could almost hear him yawn. priorities to even think about a fire that had yet to start. After years of losses we were des- perate to figure out why our proposi- Who we should have sought were tion wasn’t taking off — to the point those who had the problem we aimed that I proposed shutting the whole to solve on the desk in front of them. thing down. But our CEO asked me to take another crack at it, so I did. Our buyer was the contract admin- istrator — and we didn’t even know —8— With no theories to guide me, I worked it. We’d spent years talking to the– back to table of contents – like a detective, reading everything I wrong end of the horse!
  9. 9. Having identified this tribe, like an as that company extended its reach anthropologist, my next challenge from document storage to digital was figuring out how to make con- solutions. tact. Would they even care about our solution? How do you model the kind of learn- ing those contract administrators What I read in the workshop agenda gave me? What I learned made me wonder. Buried deep in about these the 8-point-type listing of sessions I Afterward, I realized that what I buyers came from found one entitled: “Software escrow learned about these buyers did not immersing and why it doesn’t work.” come on slides with bar graphs and myself in pie charts. It came from immersing their world. Fast as I could dial (okay, we did have myself in their world to learn what push-button by then) I called the orga- motivated and frustrated them, and nizers in Florida to demand: “Wad- to understand what consumed their daya mean, ‘software escrow doesn’t time and budget. work?’” Next thing I knew I was lead- ing their new session: “How to make They were willing to talk frankly about software escrow work.” what value they saw in my service. Even more critically, some told me Whatever value those workshop par- why they could live without it. Others ticipants got from the program, the told me straight-up what I needed to chance I got to examine my lost tribe do to help them win over their boss- at close range was worth a thousand es. I heard the kinds of statements times more. and tone that caused them to nod their heads in agreement — and what Thanks to what I was able to learn turned them off. from listening to people whose needs our product really answered, Once I had done several workshops DSI escrow finally took off. Our rev- on software escrow, participants’ enue began to double each year, stories began to blend into a single —9— and within five years the company narrative; their faces became a– back to table of contents – was acquired by Iron Mountain, mosaic and then a composite picture.
  10. 10. I didn’t have a name for it then, but exactly what we need to know about when I first heard the term “buyer per- buyers in order to guide strategic busi- sona” I knew instantly what it meant ness decisions. And we can effectively — and why it was vitally important. share those insights throughout the enterprise. I overcame that escrow challenge — but I had to work way too hard Intelligent application is still essen- When I first to do it. Since then, buyer persona tial, but the process is now straight- heard the term methodology has moved light years forward and repeatable. “buyer persona” ahead. I knew instantly The starting point is to take stock of what it meant We can now gather critical insights what insights into your buyers you — and why quickly and efficiently. We understand are missing. it was vitally important. — 10 —– back to table of contents –
  11. 11. 4. What you don’t know, what you need to know Core Buyer Personas PRODUCT CONNECTIONS Priority Success Perceived Buying Decision Initiatives Factors Barriers Process Criteria Once marketing teams realize Let’s short-circuit all that by listing how little they actually know about what you really need. For B2B mar- their buyer, many react by rushing keters, the buyer persona needs to madly off in all directions in search deliver five key insights that I call: of information. The Five Rings of Insight™ At this point I often have to say, “Whoa, slow down!” It’s all too easy to get dis- 1. Priority Initiatives: To what three- tracted by irrelevant and even trivial to-five problems or objectives does questions. I’ve actually seen teams get your buyer persona dedicate time, — 11 — bogged down in debating whether the budget and political capital? This is– back to table of contents – buyer persona is blond or brunette. the centerpiece of the Core Buyer
  12. 12. Persona. It’s about his or her world- 3. Perceived Barriers: What could view, not you or your product. prompt the buyer to question whether your company or solution is capable of If your product addresses one of achieving his or her Success Factors? these priorities, this persona may be your primary buyer. If not, your prima- This is where you begin to uncover ry buyer lower down the totem pole critical unseen factors. You may find may still need this persona’s signoff. the buying decision hinges on things that have nothing to do with your Avoid generalizations that do no product. Take a sports car buyer for more than restate this persona’s role example. No matter how impressed or job description. he is by your model’s finer points, the deal may hinge on persuading his wife The other four Rings of Insight link up to that the car is more important than form the “Product Persona Connection.” renovating her kitchen. Good luck. Look for elephants in the room. A 2. Success Factors: To understand looming business-process change the buyer’s approach to a Priority may be coloring all decisions; getting Initiative, identify what tangible or end users to accept change may be intangible rewards he or she associ- tough; toxic office politics may over- ates with success. ride rational decision-making. This is real-world stuff. Clearest factors are tangible met- rics assigned by management: “grow Other Perceived Barriers may stem revenue by X, cut costs by Y.” from prior experiences with your product or company; with similar Even if the buyer has no tangible products; or negative feedback from metrics, something is always at stake media coverage. — e.g. getting fired or demoted if a risky decision goes wrong. The real Expect to find Perceived Barriers — 12 — story may be about ego inflation or that are no longer (or never were)– back to table of contents – the desire to one-up rivals. factually correct.
  13. 13. 4. Buying Process: What process detailed views on product capabili- does this persona follow in explor- ties they see as important. Beyond ing and selecting a solution that can “what,” you want to know how the overcome the Perceived Barriers and buyer arrived at his conclusions. achieve the Success Factors? If the insight is about “ease-of-use,” These insights are best mapped you need to find what specifically with a table that begins with busi- they think should be easy, and for ness triggers that cause the buyer whom. And you want to know how to start searching for a solution, and they decided that. ends with a satisfied customer. To be useful, Decision Criteria At each step in the buying process, should go beyond insights from cus- identify each of the buyer personas tomers to include buyers who chose involved in the decision to proceed to a competitor and those who chose to the next step, what role each plays, do nothing at all. and the resources each consults to find answers to their questions. These five insight categories give you a framework with which to sort Note that this insight details the and analyze what you learn from your buyer’s process to arrive at a deci- buyers. How do you get answers to sion, not the selling process as your all these key questions? You ask the sales people may have defined it. buyers directly. You interview them. 5. Decision Criteria: What aspects of each product will the buyer assess in evaluating the alternative solutions available? In compiling these insights don’t — 13 — fall back on jargon like “easy-to-use”– back to table of contents – or “scalable.” You are after the buyer’s
  14. 14. 5. Interviewing in search of insight Here is where the real skill comes peripheral, one-off project. This is in. To get the required insights you the core of your marketing effort. have to talk — well, mostly listen — This isn’t a directly to buyers. You have to phone Start with a team that is in the plan- peripheral, them up or take them to lunch and ning stages of an important launch or one-off project. interview them. campaign. The team should include This is the people from each of the functional core of your How many interviews should you do? areas involved in the project. Make marketing Although a highly accurate persona their buyer persona work a priority effort. can be drawn from just five or six and dedicate time and resources to interviews, a larger sample size lends it. If you say, “Do this when you have authority to your research. But qual- time,” failure is all but guaranteed. ity matters much more than quantity. Five really good interviews are more Next, select a few people from that useful than 50 clumsy ones. team who stand out for their energy, enthusiasm, empathy and curiosity. What you might expect to read next, Only one or two of these people need in an e-book by a consultant, is “give to lead the interviews. Others can sit us a retainer and we’ll do the rest.” in whenever possible so that everyone For better or worse, that won’t work. can share and discuss what they hear. Best practice is to have a second per- To get full value from buyer personas, son taking notes, leaving the interview- your team needs to be involved in er free to focus on building rapport. the interviews from start to finish. A consultant can model the skills and When doing live interviews, rapport is provide feedback to improve results, all about making eye contact — and but you can’t watch from behind a even many seasoned journalists get — 14 — two-way mirror. Your people have got this wrong. Instead of looking and– back to table of contents – to be in on it — because this isn’t a listening they keep their heads down
  15. 15. taking notes. That means they miss the intelligence these skills are not hard Isn’t there an facial expressions and body language to acquire. easier way? that tell so much more than words alone. When you have eye contact, We can help your team develop both Some may be tempted to your reaction can encourage a person interview skills and strategies. We take a short cut, trying to to answer more candidly, to elaborate. can help you get started with the get insights from focus actual interviews. But unless your groups or surveys. Resist In a phone interview, without that eye team develops the ability to continu- this temptation. contact, it is tougher to build rapport. ally refine your knowledge, the proj- Surveys are useful That’s why the interviewer needs to ect will end and your buyer will fade when you know what learn how to keep the buyer talking: from sight. the question is. Focus “That’s really interesting;” “Wow, that groups can get people must’ve been a challenge for you;” So who to interview? to choose the best of “How did you evaluate that?” When your buyer persona team is three alternatives. But geared up and ready to go, start by these techniques can only Learn to stifle the urge to correct the looking for buyers who have made a confirm the best answer interviewee no matter how stupid, decision in the last 30-60 days. from a list of pre-selected wrong or unfair his perceptions are. options — validating what This will be tough at times, but the This is where you may hit your first you already know. interviewer’s job is to uncover percep- obstacle: sales reps may not want tions not to change them. Marketing talking to their contacts. The buyer persona So you may need the Marketing head interview process goes Bringing out those deep-down per- to ask the Sales head to help secure deeper to identify the questions you don’t know. ceptions is a skill that great journal- cooperation. It’s the way to get at non- ists cultivate. In a friendly way, ask obvious insights that a provocative question that gets the But don’t limit the search to your own allow you to redefine the subject engaged. When one line of sales force. Mine the stack of busi- competitive playing field. questioning hits a wall, you move on ness cards you have from confer- to another topic, then circle back to ences. Trawl through online industry probe for further detail. forums. Search Google. Work like a detective to sleuth out buyers. Brain- — 15 — For anyone with half-decent social storm to identify those who should– back to table of contents – skills and a measure of emotional buy but have yet to consider it.
  16. 16. And what to ask? they hesitate to choose a player fur- Once you begin contacting buyers, ther back in the pack? ask for at least 20 minutes of their time. Make the questions open-end- Never assume you know the answer! ed to get them talking. For example: When you write up the results, quote What happened on the day you the buyer directly. You want to cap- decided to look for a solution like ture the way they talk and the words this? they choose. You want to highlight the points where the buyer got emotional. What process did you go through to find potential solutions? After doing five or so interviews, you should have a sense of which How did you narrow the options buyer personas are driving the initial Never down? purchase decision, and who else is involved. Will the CIO respond to a assume you What criteria did you use to evalu- marketing campaign? Or should you know the ate the options? start lower down the food chain? answer! How did our solution fare against Armed with that knowledge, shift the competition by those criteria? the focus in additional interviews to questions that emerged in the initial With your follow-up questions, aim round. Keep at it until you have fully for as much clarity as possible. filled the Five Rings of Insight. Since generalizations like “you guys are the market leader” aren’t action- In fact, don’t ever stop doing buyer able, ask why it was important to interviews! Your knowledge of the choose a market leader. Why would buyer is never complete. — 16 —– back to table of contents –
  17. 17. 6. Putting your insights to work Insights gleaned from the interview Where? Having identified where process will equip your team with all buyers begin looking for solutions, they need to develop detailed and the team targets the events, online Spray buyer accurate core buyer personas, and forums, magazines, bloggers and persona an actionable “Product Persona Con- influential columnists they look to. nection.” Guided by these insights, Knowing what search statements insights on your team will know exactly where to buyers actually use, the team plans marcom-babble focus their efforts. to meet them wherever they land. and wipe with a cloth. Who? Now that they clearly under- What? Spray buyer persona insights stand the buying process, the team on marcom-babble and wipe with a may decide (for example) that an cloth. What remains are clear answers early pitch to the CIO is a waste of to questions that really matter to buy- time and resources. CIO sign-off may ers. When freed from wading through be essential in the end, though, so gobbledy-gook to find the information top-level support must be built as the they need, buyers are not only grate- process moves along. But Marketing ful but more likely to trust you. now knows who down the ladder can initiate the discussion. This insight How? Buyer persona insights tell triggers sales enablement activities you not only what the buyer wants to that guide front-line sales reps to the know, but how best to tell the story. right people at each stage. Let your creative team hear the buy- er’s authentic voice: the words and When? Now that they understand what metaphors they choose; how formal events trigger the search for solutions or informal they are. Don’t stoop to — budget cycles, equipment-update “Dude, it’s awesome,” but if your buy- cycles, business-process changes, er is a 24-year-old techie then you — 17 — expansion plans and more — the team shouldn’t talk like a Pentagon spokes-– back to table of contents – calculates when to contact who. man either.
  18. 18. Why? To implement your buyer per- easy to mistake this as some trivial sona insights the team will inevitably game in the Marketing department. have to overcome internal opposi- tion. For example, engineers may Sell the results you achieve with this feel slighted if you omit their dense tool, not the tool itself. description of features buyers don’t want to hear about. Use the insights If your buyer persona initiative suc- Teams often get to explain why you’ve got to do it. ceeds, consistent wins will attract so excited by their attention throughout the company. buyer persona Here’s one pitfall. Teams often get so People will notice how your communi- that they want to excited by their buyer persona that cations differ from competitors. Even introduce him — like they want to introduce him — like a the CEO may start to ask, “What’s a trophy boyfriend… trophy boyfriend — to everyone in the going on down there in Marketing?” Resist that urge. company. Resist that urge. Unless the introduction comes with convincing At this point, your ultimate Success answers to a critical question, it is too Factor appears on the horizon. — 18 —– back to table of contents –
  19. 19. 7. How the buyer’s voice empowers Marketing Like Rodney Dangerfield, in Market- churning out information into a mar- ing we “get no respect.” ketplace that is seldom impressed. The buyer persona can change that. The fact is that Marketing holds little The buyer persona sway over the strategic direction of gives Marketing the confidence to say, Why does Marketing get no respect? the company, and that isn’t going to change until marketers can bring “This is what For starters, unlike product develop- decisive input to the table. really matters ment, finance or management, our to our buyers.” discipline is not the preserve of an This is where the buyer persona has established profession: engineering, the power to drive radical change. accounting or business administra- tion. And unlike Sales, the contribu- By channeling the buyer’s voice — tion of Marketing is rarely measur- clearly, accurately and persuasively able in terms of revenue. — the buyer persona gives Market- ing the confidence to say, “This is Our function is squishy. what really matters to our buyers. So here’s the plan.” I’m determined to change that. I’ve seen too many great products and My own goal is to see that come companies fail due to poor market- about, working hands-on with pro- ing. And I can’t bear to watch the gressive and ambitious clients to wasted budget and talent when mar- make sure it does. keters exist only to execute the will To learn more, of functions higher up the totem poll, That’s what this e-book is about. visit — 19 —– back to table of contents –
  20. 20. About Adele If there are others out there who working with buyer personas — hear- know as much about buyer persona ing what works and what doesn’t — marketing as Adele Revella, they Adele continues to sharpen her ability are few and far between. to help marketers achieve their full potential with the methodology. A career marketer with decades of experience, Adele has approached Ten years ago, Adele and husband the discipline from all sides: market- Steve traded the Arizona desert ing executive, consultant, trainer for the misty delights of San Juan and entrepreneur. Island, Washington, halfway between Seattle and Vancouver. Traveling the globe for more than 10 years, Adele introduced the When she’s not on the road, buyer persona to over 5,000 Adele supports progressive marketers through a two-day marketers around the world Contact: seminar she developed and led from an office looking across for Pragmatic Marketing. the Salish Sea to the snow- capped Olympic Mountains. Read Adele’s blog By keeping in touch with hun- dreds of seminar participants Adele (and Arie) ©2011 by Adele Revella Please feel free to post this e-book on your blog or email it to whomever you believe would benefit from reading it. — 20 — Thank you. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution.– back to table of contents – Design: Andrew Pothecary ( Editorial consultant: John R. Harris (