A Story About a Boat Explains Why Buyer Persona Insights Aren’t Obvious

meme3“I have an appointment with a sales person tomorrow.” We were having a leisurely breakfast at our favorite café, and yet my husband’s tone was tortured, almost as if the subject was an upcoming root canal. “I can’t help it,” he said dismally. “I’ve gone as far as I can without talking to their sales guy.”

On our ride home, I realized that the buyers we interview for our mostly B2B persona studies have similar thoughts about their buying experiences. Although most of our clients sell technology or other business solutions, their buyers also avoid vendor interactions, especially with sales, for as long as possible. And like us, most have eliminated all but a few options by the time our clients know they’re looking.

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This is just one of the reasons I cringe every time I read an article advising marketers to build buyer personas by interviewing their sales people or tracking the buyer’s digital footprint.  There are dozens of boats we could consider, but only one or two companies knows we were shopping for a boat like theirs. As we often discover during our B2B interviews, we didn’t complete forms on any websites or conduct a Google search, so there is no digital footprint for marketers to follow.

What else is similar? Since this is the first time we’ll buy this type of boat and we’ll have to live with the consequences for a long time, we don’t want to make a mistake. So, for the last few weeks, we’ve talked to as many locals and “friends of friends” as possible to learn from their experiences. We’ve listened intently, making note of which brands they purchased and why.

Taking their advice, we went to the websites for the boats they suggested, searching for details about the dozens of criteria we’ve established. Most websites didn’t provide the information we were seeking, so we checked those off our list. On YouTube we found one very helpful video from a guy who owns one of the boats we were considering, which moved it up in our rankings.

Every day I read articles advising marketers to focus on demographics such as age, gender or “a day-in-the-life” when they build their personas. But much younger friends recommended the boat we’ll buy and their daily lives don’t resemble ours in the least. What we have in common are the ways we’ll use this boat, which is why our concerns and questions are essentially the same.

If anyone wanted to understand my boat buyer persona, they’d need to interview me about my buying experience. Just knowing that I talked to my peers or visited websites is of little help, they need to know what information I was seeking and which answers allowed my husband and I to trust in our decision.

As my husband said this morning, we’ve “gone as far as we can” in our buyer’s journey without talking to a sales person. We’ve narrowed our options to three, and now my husband will meet with the rep for the one that looks best. I hope the salesperson is smart enough about our buyer persona to answer his questions.

Price matters, but we’re not considering the least expensive option and will pay a premium for this boat if it does check all the boxes. This won’t prevent my husband from negotiating for a good price though.

I can imagine the day that company’s marketers ask this rep to describe our buyer persona. He’ll undoubtedly describe our age, marital status, and concerns about price. Like most personas developed without buyer interviews, this won’t improve the company’s marketing effort and might even make it worse.

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Topics: B2B, Buyer Personas


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