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September 09, 2014
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Interview with Adele Revella, President, Buyer Persona Institute

By Monica Pepicelli

Adele Revella, CEO and Founder, Buyer Persona Institute, helps marketers gain buying process insights from their customers and prospects and then use those insights to improve the relevance and effectiveness of their marketing messages and campaigns. Her ebook, The Buyer Persona Manifesto, is available for free from her website. ITSMA is thrilled that Adele will be giving a pre-conference workshop and general session presentation at our Annual Conference, November 2−4, 2014, in Cambridge, MA.


ITSMA: Adele, tell me about “Let Your Buyer Personas Be Your Guide,” the workshop you are giving at ITSMA’s Annual Conference.

Adele Revella: The workshop is going to be a deep-dive on discovering and using the right kinds of buyer insights. It’s for marketers who know that they need buyer personas and want to know how to get started. I will focus on the research technique plus how to leverage personas to transform the marketing decisions that marketers make every day.

There’s really two parts to being successful with buyer personas. The first is doing the research to gain the insights and the second is how to communicate and use the insights. I will cover both of these in the workshop.

I’d like to note one thing: There are a lot of people talking about what a persona should look like and that can be misleading because most of the guidance people come across is best applied by B2C marketers. That’s not what your members need. Your members need to influence high consideration, complex buying decisions and that’s what we’re going to cover.

ITSMA: Tell me more about the personas and how they are used.

Revella: One of the highest value ways to use buyer personas is to improve messaging. This ends up being the foundation of a lot of the other ways to use buyer personas, including content marketing strategy and sales enablement.  Messaging strategy begins with two inputs:

  • Buying insights. Buyer personas often begin with a Buyer Persona Profile that describes the buyer, but for messaging we need to understand how buyers approach the decision we want to influence. We call this part the 5 Rings of Buying Insight, which generally depicts about 20 different key thoughts taken from direct interviews with your buyers. The 5 Rings of Insight tell you what triggers the buyer’s interest, how they define success, their barriers or obstacles to purchase, their decision criteria, and the buyer’s journey.
  • Our differentiation. The second input focuses on what we want to say about the unique value we deliver. We want to consider the benefits or anything unique about ourselves where the company believes that we have a competitive advantage.

To create our messaging, we take the two inputs, the 20 or so insights we got from the buyers about their expectations and everything the company thinks is special about their offerings, and we look at the intersection between them. We want to talk about the value of our services in the context of what the buyer is actually looking for.

This step generally yields about 20-to-30 different things that we can talk about that will be compelling for buyers.

ITSMA: So those 20 to 30 statements become the base messaging for your marketing strategy?

Revella: Exactly. Those statements comprise the key messages we want to convey in all forms of content, whether a white paper, article, or blog post. Of course, 30 are way too many to use for short-form messaging such as the 25-word message or bullets on a website. Many people summarize these points to make them short, but that’s a mistake. To get our short-form message, we run those 20-30 points through two filters:

  • Competitors’ capacity to match the capability. How easy or hard is it for your competitor to say the same thing?
  • Relative importance to buyers. How important or valuable is it to your buyers’ decision?

This results in the top five message elements that are most valuable for our buyers and hardest for our competitors to say. Most teams can use this process to build a good message in about 7 or 8 hours. It’s a lot of work but, at the end of the day, you will have a messaging strategy that you can stand up and defend with confidence.

And by the way, the content marketing plan also tells us what not to talk about. “What are we not going to say?” The persona tells us we don’t need to talk about this brand-new feature, because while I know that it’s of high value in terms of the outcome, it’s not going to impact the buyer’s decision.

ITSMA: Where does the sales force come in? How do we use buyer personas with the sales force?

Revella: We just talked about how we get to our content marketing plan and what we need to say to be relevant and persuasive. We know we’ve got a plan to reach buyers and tell them something they want to hear. Now the next step is to get the sales people on the same page with us. I have learned that you can get sales people to listen to you by telling them that we’ve done our homework and know why their prospects will listen to and buy from them. You need to talk to sales people about what you learned in your research and its importance. You do not want to focus on presenting the actual personas to them. If you show the sales people the persona descriptions, the discussion changes. They start questioning the validity of having an example buyer and you start defending the tool. What gets lost are the insights and learning.

Five Hallmarks of Truly Great Thought Leadership

By Dianne Kim

In a market inundated with me-too messaging, thought leadership has shifted from a nice-to-have to a must-have. Thought leadership today is a key differentiator and an integral part of the value proposition provided to customers. ITSMA has identified five hallmarks of truly great thought leadership programs, from development to dissemination:

  1. Develop a positioning statement. Adopt a strong point of view on why an issue is important, what’s going to happen, and how to deal with the ramifications.
  2. Gather proprietary evidence. Use external research sources and/or conduct primary research to validate findings and build credibility.
  3. Build powerful examples and elicit trustworthy testimonials. Create a thought leadership network of leading business executives, academics, industry analysts, or customers to support your position and get outside validation.
  4. Move from a publishing mindset to one that enables conversations. Sales enablers train and educate their salespeople on how and when to use thought leadership in conversations as part of a process leading to a buying decision.
  5. Measure the activity metrics and business outcomes. The thought leadership dashboard should cover both output and activity, as well as link to sales key performance indicators and eventually to business outcomes.

To read more on what organizations with best-in-class thought leadership programs are doing, read the ITSMA Update Thought Leadership in Practice by Bev Burgess.

What’s Behind the Customer Mask? Buyer Personas Reveal What Motivates Your Customers to Buy

By Julie Schwartz and Alan Weaver

The word persona comes from the Latin persona, meaning “mask or character.” In ancient Roman dramas, actors wore large masks to create an illusion that connected the audience with character. It hid the actor’s true identity.

Today, personas are a hot topic that intrigue B2B marketers for many reasons. Buyer and prospect connections are an important and ongoing challenge for successful B2B marketers, and effective connections depend on insights that traditional demographic and segmentation techniques often do not reveal. Marketers are evolving these tactics into more robust buyer persona strategies. Persona strategies also help resource-challenged marketing professionals determine the right targeted messaging, content, and thought leadership quantity and mix.

Personas are detailed composite views, or archetypes, that group customers by key characteristics and behavioral patterns. They reveal the attributes and motives that have stronger predictive value in purchase decisions, technology use, and lifecycle choices. Personas span traditional segments and demographics such as age, gender, income, and education. They are created through in-depth, qualitative interviews with recent buyers.

ITSMA research provides detailed data about buyer persona adoption rates, effectiveness, and benefits. Our survey of 194 B2B marketers showed that 44% are already using personas and an additional 29% plan to do so within the next 12 months. Beyond 12 months, the percentage of B2B marketers expecting to use personas rises to 83%. Why the charge? Improved value propositions, clearer understanding of buyers, and higher conversions and quality of leads topped respondents’ list of persona benefits.

Benefits of Using Buyer Personas

Buyer persona strategies and tactics have steep development and learning curves. Survey respondents cited many hurdles:

  • New skills. In particular, marketers need analysis and interviewing skills to determine the number of necessary personas and to create them.
  • Application. Applying personas effectively is intuitive yet requires experience.
  • Buyer centricity. Marketers need to be able to reconstruct and design new buyer-centric campaigns.
  • Effective use. Marketers need to be able to measure and determine return on investment.

Yet personas may be the key to improving marketing’s effectiveness, further demonstrating its business value, prioritizing resources, and focusing thought leadership efforts.

Read the ITSMA Update Buyer Personas: The New Cornerstone of B2B Marketing to get started.

The Changing Face of Customer Engagement

By Anna Whiting

In B2B services and solutions, a large percentage of business comes from existing customers. A solution provider’s most profitable source of revenue is also its existing customers. Therefore, companies must put in the extra effort to build long-term relationships with their best accounts.

Given the importance of customer engagement, ITSMA recently updated its ground-breaking 2009 research with a new study. The trend analysis is fascinating.

Events, especially private ones, continue to be the mainstay of customer engagement. Survey respondents recognize that one-to-one or one-to-few programs are most effective. The most dramatic changes are the increase in the percentage of companies that have customer satisfaction/loyalty initiatives and executive relationship building programs.

Some of the important findings include:

  • Today, 8 out of 10 services and solutions providers have customer satisfaction and loyalty programs, up from just 3 out of 10 in 2009.
  • Similarly, 73% of providers today have executive relationship programs compared to only 32% in 2009.
  • Although not quite as dramatic, the percentage of providers that offer their customers exclusive access to senior executives has also increased.

Customer Engagement Programs in Use

The current emphasis in customer engagement is clearly on tapping customer feedback to improve the overall experience and building bridges between executives. Companies that have not yet initiated ongoing customer satisfaction and loyalty programs or formal executive relationship programs are certainly behind the curve.

ITSMA’s Julie Schwartz, a Net Promoter Certified Associate, has nearly 30 years’ experience conducting customer satisfaction/loyalty research and helping companies launch loyalty and advocacy programs. Julie and her team are available to help you assess your customer satisfaction and move your customers from satisfaction to loyalty, trust, and advocacy. Please feel free to contact Julie Schwartz with any inquiries at

Annual Marketing Conference 2014

Don’t Miss Our Fabulous Pre-Conference Workshops on November 3!

November 4–5, Cambridge, MA!

ITSMA holds its Annual Conference every fall, and this year’s event is sure to be outstanding! With a focus on driving business value, the conference will showcase expert advice on what it takes for marketing to be accountable and contribute to the business.

We also have two pre-conference workshops taking place on November 3:

  • The Power of Storytelling: Bev Burgess, Senior VP, ITSMA. Participants will learn:
    • Why storytelling is a skill future marketing leaders need
    • What makes a strong, engaging story
    • How to use storytelling to increase your impact when speaking and presenting
  • Let Buyer Personas Be Your Guide: Adele Revella, Founder and CEO, Buyer Persona Institute. Participants will learn:
    • A methodology for buyer personas that are purpose-built for B2B marketers
    • A simple process to ensure that your messages communicate what your buyers want to hear
    • A persona-based content marketing plan that builds a bond of trust for your services
    • A strategy that motivates salespeople to prioritize marketing-generated leads

In addition, our main sessions will feature Julie Schwartz, SVP, ITSMA: Chris Goodman, CMO, KPMG; Jeff Sands, VP, ITSMA: Jane Hiscock, president of The Farland Group; Bev Burgess, SVP, ITSMA Europe: and panels featuring Mani Dasgupta, CMO, North America for Capgemini; Chris Williams, CMO, Amdocs; and Robert Tas, CMO, Pegasystems, in addition to other leading B2B marketers.

We will also be announcing our Marketing Excellence Award Winners during the conference and offering ample opportunities for conference attendees to meet one-on-one with ITSMA experts on an array of B2B marketing topics.

Sign up today. The advanced registration savings of $200 ends September 30!


By Julie Schwartz

Each month, ITSMA receives a number of queries through Ask ITSMA, a resource designed to give members a quick and easy way to get insight on important services and solutions marketing questions they face. In this column, we will publish some of our favorite questions, along with excerpts from our replies.

Q: I saw an Aberdeen statistic that said buyers that download a video are 85% more likely to buy. Is this also true for B2B solutions purchases?

A: According to ITSMA’s How Buyers Consume Information study, buyers of complex services and solutions for large enterprises don’t put video high on the list of information sources. Of course, video testimonials and case studies are important and are probably influential, and thought leadership−based videos are highly effective for communicating breakthrough ideas and research results. In B2B services and solutions it is the video content that makes a difference, not the medium itself. However, as millennials mature into decision-making roles, video as a delivery channel will become more important: Millennials rely more on visual content than they do on text-based content.

Do you have a sales or marketing question?
Visit Ask ITSMA to access our experience, insight, and research results.

Services Marketing News

For up-to-the-minute services marketing news, follow ITSMA on Twitter: @itsma_b2b.

Upcoming ITSMA Events

ITSMA ABM Certification Programme
September 17–18, 2014
Programme day one: 8:00 am–5:00 pm
Programme day two: 8:00 am–3:30 pm
The Chartered Institute of Marketing in Cookham, Berkshire, UK
(Also in Cambridge, MA on December 11–12, 2014)

The New Architecture of Marketing Talent
Inner Circle Meeting
24 September 2014
6-9 pm
One Alfred Place, London, UK

Marketing to Existing Customers: Deepening Engagement and Expansion
Road Show – Lunch Briefing
September 30, 2014
12:00–2:00 pm CT
Dallas/Addison Marriott Quorum by the Galleria
14901 Dallas Parkway Dallas, TX 75254
San Jose, CA: October 2, 2014
Basking Ridge, NJ: October 7, 2014

ITSMA 3-Session Introduction to Account Based Marketing
Online Training Program
October 13, 20, and 27, 2014
The 90-minute sessions will begin at:
7:30 am ET, 12:30 GMT, 5:00 pm IST on October 13 and 20
7:30 am ET, 11:30 GMT, 5:00 pm IST on October 27

Increasing Engagement and Expansion with Current Accounts
Web Briefing
October 14, 2014
8:00 am Pacific – 11:00 am Eastern – 16:00 London (Duration: One hour)

Strengthening Relationships and Driving Revenue with Thought Leadership Selling
Thought Leader Seminar
23 October 2014
5 pm – 8 pm London Time
One Alfred Place, London

ITSMA 21st Annual Marketing Conference
In-person event
November 4 and 5, 2014
Pre-Conference Workshops: November 3, 2014
The Charles Hotel, Cambridge, MA
Advance Registration ends September 30

To view all events, please see our online events calendar.

Recent ITSMA Thought Leadership

How to Build Vertical Market Leadership

Going vertical isn’t a matter of choice anymore, it’s table stakes for gaining credibility and access to top clients. Without a deep understanding of the competitive and regulatory pressures that customers face, it’s difficult to provide solutions that address customers’ specific business problems. You can’t show a true understanding of your clients without a vertical market perspective.
Read more about this marketing tool:

Thought Leadership in Practice

In a market place inundated with me-too messaging, marketers are evolving their thought leadership strategy to be a key differentiator and integral part of the value proposition they provide to their customers. The quality of suppliers’ thought leadership is one of the key criteria that determine which suppliers make it onto customers’ shortlists. In this Update, ITSMA outlines the best practices of the professional services and product companies that stand out from the crowd.
Read more about this Update:

Buyer Personas: The New Cornerstone of B2B Marketing

B2B marketing depends more than ever on making meaningful connections with customers and prospects. Marketers face major challenges, however, in determining how to prioritize what content should be created and ensuring that it resonates with the intended audience. The proliferation of offerings, industry sectors, and customer roles only add to the challenge. Even the most well-resourced marketing departments find themselves with more demands for content than they or their subject matter experts can meet.
Read more about this Update: er-personas-the-new-cornerstone-of-b2b-marketing/

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