By Pamela Muldoon published June 4, 2012

An In-Depth Look at How to Create and Use B2B Buyer Personas with Ardath Albee

Ardath AlbeeAfter seeing Ardath present her smart, insightful content at Content Marketing World ’11, I was very excited to get the chance to do this interview with her for Content Marketing 360 Radio Show.  Ardath brings over two decades of sales and marketing experience to her clients and has an in-depth approach to getting to the heart of what makes up a buyer persona.   She was the perfect content professional to tackle this topic for our radio show.  Be sure to check out the Marketing Interactions blog as well as Ardath’s book eMarketing Strategies For The Complex Sale.  Always smart.  Always insightful.  And FUN, just like Ardath. 

Ardath answers the following questions in her interview:

  • What exactly is a buyer persona?
  • What questions should I ask to get to the heart of my content buyer?
  • What do your buyers need to know that they don’t even know they need to know?
  • Why is buy-in to the content marketing process a top-down importance?
  • Are you keeping buyers away by making them “pay” for your content?
  • Why is it so important for marketers to stay on top of trends?

There are several ways you can get the interview with Ardath:


Pamela: Welcome to my special guest today on Content Marketing 360 Radio Show. I have Ardath Albee. She is CEO of Marketing Interactions located in the beautiful California desert known as Palm Desert, California. I’m here in Minnesota doing this interview, so I’m warming up just as I’m talking to Ardath, which is fantastic.

Welcome, Ardath, to our show. You are also the author, I want to make sure we mention this. You have a book called “eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale”. I know we are going to dive into all sorts of information around that.

So, welcome to Content Marketing 360 Radio Show.

Ardath: Thank you, Pamela. It’s great to be here, and thanks, everybody, for listening in.

Pamela: Absolutely. Like I said, I do this interview out of Minneapolis; you’re in California. So, I just love that our Internet connects us. It’s kind of chilly here as I’m doing this interview with you today. So, you’re warming me up. I’m warm through the Internet, the inter-web waves, as we speak today. So, thanks for doing that for me, I appreciate it.

Ardath: You are more than welcome. I’ve been there; I understand what you’re feeling.

Pamela: I know. We love it. We love our California friends. And like I had mentioned, Ardath, you are a CEO of your own marketing firm, Marketing Interactions. You are also an author, and we are going to dive a little more into some of the content there, but just to tee up for our folks who are listening there, those that know who you are, have seen you speak and present and the good work that you do, and then there are those that are getting to know you.

So, tell us a little bit about what it is you do as a content marketer and what your firm, Marketing Interactions, what your specialty is?

Ardath: Sure. I focus primarily on B2B companies with complex sales. I only work on online content marketing strategies, and I quite often do projects around lead nurturing and lead generation creating content strategies and personas to really create that connected buyer experience that helps turn prospects into buyers.

Pamela: And what an important process that is, and that is exactly why we needed you on this show, Ardath, because we are titling this “Connecting Content to Your Buyer”, and you are the perfect candidate to walk us through that.

You’ve already mentioned where I would like to start the conversation. I think it’s an area that, whether you are a marketer, like myself, or if you’re a business owner or someone in a marketing spectrum in your company, the concept of the buyer persona. We hear these words. It’s something we think we know how to dive into this, but this is your area of specialty.

So, why don’t we first tackle what exactly is a buyer persona and how is that different from, say, your traditional target market, I guess preparation that we did say, in the industrial model marketing, where it was all demographic driven?

Ardath: That’s a great question. You know it’s funny because the word “persona” throws a lot of people off.

Pamela: Yeah.

Ardath: So, for example, I have clients that say we have to call it a buying center or we won’t get buy-in from the rest of the teams.

Pamela: OK.

Ardath: Or we have to call it a profile or we have to call it something else. They get stuck in the semantics of it. But a buyer persona really is a composite sketch, representative of a segment of your target market. So, the difference between traditional profiling or target markets is that those were done for us as the company.

So, for example, I ask a lot of people when I first start working with them, “Tell me who you’re selling to.” You get a standard “We’re selling to CIOs and companies with revenues over a hundred million in the financial services industry,” and that’s what they think is their target market. Well, that’s not a persona, it’s a demographic explanation of the kind of companies they go after and the area within a company they go after. 

Whereas, a persona is really focused on the roles and responsibilities of particular people that you are going to try to establish dialogue and conversation with, that are going to be part of that purchasing process. One of the things that traditional targeting didn’t really account for is that in B2B, especially, it’s not one person doing the buying. So, there are a lot of other people who have to decide and provide consensus in order for that decision to get made.

In fact, I just did a project where we discovered the primary target they were going after really wasn’t involved in the buying process, other than to approve budget. So, they were wasting a lot of time and effort. So, that’s how critical personas can be in doing B2B content marketing.

Pamela: Well, and you touch on something that I think is very, very interesting because you just used the example of the person we thought was in a typical target market language or demographic, or the person inside the organization really wasn’t the person, but was part of the process to get to the person, correct?

So, if that’s the case then, when you are doing buyer persona work are you really . . . it seems like you are diving into . . . there could be multiple individuals that you need to touch, but you have to know who each of those are, and like you mentioned, roles and responsibilities. So, it becomes an even deeper conversation than just 18 to 35 females that live in Connecticut, right?

Ardath: Well, exactly. So, there are a couple things I want to touch on here on the point you just made. And the first one is I see a lot of personas that are what I kind of call “Ouija Board” personas, because they are based on stuff that marketers would never know. So, for example, married with two kids and a dog.

Pamela: Right.

Ardath: How are you going to know that? You’re not. A salesperson who is doing one-to-one interaction may be able to figure that out, but that’s something that is specific to each individual person. So, in a B2B sale, what you’re really focused on is what are their business priorities, what objectives are they tasked to accomplish for the organization, what keeps them up at night, right? So, what problems are they dealing with.

Then, you want to really take a look at what is their orientation. This is as touchy-feely as a B2B persona should get in my opinion. And this is stuff like, do they use social media? How long have they been in their careers, typically? If they have been there a long time, then they probably have the ability to maneuver more within the company than somebody who has only been there for two or three years.

If you took a sampling of the population, looked at them, do they tend to stay with the same company working their way up the ladder over time or do they jump around every couple of years? So, you can deduce a lot from this kind of information about how to really reach them, and a lot of it can actually be found on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is my friend.

Pamela: Yeah, I say, Ardath, that LinkedIn is one of the most, probably, under-, I don’t know if under-used, but under-appreciated, maybe, of the social media platforms because it’s like opening up someone’s life.

Ardath: Well, it is and what you find is that some of the people you may be after actually write their own blogs, or they’ll divulge things about the job that they do that can really help you understand, not only orientation and objectives, but also some obstacles that could get in the way. You know, I mean the things people will share on social media are very important.

So, the three categories that I focus on with personas are objectives, orientation and then obstacles. Obstacles means what could derail the deal for that person or that persona. So, what could stop it in its tracks. And the reason why I really take a look at that is because if you can eliminate some of that stuff before sales gets in the conversation, it’s going to just keep momentum moving faster and shorten time to close for that account.

Pamela: Right. Well, and I love that you have broken this down, too, and I just want to make sure we’ve got these here. So, objectives, orientation and obstacles. Of course, the content marketer in me, Ardath, is already thinking of content that falls into each of those three areas. So, I’m starting to build out information that could connect to objectives, that could connect to the orientation. Then, of course, like you said, being able to write about the solutions before the obstacles are even in place.

My guess is that by doing this, and you have mentioned some questions, but like you said there is some Intel that starts to come out from the questions you are asking. Are there other questions that we haven’t touched on today that you think are really important that as we create the persona, as we really create who this influencer is in the organization?

Ardath: Yeah, absolutely. So, the way that I round out my personas is that after all the research is done and I have narrowed down, OK, what are their objectives, orientation and obstacles and those kinds of things, what starts happening, because you are doing a lot of research while you are doing this. So, what starts happening is questions that this person might have start bubbling up.

So, what I do is slap all them down in a Word document or a whiteboard if I’m working with a client, or whatever it is, and all we contribute as many as we can. What are all the questions we are going to have if they are trying to solve a particular problem that your product or solution helps them solve? So, what are all the things they need to know?

The thing that is most interesting that I learn with most clients is we don’t start soon enough. So, for example, everybody has a status quo, it’s whatever they are doing today, whatever their orientation is today. So, how are you going to reach them in that place where they may be using a work around, they may be using a spread sheet, instead of software. Whatever it is, there is always a status quo. So, how you start from there, what would pique their interest and get them to start asking questions about how they could do something differently or better and those kinds of things.

So, you really have to start a lot earlier than a lot of marketers think. So, most marketers aren’t really armed with all that sales and product-type information that’s suitable farther down the buying process. But really what content do we have that addresses their situation today and helps them understand why they need to lean forward a little bit and how they are looking at doing their jobs and meeting their objectives.

Pamela: And that’s an interesting point because we, as human beings, don’t know what we don’t know. So, if I’m hearing you correctly, what you are asking us what to do as marketers is to . . . We talked about education and information, but this is really tapping into the persona or that process and saying, “You know what you know, but let’s take a step or two back and hear some other things that you may not be aware of that you should know.”

Ardath: Yes, exactly. So, what happens as you throw up all these questions that they need answered, if you can actually look at them and then start to organize them. So, for example, a question related to why the heck should I care is going to come in the early part of the process, where a question, what are my choices or which options are available, is going to come later in the process. So, you can almost see, this content flow establishes this question and answer flow established where they have to get one question answered before it would even make sense for them to ask the next question?

Pamela: Right.

Ardath: It becomes really obvious. So, if you start thinking about this question and answer as kind of a conversation or a dialogue, where it has to make sense. And the thing about it is that even though buyers aren’t always linear and people are going to be in different stages of the process, in order to construct a strategy where you’re meeting everybody’s needs, you have to organize it from one end to the other. Otherwise, it doesn’t make any sense.

Ardath: So, for example, all the answers that you are going to come up with to these questions, are going to become the premise or premises for your content development.

Pamela: Yeah.

Ardath:  Let’s say you come up with 12 questions that you know your prospect or your persona has to answer in order for them to agree that the decision to buy is the best choice, to buy from you. So, let’s say you can answer each question two or three different ways. So, now you have the possibility, the possibility of 24 to 36 pieces of content.

Pamela: Yeah.

Ardath: They can build around this persona that can be presented in a connected way, to build the story over time and for this person’s specific orientation or outlook. So, if you have, for example, a persona that’s focused on the VP of marketing and a persona that’s focused on the Customer Experience Manager, for example, these two people may be looking to solve the exact same problem, but they’re not going to try to do it in the same way because their perspectives are different.

Pamela: Sure.

Ardath: So, that’s really the secret of personas. So, what, in the beginning, I mentioned we discovered that a persona wasn’t appropriate. So, the other thing to look at is there enough distinction between the personas you’ve identified to warrant different story lines. So, that’s the other mistake I see where you’ve got personas where there’s not enough difference to really warrant all that extra work. You are going to go through creating all that content. So, we have not only to make sure those personas are active in the buying process, but we need to make sure there’s enough distinction that warrants us doing that extra work.

Pamela: Well, and that is a really, really good point and I would think, a very big distinguisher from your atypical target market process to what you’re talking about is getting deeper into the heads of the people that really care about what you’re writing about or doing audio or whatever the case is. Because if I say I have more than one target market, it could be because of a demographic situation, age, gender, some very basic elements.

But what you’re saying is by doing this work, we may find that where in the traditional model we had four or five target audiences that we connected with, in reality we only have, maybe, two personas.

Ardath: Right, but the other difference could be you may only have two personas, but how different are they between verticals.

Pamela: OK.

Ardath: For example, how different would it be to talk to a specific persona that’s in financial services versus one that’s in telecom . . .

Pamela: Sure. Sure.

Ardath: . . . or high tech, or whatever. So, there a number of different ways or angles to look at this. And one of the things I emphasize with my clients is, you know, we can fill the entire ocean, but we need to look at our resources and capabilities. So, one of the things you have to decide is, how much can you bite off. Because once you bite it off and you start a content strategy, you have to be able to sustain it. So, we need to really take a look at what does that really mean, given whatever the buy cycle is, the complexity of the product or solution we are trying to sell and those kinds of things because I always want to make sure that my clients can sustain the programs. Because content marketing is not a campaign, it’s not three touches, a sales call and we are done. These are programs that are designed to cover the entirety of the buying process and on into customer nurturing.

So, once you start them up, you kind of got to keep going and commit, otherwise you are not going to get there because it’s not just going to happen because one day you decide to send an email that links to a piece of content written for a specific person. It takes time to establish that credibility and that trust and for people to really gain the educational benefits and the expertise that you are providing.

Pamela: Well, and that is such an important point because I was raised in the industrial model marketing with some pretty large Fortune 100 companies, where you mentioned campaign, that was very definitely part of the process. Even if you did have a complex sale that took months and maybe, a year or two to get through, it was still considered very much in a campaign mindset. So, I know this is also an area that’s your specialty, Ardath, working with these larger organizations or sales and marketing organizations that have very complex process to the sales.

What are some of the, I guess, I don’t know if mistakes is the right word, but getting that mindset shift to campaign to process. What are some of the common, I guess, mistakes that companies are making or some of the push-back that you receive to get them beyond just doing a campaign that’s sustainability in terms of the content?

Ardath: Well, funnily, one of the projects I’m working on right now the executive that has given us sponsorship and support is very much a traditional marketer in a lot of ways and his big thing is themes. He wants themes.

Pamela: OK.

Ardath: He wants quarterly themes. So, the problem you run into when you try to apply a theme mentality to a content marketing strategy is that quite often what you are doing is still, in quotes, a “campaign” because you are talking about one theme and then you get to the end of the quarter and all of a sudden everything switches.

Pamela: Sure.

Ardath: So, the story is no longer connected. You are not providing that consistent experience anymore, now you have decided to talk about something else. But here’s the thing, if your prospects or your personas are in a buying process that lasts 9 to 12 months, I have companies that have 18 month sale cycles and you’re switching your theme every three months, by the time they get interested, you’ve now changed course. You know the reason why this happens is because we as marketers get bored.

Pamela: Right.

Ardath: And we want to talk about the latest thing, right? We are shiny object people and we want . . .

Pamela: Yes, we are.

Ardath: We think, “OK, we have already said this, we don’t need to say it again.” Well, what marketers don’t understand is people need to hear new ideas and concepts five to seven times before they start embracing them.

Pamela: Yep.

Ardath: So, if we do a quarterly theme and then we change, we just lost all the momentum we were trying to build in the first place.

Pamela: But, you know, that’s interesting because I grew up in radio, so we were kind of known for switching things up all the time. So, I totally know what you are talking about. Back then, we didn’t have as many interruptions in our day as we do now. So, we mentioned five to seven, seven being kind of that average and getting that consistency . . . I just want to tackle that concept of theme.

And, again, I want to make sure I understand what you are laying out here in terms of sustainability. Because this is so important and it is a change that marketing, I don’t care the size of your organization, I think marketing in general really needs to start seeing this as an ongoing part of their process versus like we talked about campaign.

So, if there is a theme or an idea and that becomes very important to, say, the VP of marketing or the person taking charge of this process, do we then create more parallel with something like that or how do we get around the campaign more? I guess the better way to ask it is, is it possible to put campaign inside of a content process in any way. Have you ever seen that or experienced that?

Ardath: Oh, sure, that happens all the time, and the reason it happens is because lead generation is still going to be, and I hate the word campaign, I wish we could strip it from the lexicon but . . .

Pamela: I know, we have to come up with a new word.

Ardath: . . . it’s still going to function as a specific thing, if you will, like the webinar or the white paper or what have you, but the difference being is that we need to try and tie those efforts in with the subject matter that we are using in the overall content strategy. So, one of the big transitions that needs to happen is that marketers need to give up the corporate messaging thing where not only are we the leading provider of, but the tag lines and the stuff that’s all around the products. So, that’s one of the hardest things to give up because that’s what they all know the best.

We all know our companies, our products, our solutions. We are given these corporate message briefs or brand positioning documents or whatever they are, and what we need to do is take a look at those and say, “OK, from this persona’s perspective, how the heck is this relevant, where is the relevance and how can we help transition that into more of a relevant story and make it apply to something that engages with the persona?

So, we have to quit talking about ourselves so much. And that’s really hard for marketers because it’s their base of expertise, that’s what they know is their company’s products and solutions. So, it becomes a real challenge in a lot of ways, but, there’s always going to be specific campaigns. There’s going to be a product launches, there’s going to be events or conferences or trade shows. There’s going to be lead-gen efforts and I think the overarching problem, at least . . . I work for a lot of big enterprise companies that have fragmented marketing teams.

So, you have corporate Markcom, you have Demand Gen, you have the web people, you have PR. You’ve got all of these different entities that don’t work together. We were talking earlier before the interview about marketing silos and there is a lot of that. I have to figure out how to connect all those things because otherwise what we have is a really wonderfully inconsistent content strategy that may not mesh with our social media program, our corporate marketing and branding, our other things.

And so, one of the challenges is, we may have is one battle of how do we establish content strategy and set up a nurturing program for a specific division of the company or a solution, but how do we start incorporating all the other stuff to make it all work well together so that is that consistent and connected experience all the way across. Because you know as well as I know that our prospects are not just waiting for our emails. They are on social media; there are at industry portals. They’re all over the place. So, if they’re seeing conflicting messages, we are kind of shooting ourselves in the foot.

Pamela: There are a couple of pieces I want to make sure we touch on. And, one, going back to that, if you have laid out your persona smart, you’ve got that list of questions. And not only where they are at today, that orientation of where they are today, but taking those step or two back that says, “Have you thought about this, and have you thought about that?”

So, you’ve got this series of questions that basically walk through, I guess, for lack of a better analogy, a sales or a buyer process. This is what they need to go through to purchase and to actually convert. So, again, we will talk a little bit about that silo, but when I’m creating content, you mentioned webinar, you specifically work in the Internet or the e-space. But how can a company choose, because this kind of goes hand-in-hand with our persona? The next hard question is which strategies make the most sense? And am I getting the type of strategies also out of that persona question and answer that I’m going through as I develop that?

Ardath: Well, let me clarify. Because when you are saying strategies, what I think I’m hearing is formats.

Pamela: Yeah, the platforms. We’ve got to come up with a consistent word or two. You’re right there are so many words for the same thing. Yeah.

Ardath: I know. And you know one of the places marketers tend to turn first is to the format. And, quite frankly, that’s the wrong place to turn first. Because, in my opinion, what’s going to dictate format is orientation of the persona, but also the topic that you are covering. So, some of the answers to the questions may be well covered with a blog post.

Some may be well covered with a video. Some may be an infographic. Some may require a white paper.

I think the topic and the answer and the importance of the question to the persona need to dictate in some way what format we apply to it, but also that orientation of the persona, like where they spend their time online, are they on social media, you know. Because I have a lot of clients that say, we need to have a Twitter account and I go out and look and their people aren’t on Twitter . . .

Pamela: Yeah.

Ardath: . . . but they are using LinkedIn. But, you know what, marketers aren’t interested in LinkedIn because it’s not as fun as Twitter. So, they want to use Twitter and I’m like . . .

Pamela: That’s exactly right.

Ardath: . . . OK, but wait, what are we going to accomplish here? And so, I think the format has to take a back seat position to the persona prospect. So, this also goes back to resources, what can you create [inaudible 38:16] takes you six months, is it worth it or are you better off doing a series of articles you can release that are loaded onto web pages, it would be better analytics.

Pamela: Right.

Ardath: I think blogs are great, too, because you can do short form content, you know . . .

Pamela: Yeah.

Ardath: . . . that can be media and make a difference.

Pamela: Well, I think you bring up such an important point because part of the push-back we sometimes get from the people we are trying to help is the time. Let’s say we have a couple of different budgets, a money budget and a time budget and so, it’s also a reminder to us developing strategy.

Ardath: . . . in whatever fashion that may be.

Knowing and understanding how they live their day, how they live their week as a professional, and I think this also means not just Monday through Friday, 9:00 to 5:00, correct? I mean we’re really diving into more of almost lifestyle of how they intake information and what platforms they take them from?

Ardath: Well, exactly. A lot of us are doing our informational reading before our work day starts or after it ends. Because during the day, we’re in meetings all day or on calls all day, or delivering our stuff all day and we don’t have time. So, yeah, it needs to be available whenever somebody wants access to the information, and they have to be able to find it. So, it’s another really good point about which platforms you choose and knowing where your personas are going to be.

Pamela: Well, when and where to find it, obviously, if every single one of our prospects, into converted customer or buyer, went through all of our steps one at a time in sequence, it would be a beautiful situation. But people are finding us, right?  Like everybody go through step 1 through 12. Great. Thank you. But some of them pop in at step number six or some of them will pop in at step number eight and step number two, right? Our consumer is really all over the place.

So, again, going back to this process of building up the personas and connecting your content to that that buyer process that you talk about and then I want to talk a little bit more to this conversion because we can put the best webinars on, I can do a great podcast, Ardath. I can have all sorts of white papers, but at the end of the day we have to convert.

So, how do we really . . . you mention like resources or bandwidth, how do we create contents that anybody can pop in at any time, whether it’s step one or step 12, and then what are some ways that we’re able to get them to that conversion. To really bring them in and get them more and more qualified so we can make that sale?

Ardath: That’s a great question and absolutely a must have for content strategy. One of the first things to look at is if you provide . . . like they click through and touch two or touch eight, what else can they do? And this is one of the reasons I really emphasize putting content on web pages rather than in PDF, although they still use hyperlinks in PDFs, but you want to be creating a connective pathway. So, if they come in at touch six and they go, “Oh, geez, I wonder what I needed to know before this” or whatever and you have connected them to touch five . . .

Pamela: Yeah.

Ardath: . . . with a hyperlink or some other reason, then they can get that information, or they can also move on to something else that might take them further in a forward direction. But one of the things you need to look at is how does all of your contacts fit together which is why I like the Q & A structure because you can really see how to connect content together. Because one Q & A leads into the next one. But, the trick of it is really, in my opinion, the technology that you have access to because that’s where your visibility is going to come from in an online scenario.

You’re not seeing them face-to-face anymore. You have to have information analytics about what they’re doing. Then, the other thing about it is you’ve got to have that human touch, that inside sales connection, or what have you, because as a content marketer, you’re making a best guess and you’re seeing all this activity in your system, what they’re doing and you say, wow, this guy is really into buying and then inside sales calls and finds out, no, they’re doing research, and eventually next year the CIO wants a presentation about options for building X.

So, the lead score may be huge. You may think this guy may need to go to sales and then you find out, no, not really because it’s information gathering for a year out, or whatever. But our assumptions need to be validated, we need to verify that what we are seeing and what we thought was going to happen, is really happening. So, it’s critically important that we build these paths with inside sales.

What kind of competent dialogue is going on out there and we prep them or prime them to be able to extend those conversations and provide a business relevant conversation to the prospect, not a “I saw you downloaded the white paper, would you like a demo conversation?”

Pamela: Sure.

Ardath: It’s all about the company, not about the prospect. So, going back to persona development, in every prospect I can do, we do at least four to six interviews with sales people to get their validation to find out what kinds of conversations they’re having, to learn what kinds of questions they’re getting asked by prospects once they get them into conversations because we want to see is there any way we can answer some of those questions earlier in the process to get sales people into the process sooner?

Pamela: Right.

Ardath: Because you know as well as all the rest of us know, the buyers are pushing vendors away and they’re saying “No, I’m going to self-educate, man.”

Pamela: Yeah.

Ardath: I’m going to teach myself and they need to know if your concept isn’t going to help me, I’ll get it from somebody else. We don’t have visibility into the sales process for a specific contact until they actually decide to contact us and then we know that they’re in there and we can monitor them.

What we’re seeing in research is that sale cycles are compressing. So, a lot of that is based on the fact that people just aren’t identifying themselves until later in the process. So, that means our sales team have to really be on top of it and be able to . . . if prospects have been interacting with our content for months, wherever they may have been finding it on our blogs, our websites, our micro sites, wherever, our webinars.

Sales people need a way, an efficient way to be relevant when they step into those conversations. And it used to be that sales would step in, they would start a relationship from the beginning. Marketing would get a contact and throw it over the wall as a lead. So, sales would be involved all the way through. Not true anymore.

Pamela: Right.

Ardath: So, we have to figure out a way to empower our sales people. And one of the things that I do with my clients is help them create what I call content cliff notes. Because your sales people are not going to sit down and read your marketing content. So, you need to give them a one sheeter that says here’s the content, here’s the question we answered, here’s the highlights we made, the points we made and here’s some conversation prompts and here’s some follow-on information that you might want to provide after the call as a follow-up.

It’s true that there is some kind of business relevant conversation going on that’s in line with what the prospect is experiencing.

Pamela: Well, and this so important because we chatted earlier about the silos, breaking those down. So, you’re talking about taking it to even that next level which is really blending marketing and sales of more than ever and bringing the conversations sooner into sales than probably some of us are used to, and then it’s just really kind of making a mess of everything, Ardath.

Ardath: [laughs]

Pamela: [laughs] Wait a minute.

Ardath: I would love to make a mess of everything. But I mean the whole reality is that buying has changed.

Pamela: Yes.

Ardath: And buyers are not going to . . . They’re not reliant upon us as gatekeepers of information anymore. Because if we don’t have information that helps them become educated and learn about best practices and all that kind of stuff, I think, and say we’re going to gate everything, we’re not going to share it unless you give us your information. You’ve just given them, told them, go to your competitors. They’re giving information out for free, go to them, and that’s not the right thing to do.

Pamela: Even that practice has really changed even just say in the last 12 to 18 months. That was the way to do things, to fill your database and kind of still create a more of a traditional marketing process to your online process. With the speed of light that we live in today, it is our job to stay on top of those changing trends of how buyers actually connect with our companies, our businesses and our content.

Ardath: No kidding. You know, I actually still see sites that gate case studies. Why in the world . . .

Pamela: Right.

Ardath: . . . do you want to gate the success . . .

Pamela: Yeah.

Ardath: . . . that your customers are having and make people fill out a form to learn the benefits and the value that you provide to your customers. Why would you want to do that? I just can’t figure it out, it makes me nuts.

Pamela: It’s true, you’ve created a weapon right there, and it’s sitting there for all the world to see, but they can’t get to it. I guess, the other pieces, we’re talking about sales and marketing silo, but when we looked at the persona process and really, like you said, this is a process, this isn’t a campaign. So, now that I have become a buyer, I’m working with your product or your service, I’m still in your marketing sphere. So, there’s retention, there’s customer service. How does all of that work? Because, again, in the industrial model, Ardath, we had everybody in their own separate little cubicle.

Ardath: Yep. And you know it’s a very good point, but here’s something that changes.

Pamela: OK.

Ardath: Remember back when we were talking about creating personas for prospects and we talked about that early stage, the status quo, where they were right now and addressing that?

Pamela: Yes.

Ardath: Well, once somebody becomes your customer, their status quo changes. You have to start from what is that status quo now.

Pamela: OK.

Ardath: And how are you going to help them use more of your solution, up-sell or buy horizontal products from you to enhance the experience? How are you going to make sure that they really embrace and use your solution so that you do reach them over time, so that you’ve built that loyalty and satisfaction? And so, it’s a different nurture flow.

Pamela: Yeah.

Ardath: And some of my clients actually think they can use the nurturing program they are creating now for their customers, and that’s not true because the orientation has changed. So, you almost need to do a little bit of a pivot on your prospect personas to what changes when they become your customer.

Pamela: Sure.

Ardath: And create programs specific to that. So customer nurturing is an extension. We really need to look at the entire life cycle as marketers.

Pamela: Yes.

Ardath: But we need to pay attention to what changes.

Pamela: Well, you know that’s interesting because the first place my mind went to as you shared like other products and now that I’ve got you as a customer, we’ve got to share more. I’ve worked for companies in the insurance industry, some pretty big hitters, ING, Prudential, and one of the things that’s very common was we sold them the life insurance, but they don’t know about any of our other products, for example. And so, it became such an issue of go out and get more leads, but not necessarily sell what you already have. So, what you’re saying is it’s been a challenge for marketing since the dawn of man.

Ardath: [laughs] Right.

Pamela: This is a new challenge. But now with content and the ability to share information, other than just picking up the phone or knocking on the office door and setting up a one-to-one meeting, my guess is that if I have been in that situation during my entire . . . I guess, it’s been a challenge I’ve had as a business or an industry. It’s almost, the world of content marketing and the web has really opened up more of that information sharing retention process than ever before.

Ardath: Yep, that’s true.

Pamela: My gosh. I still feel near and dear to the financial services as near and dear to my heart since I worked in that industry for so many years, but that was exactly where I went, was like, oh, this is the industry that really, really I know has that challenge. And I’m sure anybody who has a handful of different products and services you focus on. Lead generation, you focus on getting into the door, but the retention does get missed. So, you are talking about that life cycle of a client, of making them a prospect into a buyer and then, of course, keeping them.

So, what else have we missed today that you think is important to share so I can understand when it comes to this persona connecting content and making sure that we really care about our audience, what it is that they need versus, like you mentioned, writing about us and what’s important to the business?

Ardath: How much time do we have?

Pamela: [laughs]

Ardath: [laughs]

Pamela: We may have to do round two, is that what you are saying?

Ardath: [laughs]

Pamela: That’s okay.

Ardath: No, I could go on forever. I think the biggest point really is to develop that skill of being able to put yourself in your prospect’s shoes or in the shoes of your personas, and it really is a shift in thinking.

So, I was listening kind of out of one ear to a round table yesterday put on by the Marketing Automation Institute where they were talking about this survey they had done to uncover the skills gap, for everything that has changed with marketing and content marketing and how are marketers keeping up. Seventy-five percent of marketers said that they think that their lack of skills is affecting revenues and the sales alignment process and those kinds of things.

So, it sounds easy in theory. I get a lot of clients that come to me after struggling and they say, we’ve read all the books, we’ve been to the webinars, we’ve heard all the theories, we get it; but we have no idea how to make this work.

Pamela: Yeah.

Ardath: Because it can be so complex or seem so complex. So, part of what I do, in fact, I’m working with a company right now that had this really complex content strategy implemented for them and they can’t manage it. So, we are stripping it back and taking it back to a more simplified state because it doesn’t have to be that difficult.

Pamela: Right.

Ardath: And they weren’t ready for it to be that difficult. So, we have to bite off what we can manage, but we really, as marketers, need to pay attention to what do we need to do to update our skills, to start really thinking differently as a habit, not as something we have to say, OK, I need to think about, you know, my customer from that perspective. We need to just intuitively be able to do that.

Pamela: Right.

Ardath: Because everything we create needs to be focused on something that would be interesting to them that will help them solve a business priority. And that’s really the key thing. And I spent, I will never forget, I spent two hours in a workshop with a client group arguing with them, not really arguing, but challenging them to identify why something they said was buyer focused was not. And you know what it was, two words, two words in a paragraph that flipped the whole thing backwards toward the

company and not towards the buyer. And it was really obvious, only they couldn’t see it because they were so used to talking about their company . . .

Pamela: Right.

Ardath: . . . it just didn’t stick out to them.

So, I sat there with them for two hours and challenged them because I wanted that light bulb to go off and for them to see it. And it was amazing once they got it. And everything transformed after that. Sometimes it’s just that simple.

Pamela: Well, it’s simple, but it might take two hours.

Ardath: Yeah.

Pamela: [laughs] Well, I think an important part there is you, as a consultant, can tell them or there’s something about them being able to see that. They have to internalize it. I think that is another piece to this entire process that becomes important, not only from a marketer, getting a skill set pulled together, but the internalization from the top down of an organization to embrace what it is you’re asking them to do, I think, is so key to the success and something that is very vital to actually getting this implemented.

Ardath: Oh, I absolutely agree. In fact, most of my projects are now based on more coaching. Where it used to be, a couple years ago, it was they’d hire me, I’d come in and they’d say just do it and give it to us. Now, it’s we want you to teach us and be responsible for implementing a strategy for one division while the other divisions work along with me doing theirs.

Pamela: Ah-hah.

Ardath: So, they developed this repeatable framework.  They need to know how to do this, otherwise they are always going to need somebody like me in there. So, I spent a lot of time teaching people how to fish, and I think it’s really, really important.

Pamela: I do, too. And, of course, that really comes to the voice and the messaging that company is . . . the really successful ones out there doing great content, you can tell they are internalizing it. They live inside of the process, and they have people that are really connected. And we as a consumer, guess what, we know that, we can sense that, can’t we, we know. [laughs]

Ardath: Yeah.

Pamela: We’re pretty smart.

Ardath: It becomes very obvious.

Pamela: Well, Ardath, we may have to do a round two, because this is the persona, the sales process. If it takes five to seven touches for our buyers to know what it is we’re trying to explain to them, it’s probably the same thing with us as marketers, too, wouldn’t you agree, that we need to hear this five . . .

Ardath: Absolutely.

Pamela: . . . or seven times to get it to kind of ring true?

But you have given us some great tips and insights and just some really great ways to break this down. I don’t want to say simplistically, but I guess kind of taking some of the myth out of the persona process and giving it some realistic tactical ways to handle this as a marketer, as someone in business who is doing this.

So, I do want to make sure, Ardath, that our folks know how to connect with you directly, because I have no doubt that they are going to want to know how to get your book and, of course, how to understand how they can connect with you on the social sites as well. So, what’s the best way for our audience to do that?

Ardath: Well, the best way is email. I respond to email more so than, probably, many other things, and my email is my first name, And then, I’m also on Twitter, which is Ardath, A-R-D-A-T-H, 4-2-1 and my website is, which also has links to my blog and all my social media accounts and that kind of thing. So, reach out however, you are most comfortable, and I will do my best to respond.

Pamela: And, of course, your blog is a fantastic blog, great content for those that either marketers that need to get some insight into this or even if you are an organization saying how can we embrace this more, what are some great ways to do that. Great blog, great insights.

And your book again is “eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale”, and my guess is we can get that on your website as well?

Ardath: Yes, absolutely, everything is connected.

Pamela: [laughs]

Ardath: [laughs]

Pamela: Depending on my orientation, depends on where I’m going to come, right?

Ardath: Exactly.

Pamela: I love it. Excellent. Well, thank you so much for participating. Of course, our sponsor for Content Marketing 360 is Content Marketing World, and we will see you live and in person September on stage again. Really look forward to seeing you then and talking with you in person.

But, again, thanks so much for being a part of our show today.

Ardath: Thank you, Pamela, and thanks everybody for listening in.

Pamela: Excellent. And you are listening to Content Marketing 360 Radio Show. I’m your host, Pamela Muldoon, and we will be back in just a minute.

Author: Pamela Muldoon

Pamela Muldoon is the Podcast Network Director for the CMI Podcast Network. In her role with CMI, she assists the podcast hosts with the development, production, distribution and promotion of their shows. Pamela is a veteran podcaster who can be heard on the CMI Podcast Network with her latest show "Content Marketing NEXT". To date, she has interviewed over 200 business and marketing professionals as part of her podcast formats. She is also a professional VoiceOver talent specializing in commercial, narration, eLearning, and promo projects. Learn more at or Follow her on Twitter @pamelamuldoon.

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  • Bhaskar Sarma

    Couple of things.

    Ardath, I feel your pain about gating content. I have ranted about it on LinkedIn groups a number of times, and if it were up to me, I would not gate anything-case studies, whitepapers et al.

    This might be an extreme viewpoint, but my thinking is that the internet is bursting to the seams with information and if you put an obstacle to your content, it will have fewer eyeballs. I prefer to go the other route- have free content with a call to action so compelling that the people who actually need your solution will contact you on their own. They way, you will have a database which is going to be pretty receptive to your messages.

    Two, good catch about pivoting the persona and adjusting it so that it changes from buyer to user persona.  I never thought about it that way, in the sense of nurturing a customer through the entire life cycle, but now that I do, it makes sense.

    What’s your opinion on updating buyer personas with changing times? I get that each industry and each company will be different, but are there any data points to help you decide when you need to take a new look at your personas? Any rule of thumb, or framework?

    I was writing a post on Sherlock Holmes (went through a movie and the BBC series marathon) and personas and this article helped me a lot. Just wanted to chime in and say thanks to you. Did I get your message right?