It is Time to Revisit Buyer Personas

Buyer Persona tools are a growing area of focus for sales and marketing teams.  Pragmatic Marketing and other B2B product marketing firms have long promoted the value of personas for product planning and marketing messaging.  They help identify customer needs and features as well as associated positioning.  According to B2B Marketing Strategist Ardath Albee, they help “build relationships based on expertise and authority that helps buyers see your company as a mentor and the best choice to solve their problem or capitalize on an opportunity.”

“Buyer personas are important because they allow us to focus our sales and marketing efforts on people who need our solutions to do their job better, to help their businesses grow, to help their businesses essentially reduce cost, to help the increase efficiencies, to help them realize the goals they are setting out to achieve.  In order for us to do that, we need to understand that buyer intimately,” said Ned Leutz of Zoominfo.  “By doing our homework fully we can better understand these people and then, of course, increase our success rate when we are reaching out to them.”

The problem with personas is that they have historically been high-level tools that quickly fall into caricature and disuse because they are not rigorously defined and maintained.  “Many customer intelligence efforts today are ad hoc, uninformed, and manual projects that are full of assumptions and rarely kept up to date,” says persona vendor Cintell.  “Even if you’ve hired a consultant to develop buyer personas, insights are often trapped in static PDF documents abandoned at the back of a desk drawer leaving critical customer intelligence underutilized.”

Unfortunately, there were few tools available for identifying and researching personas.  Instead B2B marketers focused on building segments that approximated their personas for marketing campaigns while product managers posted persona profiles in meeting rooms during road mapping and feature definition exercises but failed to use these tools beyond the early product definition stage.

Recently, three vendors have begun to address the B2B persona problem.  Zoominfo focuses on  amongst a company’s best customers.  These personas capture enough information about the attributes of their best customers to help identify similar prospects at other companies.  Such a tool operates as a next generation customer cloning tool as it looks at both firmographic and functional information around leads.  The tool can also be used to evaluate attendees at conferences or webinars to help tailor discussions.

ZoomInfo Personas provide a multi-dimensional cluster analysis for identifying persona categories and prospecting against them.
ZoomInfo Personas provide a multi-dimensional cluster analysis for identifying persona categories and prospecting against them.

Avention also recently rolled out its OneSource DataVision platform for enrichment, segmentation analysis, and Look-alike prospecting.

Leutz recommends that the firm ask questions such as

  • Who are your top performing customers?
  • Who are your best leads?
  • What were your biggest deals?
  • Which customers close faster?

This information that can be gathered from the CRM, marketing automation platform, webinar attendees, and trade show lists.  It can also be gathered from your sales reps, the CFO, and customer conversations.

While Zoominfo can assist with answering Who, they fail to provide insights into What or Why.  In short, Zoominfo’s personas are basically the next generation of peer listings;  they are a starting point for the persona process, but they do not assist with identifying persona needs; determining whether the cluster contains economic buyers, influencers, or users; or specifying what kind of content would be of interest to them.  They also do not assist product management in determining product roadmaps and future capabilities.

There are also several vendors that recently launched tools for defining and maintaining buyer and user personas.  Cintell and Akoonu offer marketers tools for defining personas in a centralized platform that collects survey data and research alongside the profiles.  Both of these services were launched about a year ago so will be evolving quickly.  The two services are cloud based hubs for collecting persona information and sharing it with both platforms (e.g. Marketing Automation and CRM) and employees.  They are ongoing intelligence gathering services for continuously refining and updating personas and then disseminating this intelligence to marketing, sales, and product management.

Cintell Personas cover professional insights, social insights, content trends (intent data), and personality data.
Cintell personas cover professional insights, social insights, content trends (intent data), and personality data.

They also promise to immediately map leads to personas, helping inform messaging, campaigns, and targeting within the marketing automation platform and segmentation and analytics in the CRM.  When tied to a well-researched persona, sales reps would have a better understanding of the prospect’s role, needs, and informational requirements.  Personas provide sales reps with a summary of buying habits, preferences, and motivations along with market research reports, customer interviews and surveys, and persona specific articles.  As living documents shared across the organization, they would also assist product management in identifying latent needs and customer pain points and marketing communications in tailoring content for the persona.

“Our new empowered B2B consumer seeks relevancy and empathy,” said Cintell Co-Founder Katie Martell.  “And marketers know this: In a recent ITSMA study, technology marketers  predicted that understanding buyers will soon become their #1 responsibility.  But getting to this insight is not easy. Efforts to research and leverage personas today are highly manual, shallow, very static, and fragmented throughout the business. The opportunity here is to empower B2B organizations with a platform to gather primary research, enhance it with external market and buyer insights, and combine it with data from internal business systems. The new competitive advantage for companies is a richer understanding of buyers through meaningful, ongoing customer intelligence.”

I don’t see these persona definition platforms as long-term standalone offerings as their functionality is a tight fit for marketing automation.  They will likely be folded into marketing automation platforms once the technology has matured.  It is also possible that predictive analytics companies fold these tools into their products as persona assignments would inform lead scoring and messaging.  Furthermore, several of the predictive firms aspire to becoming recommendation engines, a feature that persona platforms could easily support.  Conversely, business signals would be valuable in building out a fuller understanding of personas.

Avention: DataVision and Global Content Live

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I recently had the opportunity to interview Avention’s SVP of Product Lauren Bakewell concerning their new OneSource DataVision service.  The full interview can be found in trade publication Jinfo (FKA FreePint).  The new service provides a centralized data enrichment hub with visualization and segmentation tools to assist with business planning, territory planning, and account based marketing  (ABM).  DataVision also assists with TAM analysis and offers similar companies and contacts.

Like many other sales intelligence and Martech vendors, Avention is messaging around ABM programs which identify best customers and prospects for focused sales and marketing attention.  DataVision “helps companies understand their current customer base in detail and identify the most relevant target companies and segments for growth,” said Bakewell.  “OneSource DataVision benefits the marketing department by enabling customer segmentation and target identification, which in turn helps create targeted lists for campaigns, upsells and nurturing. Any marketer knows that a more targeted approach generates better leads for sales, meaning higher campaign ROI.”

According to Bakewell, Avention supports ABM and Account Based Sales Development (ABSD) processes in three ways:

  1. Identifying target accounts
  2. Delivering insights concerning accounts and contacts
  3. Building lists of contacts at target accounts

Avention continues to build out its Global Content Live reference file built from over 100 data providers.  Vendor content is fused to create a “golden record” which selects the most reliable vendor at the field level.  International coverage has recently been tripled with a goal of covering 80% of GDP in their served markets by the end of 2016.

DataVision will soon be announcing connectors with the major marketing automation platforms.  They are also “looking towards a more guided approach to help you get to the most meaningful segmentation, as well as areas to explore for growth. We want to move forward by providing more market analytics as part of the offering, helping you understand your data in an even more actionable way,” said Bakewell.

The full interview is available to Jinfo subscribers.

 

ABM: The Art of the Start (Avention)

This morning, sales and marketing intelligence vendor Avention unveiled a survey and set of recommendations on implementing Account Based Marketing strategies.  ABM is quickly moving from a buzzword to an actionable strategy for strategically targeting your best customers and prospects.  If you are considering an ABM strategy or researching how to move forward with ABM, Avention’s “Account-Based Marketing: The Art of the Start – Leveraging a Strong Data Foundation to Fuel ABM Success” guide is now available.

The Avention Survey of over 100 top level B2B executives (e.g. CEO, CMO, VP of Sales) found that ABM strategies require “careful data-driven planning, execution and monitoring.”  Furthermore, the lack of data access and quality are “fundamental impediments” that need to be resolved for ABM strategies to succeed.

ABM is based upon strategic targeting of your best accounts and similar companies.  If your underlying data is poor you will have problems with best customer cloning, account messaging, and drilling deeper into organizations for cross-sell and upsell.  Furthermore, “once a program is started, it is essential that account and market news and events be monitored to ensure programs remain relevant.”

Todd Berkowitz, research vice president for Gartner1 wrote in a January report, “By getting a better view of customer data, creating predictive models, employing account-based marketing, and creating internal and external-facing content specifically for existing customers, even marketing leaders from smaller providers can increase the likelihood of success.”

90% of the surveyed B2B execs believe that ABM is relevant to their organization and 86% are confident that ABM will drive growth; however, 75% are having trouble finding the appropriate contacts for selling deeper into target organizations, and more than fifty percent of B2B marketers lack an ability to monitor and adjust programs directed towards ABM accounts due to a lack of real-time intelligence.

AV ABM Survey
ABM Survey of B2B Executives republished with permission from Avention.

Avention noted that ABM is a long-term strategy that requires continuously updated account and contact intelligence if campaigns are to remain relevant.  For example, messages and offers may need to be adjusted due to key events such as executive changes.

Avention CEO Steve Pogorzelski summarized the ABM implementation problems found in the survey:

Almost two-thirds of the marketers responding to our survey report not having access to a single source of truth for customer data.  This obviously impedes starting an ABM program and running it to successful conclusion, as such programs demand access to accurate and continually updated market and account data.  ABM offers enterprises the opportunity to quickly fuel their customer acquisition, growth and retention strategies.

Pogorzelski noted that Avention provides three capabilities which support sales, marketing, and sales operations ABM responsibilities:

  • Marketing: “Consolidation and visualization of in-house customer data for sophisticated segmentation.” (For more on these capabilities, see my February blog on the launch of their DataVision platform).
  • Sales: Strategic intelligence concerning companies and contacts along with predictive indicators.
  • Sales Operations: CRM and Marketing Automation ecosystem connectivity.

Finally, I would note that traditional approaches to marketing data quality which involve annual data cleanses are insufficient to meet ABM and predictive marketing needs.  Marketing data, particularly contacts, ages quickly.  The lack of a continuous data quality strategy will result in a drop-off in sales and marketing productivity as contact and company data decays.

1 Gartner, Tech-Go-to-Market: Four Ways Marketers can Generate Demand with Existing Accounts, January 29, 2016


Full Disclosure: I broadly advise companies across the sales intelligence space including Avention.  While I periodically write commissioned blogs for Avention, none of my commentary on my own blog or social media accounts is commissioned.

Evolution of Sales Intelligence

Darwin's_finchesThe Sales Intelligence (SI) space has been undergoing some rapid change over the past year.  This evolution in functional scope and content sets has resulted in an expansion in the number of companies I cover as well as the categories (ABSD services, PE/VC funding databases).  There is also a movement of sales intelligence vendors into marketing intelligence as the traditional SIs look for additional revenue opportunities and a broader value proposition.

A year ago, Account Based Marketing (ABM) was discussed mostly by DemandBase, a top of the funnel programmatic marketing vendor, but the predictive analytics vendors and Zoominfo began discussing the methodology.  Thus, a year ago, ABM meant anti-ballistic missile or activity based management to all but the most well-versed marketers.  Now the term is commonly found in corporate blogs and collateral and has spawned ABSD (Account Based Software Development) which follows ABM down to the middle of the funnel in the sales development function.  There are now several ABSD vendors which I have begun to include in my newsletter including SalesLoft and QuotaFactory.  ABSD shifts the sales development focus away from “smile and dial” calling towards targeted messaging into a set of top prospects.  Since the prospecting activities are targeting higher value opportunities, there is a benefit to personalizing calls and emails.  SalesLoft refers to this activity as “sincerity at scale.”

What is even more impressive about SalesLoft and QuotaFactory is that they are both less than two years old and yet they have already grown in commercial stature to the point where they are building out partner ecosystems with traditional SIs and other vendors.  SalesLoft rolled out their Sales Development Cloud at their customer conference last month with nine partners including DiscoverOrg, InsideView, Datanyze, and Owler.  At the same time, QuotaFactory announced partnerships with Bedrock Data, Ambition, HG Data, and InsideView.

A second area of rapid growth is the technology sales intelligence vendors.  DiscoverOrg and RainKing have grown revenue and capabilities, transforming what was historically a sleepy niche into a significant sub-category.  Both vendors have posted high multi-year growth rates, internationalized their datasets, expanded their technology trigger events, and developed CRM and marketing automation connectors.  While they continue to gather rich profiles of IT execs, they are broadening their functional coverage to include non-IT functions that are significantly investing in IT cloud solutions such as marketing and finance.  DiscoverOrg is continuing this functional expansion with product management (the recently released TEDD dataset), HR, and Sales.  Furthermore, their databases, which once focused on the Fortune 1000, now cover nearly 50,000 top global companies and 700,000 executives.  Both firms announced significant funding events in the past six months.

Aberdeen Group, which was spun off of Harte-Hanks last year, has begun to invest in the AccessCI database.  Once the leading source of technology profiles and leads, the AccessCI (aka CiTDB and CITDS) dataset had received little investment from Harte-Hanks over the prior decade.  Under new ownership, the product is once again receiving management attention.

The SIs have also increased their coverage of technographicsAvention acquired SalesQuest two years ago and integrated their Crush profiles into their products while other vendors have licensed vendor/product data from HG Data or mined technographic intelligence.  HG Data has become so adept at collecting vendor/product data that DiscoverOrg and Aberdeen Group have begun licensing content from them.

Several firms that began as fundings databases found that Business Development was a logical extension of their value proposition and have since repositioned themselves as sales intelligence solutions.  Firms such as DataFox and Mattermark are focusing more on sales intelligence functionality while CB Insights has launched a sales intelligence solution (with technographics) while retaining its focus on the PE/VC space.

For the most part, the SIs have avoided the predictive analytics space.  The exceptions are Avention, which supports business signals and ideal profiles, and Radius which morphed  from an SMB SI into a predictive analytics company.  Meanwhile, the predictive analytics companies are beginning to offer a subset of SI features such as net-new leads.

Instead, the SIs have focused more on marketing analytics, data enrichment, and data hygiene which allows them to leverage their databases without investing in data scientists.  Dun & Bradstreet acquired NetProspex last year for its contact database and the Workbench cloud data hygiene platform.  They have also begun to offer Hoover’s concierge services including enrichment, segmentation reporting, and email delivery.  Avention launched its DataVision customer data platform earlier this year while Zoominfo, Data.com, and InsideView have placed equal weight upon marketing services and sales intelligence services.

Social Selling continues to be a core element of positioning for InsideView and LinkedIn Sales NavigatorArtesian Solutions, a UK vendor that is launching a US product later this year, also focuses on social selling.  A significant product gap across the SIs is the lack of social tools built into their offering.  I can understand why SIs have shied away from Who Knows Who tools (the exceptions are InsideView and DueDil), but it is perplexing why most SI vendors have only limited sets of social media links and little social media content displayed in their services.  Only InsideView, Artesian, and Owler have put much emphasis upon social media content.

Europe is also becoming a home of new services.  DueDil has evolved into a UK challenger to Avention and BvD Mint while IKO System and Sparklane (formerly Zebaz) have an established presence in France.

When I started my newsletter four years ago, many of the companies and products either had not been launched or weren’t on my radar.  I mostly focused on Avention, Hoover’s, InsideView, DiscoverOrg, BvD, Sales Genie, Data.com, and RainKing.  While these companies continue to innovate, much of the energy is coming from new entrants.  The rapid growth and diversity of sales intelligence functionality has been exciting to observe.

Credit: Darwin’s Finches are in the public domain.  Charles Darwin, 1845.

Avention Launches DataVision for Marketers

DV1

Late last month, Avention announced availability of OneSource DataVision, a hosted marketing platform which integrates internal and external customer intelligence.  By matching Avention company and contact data against customer and prospect files, Avention improves the accuracy and firmographic fill rates of marketing databases.  The result is improved customer segmentation and targeting based upon enriched data from Avention’s Global Live database of companies and contacts.

DataVision also provides analytics and visualization tools for marketers.  “As a result, you will be able to identify and leverage key customer and prospect segments to make more informed decisions, identify cross-sell opportunities, key industries, verticals and much more,” states Avention.

“In a world where gaining new customers has become more complex and competitive, and customers engage with vendors later in their buying processes, marketing and sales teams need to align their data more than ever. OneSource DataVision is a powerful – yet easy-to-use – tool that helps marketers understand their current customer bases in detail and identify the most relevant target companies and segments,” stated Lauren Bakewell, SVP of product for Avention. “Initial customers have seen positive business impacts and results from their use of OneSource DataVision.”

DataVision provides a centralized marketing view of customer data which may be housed across multiple platforms including CRMs, Marketing Automation Platforms, and order entry systems.

“Companies need accurate, deep data to gain the marketing intelligence needed for better targeting and advancing customer relationships.  The ripple effects of greater marketing intelligence within the enterprise are improved sales cycles, cost of lead and sale and revenue generation,”  blogged Jennifer Nash.  “OneSource DataVision helps marketers increase the value of existing customer and prospect data by centralizing, analyzing and visualizing multiple data sources.”

DataVision includes a gap analysis tool which assesses the total addressable market in order to identify underserved markets and growth potential.  After enriching and segmenting the data, DataVision users can prospect for similar companies.

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DataVision Look-Alikes segmented by state.

 

As DataVision provides ongoing cloud based data cleansing and standardization, It is likely to be competing against similar offerings from ReachForce, Zoominfo, and D&B NetProspex.  The service is also likely to butt up against predictive analytics companies such as Lattice Engines and Infer.  While Avention offers a set of predictive tools (e.g. Business Signals and Ideal Profiles), they do not appear to be fully integrated into the initial release.

Analyst David Raab noted that DataVision’s hosted data model is likely to result in fresher data “since any query to DataVision will return the latest information available to Avention.”  He also complimented DataVision’s visualization tools and the platform’s ability “to compare those distributions with the entire Avention universe of known firms.”

A significant trend over the past two years has been the blurring of the lines between sales and marketing with sales intelligence vendors addressing marketing requirements (e.g. DataVision, Zoominfo,  InsideView for Marketing) and marketing functions migrating down the pipeline to sales reps (e.g. SalesLoft Cadence, Salesforce IQ).  Historically, OneSource shied away from building marketing tools in order to focus on the sales and research functions.  While they long offered match & enrichment services, this offering was managed by their Professional Services team as either a custom project or CRM enrichment.  DataVision is their first product designed specifically for the marketing team.  Of course, improved data quality at the top of the funnel provides benefits to sales reps in the form of improved lead quality, enriched leads, and properly routed opportunities.