Buyer personas have become increasingly important tools for marketers to map a buyer’s journey, create awareness, educate, inform, and move a buyer successfully to a positive outcome. Buyer personas provide incredible value to sales professionals as well, helping them to ‘walk a mile’ in the buyers shoes and connect the value of their offerings to the needs of the prospective customer.
Great buyer personas reveal insights into what is happening in the buyers’ world, why it is important, and how decisions are made about the companies and individuals they wish to do business with. All too often, we interview buyers and ask questions that skim the surface of the issue. The key to conducting a great buyer interview is to demonstrate genuine interest and empathy and to probe deep by asking “why?” questions.
The following questions will help you probe deeper into the psychology of the buyer and find out what really motivates them to take action.
I like to start off an interview by asking the buyer a “setting the stage” question. Here is an example for B2B sales enablement software….
“Tell me about the time when you decided you needed a sales enablement solution. What was going on in your business that was driving this need?”
Normally, the buyer will answer the question a “what” question with a “what” answer. Something like, “we needed a solution that would help us improve sales productivity and effectiveness”.
Is that an insight? No way! Time to probe…..
Key Question #1:
That’s really interesting. Can you please tell me more about that? Why was sales productivity and effectiveness important to you?
The buyer may or may not open up at this point. They are still warming up to this idea of being interviewed. They may still have their guard up. A typical answer would be something like….
“We just hired a new VP of Sales. He came from a big company and wanted to make sure his team had the tools they needed to be successful.”
So this is an example of an insight. I’d call this a “trigger insight”. A new executive, a merger / acquisition, a new product launch, a new round of funding or public offering; all of these can be trigger events. This can be very useful knowledge for marketing and sales people. But we’re not done yet. Time to probe yet again….
Key Question #2:
Oh wow, that had to be a big change for you and your team. Can you tell me, why was your new VP of Sales concerned about sales effectiveness?
At this point, the buyer will start to open up about their strategy and their priorities. You might hear something like….
“The VP of Sales went on some sales calls, observed our reps, and decided that we needed to change. Our guys were wasting a lot of time searching for and modifying content for sales presentations. We needed to free up our sales reps to spend more time selling and spend less time on administrative tasks.”
From this answer we know our solution aligns with their sales executive’s top priorities. We also hear the customer describe the problem in their own words and we can use this in our messaging and positioning. “Spend more time selling!”
Next, we want to probe into the barriers and find out what was keeping them from solving the problem in the past.
Key Question #3:
That’s really interesting. So what was stopping you from increasing selling time?
What we want to learn is how serious they were about solving this problem. Did they try in the past and fail? Was there another solution that just wasn’t working for them? This is important for you to clearly differentiate your offerings compared to the customers’ next best alternative.
“We had a content repository where our marketing team managed their collateral. But it wasn’t integrated with our CRM. Also, it wasn’t easy to find stuff. The sales people were frustrated and didn’t use it. Marketing wasn’t happy either because their content wasn’t being fully utilized.”
There’s a lot going on here. We have some barrier insights and critical success factors. The barriers were the lack of CRM integration and inability to find what you need. A critical success factor is ease of use and pushing content to the sales reps. We might also hook marketing into the sales process as they would see an increase in the utilization in the content and collateral we create. We got this!!!
Ok, time for the next probing question where we want to learn about how they make purchase decisions….
Key Question #4:
Thank you for sharing, that’s very helpful. When you first decided that you needed a sales enablement solution, how did you go about researching potential solutions?
They’ll start by telling you they did a Google search. We all do! This is your opportunity to probe on what keywords they used to search. How did they find you?
But keep probing and asking about what their process was to establish a list, evaluate the different options from website and content, and down-select vendors that didn’t fit their needs. You’ll want to get to something like….
“We eliminated solutions that didn’t have integration to our existing CRM and any that didn’t provide the ability to track content usage. That was important to us.”
You probably figured out by now, you might ask another “why” here if you didn’t get to the heart of the insight yet. You’re starting to get to evaluation criteria insights. Now it’s time to figure out who was involved in the decision…..
Key Question #5:
That’s awesome! Thank you. Maybe you could also tell me who was involved in the purchase decision? Where you the ultimate decision-maker?
“Ha! No, I wasn’t the decision-maker but I did make the recommendation. Our IT team took a close look at each solution. We had some of the sales leaders take a look as well. My boss, the VP of Sales reviewed our recommendation, viewed a demo, and supported our recommendation to make a purchase.”
We want to find out the decision-maker, economic buyer, mobilizer, and influencers are. With this insight, we can map the buyer journey and make sure our messaging and positioning resonate with the priorities and pain points of our target customers. In this case, we know that the Director of Sales Operations, the buyer we are interviewing, is the economic buyer and had a huge part to say in the final decision. We know that the ultimate decision-maker was the VP of Sales. We also know that we better make sure that the IT team is on board so that we don’t have any bottlenecks getting to a sale. We might also probe to see if marketing is a key player in this decision as well.
Obviously this is a hypothetical scenario but the example questions are real questions that have been successful for me in the past. The keys to a success buyer interview are:
- Demonstrate an genuine interest to understand the buyer’s world, their problems, pain, and how they make purchase decisions.
- Be an active listener; don’t script the questions or you will miss the opportunity to dig deeper to get to the insights that matter most.
- Don’t just ask “what” questions; the “why” questions are where you’ll get the key insights!
What are your favorite questions? I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment and let us know your thoughts.
About the author: Colm Lennon is the Founder of Haka Products (www.hakaproducts.com). Colm previously held Marketing and IT Leadership positions in a Fortune 100 company. In addition to his LinkedIn profile, you can also interact with Colm on his Twitter account @ColmLennon.