A quick, easy way to gather info for buyer personas

For the last few weeks I've been helping a client conduct their win/loss calls, listening to recent buyers talk about how they made the decision both for and against my client's solution. Once again, I was amazed at the useful, surprising information we uncovered, and reminded that buyers actually want to share their experiences.

I thought I might inspire some of you to conduct your own win/loss interviews if I wrote about how this project went --how we set up appointments for the calls and what we learned from them.

Working with a list of recent wins and losses, I made a phone call and left this message --

"Hi (buyer's first name), this is Adele Revella, calling on behalf of (company). I'm hoping you will be willing to spend 15 minutes talking about your experience evaluating the (name) solution. No sales person will be on the call and this isn't a survey -- the company's product manager and I just want to listen to your candid feedback about what worked and what didn't as you went through the decision process. I realize that It may be easier for you to respond to a meeting request through email, so I'll send a follow-up message in a few minutes, or if you prefer you can reach me at (phone number)."

My tone of voice was important -- I'm very careful to avoid anything that sounds insincere or like I'm reading from a script. So please don't use my exact words, just get these basic ideas into your message.

When an assistant answered the phone (rarer all the time), I asked for his/her name, explained exactly why I was calling, and then used the assistant's name when I called back to see what the boss said.

After leaving the voice message I immediately sent an email with this subject "Voice message re the (company name) interview." The body of the email repeated the same info as the voice message, with a bit of detail about the people who would be participating from the client's side. I assured them once again that sales people would not be on the calls and provided times when we would be available.

Everyone who responded did so by email, but the phone call improved the probability that my email would be opened, especially since my email address was unfamiliar to them.

It was a bit easier to conduct win/loss calls when I did them alone in my role as a product marketer. I'd get the list of wins, losses, or inactive accounts and just try to catch people with a phone call. Many times I'd find that people were willing to talk to me at that moment, and if not, they almost always agreed to set up a specific time within the next few days. It was rare that anyone would say "no" to my request.

With this project I wanted to make an appointment so that my client could sit in on the call. You might want to do the same thing -- its always helpful to have two people listening, taking notes and thinking about how the client's responses create new opportunities for investigation.

We quickly secured interview appointments with several of the targets -- 5 of the 16 people met with us within 4 business days of the first call. Even though I initially requested 15 minutes, the shortest call lasted about 20. In most instances I would have had to rudely interrupt to end the call after half an hour. One buyer talked for so long that we had to apologize for ending the interview.

What did we learn? The details are confidential, of course. My client will use the insight to win more business for a solution that has lots of competitors. But I can tell you about the type of information we obtained:

  • We know how the buyers we interviewed went looking for this type of solution and which factors had the most impact on their purchase decision (affects messaging and investment in marketing tactics)
  • We learned that the buyers who are interacting with the company's sales people are not driving the deals -- that they are really a proxy for another buyer persona the sales team never meets (need messages, tools and programs targeted to the other decision-maker)
  • We learned which information on the website was helpful to buyers (specific input about how to improve the conversion rate on the site)
  • We learned that the demo experience had the biggest impact on the buying decision, and that this is the weakest part of the company's sales process (improve the demo and sales training)
  • We learned that salespeople were not consistently communicating product capabilities that could have altered the outcome of a few of the deals (improve specific sales tools and training)

People frequently ask me if they should outsource their win/loss analysis to third parties. I tell them that this activity is too valuable to leave to others, and at a minimum they need to participate in the calls. Although I analyzed the results of this project and submitted a report, nothing compares to the value my client got through participation in the dialogue with a real buyer.

Another reason to do interviews internally -- win/loss should be qualitative (not quantitative) research, with a few topics outlined in advance but the actual questions guided by the buyer's responses. As a third party I never have enough intimacy with the product and company strategy to catch something surprising and pursue it fully. Towards the end of every call I asked my client to pose any questions that I should have asked. Without their involvement, I would have missed an important insight.

The best part of this recent project is that my client really "got" how easy it is to ask buyers to supply the useful information they need to win their business. I'm hoping that this short project hooked them on a business practice that will always be near the top of their priorities.

Topics: B2B, buyer persona, Buyer Personas, Buying Criteria, Market Research, market research, win loss

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