Real Time Buyer Engagement: There’s Nothing Automatic About Automation

Are you really ready to engage buyers in real time? Don’t get me wrong – I’m extremely excited about the benefits of marketing to buyers at precisely the time and place where they are ready to listen to us. Sometimes I even imagine the possibility of solving John Wanamaker’s century-old question about which half of his advertising budget was wasted.

But then I see how many companies are underestimating the changes that these initiatives require, and I realize how easily this could all backfire. Forget about new technologies for a moment. Let’s talk about some of the marketing practices and organizational issues that need to be addressed if we’re going to make any of this work.

She Had So Many Personas, She Didn’t Know What To Do

Like the children’s nursery rhyme about an old woman who lived in a shoe, marketers are becoming overwhelmed with the care and feeding of too many buyer personas. While we turn to technology to simplify engagement, our need to empathize with customers often results in attempts to profile each type of buyer’s goals, concerns, values and interests.

Unfortunately, this wide net approach to personas results in far too many spurious data points and not nearly enough actionable insight. Marketers are assigning pictures and names to mountains of marginally relevant information. Everyone feels good about completing the task, but then … nothing! There’s little to tell us how to improve the buying experience for prospective customers.

For example, if you’re a B2C marketer of cosmetics or exercise equipment, it may be helpful to know your buyer’s age, income and daily routine, but this same information is of dubious value for a B2B marketer who wants to persuade CFOs that their company’s compliance practices need to be revisited. Marketers of products purchased in the grocery checkout lane benefit from psychographics about which buyers’ are most impulsive, but do we really need a buyer persona to tell us that the CFO is risk adverse?

Concentrate On What Matters: The Buying Decision

The most useful way to know what’s important is to start by profiling the buying decision you want to influence, and then describe the people involved in that decision. The CFO who has a compliance problem, may be a woman who buys exercise equipment and age-defying moisturizers – but it’s easy to see that she approaches compliance and cosmetics with different concerns, goals and buying criteria.

Consider the value of basing your buyer personas on insights into your buyers’ decisions:

  • Priority Initiative: What triggers your buyer to start shopping for a solution like yours?
  • Success Factors: How does your buyer describe the ideal outcome of this purchase?
  • Perceived Barriers: What attitudes or facts will prevent your persona from buying a product like this, and why would they choose to spend their money elsewhere?
  • Decision Criteria: Which attributes of your product, service or company does your buyer pay attention to while they are considering their options?
  • Buyer’s Journey: What resources does your buyer trust and who is influential as your buyer makes a decision?

Armed with these insights for each type of buyer you are profiling, you can build your personas based on meaningful differences in whatever affects the choice of a solution like yours. You will have a persona for each of the ways you need to go to market, and that’s the right amount.

The Path Is There, But Anticipate Roadblocks

The best reason for defining buyer personas based on buying insights is that we have clear guidance for the strategies and tactics that will influence buying behavior. Unfortunately, this generally requires changes in targeting or positioning strategies. And that’s rarely easy.

Small company marketers may encounter entrepreneurs who are committed to their own vision. In larger companies, it’s often difficult to persuade other marketing teams and stakeholders to align around any new approach.

Yet without organizational commitment, buyer personas and marketing automation investments produce minimal results. It’s frustrating to watch companies merely shuffle their old content and messages into new formats or channels when we know exactly what motivates buyers to take action.

A recent Gartner study put a number on the problem by revealing that B2B buyers interact with vendor-supplied content and sales people for only 32% of their journey. While we don’t have comparative data from prior years, it’s clear that buyers are increasingly turning to their peers for the input that determines their purchase preferences.

This trend is worrisome, but looking at the state of most marketing content, it’s hard to argue with the buyer’s behavior. Today’s self-educated buyers typically start their journey with their own opinions about what they want to achieve. The last thing buyers want is a sales pitch. They are seeking concise answers to the questions that will give them confidence in the choice they are making, and that information isn’t easy to get from vendors.

Technology – Will It Be Your Friend Or Foe?

Yes, technology is providing a steady stream of new customer data and enabling sophisticated personalization for content delivery. So now we have the means to be useful to prospective customers – or to accelerate the rate at which buyers ignore everything we have to say.

As we build budgets for buyer personas, journey maps and fantastic new technology solutions, it’s critical to consider that the most important criterion of success is the will to collect relevant buying insights and adjust your strategies accordingly.

Remember when it was common to hear “caveat emptor” (let the buyer beware)? It’s our turn in the hot seat now and its “caveat venditor” (yes, that means us).