Most small-business owners will agree that loyal and repeat customers are at the heart of their business, and that it costs less to retain customers than to acquire them. So how can you really get to know these customers and what they want? To help companies with this task of defining their ideal buyers, Tony Zambito created the much talked about buyer persona platform in 2002.
This concept takes understanding your buyer to the next level. It goes beyond the simple demographics of age, gender, ethnicity, education and income. It incorporates behavior, the challenges and/or pain points in their lives, businesses or relationships. The buyer persona is an example or composite of a customer who represents a particular group of buyers. You can use it to better understand what motivates customers to choose your products or services and how to persuade them to choose your company rather than a competitor or the status quo.
In other words, the better you understand your ideal customer, the better you can attract and retain those customers and therefore the more revenue you can generate, which hopefully leads to sustained profitability.
However, fast forward to 13 years after the creation of Zambito’s paradigm, and many companies still market their products and services without really drilling down on who their ideal customer or client is. Yes, surprisingly, the proverbial shooting in the dark is at play here. In 2014, the Information Technology Services Marketing Association (ITSMA) conducted a study that showed fewer than half the companies surveyed are using the buyer persona tool. Its use may be gaining steam—44 percent of companies surveyed are using the buyer persona model and 29 percent plan to use individual messaging to target their ideal buyer within the next 12 months.
Here's how to define your business's buyer persona, and align your marketing messages on all your channels to attract and retain your ideal buyer. If you can’t do this on your own or within your team, work with a consultant or local small-business development center.
Creating the Buyer Persona
The best way to get started is to look at your customer data for some demographic generalities, including age, income, education, job characteristics, purchasing frequency, purchasing dollar amounts, etc. If you don’t already have demographic information, you might want to conduct a survey to get that information. As you review your customer data, you can then start to group your customers into various categories that make sense for your business; for example, infrequent buyers, emergency purchasers, project-oriented buyers, seasonal customers, decision-makers and so on.
Now, it’s time to go deeper. For the real behavioral aspects, you should do face-to-face conversational interviews with roughly 10 buyers. (You may need to offer incentives for customers to participate in these interviews, such as discount coupons, dinner for two at a local restaurant, gift card, etc.) You don’t want to discount infrequent buyers because you may miss out on valuable information that could help improve your sales. In addition, you should ideally interview buyers who may have researched your product or service but didn't make a purchase.
During the interview, remember these are your customers and potential customers, so have fun with it. The meeting shouldn’t have the tone of a job interview or the Spanish Inquisition. You want a friendly conversation. Why not a written survey, you ask? At this stage, written surveys aren't optimum. With in-person interviews, it's easier to ask follow-up questions and uncover information that you wouldn’t ordinarily get from a written survey. Also, you get to see the person’s body language. You could collect basic demographic information from a written form, but the real meat that will help you get the intel to create better marketing messages and interactions is from in-person conversations.
So now that you’re face-to-face, you'll want to start at the beginning. Take your customers down memory lane. Get them talking about when they first started looking for the solution your company provides. For example, let’s say your company sells green widgets. You can ask, "Let’s go back to the day you started looking for green widgets. How exactly did you realize you needed green widgets?" You're setting the stage for the buyer to take you through their journey of making the purchase.
Other questions you might want to ask include:
- How did they find your company? Was it walking down the street, on the side of a bus, an online search, an online ad, in a newspaper, radio, a referral, a blog post, a webinar, a white paper, an online review?
- If they conducted an online search, how did they search for your company, products or services online? Chances are, most of the online searches were through Google, but you never know.
- What was it about the marketing content that helped move them to select your product or service?
- How do they like to consume information? Do they prefer to get information from blogs, e-books, video, podcasts, etc.?
- Do they consume information from a desktop or mobile device? If you're seeing a trend toward mobile, make sure your website is optimized for mobile.
- How did they interact with your company to get to the purchase point?
- What was the process like interacting with your company?
- How did or didn’t your product solve their problem?
- How do they continue to interact with your company?
You might also want to know some lifestyle behaviors such as what types of restaurants they go to, where they typically vacation (or whether they're too busy to vacation), what they read, what TV shows/movies they watch and what sports they enjoy.
If you don't have a ton of customers yet, or are launching a new product or service, you can still create a buyer persona by employing digital listening. LinkedIn is a great tool to gather information from people who could represent your potential buyer.
Let’s say your ideal buyers are HR managers at small private colleges. On LinkedIn, you can actually check out groups where HR managers from small private colleges hang out. The conversations in the groups will tell you their pain points and challenges. If a specific member has a blog, you can gain more insight about them from the blog. Webinars are great for intelligence gathering. You can get information not only from the content, but at the end of the webinar, or even in the chat box during the webinar, you'll find out what people really want to know. The comments at the end of blog posts are also telling. Searches on Facebook, Twitter, Google and Amazon also give clues to what products and services people want.
Creating buyer personas does take work, but it isn't rocket science. Alternatively, if you’re not looking at the data that will tell you what types of messages you need and where to put them, you could be wasting your limited resources.
Here's a useful tool to see an example of a completed B2B buyer persona.
Ruth J. Morrison, an author and speaker, is the CEO and Founder of What’s The 411 Networks, an integrated media, marketing and events company. A former executive director for an international trade development center in New York City, she advised small businesses on exporting their products and services to international markets.
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