Buyer Personas Help You Evaluate Customer Perceptions (and Your Own)

Had an interesting conversation with the owner of a PR firm the other day. I asked how much business she gets from her website. Her response?

“I don’t use my website for lead generation. PR is personal, and people rely on word of mouth because PR is all about trust.”

I don’t doubt that referrals are important. But I think this PR person has fallen victim to what happens to many of us: our perception of our business is not necessarily the same as our customers’ perceptions of our business.

Sure, she may like to believe that choosing a PR firm should be all about trust, but I’d be willing to bet that someone searching for a PR firm isn’t thinking about grand themes like trust. He or she is probably thinking about concrete things like “I need a press release for my new product.”

Google’s Keyword Planner shows that the term “pr firms boston” receives a decent number of monthly global searches (anywhere from 100-1000 — Google is now cagey like that). Considering that there are only 215 competing web pages that use this exact phrase in the title tag, our trustworthy PR chick is likely missing out on some potential business.

Make sure you don’t fall into this trap. The only way to avoid it? By talking to your customers and finding out how they found you, what their buyer journey was like, and what went into their decision when they decided to hire you. (It’s also smart to talk to lost prospects as well.)

In the biz, this is known as a “buyer persona.” A good buyer persona will ensure that you’re not making silly assumptions about your customers and prospects.

By the way, I do a lot of work with Precision Marketing Group, and creating solid buyer personas is something the team over there does exceptionally well (and, no, they’re not paying me to say this). I wrote a post for them about buyer personas called “Here’s the Last Article You’ll Ever Need on Buyer Personas.” Check it out!

UPDATED 6-14-17

When to Review Your Marketing Plan

Your marketing plan is just that: a plan. It’s fluid. It’s flexible. It’s a living and breathing document. At least, it should be.

So how often should you review it? Ideally, every month. But I’m a realist and know many business owners can’t make that commitment. So aim for every quarter.

1. Review all activities from the last quarter. Think online, offline, print, newsletters, advertising. You get the idea. If you have a formal, written plan, simply refer to it and go through each item. If you don’t have a formal plan, don’t panic. Call up a Word doc and create a month-by-month list. Refer to your calendar and business credit card/checking statements to help jog your memory as to what you spent your marketing dollars on. As you review each marketing activity, indicate the results. The more specific and scientific, the better. For example, if you did a direct mail campaign to 1000 people and got 20 sales, you know you had a two percent conversion rate. If you don’t have these details, make an educated guess.

2. What are the top business-producing marketing activities? Which marketing activities produced the most leads? Which marketing activities produced the best lead conversions? Are the lists the same, different, or is there overlap? Note: I define leads as anyone who takes action: the person fills out a form, mails in a reply card, calls you about an offer, etc. I define conversions as leads that turn into paying customers.

3. What marketing activities did you and your employees enjoy doing the most? Do any of those activities match the ones on the top marketing activities list? If yes, note those.

4. What marketing activities did you and your employees hate doing? This is not the place to be coy or to think, “Well, we don’t like doing X, but we’ll get better at it.” Be honest. Do any of those activities match those on the top marketing activities list? If yes, make note.

Now, I’m not suggesting you should get rid of all activities you don’t like doing. But let’s say your company has a presence on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. You and your employees are active on Facebook and you’re starting to build a community. You also use LinkedIn consistently. But then there’s Twitter. You haven’t tweeted in months. You hardly have any followers. You and your employees don’t particularly like it. I’m a big fan of the “do one thing well” philosophy, and the truth is that adding Twitter to the mix might be overwhelming you and your employees, at least right now. So perhaps it makes sense to refocus the time you had earmarked for Twitter and put it towards Facebook and LinkedIn instead. You can always add in Twitter later, and you should keep it on your marketing radar. But the enthusiasm and effort you and your employees are showing towards Facebook and LinkedIn will make up for the fact you’re not on Twitter (at least in the short term).

Sometimes you’ll be in a situation where you hate a particular activity, but you recognize its value. Should you sacrifice your sanity for leads? No. Instead, this would be the time to outsource. For example, I have a client who has a blog, but she has no time — or interest — in writing posts. At the same time, she knows the blog is a “must-have” from an industry perspective and SEO perspective. So she outsources the activity to me. Every month, she knows I’ll be writing 8 to 10 blog posts. (This would be something you’d note on your marketing plan.)

5. What marketing activities do you wish you did (or did more of)? Make sure you can explain why. It’s perfectly fine to say, “We should be on Twitter” or “We should create a Facebook group,” if you have good reasons behind your proclamations.

6. Now look at the next four months. Take a hard look. What you want to do is make adjustments based on what you noted above. You want to weed out the activities that you know aren’t working and re-focus on the activities that are yielding good results.

For the activities that are yielding good results and that you and your employees like doing, would it make sense to devote more time and dollars to these activities? Would the investment yield more leads and increase conversions? While you can’t know for sure, you can make educated guesses. For example, if you ran a contest on Facebook during, say, April and it resulted in increased leads and more conversions that month, it might make sense to run a contest in September and December and see if the results are the same, better, or worse. This sort of experimenting will help you build an even stronger quarterly marketing plan.

Remember: avoid making rash judgments. If you’re thinking of eliminating an activity, ask yourself this question first and then drill down: What’s the problem with this particular marketing activity?

  • Is it the execution?
  • Is it the copy?
  • Are your metrics faulty (or non-existent)?
  • Is it some other reason?
  • Is it something you can fix?

If you go through this checklist and feel you’ve done everything right and that it’s not fixable, then it might make sense to eliminate it from the plan, at least for now. You can always add it back in at some point, should conditions change.

If you think the problem isn’t the marketing activity itself, but rather something else, such as the execution, then adjust your marketing plan to address the issue. For example, let’s say you’re thinking about eliminating email marketing because your open rate is low and you’re not seeing any direct business coming from the newsletter. As you consider the checklist above, you wonder if the problem isn’t email marketing itself but rather if you’re delivering the right message and including the best offers. And you’re wondering about the health of your list and the overall design of your newsletter.

You decide you might not be ready to lose email marketing just yet, but you know you need to do something different. This is where your marketing plan comes in. As you adjust your plan for the next four months, you add in these activities:

  • Research email marketing best practices
  • Research email marketing consultants
  • Have email consultants review email campaigns, make recommendations, and provide a proposal for implementing recommendations
  • Review proposals and make a decision

From there, the email marketing consultant will likely have a plan for re-launching the e-newsletter. His or her plan will flow into your plan. And six months from now when you’re evaluating your marketing plan again, you might be thinking very differently about your email newsletter.

But let’s pretend for a moment that it is six months later and your email marketing results are the same or even a little worse. It might be time to reallocate those marketing dollars elsewhere.

This is why it’s essential to review your plan regularly.

Need help? That’s what I’m here for.

If You Went Away for a Month, Would Your Customers Come Back?

It’s a provocative question, isn’t it? If you paused your business for a whole month, would your customers find somewhere else to go or would they hold out and wait for you? Does it depend on what you’re selling? For example, if you’re an accountant, would your clients wait out those 30 days or would they find someone else? What if you’re a doctor? What if you run a bagel shop?

And if people did go somewhere else for those 30 days, do you think they’d eventually come back to you? Are you that confident in what you give to your customers — I’m not talking the specific product or service, but what you GIVE them — that you know they’d come back because what you “give,” they can’t get anywhere else?

Intriguing, right? And you probably think it’s just a hypothetical. But that’s exactly what my favorite bagel shop in my hometown did this summer. It took the month of July off.

I’m a semi-regular customer. I go through bagel-craving spurts, so I might go a month or two (max) without a visit. Well, I showed up at the end of June one day, craving a bagel, only to be greeted by a handmade sign saying they were closed until late July. I actually had to read the note twice. We were talking a whole month. Whoa, I thought. That’s not going to be good for business. I went somewhere else for my bagel (it wasn’t as good) and filed away that Cafe Bagel was off limits until the end of July.

Well, guess what? I went back. Numerous times. And so did everyone else, it seems, given the full parking lot and the regulars (I know they’re regulars because the owner often greets people by name).

I don’t know if the owner simply “had” to go, business be damned (he told me he’d gone to visit his mother in Egypt, which is where he’s from), or if he simply assumed that because he makes the best bagels in town, the people would come back.

But it makes for an interesting challenge, doesn’t it? If you went away for a month, would your customers remember to come back? Or would they move on for good? If you think they might move on, what can you do to change the way you do business to ensure that they don’t?

Go do it.