The IT Marketing Crash Course

Written by Raj Khera
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Chapter 2: Customer Profile (Buyer Persona)

"The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself." — Peter Drucker

Who Exactly Buys Your Managed Services?

Your customer profile, or buyer persona, is among the most important first steps in your MSP marketing plan. When you know exactly who comprises your target market, you can devise a plan to reach them.

A military general doesn't go into battle with guns blazing. There is careful and deliberate planning. Without basic research and well-thought-out scenarios, he could drain resources quickly.

Your battle plan needs to focus on the right strategy and messaging to reach potential buyers. That means your research needs to start with a clear understanding of your buyers' motivations. Why would they pick you over anybody else? You need a clear picture of who buys your products and services, their research and buying habits, the influencers that contribute to the final purchasing decision, and the market forces that can sway a buyer's timing.

What Makes Your Ideal Customer Buy What You Sell?

Jeff LoSapio was hired to help a company identify how their employees responded to a phishing attack. In the course of doing the project, he realized there were numerous scenarios that he needed to account for which weren't in the initial budget.

He saw an opportunity to turn this unsuccessful consulting project into a business. He could help many companies through a SaaS (software as a service) solution that simulates a phishing attack, monitors how employees react, and provides individual guidance on how to handle the threat. ThreatSim was born.

To make sure he didn't spend his IT marketing dollars trying to reach the wrong prospects, Jeff created a detailed customer profile, often referred to in marketing circles as a buyer persona. He initially drafted four personas and then narrowed it down to two that made the most sense for his business. He found that the role of his ideal client varied based on an organization's size. For large organizations, the ideal buyer was the person responsible for threat assessments. In other organizations, it was the person responsible for training.

Once he knew the type of individual to target, he dove deeper into what makes that person tick. He listed details like their organization size, industry, priorities, problems, and challenges. He added information on who they influence and how they are influenced.

Now, when ThreatSim creates an IT marketing campaign, they know exactly who they are writing it to and what their hot buttons are. Their buyer persona provides a detailed sketch of who they want to reach so they don't spin their wheels with people who are not their ideal targets.

Keep an Eye Out for Change

When Chris Schroeder, CEO of mobile application management firm App47, drafted his buyer personas for the first time, he included software developers. It made perfect sense at the time since the individuals within an enterprise who were tasked to develop a mobile app were the developers themselves. App47 is in a fast-changing industry, so Chris kept an eye out for how his ideal customer profile might evolve. Within one year, he noticed that the actual buyers of his company's products and services were usually the senior executives or business owners rather than the developers. The developers still play a role — they influence the purchasing decision. But it's the senior executives and owners who have the budget authority to sign off on a project.

The personas Chris develops explore the specific pain points that an ideal customer has and matches it to a feature in App47's products. This exercise helps his team make the right pitch because they know what affects a buyer's thinking. And because of the speed with which mobile application development is moving, he revisits his buyer persona twice a year to be sure he is reaching the right client profile and can tweak his messaging appropriately.

Find Your Most Profitable Customers

Martijn van der Schaaf, CEO of Computication, was one of the first managed service providers in Holland to offer IT infrastructure and support for a fixed monthly price. Being first to market with a new business model gave him a competitive edge — for a while. At the time, he also offered web application development services, but soon retired that part of the business because he did not find it to be as scalable.

As competition crept in, Martijn realized he needed to re-evaluate his business. He enlisted the help of a market research consultant to create a survey for his existing clients. He wanted to know what type of client benefited most from his company's services, which ones were the easiest to sell to, and who was the most profitable.

Some of the questions he asked were:

  • How did you hear about our company?
  • Which factors influenced your decision process when you selected our company?
  • Can you mention our 3 core values?
  • Do you think our name is recognizable in the MSP market? If so, why? If not, why not?
  • How do you think we can improve brand recognition?
  • Who would you list as our 3 closest competitors?

The last question revealed some very interesting responses. He found that companies he thought were his competitors were not being mentioned by his customers. Some of his clients even struggled to name anyone.

Armed with insights from his financials and his new market research report, Martijn knew what he had to do next.

Instead of pursuing smaller companies that had 5 to 25 seats, he targeted companies with 100 or more seats. Instead of looking for all sorts of organizations, he narrowed his attention to four vertical markets. He revamped his IT marketing material to address the needs of this tightly focused group.

"The downside is that you have to say 'no' to some opportunities," says Martijn. His competitors offer a wide array of products and services to a wide range of customers. This spreads them thin. Martijn's focus on a particular persona empowers him to reach a specific type of client while lowering his overhead costs and simplifying his internal processes.

Not Just for Finding an Ideal Customer Profile

You can use the strategy of creating a buyer persona for more than just customer profiles. ThreatSim creates personas for their public relations efforts, too. Once they know which blogs, magazines, and trade rags their target market reads, they look for writers who covered phishing attacks in the past. They are the ones most likely to write about this in the future.

TheatSim can send examples of how they have helped companies thwart attacks through employee training. By identifying the ideal writer's persona, they are providing laser-focused parameters for their team to reach the authors who are most likely to talk about their services.

What Goes Into Your Ideal Customer Profile

To create a buyer persona for your company, take a look at your current customers to see who made the final purchasing decision. Chances are, it is not the person who was tasked with researching options for products or services like yours. Identify your ideal client using these parameters:

  • Organization size
  • Job title and role within the organization
  • Key problems they face and how your solution saves them time and money, and relieves their headaches
  • Roles of people who influence their decision process (subordinates like an internal IT department, advisers like lawyers or accountants)
  • Budget and buying cycles
  • Professional associations they join
  • Conferences they attend
  • Publications they read

Knowing when people make IT purchases will play a role in your strategy. Not everyone spends money on IT services consistently throughout the year. In the U.S., federal government buyers spend more in the spring and even more in the summer due to their budget cycles. You should market to them heavily in the fall, just after their fiscal year starts, to get on their radar when their budget gets fully funded and they want to spend their allocation to avoid losing it.

State and local governments have different fiscal years, leading to different budgeting and buying cycles. It is important to take calendar-year timing into account in your buyer personas so you know when to invest in various IT marketing tactics.

Your buyer persona should also include how your ideal client gets information. The advantage of knowing what they read and where they hang out is that it tells you how to get in front of them. You will know what association networking events to attend and where to put your public relations efforts. You will increase your chances of meeting the right person to engage in a conversation.

Going through the exercise of profiling your buyer gives you the understanding of their buying process for selecting a technology vendor. If you target technically sophisticated buyers, such as CIOs or CTOs, your IT marketing collateral will require more technical depth than if you target people with less technical knowledge.

You can interview your existing clients to find out some of this information. Talk to your best ones, not the ones you wish you didn't have. Just ask them these basic who, what, why, and where questions:

  • Who was involved in the decision process
  • What factors were important to them in their evaluation
  • Why they picked you over other companies
  • Where they find out about or get recommendations for services like yours

Your personas will also help you identify the types of people you can reach through LinkedIn and other methods that I will talk about in future chapters.

Checklist: Your Next Steps

  • Looking at your current customers, who makes the final purchasing decision? What is their job title and role within the organization?
  • What key problems does this person face, and how could your solution save them time, money, and make their life easier?
  • Who else influences their purchasing decision? What publications, conferences, or professional associations shape their views?
  • How can you reach this person to share your solution?
  • If you are having trouble creating your buyer persona, take some time to interview your best clients, asking them the questions above.