I interview a lot of people during buyer persona projects. This includes representatives from product development, customer service, sales teams, marketing professionals of various flavors, and, of course, customers and prospects. The thing that continues to astound me during internal interviews is the lack of knowledge about how buyers get here. In other words, how buyers become customers.
Each of these roles knows their piece of the puzzle, but more often than not, I don’t see a big picture view based on connecting the pieces from start to finish, including the bumps along the way.
- Product development conducts customer focus groups and surveys to find out what new features are desirable and how existing features are performing. But they need to dig deeper into the “why” about the products. Why do customers want new features? What outcomes are they trying to achieve? Why can’t they do it now? How are they doing it now?
- Marketers are focused on lead generation, brand awareness and driving traffic to the website and specific content offers. Often they are focused on just what it takes to generate a “lead” or reach the traffic volume number needed to show improvement. But what happens next? How does what they do in the early stages facilitate what happens in the later stages? (Not that marketing shouldn’t be involved across the entire process, but that’s another post) Knowing that “this” white paper drove the most form completions is not enough.
- Salespeople are focused on prospects who have been qualified in some way. They are focused on next steps and getting the sale, not necessarily on what guided or helped to progress the prospects to that stage.
This is not necessarily anyone’s fault. It’s the way it’s always been done. But it needs to change if companies want to keep pace with their target markets and customers. We need to share our knowledge with the others involved across the relationship. We need to collaborate openly.
Buyer personas should serve to pull all the pieces together. A comprehensive buyer persona should provide context across the entirety of the process from status quo to buyer to customer. If your company is engaged with a number of buyer personas, there should be an overlay to help all parties understand the relationships between them and how they work with each other during the buying process.
This foundation is what’s needed to build a content strategy that turns prospects into buyers and retains customers because we've gained an understanding of "how buyers get here."
Before any offense is taken, I'm not picking on anyone. Nor am I saying it’s true for all companies, just that I see these circumstances enough that it’s concerning.
I'm frustrated at the lack of true knowledge about customers coupled with the inability to articulate details about the buying process and how it's not being aligned with critical business goals. I'm frustrated at the opportunities for orchestration that companies are missing out on because they aren't enabling collaboration between all parties to create a consistent customer experience in execution and across channels.
I'll bet that product managers, marketers and salespeople know much more than what I summarized above only they haven't really thought about it in terms of how it all looks from the customer's perspective across the entirety of the experience. They have been trained to think about the buying process in terms of the product and in terms of how they're judged on performance, which often isn't aligned with what customers care about.
We need to find out what prospects struggle with so we can match them to the right solution!
This is what I was told in a recent conversation. I thought, fantastic! Now we're getting somewhere.
So I said, "Tell me about what your customers struggle with."
And I got - "It's hard to say as each one is different."
So I said - "Just tell me a few you've heard."
And I got - "Well, they know they need to alter direction to match customer demands but they don’t know how to go about it"
So I asked, "Can you give me an example of what [this problem] looks like for your prospects in a way that you can address?"
The response: "They can’t effectively sell the change to their executives."
Now, we're getting somewhere! And the interview continues and we finally start getting into the depth we need to find out how to develop content that addresses issues that helps buyers take action. It takes more digging than you think to get to the good stuff.
It's one thing to get buyers to view your content or recognize your brand, but it's quite another to motivate them to take next steps with your help. Without increasing the relevance of the information and insights you provide via content, your marketing programs won't ever move the needle where it counts.
Marketing technology is a wonderful thing to have. It can allow us to discover patterns of engagement and behavior that can help us to identify the parts of the story we’re telling that they care about. The data can also tell us what's not working – sooner, rather than later.
To discover “how buyers get here” we need to start looking at the whole experience or story about how that happens. That's the only way to create continuous content marketing programs that support the buyer every step of the way and result in more of them choosing your company to help them achieve objectives.
Why do we not spend more time looking at the bigger picture across the continuum of the buying process?
A focus on one successful piece of content here and learning from one not so good campaign outcome over there isn't going to tell you what you need to know. We need to look at cause and effect, patterns of progression and understand the significance of each step taken – whether backwards or forward.