Friday, July 31, 2009

When Challenged Use the Chicken Argument!

Today's topic is not a new one. I decided to write a few words about it, because I still face this issue from time to time. It is about speaking the right language, knowing your customers and knowing who is on the other side, when you are trying to get the message across. The problem was extensively studied by several authors Adele Revella, David Meerman Scott, Steve Johnson and others.

So, what is it all about? Years ago, when I started my work as a product manager, whenever somebody asked me if I can create a presentation of a product, I immediately knew what to do. My presentation was done in a very short time; it required no particular input from colleagues or customers (I knew it all, I was a product manager!) and it spoke a magnificent persuasive language.

Which language?

My language.

There was a problem with that. The customers were not product managers. They saw the product through their eyes. They were expecting answers to their problems, not an expose of my beautiful achievement. The message did not get to them, because there was no message for them.

I figured it out, eventually. In order to be listened to, I needed to convey the value of the product from the customer's perspective. Although there was a single product, there were as many perspectives as there were distinctive market segments. I needed a customized presentation for each market segment.

Since then whenever somebody asks me to prepare a presentation of a product, I immediately ask back "Who will be listening?" In some cases I still get a strange look questioning me "am I trying to avoid the task by asking annoying questions?" In these cases I need a simple persuasive argument to explain why knowing a listener is so important. Here is what I am using. You can try it too.

"Let us say you would like to present the value of corn to a farmer. How would you do it?

Further on, how would you present the value of corn to a cook?

Would you be more persuasive with two presentations or just one for both of them?

If you still think that corn is corn and there is no reason to present it differently to a cook as you would present it to a farmer, try this one -

- How would you present the value of corn to a chicken?"

Long pause.

"Are you kidding me?! You need a break - soon. Here is your customer profile."


Monday, July 20, 2009

How I Fought 12 Buyer Personas and Survived

Bottom Up Approach to Market Segmentation Using Buyer Personas

My latest post on buyer personas caused quite a strong response from you - the readers. I guess this is a hot topic and a lot of you are involved daily in tasks which require some kind of market understanding. Buyer personas help us understand how our market is segmented and what kind of distinctive problems do buyers from different segments have.

If you want to have a good understanding of the market, the number of personas has to be just right. Have too much personas and you will not see a thing (a pattern) about the market. Have too little personas and your communication will be too general and nobody will listen to it.

When first managing a project involving buyer personas I had two questions in my mind: How do I know which is the right number of personas for my market? Is there a methodology which would lead me to a good number of personas?

I discovered that in my case buyer persona identification is a two dimensional problem. The first dimension is represented by the industries that we want to address and the second dimension is represented by the business roles that buyers have inside industries.

In my case there were four industries and three business roles. Three business roles are quite common, if you are working in B2B market. Usually you need to convey value to three distinctive roles in an organization: commercial buyer, technical buyer and user.

I did a simple sketch, showing my personas in a grid.

A quick look at the grid and a simple math told me I am facing a huge task, if I would really need to create and maintain 12 buyer personas.

With confidence that there must be something along the way to help me overcome this number, I started with buyer persona profiling project.

Luckily, I found out through the process that there are some persona profiles which should be merged, because they represented buyers with equal problems and they also spoke practically the same language. It turned out that technical buyers from all four industries could be effectively represented with a single buyer persona and also that end users from the first three industries had a single persona. I updated my grid immediately like this.

In this stage I had 7 buyer personas. Therefore, I managed to cut initial number almost in half without losing the specificity given our market structure.

During this process, it was also decided that we were going to address industry D through industry C, which removed additional two buyer personas, so I was left with a manageable size of 5 buyer personas.

In conclusion let me answer my initial two questions in short. Start a buyer persona identification process so that each industry and each business role from that industry is represented with an unique buyer persona. Look for similar profiles and merge them. Stop when you cannot find any more profiles to merge without introducing impurity in descriptions of their problems or solutions to their problems.

This method worked well for me, I hope you will find it useful too.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Buyer Personas and a Practical Dilemma

I got the opportunity to devise a new marketing strategy for my current employer, which is great, by the way! We decided to use buyer personas to gain insight into our target markets. The concept really works well in practice. It gets people, who are involved in marketing process, thinking and focused on real issues t.i. understanding the customer and his problems. Another good thing is that it provides a method, which is usually missing in marketing. Marketing is too many times perceived as a tactical process, although it should be exactly the opposite. Marketing should result in a deep intelligence about the customer and should provide a strategy for sales process.

One of the things you could use buyer personas for, is design a product's web site. This approach would give you a quite unique web site. The content would be mostly focused on customers, understanding their problems and presenting solutions for their problems, which you would hopefully have. Looking at your competitors' web sites, you would notice that they are quite different. They would focus on presenting their company, their products and solutions and they would talk very little about customers. This is at least true in our case.

And now the dilemma ...

What do your customers really want? How would they be satisfied? By finding what they expect to find on a product page, because the industry has trained them for years to sift through lists of products, features and system schemes or do they want to recognize their story on the vendor's page and look for answers to their problems there. In other words, while it is clear that the right, properly targeted content answers the questions more quickly for the customer, he may be more satisfied with the conventional way of presentation of products and he may find searching for a solution as an essential part of his buying process. And to make things even more complicated, this preference may change over time as more and more vendors use customer based presentations on their web sites.

What we will do? I do not know at the moment, but you are welcome to check out in the near future. Feel free to comment this post, I am very interested in your opinion.