2.3: The Four-Pronged Research Approach to Unbiased Buyer Personas (Adrienne Barnes)
Sammi Reinstein: Hey, this is Sammi Reinstein, and you're listening to Conversation Starters. On this show, we talk all about bringing conversations back to B2B marketing and selling because if there's one thing we know about doing business in the revenue era, it's that the best customer experience wins. Through the power of our own conversations with Drifters, customers, and special guests, we'll learn how to deliver a sales and marketing experience that puts the buyer first. Let's get into it.
Elizabeth: Welcome back. Another episode of Conversation Starters. Good morning, Sammi.
Sammi Reinstein: Good morning, Elizabeth. How are you doing?
Elizabeth: I am doing well, although I must say I just got a very interesting LinkedIn message. LinkedIn DMs can always be a little, little interesting. I'm always like," Ooh, what am I going to get today?" But today's was a sales rep reaching out to me asking if I was interested in HR software.
Sammi Reinstein: Hmm. Yeah, yeah, and Elizabeth is not in HR.
Elizabeth: I am not in HR. Surprise, this is not an HR podcast, in case someone was wondering. Have never worked in HR. My roommate works in HR. That's as far as I got.
Sammi Reinstein: Right, it's just not what you do right now.
Elizabeth: He was like," Yeah, looking at your background, I think really you and your company would be a great fit for this product. Do you want to chat?" I was just like," I am not your persona in any regard." Even if this software did look cool, why would I tell our HR team? Our HR team probably already knows about this product.
Sammi Reinstein: Right.
Elizabeth: There's just a million reasons why this didn't work. That's why I'm really excited for today's episode because it's hyper- relevant to tar having conversations with different buyers and understanding really who you're talking to so that those conversations are effective.
Sammi Reinstein: Yeah, absolutely. Today I'm so excited to have Adrienne Barnes on the podcast. Adrienne is a content marketing freelancer for B2B SaaS companies and the founder of Best Buyer Persona, a data- driven way for companies to figure out exactly who their best customers are, how they behave, and why they behave that way. In this episode, we are going to talk about what that looks like in practice and we're going to discuss why understanding buyer personas is so critical to making sure you're having the right conversations with your prospects and your customers. Adrienne, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. We're excited to have you today.
Adrienne Barnes: Thanks for having me. I'm excited to be here. This has been one of those like big bucket list podcasts that I've like been aiming for for a while, so this is very nice to be here.
Sammi Reinstein: Well, we're happy to welcome you into the Drift Podcast Network family. I gave the audience a little bit of an introduction, but I would love to hear in your own words a brief explanation. Who are you? What do you do?
Adrienne Barnes: I'm Adrienne Barnes. I'm the founder of Best Buyer Persona and I really help software and e- commerce companies find their best buyers as well as the other side hustle, the other business, is content marketing strategist. They really go hand- in- hand together, obviously identifying who your key audience members are, identifying best buyers, and then creating really great comprehensive content strategies. Really, the process is very similar, and so those are the two things, the two services I offer to both B2B software and e- commerce currently.
Sammi Reinstein: Yeah, that's awesome. It's kind of like PB&J, those two types of work, right?
Adrienne Barnes: Yeah.
Sammi Reinstein: Your buyer persona has to inform your content strategy.
Adrienne Barnes: Absolutely, yeah. My process, just research, identifying people, it's pretty similar for both offerings, it's just the way that I package them at the end is different and so it kind of helps different people and is used for different purposes, but yeah, the skillset on my end is very similar.
Sammi Reinstein: Nice. Let's start with the buyer persona side. What was the problem you were seeing and what are you trying to solve through the work that you're doing with companies?
Adrienne Barnes: I started off five years ago as a freelance writer for B2B SaaS companies, basically just contractor for hire. A variety of companies would hire me and they would say," Hey, we need a piece about XYZ," and so I'd say," Okay, who am I writing to?" My background is as an English teacher, an English major, and the first thing I would teach my students and the first thing you learn with journalism and all of the different kinds of writing I've ever done in my life it's know who your audience is, right, really identify who you're writing to. That was my first question to clients," Who am I writing to?" Sometimes I would get pretty vague answers, like," Well, they're a mid- level sales associate and these are some of their problems," or," We're not really sure yet, but here's a buyer persona," and it'd be like 45 slides, but it would be prefaced with," But we haven't looked at that in years, so I mean, you can look at it if you want to, but we don't really know." I heard that over and over and over again. I did have the opportunity to work with some really great companies who did things differently. They weren't calling them buyer personas, but when I would ask," Who am I writing to?" They would hand me a Notion or different types of files that was just really clearly," These are our three," or," These are our four types of people and here's who they are," so I was seeing really great personas and then not great personas at all, and people were not using them, and so that was when I was like," There's a problem here that needs to be solved." Obviously, most companies are not using their buyer personas. When I dug into why, it was usually because they didn't trust them, they created them in their own little bubble, the marketers knew that, the marketers got to have fun and call them Sally Salesgirl and Bob the Builder or whoever, those cheesy little acronym names, and it may have been fun exercise for the day, but they weren't being put to use, and so I was really looking for, how do you research people? How do you learn about why people buy, who they are? That sent me down UX design, product kind of discovery, and that's where I stumbled upon jobs to be done. When I saw jobs to be done, I was like," That needs to be in this buyer persona. We need to understand why people buy, what those triggers are, as well as their demographic information." I say I don't have a very typical jobs- to- be- done product, and I don't have a typical buyer persona product, but it's a damn good buyer persona that can be used throughout an organization. That's really how I got where I am today. It was just research and seeing this problem and really combining all those different types of researches that I put together into this one deliverable.
Sammi Reinstein: Yeah, I want to double down into something that you said that really caught my eye, caught my ear. The Bob the marketer, Mary the marketer, Sal the sales guy, he drives a Subaru and he lives in Boston. That's something that I definitely in college, it was like the four Ps, and you pick your personas in those ways.
Adrienne Barnes: Yes.
Sammi Reinstein: Then you get into the real marketing world, and you still see that, but like you said, it doesn't really tell the whole story of what their motivation is, what their real goals are, and what's in it for them, and how you can relate to them. I mean, what's the main problem you see in identifying people in a Bob the marketer, Sally the salesgirl way?
Adrienne Barnes: Yeah, so they're actually, beyond just it being inaccurate, I mean, let's just start with that, number one, you made it up. It's not accurate. Number two, it lays a foundation for bias that we can't get undone. If we have given Mary the marketer a name, Mary, she's going to be a white girl, right? I mean, this is the pictures that you see most likely they are these beautiful stock image photography, even if you're... I mean, okay, so then you have now a beauty bias potential, you've got naming bias where if we are now encountering consumers who could potentially be in our best buyer, they're using the product the way they should, but they don't fit this persona that we have really laid out who they look like, what they sound like, their age, right? She's 27 or she's 40 and then so there's beauty bias, ageism, racism, just even cognitive bias. Obviously, people don't always come into a situation and go," Well, I'm going to reject everyone who doesn't look like this." No one's doing that consciously, but subconsciously, it does happen. You have that unconscious bias that it just seeps into. I say I don't even want to give there any space for anything like that, so when I do my segments and when I name my personas, I'm not giving them a person's name, a person's face. I don't even give them animals. Some people are like," Well, we've countered that," or I've heard," We've countered it by giving animal characteristics," and I've also heard," Well, we've countered it by really including all different races and different ages and different genders into our personas." I'm like," But you're still saying that this type of person is the best buyer when the type of person they are does not dictate how or why they buy or how they use the product." It really is that job to be done that they're trying to accomplish. What are those buying triggers? The way I segment my buyer personas is by the job. I'll name them like, oh, gosh, I've named a ton, but it's like the decent developer, or the strong developer, or the very smart studio person. I don't know, I can't come up with them off the top of my head, but essentially, it's the job that they're trying to accomplish, that becomes the name of this segment. Then from there, I'll include the demographic information. When old school marketers come to me like," Well, that's not a buyer persona. You can't do that. You have to give it a persona. Otherwise, it's not a buyer persona." Maybe they're right. Yeah, I'm not doing it the way normal buyer personas have always been done, but guess what? Those don't work, anyways, so why continue doing it that way? But I will say that 28% of your audience is male or 75% are female, so we still have the demographic information. We're still aware that there are genders and races and locations and things within the persona, but the segment of the audience themselves is not one person. We need to acknowledge that we are segmenting hundreds, thousands, maybe millions, depending upon the size of your audience, millions of people into a segment of people, so what we're trying to say is let's combine them by the job they've tried to hire this product to do, rather than something that changes constantly, like a job title, or that's completely irrelevant, like a gender, a name, and an age, or a race, for Pete's sake.
Sammi Reinstein: Right. I think that's such an important point and it's something that's definitely not talked enough about is the bias that is coming into these personas. I mean, yeah, the race, or the age, or if they're male, or female, you just start creating that messaging in such a bucket that might only be resonating with this one audience, and you're completely forgetting about all of these other people that could be interested, so I really like the approach that you're taking.
Adrienne Barnes: Absolutely. What I find is that we are marketers at our core. Our job is to find the people that will buy and then create messaging that's going to entice them, right?
Sammi Reinstein: Right.
Adrienne Barnes: That's the core of our job, so when people say," Well, we sell," I don't know," some product that is gender- biased," they're like," There are usually 98% women," or," 85% of our audience is women," I'm like," That's great, but then 15% of your audience is not women. How much money is that 15%?" Now, does that mean you should like go and completely devote all of your marketing dollars into that 15%? No, but don't eliminate them. It especially bothers me when they're like," Well, 55% of our audience is male," so all of our marketing and branding is male." I'm like," 55? That's not an overwhelming percent. You're losing a lot of money by completely focusing on just a male persona. Let's gender neutralize it, or open it up genderly," however you want to do that through your messaging, through your marketing. Yeah, it's just interesting. Then the fact that it's so binary when it's not binary anymore, right? We are not living in binary terms. It's time for an update, especially when it comes to stuff like that with our personas and our marketing strategies.
Sammi Reinstein: It is definitely time for an update. When you're going about this research and trying to take out the bias from this, how are you going about that research? I think you talk a little bit about four prongs that go into customer research.
Adrienne Barnes: As to my knowledge, I'm one of the only buyer persona firms, companies, consultancies that are doing four different types of research. Some people say," Okay, we're doing our buyer personas," but then they only use third- party data. They're only using different types of tools to scrape and look and looking at the behind- the- scenes data and saying," Okay, here's who your best audience is." Other people are only using customer conversations. Some are only using surveys. If you're not using all four, you're really not answering the three questions that your buyer persona should answer. Every buyer persona should tell you who your audience is, why they buy and how they behave. Basically, the reason that all four are required is because your conversations, which is one of our prongs we really get on when we're doing a large persona project will do 20 conversations with customers, and we want to know," Who are you?" That gives me that opportunity to listen to their story, get them storytelling, dig into those gold nuggets, find the insights, have follow- up questions. That tells me why they buy. I really get to understand the why they behave the way they do, why they purchase, the why behind their actions. Surveys and my own data tells me how they behave, right? I can understand what they're doing on my website. I can see what ads they interact with. I can see what social media platforms they participate in and what communities they're involved in and all of that stuff. I can see their behavior through my third- party data and then also how they self- identify, really how they tell themselves. That's also through social listening and through the third- party data as well. We do conversations, surveys, social listening, and digital intelligence analysis, which is basically third- party tools that come in and scrape all of the information, use their some type of magic, and we go through and look at all that data, but those are really our four prongs that answer those three questions.
Sammi Reinstein: Yeah. After working with a customer and going through that research, have you ever presented back the data and the customer be like," Wait, what? That's my buyer?" Have you ever had someone be really surprised by those results?
Adrienne Barnes: It's not usually completely surprising, but what can be surprising is," Oh, I didn't know that they showed up there," or," I didn't realize that was the job, that that was why they hired us," so maybe they realized... I just worked with an eCommerce company that is a shoe company and they work on medical podiatry, plantar- fasciitis- type shoes. The thing is they thought that people's jobs, their occupation would have a heavy leaning on why they purchased their shoes when that turned out not to be the case at all. It wasn't even a consideration. Other things that really, things that the company may think are priorities, and that they're really important," This is something we're really proud of. We're the best in this technology," or," We've got this and this," and then I come to the customers and nobody cares. The customers are not caring about that, this is what the customer cares about. Those kinds of things can be surprising. That's the stuff that informs messaging and campaigns and overall strategy, really, even product strategy, so usually, because we have so much access to so much really good data, Google Analytics and hot jars and data boxes and just all of the data that's back there, we can see who our customers are, but the question that a lot of people still have is," Well, but why? Why do they buy? How are they using us?" Those are the surprises that I end up showing most likely in a lot of our reports.
Sammi Reinstein: Hmm. Yeah, I think generally data helps us have better conversations and diving deeper into what those priorities are. Like you said, there can be some bias in how your product helps solve certain problems, and then a lot of your messaging codes towards that, and then your data tells you," Actually, there's these other priorities that matter more," and you can start more relevant conversations and start to take some of that bias out of your own work, because of course, any product that we're we're selling is our babies, and there are certain things that we think are important because that's what's important to us, but it's important to actually go and talk to your customers and understand their needs and their wants.
Adrienne Barnes: Yeah, absolutely. 100%. That's the part that most companies aren't doing and it's usually time that's the big factor. Really, I hear that," We're just already so bogged down on what we're doing." They don't have someone dedicated to conversations, and if they do, it's somebody else who has a different mission, right? Your customer support, their job is to solve the customer's problems, to really come in, they're listening to issues, and they need to solve them. Sales, they're talking to customer, but their goal is to sell, upsell, serve the customers in that way. It's very rarely a person's job within a company to just listen to a customer's experience, listen to their story, and then go back and report that story to the rest of the team and the organization. I say it's really hard when you do these kinds of experience customer conversations, you need to just not necessarily not sell, not try to fix anything, not provide an explanation, because the moment you start explaining or selling, it's no longer their conversation, right? You've now taken it over. You're no longer listening. The best way to really learn and take this type of information, this qualitative information, and turn it into something like a marketing strategy, or product roadmap information, is to just listen and then get a better idea of like how it is your customers are experiencing it. People think when you say you're going to do customer research that you go to your customers and say," Hey, what do you think about this? Is this good? Do you like this product? Would you use this? How about this?" That's actually not really great customer research at all. You're never going to get quality information that way. The best way to do a solid customer research, customer experience- type of conversation is just to listen, ask them about their story, ask them about how they started buying, or when they started noticing they needed the product, and then listen to what they have to say.
Sammi Reinstein: Yeah. Listening is certainly your most powerful marketing tool. Just waiting, listening, taking that information, and putting it strategically back into your work.
Adrienne Barnes: Yeah, absolutely.
Sammi Reinstein: We mentioned a little bit earlier the PB& J, the buyer persona, and your content marketing work. I want to chat a little bit more about how those go hand- in- hand and I want to take your relational analysis framework as an example, which we'll link that in the show notes, but quickly, can you just tell us what that is, the relational analysis framework?
Adrienne Barnes: The relational analysis framework was something I came up with, oh, probably four years ago. It was the beginnings of me understanding, how do you do qualitative research that's going to get a good answer that I can then turn around and create into content that I can turn into a content strategy? The way I formulate my content strategies is I want to identify from the internal team, I go to the CEO, I go to the marketing director, I go to the product owner, and I say," What are things do you know absolutely about our customers? What do you think you know? Then what are you assuming? Where are the assumptions here?" Then I go to our customers and I say," Okay, I want to get on the phone with users with buyers and I want to ask them the same similar kinds of questions that I would ask during the buyer persona type interviews, how do you use our product? What do you love about it? What do you hate about it? What kind of questions do you have? What was the last time you were really frustrated with our product? Tell me that story." Then I turn around and those conversations become, if there were questions that becomes," Okay, I need to answer this in a blog post," or if they're like," We're really searching for this kind of data," okay, now, I know I have a huge guide I need to formulate and put together because there's a lot of key data points that our customers are missing out on. Or if they're like," I'm confused on just the UI. I get on and I don't know where to log in," okay, we need to have like the wizard. This is educational- type content. We need to change some things. Really, every conversation becomes, in my mind, direct correlation to a piece of content that needs to be created, and depending upon what that conversation was, that depends on the type of content that needs to be created. That's really what the relational analysis framework is it's showing the relationship between your company, your content, and your customers. It's creating a tighter bond for them. It's doing what content should do, right? Content's job is to build a relationship with an audience, to build a relationship with a potential buyer, and you can't do that if you're not having conversations, or in a relationship with your buyers. You just can't do it accurately.
Sammi Reinstein: Yeah, so there's the getting buyers to the first place to your website and that sort of language. Then once they're there and then through the buyer's journey, lots of different types of content that you should be creating, but how do you use keywords or how your customer is talking to identify where they're at in that buyer journey and then create a content strategy that fits that?
Adrienne Barnes: I mean, that goes a lot with, okay, we understand basically what some key questions of theirs are, key concerns, we've seen their buyer journey. We know their triggers, we know their typical way of how they come to us. Then, of course, the job of the content is not just to get them to buy, but then to continue the relationship further, right? Content really has the full spectrum of job to do, so you need to be able to identify this type of content is working towards helping buyers understand our value prop, helping potential buyers understand our positioning, and that's a lot of, oh, when you have to do the comparison pages, or when you're trying to do webinars, and you're just trying to get brand awareness out there. Then you have an understanding of, okay, so now that they're past that hump, now, what are those first onboarding- type questions they have? What kind of content needs to be created to address those questions and concerns? What are some of the common struggles we're seeing? Do they get stuck at this step? Really, where is the aha moment, that bright moment where we know that if they've done this thing, they're likely to continue on as a really great customer for however long your LTV is?'Kay, now, what kind of content do we need to create that's going to get them there? Really, each one of those steps become the overall content strategy, right? You have that big, large overview plan of this is from brand awareness, all the way through user experience, buyer experience. We're not just getting stuck on one little small place. It gives you the opportunity as a strategist to have visibility across the spectrum and then to make sure that you're really plugging in the right content at the right spot or that you're just providing enough content there so that when the people, the buyers, the users find themselves in this situation, you have something to provide them that's going to help them, that's going to be informative, that's going to entertain. Whatever it is your goal is, you've got it, and you're well prepared.
Sammi Reinstein: Awesome. Finally, Adrienne, we've talked about how buyer personas impact the content strategy. How can people beyond content marketing use buyer personas to inform maybe how they sell, or with product marketing, or even people on the customer support and service side?
Adrienne Barnes: Yeah, absolutely. That's something that I think the buyer personas is lacking. When I create one, I want it to be used across the organization, so I talk to key stakeholders at each department, and I want to make sure," What do you need to know about your customers for you to be successful in the next 12 months?" It really is every single one of my buyer personas is customized to the needs of the client. We really want to say," What is the key information? If you knew this about your customers, what's the one thing that if you had one question to ask?" Those are the kind of questions I ask. In order for it to be useful across the organization, you have to build it. You have to start with it being useful. You can't just end up with a product and then go shove it in these people's faces and," See? See, this is useful. You should use it." You have to start with that in mind, so I'll go to product and I'll say," Hey, do you have any launches coming up? What does your roadmap look like? What are the things that you need to know about your consumers or your users that would help you make better decisions in the next 12 months?" Then I put that information in the buyer persona, so when I do the final presentation to the team, I say," I want everybody back," so we have the entire organization- wide here. The key stakeholders are a part, they're a key part of the building and the presenting of the information. They have to have buy- in. If you don't have buy- in, it's never going to get adopted, and you'll have personas siloed. You'll end up with customer support with three, marketing will have five, sales will have four, product will have five personas, and then organizationally- wide, you've got, add those numbers up, 12 personas, that's not the accurate math, I just pulled that number, just so that somebody's inaudible pen and paper. But you've got a ton of personas throughout the organization when there's a lot of overlap, most likely, but now, there's very little clarity and there's not cross- department communication and there's not an agreement across departments. When I get everybody on board at first, we want to know, and then we present to the end and then product customer support. They come back to me and they're like," This was awesome. This is exactly what we needed to know. This is how I'm going to use it," so they each go off with little bitty bits and pieces of their own that they want to then, they find important that they want to use, but the core, the job, the persona itself is now being used across the organization in a consistent fashion. That's something that I've seen that's worked with Best Buyer Persona that I actually haven't seen before I enter an organization. Usually, each department has tons of personas on their own.
Sammi Reinstein: Mm- hmm, and having too many different types of personas, it could lead to the customer, throughout the process, let's say sales is talking to them one way and telling some message and then they buy and then they go and they talk to their CSM and their CSM is talking to them another way, could feel like a disjointed experience, and you want to make sure that across all departments, you're telling that same story
Adrienne Barnes: A hundred percent. I mean, that's the point of it, right? Your customer doesn't know that they've shifted from sales to marketing, or marketing to sales to customer support, right? They should not feel that glitch. It should be one really seamless, full, incorporated process for them, whereas internally, those are different teams. It should never feel like that to the consumer, to the buyer, to the user, so, yeah, it's vital, especially today, when as consumers or as users, there's literally no difference, the streamline in usage, in purchasing and check out, if your e- commerce or software. I told this, actually, I was on a call with QuickBooks, I got selected to do an interview with them, and I was like," This process seems very disjointed to me." They were asking about upgrading, and I said," I don't feel like I'm going anywhere, but your messaging is telling me,'Get ready to move, pack up all your stuff, this is a big move,'" and I was telling them," I'm just upgrading my software here. I'm not going anywhere. This is really scary." Very similar, for the consumer, it needs to be streamlined. Really, the only way to do that is for everyone to be on the same page, so it's really vital, especially with third- party data like disappearing and things like that, having the ability to know your customers with first- party data, and then spreading that across the organization. I mean, I don't see how, if you're not doing it as a company within the next like three years, there will be no choices, you're going to have to.
Sammi Reinstein: Yeah, yeah, talking, having conversations is going to be more important than ever, and listening, like we said earlier. Where can people find you if they want to learn a little bit more about your work?
Adrienne Barnes: I am at bestbuyerpersona. com, adriennenicole. com, if you're looking for the content strategy, but really if you just want to get to know me and my like ramblings, Twitter is the best place. I'm @ AdrienneNicole. Love to connect. I also have a newsletter that's Persona Equals People that's in my bio where randomly, when I have the opportunity, share really good insights on how to go through this process. How do you run a research project? How do you create buyer personas this way? I'd love to connect with anybody on any of those platforms.
Sammi Reinstein: Awesome. Thank you, Adrienne.
Adrienne Barnes: Thank you, Sammi. It was so good to be here.
Elizabeth: I think I'll just take the link to this podcast episode and respond to the LinkedIn sales rep with that message.
Sammi Reinstein: That's awesome. I'm going to do the same anytime I get a message that's just not quite tailored to me or to what I actually do.
Elizabeth: Yeah," Hey, you look like you could use some help."
Sammi Reinstein: Yeah, exactly.
Elizabeth: We'll get our listens up and Adrienne may have a few more clients. Wins all around.
Sammi Reinstein: Wins all around. I really liked hearing what Adrienne had to say about specifically bias. I think that's a really interesting conversation. I could have talked to her just about that for the entire episode, but she gave so many good insights on finding your right buyer persona, and then using that to inform your content strategy. I really hope you all enjoyed. We have an exciting podcast coming next week as well, so stay tuned.
Elizabeth: Yes, and if you're interested in learning more about Adrienne's relational analysis framework and the work she does with data and buyer personas, it's all linked in the show notes, so make sure to check it out.
Sammi Reinstein: Thanks so much for listening to Conversation Starters. If you like this episode, please leave us a six- star review by clicking the link in the show notes, and hit subscribe so you never miss another one. You can connect with me on Twitter at @SammiReinstein and follow all of our shows at @DriftPodcast.
This week, we're taking a step away from artificial intelligence to focus on what we, as humans, can do to understand our buyers better. Because when we're informed about our buyers' likes and dislikes, we're better equipped to have impactful conversations.
In this episode of Conversation Starters, Adrienne Barnes, founder of Best Buyer Persona - a data-driven way to discover who your customers are, how they behave, and why they behave that way - explains the four-pronged approach she takes to understanding who her companies' buyers exactly are. She explains why companies should look beyond "Bob the marketer" and "Sally the sales girl" naming conventions and form a complete, unbiased knowledge of their buyer that unifies company messaging across teams.
- (2:58) Who is Adrienne Barnes?
- (4:14) Why Adrienne started the Best Buyer Personas company
- (7:56) Adrienne’s thoughts on how you should be (and should not) be naming your buyer personas
- (13:46) The four prongs that make up Adrienne’s customer research
- (21:03) The Relational Analysis Framework
- (23:44) How to use keywords to identify where a customer is at in their journey & how to create content specific to them
- (26:10) How people beyond content marketers can leverage buyer personas to be better at their job
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