When I hear about buyer personas built on input from the sales people, I think about all the times that I asked our reps why a customer chose us (or didn’t).
For deals we won, it was always some version of “I have a great relationship with the customer.” And when we lost, the story revolved around a competitor’s rep who had a prior relationship with the account, that our solution was too expensive, or because we were missing a key feature.
Go ask your reps. I bet you’ll get a similar response.
A recent LinkedIn discussion reminded me about a question-asking technique that was originally developed by Toyota. The methodology, now widely used in quality initiatives such as Six Sigma, is known as the “Five Why’s” because researchers determined that it took five tries to get to the root cause ... the real answer to their question.
Here’s an example from a Wikipedia article on the Five Why’s:
The vehicle will not start. (the problem)
- Why? - The battery is dead. (first why)
- Why? - The alternator is not functioning. (second why)
- Why? - The alternator belt has broken. (third why)
- Why? - The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not replaced. (fourth why)
- Why? - The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule. (fifth why, a root cause)
- Why? - Replacement parts are not available because of the extreme age of the vehicle. (sixth why, optional footnote)
You can see that the first answer was obvious and that the truly useful information only came after repeated questioning. This is one of the key reasons that surveys or structured interviews will confirm or invalidate existing assumptions but fail to reveal new insights.
Probing interviews require skill. Anyone would be incredibly annoyed by someone who, like a three-year-old child, responded to every answer by asking, “Why?”
And I’m not suggesting that you pursue this line of questioning with your sales people. The buyer hasn’t shared this level of detail with your rep and is unlikely to do so, especially when they didn’t choose you.
But if you ask the right way, buyers will open up to you, revealing facts they haven’t yet shared with anyone. When they give you information your competitors don’t know, your buyer insights are a source of competitive advantage. This is the real purpose (and value) of buyer personas.
I’m leading a deep-dive Buyer Persona Masterclass online workshop on May 10 for marketers who want to master these specialized buyer interviews. Workshop participants will learn unique approaches and practice the new skills in interactive role playing. We’re doing the class online, but trust me, this won’t be like any online workshop you’ve ever attended.
The key to buyer personas is to get beyond the obvious first answer about what matters to your buyers. Do you know the real reasons why your buyers choose you or your competitors, or decide to do nothing at all?
Enrollment is extremely limited. Register today to reserve your seat at my Buyer Persona Masterclass online workshop on May 10 from noon to 4 p.m. EDT.