Adele was a key contributor in creating Pragmatic’s
methodology, which many in product management know and love. She followed her passion, founding the
Buyer Persona Institute, where she has come up with some pretty cool tips and
tricks for research that might improve your current research initiatives.
I’m gobbling up information around content generation, content strategies and research methodologies at this year’s Content Marketing World event in Cleveland, Ohio. Each day, I’ll do my best to recap the sessions I’m attending. Here are some of my top takeaways from the Building Your Buyer Personas workshop:
Buyer Persona Research Must Be About Buying
Think about the common list of questions many methodologies provide in helping give direction on research: role, whether person is married, education level. Adele was pretty short in saying that a lot of it doesn’t really mean anything. Your buyer personas must be laser-focused to the context for the decision you want to influence. It’s not a fluffy line of questions about getting to know that person as a person. Remember, you must clearly understanding what you are trying to achieve with your research efforts. If you are going for learning about potential challenges organizations are facing, the what’s your typical day question can be helpful. If, however, you are wanting to influence buyer behavior, that question won’t really get you there.
For Adele, her organization has found loads of success in shifting toward a decision-making model. It’s critical to understand what motivates the buyer, which if you think about it, a lot of research shies away from asking purchase-related questions. If you accept that there’s a need to actually ask questions around purchase behavior, Adele has outlined five key areas to focus your questioning efforts:
- What makes solving this problem a priority
- Criteria used to evaluate alternatives
- Expectations for success related to this solution
- Process buyer follows to make a decision
- Barriers to this purchase
This doesn’t mean that you are becoming a sales person. In fact, Adele still lines up really well with Pragmatic’s approach. There is a lot you can learn without asking people to name names – but that doesn’t mean you can divert around asking the hard questions.
A buyer persona should not be your final goal. This was perhaps my favorite statement. Adele said people get too caught up on producing a buyer persona; the real output should be empowering those within the organization to be buyer experts. By adjusting the focus you can arm marketing teams with the objective data that directs how to prioritize marketing investments and focus those creative marketing efforts in ways that more successfully impact buyers’ choices with a vetted messaging strategy and market context.
Quick Hit Tips
Don’t try to plan a targeted script of questions for your research. Let things be a fluid conversation between you and the buyer. Be prepared to dig, because if you are simply asking one question and moving on to the next, you aren’t getting enough context and relevant information that you’ll be able to take action off what you’re capturing. Furthermore, for complex sales cycles that extend from six months to over a year at length, it’s not uncommon for buyers to not speak linearly about their purchase journey. Adele suggested using what she calls anchor points to ensure you are able to make the buyer journey chronologically.
Most importantly, let the data drive you. A key reason Adele shuns some of the highly-touted demographic data is that it can mislead folks into creating unnecessary complexities. Demographic information is an easy way for assumptions and opinion to slice into objective research. Don’t self-segment early because you think a medium-size organization or a person in role x must think different than a large-size organization with role x. You might be surprised. Obtain the information first. Adele suggests between six and eight interviews before you try to analyze data. See what trends only at the very end are linkages with demographics. Adele reported that on average, organizations with this focus would create half the number of buyer personas than those being driven by early demographic data. Don't just segment personas because you can.
Remember to focus on as many personas as you have resources to execute. Seriously, getting that minimum of personas identified and understood is going to be a sustainable ROI over doing many poorly. Too many organizations chuck on too many personas — expanding beyond what current resources can create compelling content for. If that's your organization. Cut back and focus on what your teams have capacity for.