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B2B Marketers: Do You Really Know Your Customer?

Posted January 25, 2023
Andi-Graham-BigSea Marketing-CaliberMind

Andi Graham, CEO of Big Sea  joins our host, Camela Thompson, in this episode of the Revenue Marketing Report. Andi shares her insights on the things that feed into determining a persona profile, why persona is so important in developing messaging that works, and the dangers of relying only on data in understanding your customers.

When we talk about knowing our customers, what are the things that feed into determining a profile? Do we need to know who is buying before we start doing outreach and interacting with customers?

Andi is the CEO at Big Sea, a 40-person marketing agency that he founded in 2005. Big Sea is ahead of its time and was doing inbound way before inbound was cool or even named inbound. Big Sea focuses on content marketing and works with clients including both regional and national non-profit organizations. This involves plenty of foundation work and many museums and cultural institutions across the country.

Somebody once said this really well: messaging is something that needs to appeal to someone with zero context. Today, many marketers struggle with coming up with that sort of messaging because they have all the context even before. What we have to figure out is exactly who our customer is. At the start of this chat, Andi went into detail about the things that can be fed into determining a persona profile.

“That’s a great question. I talk about this a lot since I often get frustrated when our clients come to us with their personas, which they have developed using some template. A template where they just fill in the boxes based on 99% of the time, assumptions that they have made about folks. Or perhaps it’s based on some data that they have got somewhere and they’ve bought a list somewhere and they have tried to find some maybe demographic data and every now and then, a little bit of psychographic data they can find about a particular persona. But that’s pretty rare. So 99% of the time people use assumptions. I’m here to tell you there’s a much easier way to find out who you’re actually selling to. And that is quite simply asking them. I know it’s groundbreaking. It’s crazy but the truth is you can start with data and you can start with list buying if you need to or you can start digging into groups that you find on Linkedin, Facebook, and Reddit. That’s a wealth of finding out about the community that you want to market towards after you make your assumptions, of course.

“However, you can start actually asking folks, how do you make decisions about these things? Where do you find these things? What are you reading? There are now tools like Spark Toro that we can use to dig into what sort of media people are interacting with. What they are listening to, what podcasts they are engaging with or where they spend their time online. There is really no excuse anymore for not digging into who your customer is. The truth is we all know somebody in our target market that we can just reach out to and ask.”

Why is persona so important in developing a message that works?

Andi talked at length about why persona is so essential to developing a message that works.

“I would suggest it has always been essential, but it’s more critical now as we have all fractioned into our little worlds and our own little bubbles and the language we use is very different. I love to talk about one of our first clients which was an aromatherapy education platform that we built the learning management system for and then helped her grow her business. I used to get so frustrated when I was very new to what I was doing. When I would send her messaging she would correct all the words that I was sending over. She’d say, no isn’t how we talk about these things. This isn’t the language we use. 

“Therefore, as a very base, we have to learn the language our customers are using or they will see through us right away. We want to be as authentic as possible. But we also want to truly show we understand our customers by using the language they use to talk about their own lives, choices, and behaviors as well. Two, we can then align what our products or services do with the needs, wants, and desires of our buyers. What good is a product or service if we don’t actually solve problems for somebody that we are trying to sell it to. So building a better product is one opportunity. But also selling that product and knowing who to talk to and when to talk to and not wasting our time with blanket or mass marketing messaging that doesn’t speak to anyone individually.”

I see a lot of tech companies starting with features and what differentiates them on a very, very technical level. They seem to forget that the key person they are catering to isn’t oftentimes a technical buyer and doesn’t care. They want to know if you solve the problem they have, which you haven’t stated in your marketing copy. And then they will have someone technical come in and verify that. Andi sees this happening in tech all the time.

“So I am on the sales side and often, I’m the first phone call people make when they’re trying to buy tech from us when we are building websites and platforms for them. They come in and they are just asking questions. Can we do this? If I were to launch immediately into this and say this API doesn’t integrate with this other API. I’ll lose them on that call. Therefore, I have got to make sure I am talking about the things that they care about the most before we move any farther down that stage. Seth Goin wrote in 2012, the only way to do great customer service is to treat different customers differently. I think that’s such a strong statement because it is true. That was in 2012 and we are even more fractional now. But if we aren’t treating customers the way they want to be spoken to, listened to, and interacted with all of those. What platforms are we using to communicate with them? If we are asking a client, for instance, we ask them to log into an entirely new platform as the only means of communication. That becomes problematic and asking them to change their lives, but we aren’t willing to change for them.

“Those are really tough business relationships since we aren’t fitting into their world and we need to fit into their world.”

I think people who listen to this podcast are very aware that I advocate for a blend of art and science. What’s the danger of only relying on data when it comes to understanding your customers?

I am a huge fan of blending art and science or giving context and business knowledge layered on top of data. Andi discussed the risk of solely looking at data and using that to base your persona decisions.

“The worst thing that comes out of using data solely is that 95% of people who come to work with us have really bad data. We work with some really smart marketing directors who have already gone in and kind of sorted out those things. However, for the most part, their data is really bad. It is very messy. It has very little governance. So there are things that have been added and compiled for years and years. Just looking at a sales database, for example, how many of those leads actually still exist in the roles they were at when you gathered that data? Probably very few.”

We have all heard of the great resignation swap. It’s a knock on marketers, but it is a fact that data goes stale extremely quickly. Even Salesforce says 90% of data is either stale or missing. Therefore, even if you are enriching your data, it doesn’t automatically mean it’s great. Andi agrees.

“Yeah, that’s right. Even as businesses and B2Bs, you are still working with humans. So understanding what’s important to me as a buyer vs. important for Joe Smith down the street are two very different situations even though we might be buying the same product. Knowing that I am a busy mom who is on my way to soccer practice and I’m going to be reading email in the grocery checkout line, while I’m trying to get the gift for my kid’s student teacher for tomorrow’s thing vs. Joe who is a single guy in his twenties. He is going to go gaming with his buddies after work and his interaction with email is going to be in a very different place, space, and mindset.

“Just being able to make decisions around those things when you are creating content from a marketing perspective and also from a sales perspective. Therefore, knowing what’s important to people and how they use their time and where they spend their time is very important. I think the second problem with using just data is that sometimes we rely so heavily on it that we forget the intuitive creative decisions we make are often far more interesting. I think everyone’s heard about the Cherry Sprite scenario where they relied on all the data, the Coke freeform product, the Coke machines where you can mix all your own flavors. They discovered most people were mixing cherry into their Sprite. So they decided to launch it. Cherry Sprite as if cherry 7 Up hasn’t been on the shelves for the past 30 years!

“It would have been a far cheaper endeavor to just copy one of their competitors and say, ‘Hey! That looks like a cool idea, let’s try it. But instead, they waited for all of this data to come in and the project spend was a flop. So there is why those sorts of things you realize are possible with data, but not always the best approach to using the data.”

For more expert interviews and advice, listen to the full Revenue Marketing Report episode at the top of the article or anywhere you podcast.

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