Buyer Personas. The Key To Sustained Growth.

Who

In my prior blog, 3 Philosophies of a Great Company, I wrote about the importance of knowing your customer.  We’ve all heard this expression before but many companies still struggle with the essence and simplicity of its meaning.  Knowing your customer involves having a thirst for knowledge, the ability to confront reality, and dedicated resources including time and dollars.  Those that embrace this strategic component are those that excel and succeed.

Using a buyer persona process is a great way to get to know your customer.   Companies like Sirius Decisions and HubSpot have invested countless resources in the development of creating a buyer persona process that drives new customer growth while improving the retention rate of existing customers.  When used effectively, buyer personas can become a powerful P&L management tool.  How?  Buyer Personas help to:

  1. Improve target marketing by aligning your product or service to the right audience.  If your product is geared toward SMB (Small-Medium-Business) or enterprise-size companies, your buyer personas will provide critical insights into the buyer behaviors of these specific segments.  Having a deep confidence in knowing your customer helps to avoid wasting precious time, and money, spent marketing to the wrong prospect group.
  2. Provide granular detail around how your prospective buyer thinks and gathers information.  How do they make their buying decision?  This information helps improve your ROI on marketing investments by knowing what to say, where to say it, how often to communicate your message, etc.  Keep in mind that each business could have more than one buyer persona.  A CEO, CFO, Office Manager, General Manager, all make decisions differently.  Why?  Because each have their own perspective from which they process information.  This becomes extremely important when determining where each of these individuals go to find information.  Sirius Decisions concept of “watering holes” illustrates the importance of knowing where to place your message – where your customers and prospects spend their time.
  3. Convert your value proposition into a high-impact message.  The strength of your value proposition is dependent upon how well your message aligns to the needs of your customer or prospective buyer.  You cannot succeed if your value proposition is disconnected from the buyers needs.  Therefore, having a completed buyer persona allows you to take your value proposition and craft it into a specific message that addresses the needs or pain points of that buyer.  Being able to demonstrate to the buyer your understanding of their needs, builds their confidence and, ultimately leads to their conviction to select you as their provider of service.

Think about the companies that really seem to know what the customer wants.  Companies like Apple, Toyota, Cadillac, Samsung, Proctor & Gamble, and Victoria’s Secret are all companies that have taken a buyer persona approach to growing their market share.  They invest heavily in knowing their customer.  They understand that what worked yesterday may not work today given internal or external influences to their market.  The key is change.  Seek it, drive it, embrace it, demand it.  Change is what drives innovation and innovation, if done correctly, drives growth.

What’s happening at Apple?

With last week’s financial results posted by Apple showing a $1.3 billion decrease in year-over-year profits, is it possible we are about to witness one of the greatest rise and fall from corporate stardom?  What’s going on at Apple?  What are the employees thinking?  Better yet what is Tim Cook thinking?

Sure Apple returned a nearly $19 billion to shareholders via dividends and share repurchases, but their operating numbers raise some eyebrows.  While revenue was nearly flat at $35 billion this quarter, over the same period last year, what is more concerning is the drop in profit.  This year’s quarterly profit was $6.9 billion compared to a $8.8 billion profit a year ago.  And to make matters worse, sales of iPads dropped by more than 2.5 million units along with a 200,000 unit-sale decrease in Macs.

So what’s happening at Apple?  Have they lost their swagger.  Perhaps.  But why?  Is the answer fear?

Apple has been one of the most, if not the most coveted brand for the last decade.  People rush to buy their products, attend their conferences, and hope to work for a company whose founder is no doubt the greatest visionary of this generation.  Apple’s goals and desires rose above Wall Street’s performance expectations.  They operated with this notion that they could really change people’s lives…and they did.  And, as a result of changing millions of lives they in fact changed the world and how we consume information, use it, access it, and show it off.  Apple products carry a certain cachet with them.  All these accomplishments are the result of many things but perhaps the single biggest driving force behind their success was Steve Jobs.  A bold visionary who bucked the pressures of Wall Street and critics and moved in directions others wouldn’t dare.

Today Tim Cook is at the helm with some big shoes to fill.  It’s hard to expect a mere man, while a good man, to become superhuman like Jobs.  Cook may be a good operator but he’s no Jobs.  He may have walked into the worst CEO seat in the universe.  After all, following in the footsteps of someone like Steve Jobs would be difficult even for many of the greatest CEOs of all time.

Signs are already showing that Apple is becoming a “me-too” company.  After the strange introduction of the iPad mini, I began to wonder what was next.  Perhaps a gaming system like Xbox, or getting into selling flat screen TVs like Samsung?  Apple seems to be flailing about trying to find their way.  They’ve shifted their strategy in their retail stores from a laid-back, informative, fun experience to the typical “gotta sell them something” model used by all other retailers.  Unfortunately this shift has been noticed by consumers and they have voted with their feet as sales slipped to $4 billion, down slightly from a year earlier.

While the fear of failure affects people and companies differently, with Apple it may not have a positive result.  Companies throughout history have turned to visionaries when facing troubled times.  Chrysler turned to Lee Iacocca, GM turned to Bob Lutz, JP Morgan turned to Jamie Dimon, and Xerox turned to Anne Mulcahy.  Leaders that have clarity of vision along with a strong sense of conviction.  These leaders took bold actions, dismissed Wall Street, and focused their attention on the priority of turning their respective companies around.

Apple needs to find its hunger for innovation and market disruption once again if it expects to stay on top.  The out-of-the-box thinking driven by Jobs, along with his obsession with elegant, yet simple-to-use designs, created a Disney-like company where dreams are made of.  Let’s hope the dream is not over.