Peer Past Personas: Understanding Each Other Better

  • Chester

Design-03 (2)We’ve talked before on working with our Sales cousins to maximize the effects of tailoring messaging for marketing content. Don’t be blinded by purchase trends. Don’t recommend what people don’t need. Don’t think because you don’t understand it, it won’t benefit them. And don’t assume folks only know what their job titles show.

But that’s only brushing the surface and disturbing a bit of dust. There’s a whole lot more behind the topic of buyer personas, and given their usefulness in B2B marketing, it’s always worth digging a little deeper.

Content Marketing Institute featured a piece called Developing A Buyer Persona? Avoid These 4 Common Mistakes by Buyer Persona Institute founder Adele Revella that provides an excellent ‘what not to do’ checklist for marketers crafting personas.

Dig your own wells

As Revella puts it, the usual sources we get customer information from aren’t reliable. Even our own sales folks may not be getting the truth from their clients regarding buying behaviors and such. And it’s quite common for salespeople to focus on the large and high-potential prospects, which can carry the risk of creating personification bias.

Her way around this? Sitting down with prospects who have recently purchased, and finding out, step by step, how they made that decision. Both those who purchased from you, and those who did not – you will want to know why you lost.

Yes, you can defer to Sales to conduct the interviews. But the thing is, they’re the reps, and that position carries connotations in some customers’ eyes. Truthfully, some reps may be (justly or unjustly) perceived as self-serving or just flat-out selling for the sake of selling. Hence why clients aren’t always inclined to be open about how they tick. Or maybe they think withholding this information lets them “game” their reps to get better rates.

So sometimes, it falls to you to get boots on the ground. As a marketer, putting out the useful stuff and researching how to help rather than how to profit, you’re more likely to get an honest response. And with what you learn from these sit-downs, you’ll know precisely how you can tweak future content to achieve better and better outcomes.

The way of no way

Revella goes on to talk about how to go about getting that information from your interviewees. The key word here is ‘unscripted’ – it has to be fluid and responsive, as leading the interview on rails will only end up with them ‘telling you what you want to hear’.

This can be critical when qualifying a prospect to find out if they’re really getting full mileage out of your offerings. Is it solving their problem? Good – now how is it doing that? Did it not cover any bases? How would they want those covered if they were in your place? What similar offerings might they look out for, and for what reasons?

Face time with a prospect is a dialogue, not a skit – spend it looking past the obvious and asking questions that touch on the end result of the deal. This way you’ll know why they buy what they buy, and how you can incorporate that into future engagements.

As mentioned before, pitching solutions for non-existent problems and taking prospects at face value is not something you want to be doing in the long run. Everything from product and service quality issues to hidden decision-making factors can come to light with the right approach.

Inside the insights

Another thing Revella has to say about persona crafting is relevance. As in, you should only be gathering information about prospects that is actually relevant to the objective of creating better content for them; anything else is mere trivia that can and should be avoided.

We previously touched on the point of not taking variables as the be-all and end-all; this ties into the essential parameters she cites, her ‘Five Rings of Insight’. Knowing things like what objections the customer could raise, and what they really focus on when comparing you to your competitors, is far more useful than any guidelines that may blind you to the truly relevant factors.

Gather the usual information, but don’t use it as a crutch. It’s likely you will find that some of those statistics don’t amount to much of a difference when it comes to how your client makes purchase decisions – and this leads into another point Revella makes.

While it may be a bad idea to shoehorn prospects into pre-defined molds, we shouldn’t let this blind us to the fact that, at times, a single persona does the job. Look at the insights you gain from your clients in different lines, and look for similarities. There may be points of intersection where good content that addresses one can be easily adapted to cover the same bases in the other, letting you optimize your content efforts.

Personas can both help and hinder sales and marketing efforts, so it’s crucial that we dig deep enough and get them right to prevent misinformation. What are some of your experiences with them? Tell us below.


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November 2, 2013


Hi Lyndsay, well said! It's funny how that's one of the more basic things about persona crafting, yet many still (and often) fixate on it for the sake of completion or having more information. We have to keep reminding ourselves to nail down what will help, not what might.

November 1, 2013


We like to make sure our personas are as human as humanly possible, but we avoid details that don't matter to our customers or our sales process. Computer and internet literacy are critical skillsets that help us relate to our personas, but wouldn't matter to a business that delivers food, for example.