How to create 100% accurate and detailed buyer persona.
My guest this episode is Adele Revella, CEO of the Buyer Persona Institute, speaker and author of a top five business book by Fortune magazine of 2015, Buyer Personas: How to Gain Insight into Your Customer’s Expectations, Align your Marketing Strategies, and Win More Business.
Adele is the perfect person with whom to discuss relating to customers and creating meaningful buyer personas.
Listen in for our insightful conversation and Adele’s step-by-step methodology to better understand your customers and improve your sales.
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Louis: Bonjour, Bonjour, welcome to another episode of everyonehatesmarketers.com, the digital marketing podcast for marketers and founders who are sick of shady, aggressive, marketing. I’m your host Louis Grenier. In an ideal world, you would exactly know what’s going on in your customer’s head. During, before, and after somebody bought something from you. You would know their concerns, you would know the reasons why they chose you over the competition. But this is an ideal world. In the real world, it seems like most of us, most marketers and founders really struggle to understand their customer. They only have snippets of insights to use from.
I personally think this is the reason why so many people are overwhelmed with marketing. Unlike marketing clarity, they really don’t know what to do next. If you listened to Everyone Hates Marketers before, you know how much I believe in understanding your customers to do good marketing. This is exactly what we are gonna focus on today once again. Particularly, the subject of buyer persona.
My guest today is the CEO of the Buyer Persona Institute. As you can see, I couldn’t find somebody better for this episode. She’s the author of a top five business book by Fortune magazine on 2015 which is the Buyer Personas: How to Gain Insight into Your Customer’s Expectations, Align your Marketing Strategies, and Win More Business. She is a keynote speaker around the globe.
Adele Revella, welcome aboard. It’s going to be a fun ride.
Adele: Thank you so much for having me, Louis. I can tell you have a very interesting audience. I can’t wait to talk about this topic with them. It sounds perfect.
Louis: Right. Let’s jump in straight away, Adele. We talked about understanding customers many time on this show. We have an episode called Customer Research 101. We also have one called Jobs-to-be-Done that was quite popular and yet it still feels that marketers and founders struggle to understand customers.
What is going on? Why do they struggle so much do you think?
Adele: The main reason is because those customers are so wiley. Back in the day when I started in marketing, we didn't have the internet. I know it makes me sound really old. Customers really had to come to us to get answers to their questions. Back in the old days, I almost feel like I should have a horse and buggy when I say that, but really before the internet, we knew a lot more about buyers because they didn’t have another way to get information other than to ask us.
What’s happened now is that when people are making a buying decision, they’re avoiding us. They’re avoiding our salespeople, they’re avoiding us as long as they can. They’re going and getting the information that they think they need to make an important buying decision by talking to everybody else. Their peers, their colleagues, they’re going on the internet, they’re doing their research, they’re reading reviews, they’re doing everything they possibly can to hold up talking to us until they’re well along in their buying decision. How are we gonna get to know them? They’re not interacting with us. That’s the problem.
Louis: This is a very good point. This is really important to come back to. A few years ago before the internet came about, businesses were much more local. You had your own shop and you’re interacting with your customer all day every day. If you had a little bit of an interest into you customer’s well-being, you would really understand them because you just talk to them everyday. You would be able to really make changes to your buying experience pretty quickly.
Louis: This is a very good point because we tend to forget how business used to be done before internet came about. I wasn’t actually expecting this answer which is great. Thanks for providing this first bit of insight. Let me jump and follow up with a question that I know you will like to answer.
I thought that big data was kind of the answer to everything. A few years ago, big data was everywhere and this was the answer to every business problem. Big data is here yet it doesn't seem to answer the problem of understanding people.
Adele: The thing about big data is it’s capturing digital conversations. I invite everybody that's listening to this, I don’t know what products and services you sell, but think about whether your buyers are really in a digital environment having a conversation that you can listen to and analyze through technology, through big data. The fact is if we think about customers and their interactions, that’s different than buyers and their interaction. A buyer’s somebody who doesn’t own what I’m trying to sell to them. A customer is someone who already owns it. There is a different face here.
When I talk about buyer personas, I’m talking about trying to understand that buying decision, that buying experience. What we know from our work is that most buyers aren’t discussing. They’re not sharing their thoughts digitally about a buying a decision over Twitter, maybe they’re sharing it on Facebook, maybe they’re sharing it nowhere online. But we can’t get at Facebook. Facebook is a closed environment and you can’t mine that for big data. What do we learn? We learn about when they’re already shopping, we learn whether they went to certain sites and what they were shopping for. But we don’t get inside their preferences, their attitudes, their concerns. That would really help us understand how to have a relationship with them.
Louis: Let’s get onto the step by step because you’ve introduced the subject very well and this is true. How can you mine what is in people’s minds at the end of the day? A lot of decisions that are made are not even rational. A lot of them are emotional based on previous affinity with the brand, based on the situation, and circumstances.
Obviously, big data doesn’t really answer that. Obviously, you need to develop empathy yourself in order to understand why decisions are being made. By the way, I do like the difference that you are making between buyer persona and customer persona. In this episode, we are really trying to nail the buyer persona side of things.
I do believe that you have a very thorough step by step methodology to help businesses to come up with a buyer persona. How about we go about trying to come up with this step by step together?
Adele: The key is to first recognize that buyers - we’re going to talk about form of research here. When people think of research, they usually think of surveys, those sort of really horrible boring things that you fill out online. All you ever find out about are the things that you ask people, so you didn’t learn anything from that. Maybe we think about focus groups but that has some flaws in it as well. I don't want to spend too much time on that.
I’ll come back to the right thing to do which is to get with someone who has recently been through the buying decision, actually purchased or spent money to solve the problem that you saw. Have them have a conversation with you about everything they did and thought about as they went through that real life buying decision. The reason I wrote a book about this is because I’ve had hundred probably of this kind of one hour conversations with people like you, Louis. I want to just think it sounds really simple because it is simple in a way but a lot of people get stuck and that’s why I wrote the book to tell people even more detail.
The principle is this. You want to have a conversation with someone. No survey, no scripted questions. The only scripted question I want you to ask them is this one: take me back to the day when you first decided that you needed to solve this kind of problem or achieve this kind of a goal. Not to buy my product, that’s not the day. We want to go back to the day that when you thought it was urgent and compelling to go spend money to solve a particular problem or achieve a goal. Just tell me what happened.
The key to this interview is a conversation now. Without a script, we ask people to reflect back on that moment, and to go as deep as they can into what changed at that moment. I’ll just pick one since we’re approaching the end of the year, in January just about everybody wants to lose weight. We eat too much at the holidays and now it’s time to lose weight. Take me back to the day when you first decided that you needed to lose 5 pounds or 10 pounds or that you needed to become more fit and tell me what happened.
People will talk about how they want to be in better shape or they want to be healthier or they want to look nicer. But what we do after people give us that answer is we get them to go deep like, “Okay, why didn’t you do it sooner? What really changed to have you decide that now is the time to lose weight, or now is the time to secure your internet infrastructure, or now is the time to go on a big vacation, or remodel your home?” It’s really getting people to talk at length about what changed at that moment. And then just very gradually, walk them through every single thing they didn’t thought about as they went through that real decision.
Louis: Right. You said a lot of things here. I need to break it down from research with my customers, my listeners, sorry not customers, even though they are paying with their time to listen to this. They do like when things are being broken down into smaller paths, smaller chunks. The first step that you actually mentioned is to identify people who bought from you recently. I think that could be a very good fist step.
Adele: Or who thought about buying from you and didn’t.
Louis: Would you interview those two types?
Louis: Okay, so we make a group. The easiest people to contact are people who bought from you recently. They are probably eager to talk to you more likely than any other group because they just bought from you. You might be able to get them easy. When it comes to people who haven’t bought from you but nearly did, how do you go about finding those people?
Adele:Well, you know who they are if they considered buying from you. You have some contact information. You know, Louis, this might surprise you, but depending on how much time people invested in with you in making that decision, people who didn’t buy from you are actually more likely to speak with you than people who did.
Louis: That’s interesting.
Adele: Remember that people who have had a bad experience are more likely to talk about it than people who had a good experience.
Louis: Yeah, that’s true. That’s true.
Adele: It’s surprising to people and of course we can learn from both groups. I like it the way you broke that down. We should definitely interview people who bought from us because we learned what we did right. This is good. It can reinforce what we’re doing correctly and it can also tell us some of the things we’re doing, although we might have done the right, really didn’t have any influence on the buying decisions. Maybe we can do less of that or spend less money there.
Louis: Oh yes, that’s a good point. We do need to balance the findings of actual customers with the findings of customer or of people who haven’t become a customer. Let’s say we identify a bunch of them. What do you think is a good number to start. How many conversations do you feel someone should have in order to get good insights?
Adele: You’re going to be really shocked at this, Louis, but it’s a small number. When people think of research, they think they need hundreds or dozens. But of course, when we do this research for our customers, we have very, very experienced researchers and we only do 10 interviews. For someone who's just starting out, the first interviews may not go so well. You may need to do more.
Honestly, here’s what we’ve discovered because we do so much, thousands of interviews is, once you’re skilled at this, after the 10th interview you’re not likely to learn anything new.
Louis: Yes, I’ve heard that before. Similar to things related to website usability. Once you’ve talked to 10 or 20 people, you kind of have covered the vast majority of issues on your website for example. That makes sense, absolutely. I think it’s less underwhelming, less overwhelming straight away when you talk about 10 interviews instead of 50, because 10 interviews are roughly 30 minutes, 45 minutes?
Adele: Yeah. We schedule our interviews for 30 minutes. Now we find that people sometimes loves talking at the end of the 30 minutes because they find these kind of conversations so compelling and interesting. Most of our interviews actually go 45, but 30 minutes is a good time to schedule with people because it feels like something that’s manageable for them and for you.
Louis: Right. I get this question quite a lot and we talked about it in past episodes. But I think it will be interesting to have your take on it. How would you convince people to spend 30 minutes on the phone with you. Those people are usually very busy.
Adele: It’s surprising that when you’re working with customers or people who have really invested a lot in this buying decision... I should probably pause there to say that this approach to learning about your buyers decision works best when your buyers are spending a good deal of time, at least days, weeks, or months, sometimes longer, going through that evaluation and it’s really important to them that they get it right. The more your buyers are sort of emotionally and time wise invested in that decision, the more likely they are to talk to you, and the more insight you gain from the interview.
Louis: Okay, this is probably even more relevant than the initial saying of B2B product that is quite complex. It sounds like this approach is less relevant if what you’re selling is a very simple product like t-shirts, or things that don’t require a lot of research, a lot of thinking, a lot of emotions.
Adele: Any decision. We do a lot of consumer work but only for what we call ‘high consideration buying decisions’. I’m buying a new house, I’m figuring out where to send my kids to school, I’m buying a car, I’m making a big investment in remodeling, where am I gonna retire, senior living, I have to put my mom in a home now. The point is if I interviewed you about that carton of milk you just bought at the store and I asked you to take me back to the day when you decided to buy it and talk to me about how you weighed your options and and talk through the choices, it wouldn’t be very interesting because you didn’t give it much thought.
Adele: The more thought your buyer gives the decision, the more likely, I want to get back to your question, that they’ll talk to you. I would encourage people if they’re selling products that are sold at retail in a grocery store on a shelf that people give no consideration to, it’s just sort of knee jerk, they buy it every week, it’s no decision at all, that interviews aren’t gonna help them that much. But that’s where big data helps because that's where the whole transaction’s more likely to occur online.
This method of doing this interviews is best for buyers to spend at least a few hours or days thinking about and looking at different choices and making one. And then they’ll talk to you because it was a big investment for them in doing this evaluation. There’s nothing wrong with also paying them an incentive if you like because people ask me that. It’s fine to do that. You'll be surprised that maybe 3 out of 10 people will talk to you.
Louis: From my experience doing it, it’s amazing the amount of people who are interested in helping you out as long as you do it the right way. As long as you say, “This isn’t a sales call, I’m not trying to sell you anything. All I’m looking to do is improve the way we communicate, improve our product, and we are not trying to sell you anything else.”
Let’s go back to the steps just to break it down again. We identify people who bought from us recently, people who haven’t bought from us recently but who engaged in the process and spent a few hours, days, or week, months, years thinking about this purchase. We interview them. Do we interview them face to face or do we interview them over Skype? How do we do that?
Adele: We do all of our interviews over the phone or Skype. It’s the same. It’s okay to do them face to face if that's convenient. The important thing is however you do them, that you record the interviews, that you have an audio recording of the interview so that you can capture every word that your buyer speaks.
What you’re gonna want to do, if your gonna share this with other people… Now if you’re the only person, if you’re a very small business and this is just for your own use and nobody on your team, no marketers, no agency, no one is helping you, then it’s fine, you don't have to record it. But if you’re trying build a persona and share it with anyone so that you can align people around what matters to your buyers, then you need a recording and that’s what's more important.
Louis: Okay. We have this person and we basically do the job of a journalist. We ask them questions, we try to get to the bottom of how they discovered the product and the first thought that they have about the product.
Adele: Correct, not about the product, about the solving the problem. Because people don’t, this is always a surprise, people think, “Oh, we sell products or we sell a service or we sell a solution.” Sometimes when buyers are first thinking about it, they don’t know what they need to buy. We want to go to that earliest thought where they said, “I need to do something about this problem.”
Louis: That begs the question. As I mentioned in the introduction, one of the popular episodes recently of this podcast is the Jobs to be Done Introduction that I’ve done with Claire Suellentrop. How does this approach differ from the Jobs to be Done approach?
Adele: I'm not an expert on Jobs to be Done but so many people that talk to me, come up after they hear my keynote will say, “This is a lot of things in common with the Jobs to be Done.” I think the biggest difference is that Jobs to be Done is usually around a particular quality use case like a website. We’re thinking about what job is the buyer trying to do on our website. We’re looking much more broadly at the whole buying decision. Unless every thought your buyer is gonna have is related to - certainly they have a job to be done, the job is supposed to solve this problem. But for the interview methodology we’re using, it’s so much broader than just around one channel or one channel experiences around across all the channels, all the exposure, all the resources they turn to. One of the things we learned is buyers are going to their peers consistently. We’re capturing all of that.
Louis: Okay, that’s interesting. I guess to be fair to this approach, I do believe, personally, that those two approaches are extremely similar and I struggle to find any differences if not by the names, by the way you guys got to this point. I think regardless of the name we give them, I’m very happy that many, many, many people are spreading the word and championing this approach to actually understand people, to interview people, to build products, and experiences that they want. Regardless of the way we call it, I’m just very happy that many people are using it.
Adele: Exactly. The buyers are happy too, Louis, because they’re really tired. They are trying to get a job done and it’s very hard for them and that’s frustrating for them.
Louis: Exactly, right. We are talking to 10 people, we’re asking them the single question. Can you repeat this question again that you mentioned?
Adele: Sure. “Take me back to the day when you first decided that you needed to either solve this problem or achieve this goal.” Whatever that blank is, when you first decided that you needed a new marketing automations solutions or you first decided that you needed to take your family out of big vacation. “Tell me what happened.”
Louis: Okay, and then they start talking to us and we start to ask why, why, why. We really drill into the journey. We really are curious about what they’ve done. Now let’s say we have those interviews done, and we’ve done a few, and we are starting to be more comfortable with it, we have those 10 interviews. How do you make sense of all of this data that sits with you, all of those transcripts and all of those notes that you just took?
Adele: This is where we want to send the recordings out to be transcribed so we have every word. And then we’ve built a model to take all of this transcript data and organize it around five categories. We call it the 5 Rings of Buying Insight. What we would do is we go through each interview. We would highlight any quotes where the buyer described these five things.
First of all, when was the trigger? That question we just asked. What was the driver for making this decision? We find all the quotes related to that and we recommend putting them in an Excel, in a worksheet. You have all the quotes. What was the key thing that the buyer was saying in that quote. “My kids are getting older and I think this might be the last time we can go on vacation together.” The key thought would be we’d have that whole quote were about that. Then in the key thought column we put “kids are getting older.” That’s the driver.
We do that same thing for all the other four rings of insight. Finding all the quotes related to the benefits. We call them success factors. What are all the results the buyer expects for making this investment.
The third place where we’d look for quotes from across all the interviews is barriers. We call it perceived barriers. These are all the objections your buyers have to making this investment and or to making it with you.
If you’re talking to people you lost or the people that you won but might have lost, maybe they’ll they say to you, “I almost didn’t buy your solution,” or “I don't buy your solution because it doesn’t have this.” Or, “We decided to stay with the status quo and not go on vacation because of this, and this, and this.” All those quotes get put into the Excel worksheet around or Google docs whatever around the perceived barriers.
Before this insight is decision criteria. These are all the capabilities that the buyer cared about as they weighed all of their options. This is, “Does your resort - is it four stars, or five stars, three star. How much does it cost? Does it have a swimming pool? Can I walk to the ski lift?” All of that goes into the decision criteria insight.
The last insight is called the buyer's journey. This is as your buyers go through telling you their whole story, these are all the places they went, all the steps they went through to weigh all their options and arrive at a conclusion, and all the people that were involved. If I’m going on a ski vacation, did I ask my husband what he thought? If he influenced that decision, then he also goes into the buyer’s journey.
Louis: This is a fantastic framework, the way you summarized that into five steps. I think I’ve seen it on your website so listeners can go to the Buyer Persona Institute and search for that on Google. There is definitely resources there where you can look into more details on those five steps. But what I really want to talk about briefly before coming up with the next steps is that the beauty of this approach, I believe, it prevents people to tell you lies or to tell you things that they believe will be true in the future but might not happen.
When you ask them a question about what would you like to have in the future? What new features would you like us to build? Or what new products will you like us to build? People are notoriously very bad at predicting the future. However, they are very good at telling you about their problems and recalling information as long as it’s not that far away in the future.
I do like this approach for this reason. I think it’s the reason why so many crime investigators use this approach as well in order to interrogate suspects because people can’t lie when you make them tell the story backwards. It’s really interesting. We have those five things. You basically said, “Take the transcript and start to organize them into a spreadsheet.” You would basically create one sheet for the first circle, another one for the success factors, another one for the barriers. Is that it, or how do you categorize it?
Adele: Yeah, exactly. I’d have all the quotes from let's just say 10 interviews where all 10 people talk about their priorities and what triggered. That goes into one spreadsheet. Everybody talked about all the things that they thought will be better once they made this purchase goes in success factors. All their objections go in perceived barriers. All the capabilities of your company and your product or your service go in decision criteria and then all the quotes related to their journey go on a fifth spreadsheet.
Now you can start to use the spreadsheet function. Start to group similar quotes together. You can start to see patterns. “Oh you know, six of the people I talked to all talked about this one driver, this one objection.” And then you can have multiple quotes where you get to hear your persona, not a single individual but your persona talking about that key thing that matters to them and that we now know we need to address in our marketing.
Louis: What might happen and what will definitely happen from experience is that you will see patterns as you mentioned. You will see things that keep coming up so you group them together. I suppose then it requires a bit of common sense or a bit of work on the spreadsheet to understand how to group those together. Because what might happen is that you might have one big buyer persona that seems to be 90% of the people that you interviewed are very similar. What might happen as well is that you might have half of people matching a specific criteria while the rest will fall on another one.
Adele: Yes, Louis. Now you get into the part where it’s really fascinating because now you can start to say, “Well, are there differences in the market that if went to market differently for different types of buyers where we could actually win more business?” This is the only time you should worry about differences that you find. Is if you see that there’s some differences you’re finding, half the buyers think this, or even a third or even 10% of the buyers think a particular way, now we can say, “Well, as a company, we’re going to be more competitive. We can actually beat our competitors and win more opportunities if we go start marketing to different people differently.”
The worst thing you can do, and this is some of what I’m trying to correct, is people are coming up with way too many personas just because there is differences. The only time you should care about the differences is if it represents a competitive advantage for your business.
Louis: Okay, that’s an interesting take on things. That’s something that we haven’t talked about yet. I'm really happy that when we talk with buyer persona, not even once have you mentioned age, or where they live, or their jobs, or stuff like this. Because this is what I believe when you talk about persona to marketers in particular, they will think about this traditional marketing persona that we’ve been taught about which is, “Okay, how old are they? What jobs do they have?” Etcetera, etcetera.
You haven’t mentioned that at all because you know that even people can have different jobs, different ages, different demographics. But if they all have the same triggers, the same journey over all, if they share the same barriers then there's no point differentiating them.
Adele: Correct. Yeah, thank you for saying that, Louis. Just because you’re probably 20 years or 30 years younger than I am doesn’t even mean that you’re more technical than I am. There’s so many assumptions or just because you’re male and I’m female. The old, old school approach to segmenting our market was around demographics, around data like age, and gender, and income levels. If we’re doing a study for senior living then we do care how old you are and probably even what gender you have. If we’re selling a marketing automation solution, it’s absolutely ridiculous to care about your hobbies or how many kids you have.
I don’t want people to be distracted by that kind of information. Unless after you've done those 5 Rings of Insight, then you can go backwards and say, “Ah, we’re now we’re starting to see that everybody who answered the question this way is in a particular age group, or income level.” We did a wealth management solution and you care about that stuff. You got to make sure you’re only collecting useful data about your buyers or you’ll just go crazy.
Louis: Yes. Thanks for saying that because marketers are overwhelmed. That's a fact. They are more and more overwhelmed. As I said in the introduction, I do believe that if people do that well, do this exercise well of interviewing people, they will get clarity back. They won’t go crazy, they’ll be able to take better decision.
Let me give you an example. I actually received a lot of emails recently from listeners and I get to know them better and I talk to a few of them recently as well. The key stuff I’ve learned is that I basically have two main buyer persona. I will not say buyer because they don’t buy but they listen and they spend time on it. I would have marketers and then I would have founders, particularly founders who are tech oriented. They are not marketers at all, however they do want to use marketing in order to sell their stuff.
Those two personas are really opposed, marketers and founders. They have two different jobs, two different problems they’re trying to solve. I found that out by just talking to a few. This is very clear to me now. It means that the next episodes will be catered to those two audiences now. I don't really care where they live, I talk to a lot of people from different countries. I don’t really care about a lot of things but the pattern that kept coming up was the fact that marketers want to do something in particular while the founders wanted to do something completely different.
Adele: Exactly, very good, Louis.
Louis: Thanks, appreciate you encouraging me on this. We have those summaries now. We’ve grouped those information together into patterns. What’s the next step? I think people are visualizing a buyer persona to be this sort of profile. A for page with a picture on the left, name and stuff. How do you put that together, what’s the next step?
Adele: Yeah, there is. You mentioned our website, it’s buyerpersona.com. There’s an example buyer persona on the resources page that you can look at because the visual here is helpful. We actually put the quotes in the buyer persona. We have a slide, one separate slide for each of the 5 Rings of Insight and show the key finding whatever the key insights, the patterns. Then we keep the quotes because you mentioned the emotional aspect of the decision, Louis. I want to underline that.
Our buyers get really emotional, even, believe it or not, about really mundane, you mentioned technology, 85% of our clients are in tech. I still remember speaking at a conference one time and somebody before me talking about, “Well, disaster recovery is pretty boring.” Well, it sure isn’t boring to the guys that have to solve that problem and get your site back up. These people are very emotional about these in the quotes. That’s why I want you to keep those recordings and transcribe it. Keep the quotes in the persona. That’s what makes it like a living human being that’s having this problem.
Louis: How do you spot the emotions inside those quotes?
Adele: People are swearing. They’re worked up. Oh gosh, I’m thinking about a study we did recently with automotive dealerships. People keep saying there isn't a single solution out there that works. Nothing works. The companies that are selling the solutions don’t care about us and if anybody would build a solution that worked, we’d all change. It’s easy to see it. It’s right there. When we present, I sometimes have to read this out loud and it’s a pretty strong language, what people use.
Louis: Yeah, in this podcast you can curse as much as you want.
Louis: It’s okay. I'm not gonna force you. That’s really insightful. I’ve learned quite a lot from the step by step. I guess the last step I’d like to hear from you is that, we talked about persona and how to come up with the different rings as you mentioned, and all of that. Summarize that into profile, into one, two, three buyer personas. Can you share with me an example of a client, you don’t have to name the client, but a client that you’ve used this methodology with and how you apply your findings into their marketing?
Adele: Yeah, this is very important. Thank you for asking, Louis. Because when I started to write my book, the manuscript for my book, I went back to clients and I found that a lot of people were kind of getting the personas and then stopping. Now, with almost every engagement we do with clients, we follow up with a workshop and it's in the book. It’s in chapter eight in my book but I can explain it pretty quickly here. You take every insight inside those five rings and typically we might have 30 insights across the five rings. Maybe not balance but maybe four or five triggers and maybe six or seven success factors, five or six perceived barriers, and so forth.
What you do now is think of these as something that your buyer is thinking about and do it when they’re on your website or engage with your sales people or your marketing content. Every single one of those topics represent something that you should be building a response for, you should be building marketing content around.
What we talk about is getting your subject matter experts together, looking at those key insights, every one of them separately, and building an answer, and then making a commitment to build content around the ones where you really have something unique and valuable to say or even if it isn’t unique. Just the fact that you alone understand that the buyer’s asking that question because you did these interview and now you know that and that you’re providing straight, simple, clear answers to buyers who have that need, that concern, this alone is the way to differentiate your company.
Louis: Do you have a specific example in mind? I’m curious to see if there’s anything that could really be something you remember that had a tremendous effect?
Adele: Of course, without getting into naming our clients but yeah. There’s one story that I talk about for many, many years ago in my keynote. I can share it here with permission. Symantec, a lot of people know their antivirus product called Norton Antivirus. We were helping them prepare for a launch and this was to small and medium businesses. They were very excited about all this new security that they built into this news product and they were gonna go to market talking about this advanced detection solution that they created this network around the world.
When they went out and interviewed small business owners about antivirus, what they discovered was that their customers didn't want to use Norton because it made their computers so slow, it took forever to reboot the computer, it took forever to download their email. It didn’t matter if the antivirus was supposedly the best in the world if it made their computers too hard to use.
Despite the fact that product managers and senior management at Symantec were fully committed to going to market with this whole story around their advanced detection network, once they came back with evidence from the buyers that this was not the key issue in their buying decision, they changed. Their go-to-market message was, ‘The security solution that won’t slow you down’. I don't have it in front of me right now but swallow up system resources, or affect your business ability to get your work done.
This was counter intuitive. It wasn’t anything. It was addressing a perceived barrier rather than a benefit which everybody thinks we’re supposed to talk about benefits. But what if your benefits are the same as your competitors’ benefits? Frankly, not enough marketing is focused on something like what Symantec did and being able to go out there and say, “What really is affecting our buyer’s ability to choose us is something that’s in a perceived barrier and taking that on, head on.”
Louis: This is tremendous. This a great example. This is what I was looking for. To talk a little bit more about this, I’ve done this exercise before in the past for a few companies and for myself. The best way I can describe this is that once you’ve done it once, you will know what we mean by the clarity and the fact that you’d be able to use that in your marketing. It’s difficult to tell you, “Use these barriers to leverage your marketing and to leverage what you can say or use this benefit instead of this one.”
Basically, once you have this picture really clear of this buyer persona, the answer would be in front of you, really clearly how your marketing should sound like, where you should go, which channels you should use, what messaging you should use. It’s just the best way to get clarity. What I would really encourage anybody to do right now is to take literally just five hours of their time which is 10 interviews and talk to those people, talk to those customer and people who haven’t bought from you. You will get the clarity that you need, you'll be able to do marketing better.
Adele: You know what, Louis, even if you do a couple. Honestly, I tell people just to commit to do two or three. It will start. You will get addicted to this.
Louis: It is addictive.
Adele: I sometimes say that this is almost like cheating. Frankly, I developed this methodology because I’ve sat in so many meeting rooms trying to write a tagline or marketing message and frankly, after two or three hours of that, I will agree to anything just let me the hell out of this room.
If we would just take those same two to three hours and we're all sitting around the table making shit up, you said I could use the S word right. If we would just use that same time to just go each of us talk to a few customers about their buying decision, not what they like about the product, forget all that–that’s a good thing to know but not for this exercise. And then we could come together and say, “When people are buying, here’s what they're worried about.” The biggest competitor most of us have is the status quo. We are losing more business to people doing nothing than we are to our competitors. Why is that? You can find out.
Louis: Adele, I’m glad it took you 48 minutes to use the word shit. It’s good. You finally feel yourself in this interview. Seriously though, this is it, this is it. This is a really important topic. This is why I’m gonna keep talking about it in this show until more and more people use it and discover the power that sounds really simple when you think about it, but the power of understanding people and use the right thing, the right messaging, the right marketing to connect to them. Adele, what do you think marketers should learn today that will help them in the next 10 years, 20 years, 50 years?
Adele: We’re in the age of the customer. Again, in my age, I can tell you for sure this has radically change. This is gonna keep getting stronger. Customers have so many choices and if we don’t nail this, if we don’t don’t get this absolutely right, forget it, guys. I sometimes worry as a career, sales, and marketing professional that buyers are just gonna so ignore us because they’re doing it more and more all the time that we’re just gonna become irrelevant.
They’re gonna go ask their friend, and they’re gonna buy what their friends bought, and we're gonna lose our ability to be useful to them or persuade them at all [Want to persuade customers to buy? Read this or this.]. I feel like this is life or death for us. It really is. We have got to understand what they need and we need to realize we are in business to serve the needs of our buyers and our customers. It's not just the people who chose us already, and that’s a lot, I know. But we’ve also got to make it work for the buyers or we’re not gonna have any customers.
Louis: Things are changing all the time. You introduce new products, you have new competitors coming up, the market is changing, things are changing around you. This is not an exercise that you will do once, this is an exercise you will keep doing over and over again because things will constantly change. This skill that you can have, that you can gain pretty quickly will be a lifelong skill. That will give you a strong competitive advantage because almost nobody is doing it, nobody else is doing it, almost nobody else.
Adele: We know a lot of companies that are doing this, obviously. We’ve been growing like crazy but not enough. It’s such a small percentage of people still unfortunately, most of those buyer personas are those stupid profile things. “This is Harry and he’s married to Sally and they’ve got two kids and a dog.” It makes me sick, really does.
Louis: But this is great. This is why I was saying that Jobs to be Done approach, your approach, to me, are basically the same thing. You’re fighting against the same thing. My guest Claire Suellentrop in this episode of the Jobs to be Done said the exact same thing, “I’m sick of those so called personas profile that don’t mean anything.” I’m glad I repeated that as well because when we talk about buyer persona at first, I think a lot of people could have thought this is where we were going, but this isn't the case. That’s great to hear that. What are the top three resources you would recommend to marketers and founders in particular?
Adele: Well, your customers, as a matter of fact we’re just rewriting our website and our number one headline is we interview the only experts that matter which is your buyers. Your buyers are the experts. Read what your buyers read, talk to your buyers. There’s a million great marketing books out there. Of course I want you to read mine but the fact is everybody is basically telling you the same thing in different versions of it in the decades I’ve been in this industry. The whole secret is in your buyer’s voice, in your buyer’s mind. You’re gonna hold my feet to the fire the way, Louis, and make me name a book?
Louis: No, you don’t have to name any books or podcast of you don’t want to. I feel that in order to nail the message of this episode, let’s not mention anything else but the customers. This is the only resource we really need. This is something I tend to find myself saying quite a lot as well. Let's keep to that and obviously, your website is buyerpersona.com, your book that you wrote is really insightful that was published years ago. Is there any other way listeners can connect with you, Adele?
Adele: I’m on Twitter, @buyerpersona. I’m on facebook.com, Buyer Persona. LinkedIn, Buyer Persona Institute in LinkedIn or my personal LinkedIn, Adele Revella. I would love to stay in touch with your listeners. Mostly, what we’re trying to do is educate people, otherwise we’re afraid buyer personas are just gonna be useless after a while. People keep doing stupid stuff, then we’re not gonna get anywhere.
Louis: That should be the tagline of this show, stopdoingstupidstuff.com. I should buy this domain.
Adele: That’s the dedication in my book. My book is dedicated to every marketer who questions the wisdom of making stuff up, and to your point, Wiley published my book and I did write ‘dedicated to every marketer who questions the wisdom and making shit up’, and they would let that go, making stuff up but there you go. You know what I was really thinking, Louis.
Louis: Oh, I knew it. I knew it already. Right Adele, it’s been an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much once again for your time.
Adele: Thank you, Louis.