Buyer personas are big marketing buzzwords as of late for good reason. Every day, buyers are craving a more personalized experience in their research process. Yet, many telecom and IT providers and agents I speak to resist the trend and want to be all things to all people.
“If I speak directly to one audience, I’ll be alienating others!”
Ummm, not necessarily.
“I just want to promote X service!”
Your prospects don’t care about your services…at first. They care about solving their own problems.
“But we can provide X service for any business!”
Of course you can, but that’s not the point. The point is, in a world full of noise and distractions, how are you going to capture the attention of the right buyers, quickly gain their trust, and then guide them down your sales funnel?
They Got Me!
Story time! I’m on LinkedIn every day, so I see lots of ads. They typically have to do with being a business owner, in the marketing field, or sometimes being a female entrepreneur. Although all of those things apply to me, those ads never really grab my attention.
Then one day, I saw an ad targeting women who own marketing agencies. Holy specific, Batman! Did that grab my attention? Absolutely! That is exactly me and extremely targeted, so I was instantly intrigued by the ad. The message spoke right to me in a way that no other company had before.
That’s the goal of working on buyer personas, to…
- Understand exactly who we are targeting
- Discover their unique pain points
- Craft a message that will grab attention and cut through the noise.
What Are Buyer Personas?
Definition: According to Hubspot, a buyer persona is “a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers.”
Why do you need to think about buyer personas?
Great question. Pretend for a moment that Bigfoot has been terrorizing your neighborhood and you’ve been asked to take him out (cruel, I know). You’re given two options:
- Option 1: A machine gun and unlimited rounds of bullets, or
- Option 2: A shotgun and only three bullets.
Seems like an easy choice right? But wait, there’s a catch.
With the machine gun, you’ll have to wear a blindfold and you’re completely on your own. No help from anyone allowed. But with the shotgun, you can keep your eyes open and hire an expert Bigfoot detective. This expert knows exactly where Bigfoot lives and eats, how to call him, and all his typical behaviors. Given this information, did you change your mind?
Machine gun vs. shotgun: Which would you choose?
The choice seems pretty clear in this example, and yet many companies I talk to won’t trade their machine guns for shotguns, even though the shots fired would be 1000x more targeted.
I think it’s because as long as the machine gun is firing, it feels like something more is happening, even if those bullets are just flying aimlessly into the air and landing on the ground. In other words, they are focused on activities rather than results.
The shotgun approach takes more time and planning, but, in the long run, is more effective. The purpose of developing your buyer personas is to help you take the shotgun approach, so that every shot fired (or every marketing dollar spent) has a much greater chance of hitting its intended target.
The Proof is in the Research
CompTIA recently published an in-depth report on IT buyer behavior, and a few of the stats prove this point.
When reporting on who the IT Buyer of 2017 is, the group found that it is no longer just IT people calling the shots.
- CEOs, presidents, and owners: “very involved” in the IT buying process
- CFOs: the next highest — 6 in 10 are “very involved”
- Marketing people: 1/3 are “very involved”
To support this idea, CompTIA states that “many business unit employees are doing their own research into the latest technology solutions to address their specific initiatives and projects. And the resources for them to do so abound.” (Emphasis added.)
CompTIA’s advice for dealing with this?
“[You] need to speak the vernacular. Business is the primary language to speak, but exhibiting fluency in the unique dialects for marketing, sales, logistics, HR or finance ups your game even more.” (Emphasis added.)
Bingo. That’s exactly what we’re talking about. You can no longer get away with blanket statements or one-size-fits-all messaging. It’s study – aim – fire.
Why are buyer personas useful?
Creating buyer personas is like hiring that expert Bigfoot detective. Having specific information and messaging for each of your potential target audiences means:
- You are much more likely to capture their attention (which is goal #1 with any marketing or advertising.)
- You will build greater trust, faster (goal #2 of marketing). More trust means more leads, shorter sales cycles, and less price-haggling.
- Your prospects will come to you pre-sold, saying “OMG…You get me! How can we work together?” or “Yo, it’s me, Bigfoot. SHOOT ME NOW!”
Common examples of buyer personas within the telecom and IT industry
For telecom agents, VARs, MSPs or carriers with direct sales teams, the most common buyer personas seem to be:
- SMB leaders (owners/presidents)
- IT leaders (CIOs/IT directors)
- Financial leaders (CFOs, controllers)
Less typical, but growing decision-makers to consider:
- Marketing leaders
- Office managers
- HR professionals
- Customer service
If you’re a master agent or a channel leader for a carrier, you’ll want to consider:
- Traditional telecom agents
- Managed services providers (MSPs)
- Value-added resellers (VARs)
- Other resellers
As you can see from a quick glance at this list, the need for distinct messaging for each persona should be obvious. A small business owner has totally different needs and motivation than a CFO. A telecom agent already gets the recurring revenue model, while a VAR who’s only been selling on-premise phone systems might need a little more education in that regard.
How to Create Effective Buyer Personas
Step 1: Discover your personas
Start with your current customers. Hopefully your CRM can help you do this analysis quickly with a customized report, but if not, an Excel spreadsheet may be helpful to track the quantity that falls into each category.
- Who were the decision makers?
- The influencers?
- Anyone else involved in the process?
The goal here is to cast a wide net, and analyze everyone involved and what their involvement is. This will help you immensely later on.
Next, assess your top 25 prospects. There could be some overlap here between your current customers, but if you’re targeting a new market segment, this could be totally different. Ask the same questions as above and keep track of your answers.
Finally, group the similar types of people together, and this should help you identify your personas. Some find it helpful to give their buyer personas actual names and pictures, like so:
Selecting images and names can help your entire team better visualize the target audience. So rather than speaking to the masses, you can think about “Cheryl” or “Bob” or “Travis” and what their specific needs are.
Step 2: Research each buyer persona
Now that we have them identified, we want to know as much as possible about each of them. Don’t just think about work related stuff. These people are people after all, so the more info we can gather, the better.
- Demographic data: Age range, gender, nationality, primary language, educational background, etc.
- Behavioral data: Likes and dislikes, brand loyalties, interests and hobbies.
- Marketing data: blogs they read, newsletters they subscribe to, how they stay up-to-date with market trends, conferences they attend, social media outlets they use, etc.
You may know some of these things by virtue of your relationship with your customers, but some things may require further investigation. One way you can research is to conduct an online survey. Another is to conduct in-person or phone interviews.
Whenever I work with clients on helping them with personas, I like to conduct at least two interviews per persona: one typical of the persona and the other not-so-typical, if possible. Here’s a partial list of questions I usually ask in the interview:
- What are your pain points, questions and concerns? What’s keeping you up at night?
- What problem does X company or service solve?
- Can you quantify how much it helps (time/money saved, etc.)?
- Where do you get your info? Magazines, events, social platforms you participate in?
Based on their answers to these, I ask even more questions. The goal is to get to know as much as possible about them, their pain, their preferences, and their behaviors.
Step 3: Develop messaging for each buyer persona
Now that you have all the data, you can begin to craft your messaging for each persona. I find it useful to create profiles for each persona that list out everything I found out about each persona, including:
- Key pain points: gather and prioritize the top 3-5 pain points for each persona.
- Benefits: how does your company’s services solve those pain points?
- Features that matter: this is where most companies go nuts, puking their features all over prospects. Let’s be more surgical than that. Outline the features that specifically address the key pain points, with a little verbiage around how they are solved.
- Unique Selling Proposition (USP) – Finally, create a USP that specifically targets the persona. This is a succinct statement that explains your value and differentiates you from your competition.
A Buyer Persona in Action
Here’s an example of what a buyer persona profile might look like for Travis the SMB CEO.
- Gender: predominantly male
- Age: 30s-40.
- Nationality: Caucasian, Asian, Hispanic, African American
- Size: 10-25 employees
- Types of businesses: Accounting firms, law firms, architecture firms
- I can’t afford for our network to go down.
- No one at the big carrier is listening to me, and I don’t have time to deal with it.
- I’m moving or starting a new business.
- I worry about reliability and capacity.
- I worry about managing my company’s growth.
- I’m afraid of switching providers.
Benefits that matter most to Travis
- A fully-managed service means Travis never has to deal with the carriers directly ever again, saving him time and stress.
- Our company’s services can scale up or down with Travis’ company, so he can rest easy regarding his company’s growth.
- With pro-active network monitoring, we can detect any issues in Travis’ network before they occur and reach out to ensure continuity.
Note: Benefits usually boil down to some variation of saving time and/or money or reducing stress and/or workload. They key here is you must connect the dots and say it.
Features that matter most to Travis
- 24 x 7 x 365 network monitoring
- Auto failover in case of a network issue
- Same-day MACDs (moves, adds, changes, deletes)
As you can see, having this info at your fingertips can be super valuable for your various marketing efforts, which we will get into next.
Pro Tip: Once you’ve completed all this work, you may want to incorporate it into your brand book or some type of messaging guide. That way, any new employee, copywriter or marketing agency you work with in the future will get up to speed very quickly on who you are targeting and how to target them.
How to Use Buyer Personas in Your Marketing
Develop Your Plan
Most companies create a separate mini-plan within your overall marketing plan for each persona. Start by prioritizing each persona from most to least important. Of course, there is usually some overlap between the personas, so once you’ve planned for the first one, the rest will go faster.
If the thought of developing a separate marketing plan for each persona has you reaching for the Xanax, just plan on working on one per quarter, or any cadence that works for you. Just make sure to consider each of the following marketing assets when developing your buyer persona plan.
Make Your Website a Buyer Persona Paradise
Most websites are confusing, dull and focus on the company’s services. Don’t be that company. By leading with an understanding of your buyers, they will breathe a sigh of relief when they get to your website, because finally they have found a company that gets them and “speaks their language.”
Since your website serves as “home base” for all your marketing efforts, this is most important. Here are some suggestions on how to do it:
- Home page hero image: create an image and headline that directly addresses your persona’s pain.
- Home page “Choose Your Own Adventure” section: calls out to each of your personas and their top pain.
- Internal pages dedicated to each persona: go further in depth to demonstrate an understanding of each persona.
On our own site, our hero image speaks directly to our main target audience and their top pain point, like this:
Then a little further down the page, we speak directly to all three of our main personas like this:
Those links go to pages that specifically address each persona’s pain points, and how we can help ease that pain. Here’s a snippet from our page targeting marketing leaders.
- High conversion rates on these pages
- Lots of views on these pages
- “OMG you really get me! How can we work together?”
Pro Tip: If you’ve done the research work above, the copywriting for these pages should be fairly painless and quick. Simply demonstrate that you understand the pain, and then offer to help.
Create Content for Each Buyer Persona
Once your site is ready to go, your next step is to develop content that addresses the pain of each persona directly. Take the pain points you discovered during the interview process and convert the answers into content.
Why content? Because research tells us that is how B2B and IT buyers are finding you and educating themselves through the sales funnel. What types of content are they looking for? Here are some stats taken specifically from B2B buyers.
Examples of content marketing for buyer personas
Pain point –> I’m a small business owner worried about ransomware.
Content –> How SMBs Can Protect Themselves from Ransomware (a whitepaper, infographic or video)
Pain point –> I’m a VAR concerned about transitioning to a recurring revenue model.
Content –> How X Company Is Effectively Transitioning From Selling On-Prem PBXs to Hosted VoIP – A Case Study
Pro tip #1: If you are a telecom agent, VAR or MSP who resells carrier services, ask the providers you sell for if they have content you can use. Many of them have spent thousands of dollars to develop educational content for you, yet oftentimes it sits on their portals gathering dust. This makes the carriers and the content sad. 🙁
Pro tip #2: Make sure you optimize your content for search (SEO) so that Google will pay more attention to you and start sending more traffic your way. More on how to optimize your content and website here.
According to DemandGen’s 2016 Content Preferences Survey Report, 97% of B2B buyers listed email as the preferred source of business communication, ranking #1. So no, email is certainly not dead! And now that you’ve got this great content to share, you’ll want to inform your personas.
Step 1: Develop your email lists
If the rule of sales is “Always Be Closing,” the rule of email marketing is “Always Be List Building.” Your email marketing is only as good as your list. Here are some tips to build it.
- Ask to add current customers to your list.
- Include opt-in forms throughout your website.
- Make sure your emails have a “forward to a friend” link.
- Ask people you meet at events if you can add them to your list.
Make sure you are segmenting your list appropriately by buyer persona, company size, location, etc. This will make future campaigning so much easier. Here are more great tips on building your email list.
Step 2: Create Various Campaigns
With lists a-building, focus on creating two types of campaigns:
- Prospecting email campaigns: To grab attention and get people to take an action.
- Nurture email campaigns: To continue educating them once they’ve taken an action until they’re ready to buy.
Pro tip: We recommend using an email marketing automation tool to make this easier in the long run. While free services like MailChimp and Constant Contact are a good starting point, we recommend more sophisticated platforms if you’re going to be doing a lot of this, like Hubspot, Marketo, Infusionsoft, or Hatchbuck. (We use and love Hatchbuck).
Join and Attend Buyer Persona-Focused Associations and Events
While it’s true that most marketing has evolved into being predominantly digital, do not underestimate the value of face-to-face interactions. With that in mind, seek out associations and events that cater to your buyer personas. Is there a local meetup that targets IT professionals? Go check it out. Once you’ve found a group or groups to get involved with, here’s what to do:
- Volunteer – Help out at events or join a committee. This is how you’ll develop more meaningful relationships.
- Speak – Giving a presentation or participating on a panel is a fast track to visibility and credibility. Here’s a formula to generate leads from speaking gigs.
- Focus – This is an area where it pays to go deep rather than wide. Don’t try to join every association or attend every networking event around. Choose the ones where you can dedicate the time and become “the go-to guy or gal” within the group for what it is that you do. After some time, the referrals will come pouring in.
Target Your Buyer Personas on Social Media
Never in the history of the world have we had so much data on and access to people! While it seems invasive as an individual, it’s a marketer’s dream come true.
Through Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, you can target people with certain interests and within certain industries, and you can automatically target people with similar interests to those you selected.
Social media platforms work differently for each company, so make sure to test and see what works best for you. We get a surprising number of Facebook referrals for ourselves and our clients, so don’t discount it just because it seems less B2B focused.
Tips for finding and connecting with your buyer personas on social media
There’s a group for just about anything these days, so chances are there are groups for each of your buyer personas in your market. Do a little research to find the ones that are most active, then join and participate. Do not start spamming the group or you’ll get banned quickly. Instead, post helpful content and commentary.
LinkedIn has the most surgical option when it comes to ads, and a higher cost to go with it. You can target ads based on everything from title, company size, zip code, industry, and more.
Using and tracking hashtags that are meaningful to your buyer personas will help them find you and you find them. While this is more of a long-term strategy, if you’re active on Twitter, it will be time well spent to research and incorporate appropriate hashtags.
Facebook allows you to run ads to people based on their interests. As an example, you could run an ad to everyone who likes CIO Magazine or Computer World. While there’s no guarantee that every single person who likes those things is your exact target audience, it’s a much better chance that they are.
Pro tip: Remember the Law of Reciprocity is alive and well in social media, so if you want to get likes, comments and shares, give likes comments and shares.
Wrapping it Up
Gone are the days of blanket messaging and being all things to all people. We live in an era of specialization where surgical tactics win. In order to hunt your “Bigfoot” effectively, take the time to study his behavior, understand what is driving him, and then craft a message so alluring that he lays down at your feet.
That’s what buyer personas help you to do — seduce your exact target audience easily and effectively into your sales funnel.