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Understand How Buyers Buy: Marketing With the 'Buying Center' Concept [Infographic]

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In this article, you'll learn...

  • How to expand marketing's understanding of how people buy
  • How to identify your potential customer's buying center
  • How to tailor your message to different buyer personas

As a marketer, you put a lot of effort into understanding your target market. You may hire top marketing firms to help you achieve clarity. You probably use market segmentation to understand where to focus, and you may even gain significant insights into that target market.

Those insights help you understand how to build the right products, develop a product positioning strategy, and fulfill the needs of that target market.

But market segmentation and customer insights are only part of what you need to enter the competitive market. Are you ready to take your efforts to the next level?

Understanding What Motivates a Buyer

A lot has been written about buyers from the perspective of a salesperson, but very little has been written from the marketing person's point of view.

The salesperson understands how to categorize specific people within accounts based on their role in the buying process, but identifying buyers is a more complex process for marketers. Marketers need even more information on how people buy, because a company must begin the marketing process even before those buyers know they have an itch to scratch.

The 'Buying Center'

Marketers need to start marketing to customers well before a potential buyer is ready to talk to a salesperson. The most effective way for the marketer to do so is to use the concept of the "buying center."

The buying center is an acknowledgment that, in the complex sale, many people are involved in the process of buying over a long period of time. The buying center also highlights the fact that different people have different roles, requirements, and desires as they relate to the solution being offered.

Let's use as an example a telecommunications company that needs to purchase software. We can assume that the buying center would be made up of four different groups:

  • Senior management
  • Finance
  • Marketing
  • Network operations

Each group has different requirements, and marketing broadly to all four groups would be a mistake. Instead, understanding what each group wants will help you craft your message for each:

  • Management wants to protect quarterly earnings.
  • Finance aims to reduce costs with the solution, as well as find an affordable vendor.
  • Marketing strives to roll out new services and increase average revenue per customer.
  • Network operations wants to keep the network up and running at all times.

The beauty of the buying center concept is that once you begin to understand what drives the different groups within a buying center, you can create the right value propositions and messaging to address the needs of different groups within the buying center.

Developing Personas

Once you've identified the departments that make up the buying center, it's time to develop different buyer personas. The persona is a representation of a buyer/user in the guise of a single person. It enables anyone in the company to understand exactly whom they're dealing with, and it ensures that everyone in the company has a consistent view of buyers.

Start by researching those buyers, not only to understand what is important to them but also to understand how they view other players in the competitive market, how they see you, and how they gather information to help them make decisions.

Let's go back to that telecommunications company. For network operations, you might create a persona called Technical Ted. He's the guy with lots of technical questions about the software. He cares less about price than Finance does, and he is more focused on understanding whether your software will be easy to implement and how much work will be required of him.

In Management, maybe you have Skittish Sal. She's anything but tech-savvy, and she needs a lot of hand-holding because she'd rather ask your salesperson questions than conduct research online. She wants to make sure she chooses the software solution that will help the company grow.

The Finance department might include Miserly Mitch, who shops solely on price and who is impervious to all the great reasons your product is worth paying more for. He wants to know about your solution's total cost of ownership (TCO).

And in Marketing, the buyer persona might be Benefits Betty, who wants to know that your product will make her company look good and stand out.

Once the personas are developed and mapped onto the buying process, then you can start communicating effectively with each group within the buying center.

Tailoring the Message

Once you have identified members of the buying center and developed the buyer personas, you can emphasize different value propositions and deliver them through various vehicles to each persona:

  • Find the right channels. Each buyer persona will have preferences for where he or she receives messages. That might be blogs, social media, news sites, magazines, etc. Make sure you're using the appropriate channels for the personas you're trying to reach.
  • Focus on the benefits to that person. Every member of the buying center wants to know what's in it for him or her. Speak to that in your messaging, and know that it will be different for each persona.
  • Reinforce the message. Make sure you're delivering consistent messaging across all channels, and that you're not confusing anyone who visits your site, social profile, or blog by trying to be all things to all personas. Pick one for each post, update, or page, and speak to that persona only.

Applying those steps to the buyer personas we noted above, here's what the messaging might look like for each:

  • Technical Ted. Build a client forum where he can learn how to maximize uptime and ensure his network is always up and running.
  • Skittish Sal. Send her videos that address frequently asked questions, and initiate an email drip campaign that provides simple and useful content on how your solution will help the company move forward. Have a dedicated salesperson eager to help her.
  • Miserly Mitch. Direct him to in-depth blog posts that talk about costs/benefits of your software, as well as ROI. Provide him with sophisticated economic analysis tools.
  • Benefits Betty. Hold events where she can learn, hands on, how to help her company differentiate itself in the competitive landscape by using your products.

So by wrapping your arms around the concept of the buying center, you can communicate value at the right time to the right decision influencers, using unique value propositions that address their specific needs.

What does your buying center look like?

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Glenn Gow is an expert in marketing technology, an advisory board member, author, speaker, podcast host, and the CEO of Crimson Marketing. Follow his insights on marketing technology at the Crimson Marketing Technology Blog and read his book, Moneyball for Marketing: How Brilliant Marketers Use Big Data and Marketing Technology to Win.

LinkedIn: Glenn Gow

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  • by Chris Finnie Tue Mar 4, 2014 via web

    I've actually always done this, even if informally. Because, if I'm not talking to the right person about what they really care about, I'm not advancing the sale. And, even though we call it marketing, I've always known that's what its for. Still, nice to see it codified like this. Thanks!

  • by Lawson Abinanti Tue Mar 4, 2014 via web

    Good article but I'm confused by one point - consistent messaging to all personas. At the end, you point out the importance of consistent messaging across personas. I could not agree more! But unless I misread the article, you also point out that because each personas has different pain points, you need to tailor your message to each one. Doesn't that result in mixed messages that negatively the position you are trying to establish?

  • by Jhon Staphen Tue Mar 4, 2014 via web

    I like to see your articles.

  • by Mahak Vasudev Thu Mar 6, 2014 via web

    Love this article! Really helpful. I tried creating buyer personas but was stuck on how to take all the data about our target audience and make a picture of our buyer in simple words.

  • by Randy Thu Mar 6, 2014 via iphone

    That 'key' in the photo is the buyer persona. Nice article.

  • by Kimmy Burgess Thu Mar 13, 2014 via web

    Very interesting article, since every field has got varied persona, so is it possible to built different persona for different class or buyers, but the end result needs to be successful.Though i agree to the fact it is always important to stay focused & competitive under every scenario but at the same time it is important to know who is the competitor.

  • by Donna Duncan Thu Mar 13, 2014 via web

    I want to try to address Lawson's question having to do with mixed messages. Glenn will have to step in if I miss the mark.

    I think Glenn's point about being consistent and tailored in your messaging is not contradictory. Let's use the example Glenn gave of Technical Ted having a lot of technical questions about the software and Miserly Mitch being concerned about costs. Your messaging should NOT tell Ted he'll have all the support he needs without explaining the how so Miserly Mitch can understand what it will cost.

    In the example above, Glenn suggests Technical Ted could make use of a free forum the company has setup so individual users can exchange best practices and leverage existing tools and techniques. He suggests the company write a detailed blog post for Miserly Mitch, explaining how he can factor in the cost of support into his purchasing decision when a forum is involved. The communications address the individual needs of each persona, but also are consistent.

    Hope that makes sense.

  • by Glenn Gow Thu Mar 13, 2014 via web

    Chris - Great to hear you're applying this in your marketing efforts! It's very important to get your messaging to your audience on the channels they frequent.

    Lawson - Your brand message is what needs to be consistent, but your buyer personas "hang out" in different places. You want to get your message to them where they are, not where you think they are.

    Jhon - Thank you!

    Mahak - I'm glad you found my article useful and informational. The trick is to segment your buyer based on characteristics, not look at them as a whole. It's quite common to have multiple buyer personas.

    Randy - Glad you enjoyed it!

    Kimmy - Your buying center/personas is only one piece of the pie. It's also very important to understand your competitors, their tactics, what works/doesn't work for them, and what you can learn from all of this.

    Donna - You are exactly right! Great synopsis!

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