Weak Buyer Personas
Linked to Lackluster Content Results

Patrick Dodge

If you have created content (blog posts, white papers, etc.) only to have it ignored by your readers, then this interview with Patrick Dodge, Founder and CEO of Creative Side Marketing is for you.

Chris: Today we’re going to discuss buyer personas with Patrick Dodge. Hello Patrick.
Patrick: Hi Chris, how are you?
Chris: Doing great. Why don’t we get started? What are some examples you've seen when companies do not have a clearly defined buyer persona?

What are some examples you've seen when companies do not have a clearly defined buyer persona?

Patrick: I see it pretty frequently, actually. You can usually tell in the content itself and also on their websites. Probably one of the biggest failings that I see is when I'm looking at different B2B businesses out there. Their websites, when you get on their homepage and you dig into their service pages, it's all about them. They talk about what makes them amazing along with the different features of their products and services.

Never once do they really address the customer and what their problems are. So in other words, instead of being really customer-centric, they're much more focused inward. They're missing an opportunity to connect with their customers in a more meaningful way. This is really evident in their content marketing (i.e. blogging, social media, etc.) as well.

Chris: I've seen a lot of technology sites that are like that as well.

Patrick: Absolutely, it happens often. A lot of content creators talk about having a buyer persona. But oftentimes any sense of the customer goes out the window once they actually start writing. They're much more focused on the mechanics of the blog post. Are the keywords in the right places? Are they mentioning the keywords often enough? Are they mentioning them too often?
What they often forget about is that there is a purpose to why they're creating this content. That is to meet a very specific buyer at a very specific part of their journey. I would say probably eight times out of ten, blog posts completely fail to make this connection.

Chris: I would agree. I've seen a lot of companies, especially in the B2B realm, that will just ask for generic blog post pitches based upon keywords, but there's no tie in to their strategy or buyer persona. So when the writer doesn't magically guess what ties in to their persona, you end up with poor ideas that never get approved.

Patrick: Yep, that's exactly it. And another thing too is that they might write a really great article that's highly informative and contains lots of great information, and yet, it doesn't convert. So the marketers are left scratching their head going, "Where did we go wrong here? This has gotten a ton of views, but not a single conversion."
Oftentimes, it's just because the content wasn't properly aligned with their buyer persona. They're after a specific customer but the article and the offers within them weren't properly aligned with where that person is in their journey and what their needs are at that moment.

How can buyer personas help you create better content and improve the content strategy?

Chris: How can buyer personas help you create better content and improve the content strategy?

Patrick: This is where a lot of brands go wrong. They need to take a hard look at the buyer personas that they’re targeting. They need to ask themselves, "Could this very same buyer persona be used by a landscaping company and a software development company?" If the answer is yes, then chances are good that they're getting their buyer persona wrong.
A common example of a profile that people create is, "Okay, so I'm targeting CEO Charlie. And CEO Charlie is very short on time. He's got a busy lifestyle. He lives and dies by email. He's always on his phone. He's very hard to connect to. He's highly concerned about team-building, maximizing revenue and keeping expenses low. CEO Charlie makes $200,000 a year and he's got a border collie and he likes to pick up Thai food on his way home."

You get stuff like that.

The point is that while a lot of these profiles are very well intentioned, they're completely generic. Where they miss the mark is that they don’t tell the marketer any useful information about how the customers buy the product or service.

Why focus on their income? I don't want to know what my buyer persona makes in a year. It has absolutely no relevance to me. There might be some success factors that they're looking for in my product that will allow them to earn more money. But at the end of the day, it doesn't matter what they eat for lunch.

What matters is the process that they go through when they're evaluating a service and a solution like I provide. And that's really what's most important. The ways that a properly researched buyer persona can improve your content is that it gives you really great insights directly through interviews.

I always advocate for getting all of this information directly from people who buy the products and services and really understand what are called the five critical buying insights. This is something that I've learned from the Buyer Persona Institute. They do fantastic work and I've learned a lot from them. I highly recommend checking them out.

How can buyer personas help you map content to your buyer's journey?

Chris: Sounds good. Was there anything you wanted to add related to how personas can help you map content to your buyer's journey?

Patrick: Oh yeah, absolutely. There are basically three very general stages of the buyer's journey. There's awareness, when a buyer realizes that they have a challenge or an opportunity, although they haven't really put a name to it yet.
They realize that there's an issue here that needs to be addressed, so they start doing some research. And now they've basically started their own journey toward what will hopefully, eventually be a purchase from you.
But as they move toward the consideration phase of a solution, now they're pretty immersed in it. They've read a few blog posts and maybe some white papers. They have a better sense of what really is the challenge and they know a little bit of jargon. They understand the issue on a much deeper level now.

As they move further down the journey, they're actually comparing solution providers. They have a better sense of what sort of factors they're looking for and what elements will make a really good solution for them.

Really, they're just weighing the pros and cons of each solution and trying to arrive at what's going to be the best fit for them. For instance, when you've got a buyer persona through speaking with customers and non-customers, what was the catalyst? What changed within their business that made researching this problem a priority?

I'll give you an example: maybe the company needs a new CRM and they've needed one for many years. What created this need? It can usually be traced to an actual event. It sometimes takes a little probing to get to this. But what was the catalyst that made them get off the fence and think,

"Okay, we’ve got to address this issue?"

After that, you’ll also want to know how they began their search. Is it just as simple as Googling? Or, did they have some resources in mind to do some research? And if so, what influenced the decision? What were the things that they learned that had an impact on the direction they went in?
In one of the most obvious, but also often missed things about this is, how were they envisioning success? What features and benefits are they really thinking about as they move through their journey and what became important to them as they were evaluating different solutions? Because oftentimes, you don't get this feedback.

The sales team might be thinking, "I know our customers inside and out. I know what their pain points are. I know what their challenges are, what their aspirations are in life." But the simple fact of the matter is, when you have a sales relationship with a person, that is a very specific relationship that has some filters in between the giver and the receiver of information.

While sales people can often provide some insights that'll help you construct a really good buyer persona, they certainly don't know the whole story. This is especially true for those deals that they lost to a different solution provider.

Obviously the sales person always tries to find out why someone left and they might get an excuse about budget or timing or whatever reason. But you can bet your bottom dollar that there's probably more to the story than what the customer is telling them.

That's the sort of insight that you want to get at with buyer personas. You want to find out what was going on behind the scenes as they're evaluating solution providers. Even more importantly, what are some potential barriers? Why would they not want to do business with you?
With enough of these interviews, you can start to see some patterns. You'll see some threads that start to pull everything together and really give you a better picture of what's happening with your customers. As you’re mapping the customer journey with buyer personas, you have a better sense of, as you work through the process, what are some of the things that are going to be important to them at each stage.

This is where you really begin to look at your own brand and your advantages and disadvantages. You look at all this feedback that you've gotten from buyer personas and really just try to find the intersection between your messaging and their needs and ask how can we make that better?

How can personas turn website visitors into customers and ultimately help sell more?

Chris: That was fantastic. While we’re on the topic of content, how can personas turn website visitors into customers and ultimately help sell more?

Patrick: I think about that on a couple of levels. One is that if you’re understanding critical success factors and also where your organizational weaknesses are, you can basically do one of a couple of things. One, you can pivot a little bit and discover, "Okay maybe there are opportunities with other market segments that we hadn't thought of before."

A better way is that you understand the success factors and also barriers, and typically the people that are doing the research for a B2B solution are not the ultimate decision-makers, right? They usually have two or three people that are involved in the decision making process, but one person is basically spearheading the research. You really need to understand all three of these roles, although you don't need to understand them all equally.

Trying to do a buyer persona profile on CEOs is extraordinarily hard. One, because most of the time, they refuse to make themselves available to do the research. Frequently their roles are pretty much limited until the end of the process. They're the ones that give the ultimate nod, yes or no, to the solution. So their role really isn't that important until the very end.

What's important for the marketer to understand is, at what stage does the CEO become involved? And what was important to him or her? Were their priorities somewhat different than the manager of purchasing or operations, or whoever it is that's doing the primary research on the solution?

As you understand all these different roles that are involved, you can develop individual buyer personas about them. You can address all of those concerns in your content at each stage of the journey and ultimately win the business.

How to improve your buyer personas

Chris: Sounds great. Do you have some tips that we can include for the readers?

Patrick: Yeah, absolutely. As far as tips go, definitely spend some time on the Buyer Persona Institute website. These guys know their stuff. I've learned a ton from them. I highly recommend going there. They're not really well known, which surprises me. I actually heard about them through a podcast with The Sales Lion some time ago. 

It really struck a chord with me because I've always felt like I've been down this road. I've been in business for myself almost four years now. A lot of that has been spent in absolute frustration, trying to put out what I thought was excellent content and not really finding it gaining a lot of attraction with the audience that I thought that I was after.

What I started doing was actually scheduling interviews with people. To find people to interview, you can start with a couple of customers with which you have a good relationship. That's a no-brainer. The one caveat that I would add is that if you were involved in the sale in any way, if you have an ongoing business relationship with this one particular person, I would not suggest that you be the one to do the interview.
Because no matter how much you reassure them that, "Hey this is just for our research. This is just about us trying to do a better job with people in your role." They're not going to speak as freely as they otherwise would to somebody who is far removed from the sales process.
Preferably it should be somebody they don't even know. That's one recommendation I would make is just start with a couple of customers and just see if you can get them to open up.

If you were involved in the sales process, you can reach out to some of the businesses that you pitched that ended up going with a different solution provider. If given of course that the person parted ways amicably, you can ask if they would speak to a marketing manager just to gain a few insights about the process that they went through. They might be really eager to share their story with somebody, because obviously they liked you. They didn't end up doing business with you, but there was a reason for that. They might just appreciate that you want their feedback. So that's another route that you can go through.

Another thing that you can do is use a qualitative recruiter. There are several agencies out there that will, for a fee, actually go out and recruit people for you to interview that match your buyer profile. Obviously there's an expense there. You need to factor in a couple of fees. One is actually recruiting people to interview. I forget exactly what it averages. It's somewhere between $100 and $200 a person, I think. And then you also need to plan for an incentive to offer the interviewee in order to get them to trade 30 minutes of their time. And again, that fee could be anywhere between $150 to $200.

You'll basically pay this agency to go out and find people for you to interview and then you'll pay for it. As long as you have a very clear picture about the buyer profile that you're after then they'll find people for you to interview. Those are the first things that you can do.
I can offer a couple of shortcuts for finding people on LinkedIn. If you are in the business of selling software or websites or anything like that, I can tell you that there are a few things that you can do. For instance, I'm a HubSpot partner. I'm always trying to find other businesses out there that have already searched and paid for a HubSpot solution provider to generate leads for them.

So one thing that you can do sometimes is you can use a plug in called Datanyze. As you're researching different clients on LinkedIn (or however you do your research), Datanyze can actually scrape their website for code that indicates different things. It can look at a website and find out if they're using HubSpot or Marketo or any marketing automation or what sort of analytics and tag management they're using. There are tools like that which can really help you identify a good prospect for your interviewing.

Another thing you can do is a simple keyword search in LinkedIn, either through content, sometimes from looking for content about HubSpot or even more importantly, the naming convention in their URLs. You can just enter that URL convention in the search bar and draw up a list of people that have posted content recently.

Sometimes there are some tech tools that can help you identify some good prospects with which to talk. The most important thing though, and sometimes the most difficult thing, is reaching out to them and reassuring them that this isn't a sales call. That's really hard.
Initially, I try to initiate the conversation over the phone. If I can't connect there, I'll send them an email. Usually include a couple of follow-ups. Sometimes they're just not interested out of hand just because they don't trust this isn't some sort of veiled sales call. Usually, what I try to emphasize is this isn't a survey, it is an interview. We are purely interested in just your experience buying this product or service.
I also try to tell them right off the top, "I'm willing to pay for your time." I open the discussion with, "This isn't a sales call. Actually, I would love to purchase half an hour of your time."

That's usually enough to get them to listen. I can tell you that the interviews that I've done, nobody has actually accepted payment. I always remind them at the end of the interview, "So I promised I'd pay you. Would you like $100? $150 for 30 minutes?" And they're like, "No, no. It's cool. You're legit. I don't mind sharing some information to help you out." Nine times out of 10, people are actually willing and want to tell their story. But you gotta get them to trust you first.

It's important to honor their time and make sure that you come to the table prepared with really good questions. Move the interview along quickly and be efficient with it while getting the insights that you really need. Also, make sure that you don't go back on your word at the end and be like, "So, do you want to know what we do?" Or anything like that. You don't want to do that, because that basically negates everything that you told them.

I have found after a couple of interviews that people get curious and ask, "So, tell me about what you do." At that point, I'll take that opportunity and give them a brief overview. But I don't let the conversation drag. I usually give them some highlights, a nice little elevator pitch on what it is that I do. I just remind them, "Hey, you were really generous with your time. You gave me some really great insights. I can't thank you enough. If you want to continue this conversation and discuss your challenges on a deeper level I would certainly be into that. How about we schedule a time next week to do that?", just so that we're not turning it into a sales call.

So anyway, those are some tips that I can think of off the top of my head. There are lots of ways to recruit people to interview. Just make sure that you go about it honestly and whatever you do, don't follow it up with any sort of sales outreach. I usually reassure anybody that I try to schedule an interview with that their participation will put them on our do-not-call list. And I make sure that happens.

Chris: Sounds good. Thank you for your time today. You’ve given us some great information. 

If you want to reach Patrick Dodge, you can find him at Creative Side Marketing. http://www.creativesidemarketing.com/

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About the Author

Chris Hardee is a tech copywriter who creates compelling copy with a strong voice and simplifies complex ideas for a broader audience.

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