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Buyer Research: 5 Easy Steps to Understand the Buyer

The buyer-centric company puts the buyer at the center of everything it does. While understanding the buyer can make just about everything a company does better, buyer research usually has the biggest impact on sales and marketing. A deep understanding of the buyer can and should be the foundation of the sales and marketing team’s process, key activities, organization, metrics, content, communications, and technology. It’s a simple, but powerful strategy that can transform a company’s ability to achieve its revenue objectives.

That’s because buyer research that helps companies understand who the buyer is, what they want, and how they make decisions has the potential to improve a variety of metrics in the revenue chain. Some of these metrics include improved conversion rates, shorter sales cycles, and larger average order sizes.

While the business impact of buyer research can be profound, very few companies do an effective job of understanding the buyer. Most organizations believe that gathering insights about the buyer is an expensive, time-consuming effort that tends to yield low quality results. Buyer research doesn’t have to be this way though. In fact, there are five simple steps that marketing and sales can take to quickly understand the buyer.

1. Conduct buyer research

Gather insights on the buyer via conversations with existing customers, prospective buyers, and experience salespeople. Focus on a small number of high quality conversations (5 to 10 will suffice), as opposed to a large number of surveys. For more information on how to do this, see our recent post Lean Market Research: How to Use Lean Research to Understand the Customer.

Key areas to drill into include: buyer demographics; the buyer’s role; buyer psychology; a day in the life of the buyer; and how purchasing decisions are made.

Google Consumer Survey

A Google Tracking Survey

When it comes to gathering intelligence on the buyer, there are a handful of high value information sources available:

  • Existing customers are a great information source for developing personas and mapping the buyer journey. Because they are already customers, these people are generally very forthcoming with information. Be sure to gather information from happy and unhappy customers.
  • Prospects are a valuable source of information, particularly prospects that are nearing the end of a purchasing cycle. They will be able to provide deep visibility into the entire buying process. Like customers, try to collect information from both satisfied and unsatisfied prospects.
  • Salespeople are also a great source of information. While they have their own set of motives, good salespeople speak to a lot of prospect and customers every week. They also witness firsthand which buyer interactions work and which ones don’t.

Regardless of the source, buyer research should focus on a small number of high quality conversations, as opposed to a large number of surveys. Five to ten in depth discussions with customers and prospects are a good place to start. Plan to spend 30 to 60 minutes asking questions about the buyer and how they make decisions. Focus on having a conversation, ask a lot of “why” questions, and look for the good, bad, and the ugly.

2. Hold a buyer workshop

Once you have collected a sufficient amount of buyer research, hold a “Buyer Workshop”. Both sales and marketing should participate. The objective of the workshop is to create rough drafts of the buyer persona and process map (see below). Workshops can last anywhere from a half day to two days depending on the number personas and the amount of discussion about collected data.

In addition to creating these two documents, there are two areas to pay close attention to when conducting a buyer workshop. First, the documents must accurately reflect who the buyer is and how they make decisions. Candor, even if it exposes weaknesses or bad news, is good. Second, workshop participants should spend time discussing how they will operationalize the information contained in the personas and maps. For example, marketing may be required to create new content based on a new insight into how buyers make decisions.

3. Create the buyer persona

The buyer persona is the most powerful tool for an inside sales team to understand the true nature of the buyer you are targeting. It should convey much of the information collected and synthesized during the research and workshop phases. A good persona focuses on key buyer behaviors, buyer wants and needs, as well as how the buyer makes purchasing decisions. Personas should include information about:

  • Who the buyer is from a demographic perspective.
  • The role that the buyer plays in the organization.
  • What the buyer’s objectives, priorities, and challenges are.
  • What a day in the life of the buyer looks like.
  • How the buyer makes purchasing decisions.

It’s critical that personas convey who the buyer is on a deeply personal level so that sales and marketing can truly understand who the buyer is. To achieve this, buyer personas should include personal touches such as photos and quotes.

4. Create the buying process map

The buying process map conveys exactly how prospective customers purchase products or services in your market. It should include data on the buyer’s objectives for each phase in the purchasing process, the key activities that the buyer engages in, the information and content they consume, and how they communicate during the process. For example, many purchasing decisions consist of three high level stages:

  • The awareness stage when buyers determine whether they face a challenge or opportunity that requires them to make a purchasing decision
  • The consideration stage which typically focuses on comparing products and services from different vendors.
  • The purchase stage when buyers engage in the selection of a product or service.

For each of these stages, it’s essential to understand and map what the buyer’s objectives are, the core set of activities they engage in, what information they consume, and the modes of communication the buyer will use to access this information.

5. Operationalize and train

Buyer research and tools aren’t worth much in a vacuum. It’s important to use the buyer persona and process map as a way to transform the entire sales and marketing organization into one that revolves around the buyer. Remember to use buyer research to inform the following areas:

  • Process – The entire marketing and sales process should be designed and managed according to buyer personas and process maps. Key activities, content, and communications all benefit from buyer research.
  • People/Organization – Marketing and sales should be organized according to buyer persona and process maps. For example, some buyers prefer to work with “farmers” as opposed to “hunters” when it comes to interacting with sales people.
  • Content – Many organizations use content as a blunt instrument, but different types of buyers prefer different types of content. Creating content packages that are specific to buyer personas is a powerful tool.
  • Communications – Buyers prefer to consume content and information in very specific ways these days. Understanding communications preferences by buyer persona can greatly improve conversion rates.
  • Metrics – Marketing and sales should create and track metrics by persona. While this can present reporting challenges for some organizations, understanding key metrics for different personas is incredibly valuable.
  • Training – Training is an essential component of an effective organization. Most training programs focus on product and process training when they should in fact focus on the buyer.

Finally, creating a sales and marketing organization that is buyer-centric is an ongoing process. It’s imperative that sales and marketing focus on buyer-centricity in all of its day-to-day activities. Ongoing training via weekly or monthly meetings is an effective technique to ensure that sales and marketing is putting the buyer research to use. One final point: buyers and markets change so make sure that sales and marketing management should revisit buyer research and tools quarterly.

What are the most effective techniques you use to understand the buyer? Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments below.

About the author:  Scott Albro is the CEO and founder of TOPO. TOPO is a research, advisory, and consulting firm that believes in a really simple, but powerful idea – that all revenue can be distilled down to a series of conversions. By connecting everything we do back to this core idea, we help sales and marketing organizations exceed their revenue targets. You can connect with Scott on Twitter.

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