Earlier this month, Ardath Ablee kindly agreed to participate in our our “best practices with the experts interview series”. Ardath Albee is CEO, Marketing Interactions, Inc. and an expert practitioner in developing buyer personas for sales enablement and marketing messaging.


Question 1. Do we really care about Buyer Persona’s in B2B selling?

Mark: Everyone creating content today talks about buyer personas. Do we really care in B2B selling? Isn’t it more about understanding the role and what buyers are trying to get done… would buyer profiles be a better name?

Ardath: If marketers and sales enablement professionals don’t care about buyer personas, they should.

The problem is that—just as there is crappy content—there are bad personas.

I recently saw personas that were based on a template. Only a few words here and there and the picture were changed amongst the three of them.

Agencies promoting and charging for this kind of work should be exposed, in my opinion. I’ve created more than 72 personas in the last few years and no two have ever been interchangeable.

If they are, you’ve got a problem.

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B2B buyer personas, done well, are truly about what you pose in your second question—they depict the role and objectives of a distinct segment of the target market involved in the buying decision.

Buyer personas should be created as a tool that informs content strategy and development and sales conversations, not as a check-the-box item to be filed away.

A buyer persona should contain the information and insights that helps companies engage buyers throughout the buying process—including once sales gets involved.

This information is critical to creating not just content that engages them and helps to prove your company’s credibility and expertise, but that helps motivate progression toward that decision. In other words, relevance and action are two key outcomes that buyer personas should drive.

Sales enablement is a big deal these days with buyers waiting till late in their buying cycle to engage with salespeople.

Marketers may be doing a better job of engaging them at the beginning of the buying process, but they’re still having difficulty keeping buyers engaged and creating momentum through the process. If they’re not working with sales reps to ensure that there’s a continuum to the story they’re telling when sales steps in, that momentum could be halted in its tracks.

The key to a platform such as WittyParrot is to not only allow salespeople easy access to relevant content

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instantly, but to help them understand what buyers have engaged with and how to use the content that marketing or sales enablement is creating for later stage sales conversations.

Making a hard switch from problem focused content to solution-focused content can disorient buyers and make them hesitate.

The transitions need to be smoother and products need to be incorporated into conversations in a natural way as they relate to helping buyers achieve objectives.

Another critical factor is to ensure the consistency of information and content distributed across channels as well as by salespeople.

Platforms such as WittyParrot are designed to instantly find the latest and relevant persona content based on the lifecycle stage in the buying process. 

Question 2. What are The Keys to Creating Engaging Content?

Mark: When you work with a client, what are the top 3 things they need to do to be successful in content for engaging prospects?

Ardath: Well, this is tougher to answer than you might think based on where a company is in its content marketing processes, but here are the three I see the most often:

First – as you might guess – buyer personas. I’m not quite sure how you create relevant sales enablement content and marketing programs if you don’t know what your buyers care about. Assumptions don’t count. Your buyers are nothing like you.

Second – positioning your story in relation to your buyers. What is the distinct value your company provides to each buyer persona? What does that roll up to collectively across the buying committee? How will you incorporate that message into your content strategy?

Third – Content strategy. The calls I get these days are the equivalent of “We bought into content marketing and we’re doing it, but the needle isn’t moving.” I’d suggest that the companies with this issue have embraced publishing, but not strategy. Without strategy, you have no plan for getting prospects to become buyers (or whatever the goal is).

3. Where do you draw the line on creating buyer profiles? 

Mark: Most salespeople never call on CXO’s, yet companies pay good money to create them, and also other obscure titles they never call on.

Ardath: This is a great question. And what I see often.

Most companies want to focus on a CXO, but the litmus test for marketing personas is whether or not the marketing team can reach, engage and influence them.

If not, then creating a persona for marketing programs is a waste of time, money and resources.

What is usually discovered – unless what you sell is highly strategic – is that someone on the CXO’s staff will be charged with research, evaluation and presenting a short list.

This is the persona that marketing needs to focus on – in addition to influencers, champions, validators, etc.

Here’s the caveat: Salespeople will likely need to engage with the CXO at some point.

And it’s marketing’s job to make sure they have the right information and content to engage at that level.

This is when creating a sales persona is advised.

This is a lighter weight persona focused only on the late stage of the buying process in relation to a CXO. And you need to work with salespeople as well as customers to create them.

Another litmus test is who is in the company’s database. If the contacts are not related to the persona, do they have a way and the resources to attract or develop those contacts? Building personas on a pipedream is not a wise investment.

Finally, the question that needs to be asked is; If we develop this persona, do you have the resources and budget to address the persona across the entirety of their buying process? Sometimes, the answer is no, or not until next year.

If so, then creating the persona now is a waste of time and money. By next year, the persona will be different.

Choose the personas you can attract, engage and influence.

Be aware of others and if resources permit, create content that can be passed along by the personas you can engage.

Remember that there’s always a conversation that you’re not involved in. Part of the challenge is to figure out how you can get your ideas into those conversations amongst the people on the buying committee that you can’t reach directly (or afford to market to continuously)

4. What Myth would you like to bust around Enterprise Content

Mark: What myth would you like to bust around creating enterprise content?

Ardath: For the last few years the rallying cry for content marketing was around the need for marketers to focus on becoming publishers. Unfortunately, publishing on its own will not deliver the performance goals enterprise marketers need to achieve. In other words, just publishing content won’t move the needle.

What many B2B marketers lack is a content strategy that turns content marketing into a performance practice not just a publishing task.

A content strategy is the key to:

  • Aligning content with buyer needs
  • Creating urgency that not only engages, but promotes buyers taking next steps
  • Delivering the right information based on the buyer’s place in the purchasing process
  • Getting marketers beyond regarding individual metrics (views and clicks) for one content asset as the ultimate achievement
  • Creating a continuum that moves buyers from beginning to end – including sales and support, across the customer lifecycle
  • Provides quantifiable proof of marketing’s contribution to revenues

There must be a “method to the madness” or marketers are just filling the rapidly shrinking void with more noise. It’s one thing to publish content that garners the attention of your target audience.

It’s another thing to actually get them to buy.

Without a strategy, publishing content just eats time and money.

5. What are 5 Content Marketing Take Aways?

Mark: What are the lessons for marketers and sales enablement professionals to take away?

Ardath: Don’t get overwhelmed by the amount of effort that content marketing presents. Just start working through it and iterate as you go. With the right foundation, hitting that upward performance trajectory will come faster than you think.

Here’s the short list:

  1. Get the foundation set first – start with getting to know your buyers.
  2. Make sure the way you’re positioning your company in the marketplace aligns with what they care about.
  3. Set goals for each step of how your buyers buy. Work with your sales team to make sure that the path from marketing to sales is as seamless as it can be.
  4. Base marketing programs on a defined strategy with a built-in change management process to ensure that you continue to evolve along the way. “Once and done” should no longer be in our vocabulary.
  5. Start with what you can manage and iterate from there. Tweak and refine along the way with what you learn. Don’t wait for perfection because good enough is… good enough.

Ardath Albee Bio:

Ardath Albee, CEO of her firm Marketing Interactions, Inc., helps B2B companies with complex sales create eMarketing strategies that use contagious content platforms to turn prospects into buyers.

Ardath authors the popular Marketing Interactions blog and is a frequent industry speaker.

Her book, eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale was published by McGraw-Hill. Ardath has been selected as one of the 50 Most Influential People in Sales and Marketing for the last three years by the Sales and Lead Management Association.

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