It seems that you can’t open a marketing publication – or visit a marketing-oriented website – these days without a discussion of “Buyer Personas” or “Customer Personas.” But what are they? And are they relevant in the architecture, engineering, construction (AEC), and environmental industry?
For a definition, one of the best places to turn is Hubspot, which defines Buyer Persona as a “semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers.”
Let’s say you do a lot of work with manufacturing companies. Are there some general attributes of your client contacts that are similar from one manufacturer to another? If so, you can create a Persona, or profile of your “typical” customer within the manufacturing sector.
This can be performed through a proactive market research effort – either via your internal marketing staff or an outsourced researcher – but if you are like many AEC firms, it can also be done by sitting a bunch of project managers down for lunch, and talking about their clients! (Particularly if your company actually provides the lunch, which always increases attendance numbers!)
Start with a list of clients you want to profile, along with a list of the most important questions to be asked for each client. These could include:
What is the name of the company? What specific industry or market segment are they in (perhaps by NAICS code), and how large are they? How many locations or facilities do they have? Are they regional, national, or global?
What is the title of the client contact? Maybe it is facilities manager, plant manager, plant engineer, or maintenance manager.
Is the individual male or female?
Is he or she college-educated? If so, what is their degree and/or training in?
Are they professionally-licensed? A lot of practicing architects, engineers, and construction managers became facilities managers during The Great Recession.
Roughly how old are they? They may range from 25 to 75 but remember, we’re looking for overall patterns.
How long have they worked for the client? Again, the answers may range from newbies to lifers.
What are their job responsibilities? What are they responsible for doing in a given day, month, or year? A facilities manager may have seasonal responsibilities, like making sure the grass is mowed during the summer and clearing the parking lots – and roof – of snow during the winter. A plant manager is probably more concerned with production, and has busy seasons and slow seasons.
What skills do they possess? What skills should they possess?
What technologies do the use on a regular basis? Or there other technologies used less frequently? In the facilities manager example, he or she may use Maximo for CAFM (Computer Aided Facilities Management) on a daily basis, but access Revit models infrequently (or not at all).
What keeps them awake at night? Where are the areas they struggle the most or see the most challenges? For a facilities manager, it may be not having enough facilities staff (either because they can’t find the right people to hire, or they don’t have a large enough budget), or not being included in strategic decisions that impact their facility. These are actually challenges identified in a recent study by the International Facilities Management Association (link).
What organizations do they belong to? What publications do they read – or websites do they visit? Which trade shows do they attend?
How do they communicate? Do they prefer email? Texts? Phone calls? Social media messages?
Do they visit websites regularly? Do they read snail mail or use social media?
Do they bid or negotiate work with vendors? Do they have a select list of prequalified firms that they work with?
Are they the final decision makers? If not, who within their company makes the decision to hire vendors like architects, engineers, or contractors?
As you can see, there are a lot of questions that can be asked, and you’ll probably find that your project managers or project executives don’t have many of the answers. This is why some firms opt to have interviewers contact the clients to gain greater insight, although you may also find that the contacts don’t want to be interviewed. However, knowing what type of information you want can also help drive conversations with your client contacts. Over a period of multiple conversations or meetings, your project managers can draw out some of the answers.
What Should You Do With This Information?
Even if you don’t have robust data, just the simple of exercise of sitting with your client-facing staff and trying to answer these questions should reveal a lot of meaningful information. Once you have collected it, you can then begin looking for patterns in the data.
In our manufacturing example, you may find that 60% of the client contacts are male facilities managers. Fewer than 20% hold professional licenses, but just as many hold the Certified Facilities Manager designation from IFMA. On average, they’ve been at their current job for 8 years. They occasionally attend meetings of the local IFMA chapter and also try to go to the National Facilities Management and Technology Expo. Many are using Maximo software to help run their facilities. They are responsible for maintenance, furniture and equipment moves, as well as design and construction projects when they arise. They are understaffed and overworked, and too many decisions that impact their jobs are made without their knowledge. For fees and projects under $25,000, they have authority to make decisions. For anything above that figure, the purchasing department requires three bids.
And just like that, we have a simple Buyer Persona. Many marketers create silly, memorable names for these semi-fictional representations. Perhaps we determine that the clients in this example tend to skew male and their title most often has the word “facilities” in it, our Persona could be named Frank Facilities.
Why Should You Care?
This information is useless unless you do something with it. Remember, the Persona is not a one-size-fits-all solution, but can help create some generalities. Armed with this knowledge, your marketers and business developers (or seller-doers) can spring into action in a number of ways:
- Value messages can be crafted. Knowing that a typical client is overworked and understaffed, a message could be about how your approach or solution can simplify life for them or even allow them to outsource some of their workload to your firm.
- Content can be generated. Perhaps you can blog about how you integrated the Revit model your firm created for a client with their Maximo software, and they benefitted from a better CAFM solution that eased their workload by providing a single source of accurate information. This is essentially a short case study of relevance to Frank Facilities (aka, many of your prospects).
- Marketing campaigns can be launched. If you learn that a majority of your existing clients read all the snail mail they receive, you can create a postcard promoting how your services can positively impact their job by eliminating work. Or if they skew toward preferring email, this could be delivered in an eblast.
- Talking points can be developed. Business developers require high levels of prospect intelligence before making an initial contact, and if they have foundational knowledge about the “typical” challenges faced by facilities managers within manufacturing environments, they can plan to ask a series of meaningful questions to help drive the conversation and build rapport.
Are Buyer Personas Relevant in the AEC Industry?
Circling back to our original question, the answer is “yes, they are.” However, there needs to be an ongoing, concerted effort to collect the data. Ideally information is captured into a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) database, and the research content is regularly updated as new clients come online and existing client contacts churn.
But that’s only half of the battle. The other half is actually doing something with that information! Creating value messages and talking points, crafting blogs and presentations, launching marketing campaigns – these are all ways to leverage the data you collected.
However, don’t just do it because I recommend it. Do it because it is already being done to you, successfully! Do it because Amazon knows a ton of stuff about you, and you appreciate the many ways they have simplified your life. (By the way, Amazon knows you so well they are already using advanced algorithms to predict what you will purchase next, and shipping it to their closest fulfillment center before you even buy it!)
Do it because these Buyer Personas are a critical evolution toward personalized marketing, and buyers are increasingly demanding that the firms wanting their work understandwho they are, what they do, and how their business works. Ignorance isn’t bliss. It is bankruptcy!
Have questions about creating Buyer Personas? Need help developing them? Looking to leverage your research with meaningful value messages and marketing? Contact Scott D. Butcher, FSMPS, CPSM at 717.891.1393 or firstname.lastname@example.org.