Tagged: Buying Process

Getting the Golden Nuggets in Personas: Buyer Interviews

By Julie Schwartz, ITSMA, jschwartz@itsma.com

The resounding consensus among both respondents to our recent survey who described themselves as “very effective” in using buyer personas and B2B buyer persona experts is that the most valuable insights for persona development come from qualitative, one-to-one interviews with buyers.


So what is the best way to approach this specific kind of research project?  Here are ITSMA’s observations and recommendations:

In-depth, one-to-one interviews are essential.  The form these buyer personas interviews take can vary: it depends largely on available time and resources.  They can range from 20-minute phone calls to all-day work shadowing.  Start with what is easy to accomplish in the first iteration and take it from there.  Remember that the idea is to understand buyers in their own environment and context.

You don’t necessarily need a lot of them.  Ten qualitative interviews is a good start, and may prove sufficient.  When you start to hear – and anticipate – the same answers from one interview to the next, you probably have enough.  Keep in mind that your interview pool should include both customers who recently bought from you and buyers who went elsewhere.  You won’t get everything you need from customers alone.

They don’t even have to be your customers. Sometimes it is difficult to interview your own customers. Customer databases may be woefully out of date (not your database, of course!). You might know who is paying the bill, but not who was on the selection committee. I am always surprised to hear how possessive sales can be, preventing even their own marketing department from talking to their customers. Approvals can seem to take an eternity. If you face any of these hurdles, don’t despair. You can glean first-rate insights from interviews with buyers who match the characteristics of your target audience. You just want to be sure that they recently (last six to 12 months) evaluated a purchase for the types of services and solutions you sell. In many cases, recruiting interviewees outside your customer base will reduce the timeline for buyer persona project completion.

Interview technique is key.  Taking initial answers at face value probably won’t generate the kind of insight you’re after.  Keep asking follow-up questions to get at why they make the decisions they do.  What are their thoughts, fears, goals, and objectives throughout the buying process? Who else is involved? How do their goals and concerns differ? Nugget_sm

Create an interview environment on their terms.  People often prove surprisingly open about their experiences and emotions in the buying process when someone takes an interest in understanding their perspective.  This is easy to accomplish if you exercise your skills as an open, neutral listener.  This is the main reason why salespeople should not conduct these interviews.  Interviewees want assurance that they won’t be sold to during the call and that they aren’t undermining themselves in any future negotiations.  It’s not a question of sales lacking the skills, but one of interviewee perception.

Get outside help.  While we strongly support the idea that the skills to develop and apply personas should be core to B2B marketing departments, getting support and learning from experts dramatically smooth the learning curve.  Rather that plowing through the frustrations of trial and error, learn best practice approaches from the start. Furthermore, if you decide to go the route of recruiting interviewees outside your customer base, you will want to hire a professional recruiter.

Get the interview aspect right and you’ll strike the kind of gold that would make any forty-niner proud!

With thanks to my coaches at the Buyer Persona Institute and Tony Zambito.

Why You Don’t Need to Map Your Content to the Buyer’s Journey

Every year, one of my ITSMA colleagues asks me “Why don’t we have a chart like this?” The chart he is talking about shows which marketing delivery vehicles to use at each stage of the buying process.

Every year, I tell him, “Because when I do the research with buyers of services and solutions, I don’t see any difference in the data for marketing vehicles by buying process stage.” (Note: Since 1999 I have done an annual major research project on how customers choose services and solutions providers.)

My colleague is persistent. He really wants one of these cool buyer stage charts! So I‘ve asked the question a number of different ways. Still, no change.

Then I thought, if there’s no difference by marketing vehicle (e.g., white papers, podcasts, videos, cases studies), maybe I need to ask about sources of information (e.g., peers, vendor websites, sales meetings, analyst events) to get more interesting results. I asked, but still nothing.

Not wanting to disappoint my colleague yet again, I had an epiphany. If the delivery vehicle and source of information don’t vary by buying stage, maybe the kind of content, or the type of information marketers should use is different across buying process stages.

ITSMA did a global study in the fall of 2011 with 465 buyers of technology-based solutions (purchasing solutions that cost $500,000 or more).

So much for my divine insight:  We saw very little difference in buyer preference for delivery formats, sources of information, or types of content as they moved through the buying process.

HOWEVER, when we analyzed the data by Traditional Buyers (those who do not use social media during the purchase process) and B2B Social Buyers we found that the traditional buyers’ needs for type of information did, in fact, change as they progressed through the buying process. On the other hand, the B2B social buyers’ needs for different types of information remained virtually constant from one stage of the buying process to the next. (click on chart to make larger)

Information Needs During the Buying Process

In summary, we found:

  • Traditional Buyers have different needs for types of information as they progress through the buying process. As they get closer to making a purchase decision they focus more on product/offering feature comparisons, pricing, SLAs, and contract terms and conditions.
  • B2B Social Buyers needs for information do not change as they progress through the buying process. They want nearly the same stuff in all stages of the buying process, notably industry/technology research, data, and analysis and online discussions.

Our conclusion: The buying process is becoming less linear. Just as there is no silver bullet delivery vehicle, there is no right or wrong content at different stages of the buying process.

Eric Wittlake said it best  in a comment on his recent post: “The path a buyer takes will not match the marketer’s vision, but hopefully the idea of the buyer’s journey helps marketers to develop an understanding of the range of information they need to provide.”

The important thing for marketers is to make sure there are no gaps in the content strategy. There has to be content to support buyers at every stage of the buying process, and that content must help “propel” them to the next stage. And of course, the content needs to be packaged in a myriad of formats since every person has their own preferred delivery vehicles to consume content.

I think I finally made my colleague happy!