Building actionable buyer personas is an essential first step in creating effective marketing and sales strategy. Without knowing your audience, both your content and sales efforts are irrelevant.
- Using CRM data to build in-depth personas
- Testing and iterating on your ideal customer profiles
- Creating effective content for every stage of the buyer journey
- And, how to get started with content creation
What percentage of the buyer personas that LeadGenius creates are for SaaS companies versus other industries?
Ryan Williams: LeadGenius works with companies across all industries. Regardless of your vertical, the buyer persona creation process is the same.
As we mentioned earlier, LeadGenius’ points of contact roughly breakdown into thirds. One third of our clients are sales leaders, one third are in marketing, one third are founders and CEOs. Scattered across this breakdown are also data and operations specialists for each department.
You want to start by defining whom you’re speaking to. Then, articulating the problem your product is going to solve, then start the conversation.
Before you sit down with your team and create four or five personas, talk directly with your customers. If you’re not talking to customers yourself, then engage with somebody on your sales team, customer success team, or support team that is having those conversations on the front lines.
Ask your team,
- What are your conversations with customers like?
- What questions are they asking on calls?
- Who is actually making the buying decisions?
- What traits do successful clients have compared to those that churn?
You want to bring everyone into the conversation to build high quality buyer personas.
It’s great to include well defined problems in your buyer personas, but how do you determine what those problems are? Is it based on what content they look at, or are you asking for more direct questions?
Ryan Williams: I fall on the side of asking direct questions.
If you have a support line, your marketing and sales personnel should listen in on those calls to hear what customers are asking about. Helpful calls can be archived and tagged with a service like Nextiva for listening on demand.
How often should you refresh your buyer personas? How often do you refresh your buyer personas at LeadGenius?
Ryan Williams: With startups, the product vision and positioning evolves over time. Buyer personas should be refreshed on that same schedule. The same is true for more established companies.
At LeadGenius, as soon as there’s a new release coming up on the product roadmap, we start talking to customers. As we start doing demos for that new product release (both before and after the official release), that’s typically the point when we refresh those buyer personas as well.
As a rule of thumb, a small, scrappy company that is trying to keep up with the market should evolve their buyer personas every quarter. A more mature company that has a stable product offering may only need to do it every six months or so. Depending on what the future is for your product, it could be less frequently, like a year or two or even multiple years for a company that’s really mature and has been in the same market for a long time.
Another good time to refresh your personas is when your product “branches.” An easy way to spot that as a marketer is when you see your sales leader segment their team to address separate market tiers.
For example, a sales leader may choose to divide her organization into an SMB team, a mid-market sales team or an enterprise team. That’s when it’s time to ask “How should my buyer persona for people in the SMB market differ from those in mid-market versus enterprise? What are the different pain points I can speak to?”
Where do you start your research to confirm your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP)? What do you recommend your clients do when they’re first starting to dive into the data in their CRM? Are there ways besides looking at your CRM to start ICP research?
Ryan Williams: In many ways, ICP research is like anything else in business. Early on, when you start a company or launch a product, you begin with some educated assumptions.
At LeadGenius, we don’t often have companies come to us before their initial product is built or service is launched, because it’s essential to have those stakes in the ground before starting lead generation or launching an outbound program.
But, if you’re not yet at that point and you’re still doing initial ICP research, it’s helpful to start by visualizing a dartboard. As your product or company begins to get traction, certain qualities will emerge that are shared by your best potential customers. Move those qualities into the center of the circle. Once you identify a handful of these qualities, a rough sketch of your ICP emerges. Now, it’s time to take this customer profile to the next level with testing to hone in on the buying characteristics that matter most.
For example, if I know that an SMB accounting firm is going to need my product, and that’s my ideal customer (or, my ideal customer starts to look like that through trial and error) then I need to next say “Okay, what problem is my business solving, and who is the decision-maker for that? Is that going to be signed off by the CEO because it’s a small firm? Is it a partner committee decision?” You can start to think about buyer personas that way.
It’s important to remember that ideal customer profiles are never static. They evolve. At LeadGenius, we test assumptions for our clients by generating prospect data on a large scale.
Say you reach out to 10 people that fit your initial ideal customer profile via email. One responds “Hey, this is awesome!” Another responds, “This is horrible. Take me off your list.” And, 8 of the people do not respond at all. This is actually a very successful campaign. You got a 20% response rate with 10% positive responses.
However, any data-driven marketer will tell you this experiment does not have enough data to make decisions around. The sample size is too small. When marketers come to us to test an ICP, they want to test 1,000 or 10,000 leads a month, depending on industry or a particular market tier. So, that’s what we do at LeadGenius. We help marketers test their content at scale by supplying them with a list of folks they can email with targeted content. This enables marketing teams to not only add more people to the top of their funnel, but also continually refine and drill-down into their most profitable audience segments.
LeadGenius does the same thing for sales teams: find highly targeted leads for use in cold outreach. We then consult with the client to refine and iterate based on results.
Does LeadGenius offer a quote or sample data before starting with a new client?
Ryan Williams: The process for LeadGenius starts with an initial conversation around what a potential client is looking for. We discuss how big your team is, what amount of new or enriched data you need in order to answer some of the initial ICP questions, what your plans are for testing new market segments, etc. We then create a sample ICP together and offer sample data to make sure we’re all on the same page.
I’m more than happy to admit that this is a sales strategy. The sample ICP process is our chance to impress you as a lead provider, and it’s also a chance for you to get to know us and understand the assumptions behind our data.
Can you share examples of collateral from the three different stages you mentioned?
Ryan Buckley: My sales reps are always looking for specific case studies — things that are specific to industries and specific to use cases.
We’re a writing company, so people will come to us and say “I want to know how other marketing SaaS companies have done really long-form, somewhat technical content. Do you have case studies? Do you have examples?”
We can use this late-stage content in place of a reference call. Reference calls don’t scale and they take forever. I’d rather not hand out phone numbers of our customers if we can just have some really nice, polished collateral that will put our prospective customers at ease. This is usually the last thing that they need before they sign a contract.
Eric MacColl: Middle-stage content might be something like a white paper. We’ve done white papers on things like, “The Ultimate Guide To Building A Content Team.” It takes a lot of investment from internal teams to create these, but it’s an asset that will live on your website for at least a year, if not longer. It’s something that will continue to drive leads.
Good early-stage content is evergreen — things that can always be searched and inform your customers. This includes blog posts and infographics. Good early-stage content is also shareable. You want you content to spread organically throughout your audience’s network.
Late-stage content talks directly about your product. Early-stage content should not. You want to help solve the audience’s problems, not talk about your solutions as much.
Are Buyer Personas only for B2B, or can they be applied to B2C as well?”
Ryan Williams: Most definitely. Buyer personas are something you have to create for either side of the market.
We spoke a lot about B2B examples, because the alliance between sales and marketing is most relevant on B2B side. But with any product, you want to understand your audience, and provide a solution that can speak to them. Creating buyer personas is fundamentally the same for B2B and B2C.
Does LeadGenius work with B2C companies?
Ryan Williams: We do work with B2C companies on occasion, but we specialize in B2B.
How you do present a solution without talking too much about your product?
Eric MacColl: Early on, you want to talk about the audience. Offer them solutions to their problems that don’t necessarily involve your product.
It’s in the later-stage when you want to talk more about your own product. When you’re thinking about acquiring new customers and new leads, you don’t want to make it too product-specific.
Ryan Williams: In LeadGenius’ case, it’s fortunate that we work with sales and marketers because we’re sales and marketing folks ourselves. We can start by sharing our own challenges and then move the conversation to how we solved them internally.
Ryan Buckely: The sooner you nail your buyer personas, the better. There is tremendous ROI in thinking it through, even if it turns out that you’re wrong about who those buyers are.
Just the process of doing it will yield dividends. Getting that structure and discipline early on with both sales and your marketing, and achieving alignment by focusing content around different stages and buyer personas is probably the single best leverage point that you can build between the sales and marketing organizations, even at the earliest stages.
What have you seen change in terms of your own targeting and buyer persona journey?
Ryan Williams: Our company actually has a real strong history. We started off focused on doing all types of outsourced projects, and that was when we started a little over two years ago. About a year and a half ago, we made a pivot to only focus on sales and marketing, because that’s where we saw the coolest projects coming in and the biggest opportunity for the software that we were building.
We do about 100 ICPs a month, and so we have a lot of data just in general around how people think about sales. We get asked to speak at conferences all the time, we get asked to do events like this all the time, because we’ve seen the inside of a lot of sales organizations. That knowledge helps us act as effective consultants for our clients as well as make actionable changes to our own buyer personas as the market moves.