| By Chuck Schaeffer
Good customer strategies are built on good customer personas and insights. In fact, without customer intelligence your customer strategies are essentially guesswork and your execution is trial and error.
A lack of customer understanding leads to assumptions, and as actor Henry Winkler advises, "Assumptions are the termites of relationships."
Customer personas and insights deliver customer intelligence, but each is unique and understanding their purposes and benefits is important in crafting customer strategies that work.
Personas are archetypes that mimic and represent real customers. They are fictitious character profiles described with gender neutral names, visualized with figurative portraits and aligned with customer journeys using storyboards.
Customer insights supplement personas with market research to reveal when, why and how customers make buying decisions. Insights provide guidance to know what's most important to the buyer and allow sellers to focus on advancing the buyer's purchase process.
Collectively, personas and insights identify and predict customer goals, behaviors, emotions and actions applied during a purchase process or other interactions with the company.
Personas Are Usually Worthless
Customer personas by themselves are typically worthless. Personas with insights are worth millions.
Creating highly graphical personas with attractive portraits and generalized or obvious information is a waste of time. There's little to no benefit from displaying a buyer type with a meme, indicating she's a soccer mom in her 40's and she drives a minivan. Even if I sell minivans, this doesn't provide value.
However, if the persona includes customer insights that share goals, behaviors and emotions, and reveal when, why and how a soccer mom buys a minivan, I can use that information for more effective marketing and sales engagement, and sell more minivans.
Unfortunately, creating customer personas displayed as simple demographic profiles is where most marketers start and end. They fail to understand the value or the process of supplementing those personas with insights.
Getting To Insights
To maximize customer experiences, marketing offer conversions and sales win rates, you start with the right customer strategy, then drill down to truly understand how to engage customers based on what's most important to them. It's a five-step process.
1. Identify target markets
Marketing too broadly is inefficient, wastes limited marketing budget and delays growth, so marketing must consider the total addressable market (TAM) but drill-down to identify and focus on the target markets that will most benefit and purchase the company’s products and services in the shortest time and at the highest price.
2. Identify customer segments
Customers are not homogeneous. Marketing communications and sales strategies must be personalized for each segment to increase relevancy, engagement, conversions and win rates.
3. Identify personas
Defining customers based on demographic data is a left-over relic from the days of mass marketing. Customer personas with fictitious names and portraits, demographic data and some obvious information provide no value to the sales team and are worthless. But when the personas include emotional and behavioral data that can be acted upon, the personas are invaluable.
4. Align personas with journeys
People engage your company because they want to accomplish something. However, what they want to accomplish varies during their purchase process. Customer journeys identify the customer's purchase process, and what's most important at each phase.
5. Supplement with customer insights
One you have Personas and Journeys you're ready to apply the market research to acquire insights. The goal is to use conversations and questionnaires to understand how each customer persona will research, evaluate and choose a product. We want to know why, when and how customers make their purchase decisions.
Insights are many and varied. There's no list of universal insights that work for all companies. However, from my experience in developing growth strategies, there are five insights I generally find to be the most influential in acquiring customers.
- Change event. What compels the buyer to make a change from the status quo? What was the impetus or triggering event?
- Purchase process. What is the buyers purchase process?
- Purchase obstacles. What prevents the buyer from completing a purchase?
- Decision criteria. What are the buyers top decision-making criteria?
- Top benefits. What benefits does the buyer expect from the new product or solution?
Getting the answers to these questions, possibly categorized by product and buy cycle phase, and applying this information throughout the sales cycle is certain to improve your sales velocity and win rate.
Once you have personas with insights, it's a good idea to take one more step and identify negative personas. These profiles identify buyers that are not a good fit for the company. This may include personas that result in low sales win rates, have unrealistic expectations, incur very high acquisition costs or quickly churn after acquisition. Recognizing these exclusionary profiles saves time and money, and allows sales resources to be focused where they can be successful.
The Point Is This
Most marketers craft content, communication and offers based on assumptions and their own knowledge of what customers want. They believe they know what customers want, so they bypass the exercise of listening to customers and proceed directly to outbound communication. This is why most marketers fail and incur low lead conversions, and why sales professionals incur long sales cycles and low sales win rates.
Alternatively, once you know how your product is valued by each type of customer at each stage in their purchase process, you can create a repeatable Go-To-Market model that delivers more relevant and personalized content, connects with precise value propositions, optimizes marketing investment and delivers the most salient customer insights to the sales team.