This article was originally published on LivePlan Blog on February 28th, 2019.
When it comes to acquiring new customers, many companies have started to lean toward more and more personalization—especially in the areas of content and communication.
I think that’s an incorrect strategy.
Authenticity: The key to better personalization
Personalizing communication, though a worthy pursuit, is slightly misguided.
When people think about personalization, I believe they often think that identifying a fun fact about someone on LinkedIn or referencing an article someone wrote in 1998 counts as making a connection in prospecting communications.
While directionally correct, the move ignores the most important facet of communicating with a prospect: authenticity.
You see, marketers, both in small business and startups, are smartly moving away from “mass communication,” or indiscriminately blasting emails to their entire target audience. There are all sorts of reasons why this “spray and pray” approach is unwise, not the least of which is that it doesn’t work.
It’s natural to veer toward going all-in on personalization. But that tactic assumes personalization is the opposite of mass communication.
Relevant communication: The opposite of mass communication
In reality, the opposite of mass communication is relevant communication.
The key difference between personalized and relevant communication is this: Relevant communication appeals to a prospect’s job function, and their pain points, and needs, whereas personalized communication tries to entice a prospect with some faux relationship that doesn’t exist.
And therein lies the problem.
If I’m your potential customer or client, I’m not going to read your cold email to me because you noticed my name starts with “J” and that’s your favorite consonant (what are the odds?!). Though that example is extreme, the concept is real. Attempting to personalize cold outreach results in a lack of authenticity. The antidote is relevance.
Defining buyer personas—with relevance in mind
It follows that content creators would want to know how to make prospect communication relevant. The answer? Understanding your buyer personas.
Think of a buyer persona as the Match.com profile for members of your target audience (I like Matt Damon movies, gluten-free pizza, and anything to do with labradoodles). But the profile you’re creating isn’t public or searchable. You have to make your best guesses using data you’ve collected about your audience members.
Not convinced? A little more than three years ago, my organization, Sapper Consulting, started working with a company in the insurance space that had no buyer persona framework. We took an in-depth look at the company’s current clients and its ideal prospects, then created a buyer profile on the basis of that data. After rolling out the buyer persona, the company started seeing more sales meetings, and its ROI to date is about $750,000.
1. Borrow a template
Templates are available in the Google aisle of your local internet browser. Simply search “buyer persona” and choose “images.” The template should include sections for demographic information, background, job descriptions, challenges, and any other pertinent information about buyers that fit the persona.
Once you’ve borrowed the template, your next step is to start at the highest-level job description you can and work your way down. So even if your target buyer is a sales manager, you’re better off starting with the vice president of sales and working downward. That way, you’ll be able to draw a line directly from the VP’s priorities to those of the sales manager.
2. Have a conversation
This next step may be foreign to many content marketers and salespeople. After you figure out to whom you need to talk, you need to have a conversation (it’s like DMing on Instagram—but in person!) with a couple of folks with the same title.
You need to ask them questions about their job demands, the challenges they face, their priorities, their preferences related to your product or service, the brands with which they identify, and more. Collect as much data as you can—the more specific data you have, the more relevant you can make your communication.
3. Do your research
During the research phase, you’ll certainly check out the obvious industry-specific publications and journals.
But aside from that, I encourage you to follow my lead and research conference topics as well. If you delve into relevant industry conferences, you’ll uncover a wealth of information about your buyer. These conferences are all trying to attract attendees and do so to some extent with the topics of their breakout sessions. If you find the sessions, you’ll learn a lot about what your prospects truly care about.
4. Don’t panic
This step might seem to be a little out of left field at first, but I need to add this disclaimer. Around this point, you might discover that your target buyer doesn’t actually want what your company is selling.
That’s normal! There’s no need to panic. Resist the urge to push these target buyers into wanting what you’re selling by asking leading questions. Embrace the feedback you receive and adjust your messaging—or even your company’s product or service—if necessary. I’ve seen it happen quite often.
5. Check your work
Once you’ve defined your buyer persona, you need to make sure you got it right. That’s more complicated than it sounds because several variables come into play. But when you hit the right note with relevant content targeting each of your buyer personas, you’ll know it.
For Sapper, I always gauge our relevance as a function of cold outreach reply rate. If you compose a few versions of cold outreach emails or calls and they start to hit, you’re probably on the right track. If not, you know it’s time to try again.
With these strategies in your arsenal, you’re one step closer to eliminating overdone, inauthentic personalized communication from your marketing and sales strategies and replacing it with content that actually works.
Continue working to ensure your communication is truly relevant to your target audience based on your buyer personas, and you’ll be having more conversations that end in sales in no time.