We were fortunate enough to sit down with one of our partners, Gary Corcoran – Head of International at HubSpot, to learn more about how B2B tech startups can identify and leverage customer personas to drive sales.
Personas at HubSpot
HubSpot essentially built its business off of being laser-focused on its target personas. Back when they launched in 2006, they had two personas. One was Marketing Michelle who was an experienced marketer, someone who had done some inbound marketing and maybe some automation.
The other was a negative persona, something that is equally important to remember, called Owner Ollie. They can still be someone who sees value in your product or service, and someone who needed marketing and needed help but didn’t want to do enough of the work themselves. They demanded a lot from HubSpot but weren’t willing to properly leverage the tool.
If you’re able to do something similar, i.e. focus on who is the number one person who sees value in your product, you’re already way ahead of other people.
HubSpot Founder Brian Halligan often says that ‘Startups don’t die from starvation, they die from overeating’. Everyone sees that their Total Addressable Market (TAM) is (say) 1 billion people – and they try and go after all those people straight out of the gates.
If you’re not 100% confident in your persona today then it’s worth stopping everything in your business to focus on building it out. Think about how you’re building product, sales, marketing – anything really – if you don’t know who you’re building the product for, or the features for, then you’re always going to struggle to build the right thing. Reverse engineer what your customer wants and deliver that in a better way.
What is the problem that your persona has? How can you articulate that solution back to them?
If we look into a CRM system (such as HubSpot) on a contact level, you often see information about the contact. There’ll be things like the name and the job title which are obviously important to collect, but there’s usually more we want to collect than that. In HubSpot, those are Properties.
These are really vital for any CRM system – basically the information that you collect from somebody to really be able to segment and understand: do they fit your persona or do they not?
Things you could ask them to include:
- What are your business challenges today?
- What are your metrics?
- What are your KPIs?
- What is your revenue?
- What is your budget?
With all of these things you’re probably asking yourself ‘How do I fill them in?’. The primary way is through Forms on your website.
As someone comes to your site, you have to have something to capture that information with or something to get them to convert. You have to have a ‘give/get’. What do you give your visitor and what do you get in return?
If you’ve driven people to your site because your Value Proposition spoke to them, or because they’ve seen an ad, then it’s crucial they don’t just leave your site without having their information captured. Ways you can do this include:
- Enroll into a database to receive a discount code
- Access to a beta product or certain features
94% of B2B buyers do a bunch of research before ever speaking to a salesperson – this is the perfect way to do this while also capturing their information.
One of the most common types of feedback from Founders is ‘What if I don’t know where to start?’. It’s a fair comment, but you’ll always have some idea of who you think your persona may be, so why not reach out to them directly, initially? Ask them for feedback directly if you know who to ask that works in a specific company you’re going after. If you get no responses then either you need to tweak your messaging or that may not be your persona.
If you go back to a few years in the past, the sales process was often linear. It was very much:
Why? The seller often had a lot of power. Before the age of the internet, there was not this wealth of information out there for buyers. No catalog of reviews, for example, to make a more informed decision.
Fast forward to today, the process isn’t so straightforward. Someone might see a social media advert, and then click on a blog article, then back to an email you’ve seen – you can really bounce around from stage to stage, evaluating one business versus a competitor.
If you’re considering what digital assets are out there today, do an audit of your options. HubSpot has done this with the 70,000 customers they have – talking through, particularly today, how marketing is so important when we’ve never been more attached to our computers and phones at home, consuming content like crazy.
What you need to do is capitalise on knowing this, educating them, getting them to visit your site, getting them to open your emails.
You may not need social media as a part of the process, you may not need events. You may just use a blog, for example, reducing the touchpoints in the process. One that often provides the strongest ROI for B2B startups, however, is email. That is one step to absolutely nail in the buying process. How do you follow up with prospects who engage in that content across your different channels?
To use an example from retail, imagine yourself as a secret shopper. Go to your website – is it clear what the buyer has to do next? Do they fully understand what they’re being sold? Is this a good experience when it comes to working their way to the other side? 9 times out of 10 it’s not.
There’s always something that can be improved. The more you can audit yourself and be honest with your customer journey, the more likely it is that you’re going to get to acquire your customers.
To go back to the three stages of Awareness, Consideration and Decision:
- Awareness often has content that focuses on what the problem is, educating people around issues
- Consideration is where the audience knows that there is a problem out there so what are the options
- Decision is where you want to be pushing people over the line, i.e. what can you offer them / is there a discount / etc.
The mistake people often make is they want to create loads of content for the Decision part of the journey. You often skip addressing the challenges that the prospect has and sometimes even demonstrating what your product is, meaning you don’t get to show how it goes a long way to solving those challenges.
The Decision stage is crucial, but you stand the greatest chance of successfully acquiring your customer by guiding them each step of the process equally.