Three years ago, I bought a new car. At exactly the three-year mark, the dealer started a campaign to get me to churn and buy a new car, using the old “We have a high demand for your model, come in for an estimate” pitch. This must be a standard tactic; our other car is from a different company, and they do the same thing at the three-year mark.
I told the rep that I was the buy-and-hold persona and that I keep my cars for 10+ years. This broke their brains. Seems they don’t have an offer for a person like me. After five straight months of calls and regular postcards in the mail with the exact same pitch, I asked them to make a note in my account to stop calling.
They could not or would not stop calling. I told them that if they called me again, I would never step foot in their dealership and would tell everyone I could about my bad experience even though I was happy with the product. The ongoing experience was so highly annoying that it ruined our relationship and destroyed any trust I had in them.
Guess what? They called again the next month. I told them they would never see me again. The manager then called and offered a $50-off coupon for my next service. I reiterated what I had said and told them I would never be back. They said they would remove my name from the CRM and not call again.
The next month they called again, and to this day they still send me the postcards. Would you treat someone that way face-to-face? Would you ask a prospect, much less a customer, the same question five times in a row hoping to get a different answer? How hard would it have been to create a different offer for me? A concierge service for people who want to keep cars for a long time? An expert in car maintenance who could serve as a personal advisor? Anything! But they could not even think in these terms.
So I switched dealers for my service, and while waiting for my car, someone walks up to me and says “We have a high demand for your model. Would you like to get an estimate for trade-in value?” I said no and told them that I keep my cars for a long time. They thanked me and walked away. What a wasted opportunity. I was a captive audience, and there was no interest shown in understanding me, my goals for the car, my future plans. All they have is a script. Completely impersonal.
What does this story have to do with manufacturers?
A lot, it turns out. Most industrial companies act in exactly the same way. They view their buyers as one undefined market, with only one pathway to buying. Few customize the buying process and match the buyer’s journey to the ideal target persona. I am confident that most manufacturing companies do not even know who their ideal buyer persona is, or why they buy.
What Is a Buying Persona?
An ideal buyer persona is a documented representation of the person whom your organization helps the most. A persona embodies a person — not a large, amorphous, demographic-driven market segment. Initial persona assumptions are supported by user data that confirms behavior and creates a complete a view of the ideal customer and how you help them achieve their strategic goals.
“Helping is the essence of the “they ask, you answer” idea. We don’t base our decisions on competitors. We don’t base our decisions on bad fits that aren’t ideal customers or clients anyway. We base our decisions on prospects that are a good fit for our business. If that is whom we’re focused on, then it gives us the ability to communicate however we want and be totally honest and be totally real. We don’t have to fluff it; we don’t have to do any of that stuff. We can be straightforward with the information and give it to people directly. That wins us trust, and ultimately trust is what drives revenue.”
– Marcus Sheridan
An inbound organization focuses a lot of energy and time on personas because these allow the company to understand the buyer on an emotional level. When built correctly, a persona goes beyond descriptive information and includes valuable buying insight — the buyer’s words and ideas, heard directly from them, speaking directly to how, when, and why they buy. The persona illuminates the things that trigger an investment, identifies potential objections, and shows what strategic outcomes the buyer expects from the purchase.
The more effectively you target your ideal buyer persona and their unique problems and goals, the more successful you’re likely to be. The more specific your niche, the easier it will be to talk directly to the people who make up that niche.
How Do You Build a Buying Persona?
Talk to your prospects and customers about the buying process from their point of view. Sounds simple, but I am still surprised by how few manufacturing companies actually do this step. You need to gain insights into what they consider a great buying experience, not what your salespeople say it is.
Do not script a series of questions or send it to the person in advance. Just ask a simple starting question like, “Take me back to when you first decided you had a problem. What was going on then?” Then let them talk. Ask them questions about the process, how they started, where they looked for information, the sources they trusted, how they evaluated options, and who was involved in making the final decision. And most importantly, listen without bias. We conduct a lot of these types of interviews for clients, and oftentimes a third party elicits more insight than an employee — the customer may have a relationship with that person, whereas a third party is viewed as being more removed from the process.
Once you understand the how, when, and why of your buyer’s decision to purchase, you should analyze other key areas, such as:
- Who are the most profitable customers?
- Who buys more on an ongoing basis, and why?
- Who has the lowest cost of customer acquisition, who has the highest, and why?
- Who engages with your marketing content, and where are these people most active in the buying journey?
- Who is the easiest to service, and who is the hardest?
- Who left your company and went to a competitor, and why?
Once you have talked to customers and analyzed their engagement with your company, you can create a document that outlines key insights into this ideal buyer persona.
What Do You Do With the Buyer Persona?
The persona serves as the guide for your team, allowing them to solve for the customer at every stage. The persona guides marketing, sales, and service departments every day. And at a higher level, the persona serves as the target of an organization’s overall mission — why a company exists in the first place. Manufacturing companies don’t exist to make things; they exist to solve a problem for the ideal buyer, to help them achieve their strategic goals.
As described in the new book, “Inbound Organization”:
“An organization’s relationships and customer experience will increasingly determine the winners and losers in a market. Organizations that best personalize interactions and match the expectations of the customer starting with the buying journey and through the entire lifecycle will win.”
Helping is the core belief of inbound. Put the buyer first — along with all of their issues, goals, outcomes, and processes — and deliver value every step of the way, and you’ll earn the right to talk about selling or buying your solution. You have to understand the ideal buyer persona to be able to do this.
To solve your persona’s problems, you must answer their questions. This is the root of great content. And great content will bring people to you, allowing you to assist them throughout the buying journey. Educating puts the persona first, whereas telling, selling, and pitching are all about you first.
In the end, education is the goal. If you do your job educating, then buyers will choose you because you have shown them the way to reach their strategic goals and solve their key problems. To educate, you must know who your buyers are. Otherwise, you have no choice but to push products and hope that the buyer is a good fit. And hope is not a sound strategy for growing your manufacturing business.
Todd's next article in this series will key outline strategies to employ for attracting buyers and further growing your business.
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