Content marketing is rightly undergoing a renaissance. It's seen as the key to engaging with your target audience when your buyers are (almost) all going online to commence their buying journey (over 80% of B2B buyers according to Forrester.)
But here's the bad news. Most B2B Marketers just don't understand their target buyer's world and particularly their purchasing journey.
How can B2B marketers generate effective content if they don't undertand the world of their reader, listener or viewer? How do you build messaging for your website, for your emails and newsletter?
The key word here is "effective." Too much content is written with the seller in mind or pays lip service to the buyer's problems and is a thinly disguised plug for the products of the content creator.
The effect of a poor understanding of what motivates your buyer is ineffective content. Ineffective content means lower conversion rates and poorer quality leads. Without these strong foundations your cost per lead goes up, and marketing ROI comes down.
Real understanding requires real effort and real research. No shortcuts.
The 6 steps to building powerful buyer personas.
1. Secondary research - Listen carefully
Taking time with your internal customer experts such as sales, customer service or channel partners is an excellent starting point to build a broad general picture of your buyer. Create some initial assumptions about job titles, areas of interest and challenges. Try and understand if there is more than one person influential in the purchasing process.
In B2B markets the sale is often long and complex and it's very likely a number of people will influence the decision. At g2m solutions we always run a series of buyer workshops with our clients internal customer experts. We focus on undertsanding and agreeing core problems our clients buyers are facing and those problems they are best at solving. It's a powerful exercise in creating clarity.
However just as importantly marketers must generate some genuine, unbiased external input. Many B2B marketers are unsure of how to do this. Social media provides excellent opportunities to listen to your target buyers discuss their issues and concerns on LinkedIn groups, for example.
Set up Google Alerts for key phrases, attend events and conferences, listen to Q&A sessions on webinars, read articles in trade magazines whose readers are your target buyer. With a little careful thought and applied effort it's quite possible to get a good read on your buyer's world.
Tip: Think carefully about who and how you are going to collect AND COLLATE this information. Without some careful planning you will have lots of information but no way to process the data and "see the wood for the trees."
2. Primary research - Diving deeper
Use the intelligence gathered in this first step to write a short survey. There are a myriad of cheap survey tools available. Adminsiter the survey and gather and anlayse the results. Obviously the more respondents the better but don't obsess if the number of respondents is modest.
Use the survey findings to build a longer discussion framework (more like an agenda than a questionairre) and conduct fewer but longer person-to-person interviews, using open ended questions.
Spend as much time as you are allowed by the buyer to dig into the world of the buyer. Often 5-10 deep dive person-to-person interviews with your buyer personas will yield amazing levels of insight.
3. The topics to cover that generate buyer insight
Ask about the business objectives.
Get the buyer to focus on just 3 core objectives that they dedicate time, budget and political capital to achieve. When looking at the results see if your product or service addresses these objectives. If not it may be necessary to move up or down the hierarchy until it resonates.
What happens to the buyer or the organisation if they are succesful in meeting their objectives. Will they get promoted, will the firm achieve record sales? What happens if they fail? Will the buyer lose their job or a promotion or will the company have to downsize?
Barriers to overcome
What's stopping your buyer from achieving their objectives. Are the barriers something you can influence or are they out of your control? Are there any internal issues that might prevent a change or a decision being made.
This is the key area to understand. Ask the buyer to explain precisiely how they go through their buying process. What specific events trigger action. Who else is involved at the different decision stages. Uncover if the interviwee is the economic buyer (who holds the budget), the user of your product or service or is a technical buyer (procurement or finance). Getting perspectives from all influencers is very valuable.
Find out how they narrowed the options and what criteria did they use to make their final decision. Take the time to discover the sources of information they rely on at each of these different stages. What they read, who they ask for advice, what conferences they attend, which brands they trust.
A person-to-person interview that covers these points will generate genuine insight into the buyer's world on two fronts:
- The ecosystem of the buyer
- Their level of awareness of your organisation and its products or services
4. Build a profile
Using the results of the interviews it's a reasonably straightforward process to develop a persona profile, or more likely a series of persona profiles, that lists out who the person is, what triggers action, where they look for solutions, what really matters to them, what "tone" or "voice" resonates with them and lastly and most importantly why they must take action.
5. The link to content
Using the results of the interviews and the buyer persona profiles you have generated, build a series of questions that buyers ask themselves at each stage of the buyer's journey. There are likely to be several questions at each stage of the journey.
With this deeper understanding of your separate buyer personas you can now audit your current content and map it to the questions of your buyer personas. Does it really answer those questions? Identify any gaps and build a plan to generate content that answers your buyer's persona's questions.
Now you have content that directly adresses the key concerns, problems and challenges at each stage of the buying journey and you understand the right tone and type of content to use. Lastly, you also know where your buyer persona's go to look for content to consume so this information will help inform your content distribution strategy too.
6. Never Stop Researching
Buyers change constantly in response to the changing business environment in which they operate. Continue your research to ensure you remain responsive to your buyer persona's purchasing journey.
If you would like to read more about the buyer's journey please download this free ebook.