March 3, 2015

Expert Interview: The Importance of Buyer Personas in Marketing Automation

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Justin Gray is the CEO of LeadMD, a company that utilizes Marketo and Salesforce to build a bridge between strategy and execution. He works closely with the marketing automation (MA) integration aspect of CRM, including how MA data feeds into CRM and how to optimize that data.

Justin is a Salesforce Certified Consultant & Administrator, as well as Marketo Certified as a Technical Consultant, Business Consultant and Training Professional. He is also an expert in lead generation, marketing consulting, CRM consulting, and B2B sales alignment.


I invited Justin Gray to be a part of our TechnologyAdvice Expert Interview Series to discuss buyer personas, content/conversational marketing, data cleanliness, and how they work with marketing automation vendors like Salesforce and Marketo.


TECHNOLOGYADVICE:  As an industry expert, what are some of the major trends right now concerning buyer personas in marketing automation?

JUSTIN: Most organizations are really struggling on how to make sure the buyer conversation is mutually interesting and really, our favorite word these days right now is ‘engagement’. How do we generate that engagement? That’s definitely where we see the biggest struggle in marketing and where most marketers are putting their focus on trying to solve that fundamental problem.

The fortunate situation is that we have our buyer persona data right in front of our eyes almost on a daily basis. Let’s say we’re a software provider. We’ve sold a piece of software into an organization and now our customer service team is going to take over and really make that individual successful. The information they give us during that process, that post sales process, is really the type of information we should be bringing into our marketing cycle and ultimately our sales cycle as well. [Often that information] just doesn’t get back to the sales team who really needs it.

So the first step in creating good, useful, and engaging buyer personas is really just to aggregate all that great customer data in terms of what makes a great client, and what makes a terrible client and then to start bucketing those into stereotypes — into ‘interest paths’ or ‘intent paths’.  At the end of the day, we get this four to five individuals who are somewhat the same but fundamentally different on certain levels as well. You’re going to see someone who wants to engage with you solely online versus maybe someone who needs some in person engagement as well.  So it’s different degrees of separation there, but the entire point I would say, is we need to start by analyzing our existing customer base to find out how we can find more of those great buyers upfront.

TA: For most companies, the focus is normally on net new leads. But nurturing an existing customer is six times less expensive than to actually nurture and sell to a new customer. Have you found this true in your experience?

JUSTIN: Yes, it sounds very familiar. I mean obviously we’ve already built trust with that individual. They know what we do and they know how we can do it. It makes a lot of sense to go back and sell them additional items and additional technology. Even beyond that, I think there’s just good value in getting that customer feedback: “Why did you buy from us? What could we have done better during the marketing and sales process to perhaps shorten that sales cycle?” And oftentimes these individuals want to give us that feedback. We’re just not asking the right questions.


TA:  On the front end, LeadMD is working with new customers on about 2,400 implementations. What have been some of those outcomes? Are there any statistics you’ve learned along the way?

JUSTIN: One of the most shocking discoveries is the number of organizations that go into a marketing automation purchase without truly knowing what it’s going to take succeed out there. I’d say about 85 percent of the existing implementations that we see were totally unprepared for what marketing automation truly needs to succeed. A repeatable business process, buyer persona data, it’s content — all those areas that take a long time to create, that are difficult to grasp. We see marketers as kind of leap-frogging that and getting the credit card out and saying, ‘Hey, I want to buy that shiny piece of software!’. Software is great.  Marketing automation, if anyone has read the content we put out — we love that technology. It truly is a game changer. But the amount of preparation there drastically needs to improve.  

As organizations are realizing the need for content, persona alignment, and the need to create buyer journeys, they’re really kind of taking a step back and investing in some of these fundamental areas we see that are normally deficient.  They’re trying to bring them up to par and strong content tailored to our buyer is the best ROI point that we have out there. In fact, we see a 30 percent rise in engagements where we meet a buyer with a piece of content that’s tailored specifically for their persona — versus just a general piece of content out there.  So that’s a pretty short-term gain to put in place just by knowing who we’re talking to.


TA: What would you say to business who are unsure about the ROI of marketing automation?  

JUSTIN:  I think organizations that are using technology wisely — the sky really is the limit. But a lot of what you see is a stumble, a failure, and then the marketer learning from that journey. Marketing automation is still a very young technology in the grand scheme of things. People are just continuing to try and tackle CRM — what are best practices around that technology… it wasn’t too long ago we were having a conversation on “is there an ROI attached to CRM?”

I think certainly now we think that there is. Marketing automation is kind of in the same life cycle or approaching the valley of a new maturity. We’re seeing that first iteration kind of float away. We’re seeing marketers really get serious about data and content — which is great.


To learn more about LeadMD and more about the topics shared in the interview, consider visiting their demand learning platform centered around marketing automation: is where you can get a free bench and see how you’re stacking up against your peers who have marketing automation in place.

Listen to the entire show above in order to hear our full conversation, or download our conversation for playback later. You can subscribe to the TA Expert Interview Series via Soundcloud, in order to get alerts about new episodes. You can also subscribe to just the Marketing Automation category here.


This podcast was created and published by TechnologyAdvice. Interview conducted by Clark Buckner.