The Problem With Buyer Persona Survey Questions

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I’m always reading what other people have to say about buyer personas, looking for new ideas and successful outcomes, but I keep coming across marketers making the same tremendous mistakes again and again: trying to find insight where there is none.

An insight, by definition, is something you don’t already know. The goal for buyer personas is to understand everything about your buyer's expectations of you, which always includes something you don’t know. So when I see people recommending that marketers use surveys to gather the data that comprises their buyer personas, my hackles rise.

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By definition, it’s impossible to gain insights (genuinely new knowledge) from a survey. Because responses that you have not anticipated cannot be among the options, there is simply no chance to gain new insights from surveys.

Don't get me wrong, surveys do have value. They help you understand how relatively large numbers of people respond to the ideas and options that you've already identified.

But it’s only through conversation, through listening to responses and improvising new questions as the conversation progresses, that you can ferret out true insight.

Surveys don’t give marketers a chance to pursue that process, and buyer personas built on surveys won’t bring any new insights to the table.

Even worse are marketers who build buyer personas from information provided by their marketing information solutions. In these cases, there is absolutely no real input from buyers about why they make decisions. It’s just an echo chamber where the same theses are endlessly repeated.

Sure, surveys and internal resources bring you plenty of data, but lots of data isn’t necessarily a solution. There was a fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal recently that showed the vulnerability of data without insight.

The writers created a hindsight-powered investment portfolio, essentially choosing stocks based on their performance over the last ten years. The portfolio delivered a staggering 12% yearly return, well ahead of the market as a whole. Then they went through the stocks and tried to find a common factor between them.

That factor? The ticker symbols for these highly profitable stocks contained the letters found in the words “Republican” and “Democrat.” Planning a stock strategy based on something like that would be sheer madness, obviously. Just because there’s correlation doesn’t mean there’s causation. But when you follow data over insight, that’s exactly what you get..

There is only one true way to craft a buyer persona that delivers powerful, actionable insights. It’s through interviews with actual buyers that reveal the 5 Rings of Buying Insight that we get solid, actionable personas..

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Topics: Buyer Persona Surveys

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