Adele Revella runs the Buyer Persona Institute from her office in San Juan Island, off the coast of Washington. After starting her career in the 1980s in technology marketing PR with Regis McKenna, the agency that launched Apple and Intel, she quickly recognized that tech companies were “speaking Greek to their customers.”
She's made her living for the last several years teaching interview techniques, distilled into “Five Rings of Insight,” to help B-to-B marketers and editorial strategists build content tailored for the buyer's journey. She told us what she's learned...
I learned early on that if I was going to do good marketing work, I needed to do two things: interview the company's stakeholders and understand what their strategy and vision was, and balance that by interviewing the target buyers and understanding how the buyers saw that strategy.
The term Buyer Persona didn't exist in the 1980s. We had this terrible, un-sexy term called internal and external audits. It sounds like something the IRS is going to show up and do.
We didn't call it content in the '80s. The idea that the buyers were critical to building any kind of content—we called that “positioning.”
I traveled the world training marketers, who are really good at making stuff up. Tell marketers they need a Buyer Persona and they'll think of it like a deliverable. They'll fill out a template but they won't interview their buyers. What they are doing is recycling their internal misinformation, or the internal preferred view of what they hope the buyer wants.
We call it Buyer Persona Institute, but I'm creating buyer expert marketers. What we're trying to do is build marketers who have a distinctive core competency called "Knowing the buyer better than anyone in the company.”
This isn't traditional market research. We're actually trying to understand Five Rings of Insight, and personify this information, so that you can easily build content. It's almost scary, because the buyers have written the content for you. They told you not just what questions they're asking but what answers they want.
I think we can sit in a room and make up the questions that buyers are asking. But we need to listen to the buyers talk about the answers that persuaded them to choose us or to choose the competitor, and then see how closely we can devise a strategy to say, “We can do that.”
We need a voice that counterbalances the company's internal voice, that says, "Hey, guess what guys? The buyer is in charge. The seller isn't controlling anything anymore, because the buyers have too much choice for that.”
Our methodology does not include interviewing salespeople.
Salespeople are very focused on the deal that they’re working right now, so they’re not patterns and trends people. They’re not looking at the market as a whole. They can’t tell you about priority initiatives. They can’t tell you about the triggering event.
Buyers will reveal things to the marketer once the deal is done that they would never have shared with the salespeople. People do withhold information from salespeople.
A buyer’s Priority Initiative: “My boss is furious with me about our current supplier, and what I need is to have delivery of this product within three days of the order being placed, and I need the price point being so and so.” It’s very specific. And it’s not like I'm building benefit statements about my product, where I might talk about the quality.
When you build a short message for an email, stay away from summary messaging like, “We deliver on time, high quality”—boring, every competitor is saying that. We get to a message that says, “We are going to get your product to you in three days,” because the buyer told us what they want.
In the ’80s and the ’90s, you could get buyers to come to your website and talk to salespeople pretty early in the buying process. But now, buyers are getting answers to their questions other ways. And if we don’t make it easy for buyers to get answers to their questions, they’ll exclude us from consideration before they ever talk to our salespeople. Buyers are down to two or three solutions by the time they get to the sales rep, so the salesperson has zero visibility to at least 60% of the buying process.
Marketers and salespeople define steps in the buying process around things like awareness and consideration. But buyers don't think that way. Buyers go out and they do a Google search based on whatever they feel.