In a previous blog post, I wrote about Adele Revella’s book, Buyer Personas, and applied it to small businesses that might not have the budget to pursue a full scale research effort. For this blog post, Adele Revella has graciously agreed to be interviewed about her book and how to practically apply buyer persona methodology.
Adele Revella, CEO and Founder of Buyer Persona Institute, is the world’s leading authority on buyer personas. Her book, Buyer Personas, was named one of Fortune Magazine’s “5 Best Business Books” in 2015. If you haven’t read it, yet, you’ll want to by the end of this interview.
Q: One of your motivations for writing your book was to correct misunderstandings throughout the business world about the definition of the term “buyer persona.” What is the proper definition of “buyer persona”?
AR: A buyer persona should tell you how an example buyer thinks about the choice to buy a product, service or solution like yours. The problem is that too many personas merely describe the buyer, missing the actionable revelations about this person’s mindset as they approach the decision you want to influence. This is a big concern, because buying insights are the most actionable part of the buyer persona.
We’re also seeing personas that are based on obvious or irrelevant data. This starts when companies merely aggregate all of their existing knowledge rather than seeking new insights. Yes, it’s more work to find new and useful facts, but without this step you run the very real risk that your persona will recycle your misperceptions into a new template.
Q: In your book you mention that buyer personas work best for “medium- to high-consideration solutions.” Properly categorizing a given solution can present a challenge, since a high price tag doesn’t necessarily make something a high-consideration purchase and a low price tag doesn’t necessarily make something a low-consideration purchase. Context matters. Is there a clear way for business owners to categorize what types of solutions they offer, so they can adopt the appropriate research method?
AR: You’re right, people tend to equate price with consideration, but this is inaccurate. Instead, we want to think about how much time and energy our buyers invest in weighing their options and choosing the one they think is best.
A low consideration decision is one where buyers don’t spend any time at all evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches. In these types of purchases, buyers select the well-known brand, or they simply grab whatever is least expensive and easiest to find.
With medium to high consideration decisions, buyers will spend days, weeks, months, sometimes years, thinking about their requirements and researching alternative options.
The reason this is an important distinction for buyer personas is that buyers who have recently spent considerable time in an extended evaluation can tell us what mattered to them as they went through the phases of identifying a need, assessing the merits of various options, and choosing one. It’s easy to see that someone who doesn’t give a decision much thought can’t tell us anything that wasn’t obvious.
Q: How can a small business owner with a limited budget use buyer persona techniques and methodology to his or her advantage?
AR: The key is to interview people who have recently been through the buying experience and ask them to tell you about their experiences. This can’t be accomplished with a survey or focus group, and the company’s best customers are not good candidates for these interviews. These interviews require a specialized, unscripted conversation and the best insights come from buyers who chose a competitor.
There is a lot to learn about how to find the right people to interview. Then we need to know how to encourage them to tell their stories. And since there is no script for the interview, there is a lot to learn about how to get buyers to open up and reveal the details we need for the buyer persona.
I wrote the book to explain every step of this process, including a simple way to mine the interviews for insights. In the final part of the book I explain how to use buyer persona insights to build effective sales and marketing strategies.
Q: At the end of your book you recommend that professionals “start small, with an eye to the future” in their implementation of buyer persona methodology. Where do you recommend a small business with a limited budget begin?
AR: People often think they need to build personas based on an endless variety of attributes assigned to the people in their target markets. Even in large companies, this thinking leads to too many personas and not nearly enough useful insight.
Regardless of the size of the company, I recommend focusing on a buying decision that is strategically important and where there isn’t a clear path to becoming the supplier of choice. If importance is high and current circumstances are unacceptable, the company has the motivation to invest in gaining new insight into the buyers’ perspective. Even more critically, internal stakeholders will be motivated to rely on the buyer persona for guidance on how to succeed.
It’s vital to remember that this isn’t an exercise in assigning names and photos to people in different market segments. Buyer personas are only valuable when they reveal new insight into what a company needs to do to engage buyers and win their business.
BUYER PERSONAS: How to Gain Insight into your Customer’s Expectations,
Align your Marketing Strategies, and Win More Business
By Adele Revella
240 pp. Wiley. $25.