buyer personas, oxygen

Ignoring Buyer Personas – Is The North Face Climbing without Oxygen?

One of the first tenets of inbound marketing is to build buyer personas to ensure understanding of your customer.   Marketers use research, interviews, and surveys to construct these archetypes of target buyers, and then craft messaging and content to appeal to them.   Buyer personas typically include the following:

  1. Background:  relevant information on job role, size and type of company
  2. Demographics:  gender, age range, household income, where they live
  3. Goals:  what they are trying to accomplish
  4. Challenges:  what gets in the way of accomplishing their goals
  5. How you help:  how your product or service helps them accomplish their goals
  6. Objections:  what you expect to hear from them as they consider your solution
  7. Where they buy:  what resources they use when researching and purchasing
  8. Jargon and quotes:  specific terminology they use when describing themselves, their problem, or desired solution

Here’s an example from Hubspot and one from

Marketers use the buyer persona to build a  buying process map to illustrate the the stages of the buyer’s journey from awareness through purchase.   The goal is to ensure your website provides compelling content to each buyer persona at each stage of the buyer’s journey.  Marketers also use the buyer persona when building their sales presentations,  using the information to arm sales with a commercial insight  tailored to the unique capabilities of their solution.

Makes sense, right?  Well, apparently, not to one of the most well known consumer brands on the planet.   According to a recent New York Times article, The North Face pays no attention to key demographic information of their customer base.  Not their age, not their income, and certainly not their goals and challenges.  Instead, they focus their marketing efforts on four key activities:  mountains – hiking, trekking, climbing, snow sports, running and training, and the broadly defined “youth activities.”  Along with beautiful ads on-line, in catalogs, and in stores, it uses incredibly produced videos of serious athletes in the mountains – climbing, skiing and boarding, and running.  Their Never Stop Exploring integrated marketing campaign personalizes the  meaning of outdoor exploration in these areas.   So, does The North Face know something we don’t know?

In the Beginning, the Buyer Persona was Clear as the Mountain Sky

Two hiking enthusiasts, Doug and Susie Tompkins, started The North Face in San Francisco in 1966 as a retailer of high-end ski and camping gear.  From the very start, in choosing The North Face name, they focused on serious outdoors enthusiasts, since the north face of any mountain is the coldest, iciest, and most challenging to climb.  In 1968, Kenneth Klopp acquired the store, moved it to Berkeley, and began manufacturing mountaineering products.  It maintained its focus on the serious outdoor market even as it entered the sports wear market in 1996.  Promoted with the slogan “Cotton Kills,”  its all-synthetic Tekware® line kept climbers dry, warm, and safe by wicking away sweat.

Mainstream Expansion:  Massif Market Share and Exposure

The North Face was purchased in 2000 by North Carolina based VF Corporation, an $11B apparel and footwear company, which also owns Lee®, Wrangler®, and Nautica® brands.   The North Face is the leading brand of VF Corporation’s Outdoor & Action Sports category, which comprised 54% of total company revenue in 2012.  With major investment in advertising and branded stores, The North Face’s sales grew to $1.9B in sales in 2012, and its logo is now ubiquitous in cities and suburbs around the world.

Although still leading in market share against outdoor apparel competitors like Patagonia, Columbia Sportswear, and Mountain Hardware, The North Face risks alienating serious outdoor enthusiasts.   Its pervasive visibility  has begun to cast it as a “beginner’s” brand among those who are experienced in the outdoors, according to a Bloomberg article.   To counteract this trend, The North Face has increased its efforts on innovation, and close relationships with elite athletes to develop the technical features they require.

The Mainstream and the Long Tail:  Can Activity Based Marketing Address Both?

There are clearly two broad customer categories:  world class athletes, and the rest of us.   Perhaps activity based marketing makes sense for an aspirational brand like The North Face.  As long as it develops the technical features that serious mountain enthusiasts require, the rest of us may continue to aspire to, and be inspired by, those athletes.   Our demographics, goals, challenges, and jargon don’t matter.  We’ll continue to buy because we want to be like them.

For  global brand, this approach can be more flexible.  It allows expansion into other geographies, like China, as well as expansion into gear for seasons other than winter.    Perhaps The North Face isn’t ignoring buyer personas at all, but is taking an approach that doesn’t require them.

What do you think?  What is it about The North Face approach that makes sense to you?

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Marketing and Sales Alignment – It’s not Ironman, Start Drafting!

Ironman, triathlonWatching the TV replay of the 2013 Ironman World Championships this weekend got me thinking about marketing and sales alignment.   Don’t worry, that wasn’t my first thought, or even my second one.   First, I realized that I have so much more training to do if I am ever to take on the 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike, and marathon run of an Ironman distance triathlon.  Then, I appreciated the efforts of the pro competitors’ race, and  those of amateur, “normal” athletes like Chef Gordon Ramsay, former Pittsburgh Steeler Hines Ward, and others less famous.   But THEN, I thought about marketing and sales alignment.

What does Marketing and Sales Alignment have to do with Ironman?

If you’ve seen a triathlon, you know that drafting is not allowed on the bike leg.  Competitive cycling events, like the Tour de France, allow riders to conserve energy by bunching up in a tightly packed pace line in the slip stream of the front riders.  Triathlon does not.   In order to ensure that all of the effort is individual, triathlon bike rules specify an imaginary 7 meter line behind a rider.  Faster riders have 20 seconds to cross this line and overtake a slower rider, who must then drop back beyond 7 meters.   This “no drafting” rule ensures that riders do not work together.

When it comes to marketing and sales alignment, it sometimes seems like there must be an unwritten, no drafting rule that prevents them from effectively working together.   How else to explain the wall between the two teams, the finger-pointing, and the negative attitudes?  Much has been written about how to bridge the gap between marketing and sales silos.   Having a crisply defined marketing and sales service level agreement (SLA) certainly helps.   And marketing automation software and CRM systems can add efficiency and throughput to the demand generation pipeline.

Walk a Mile in their Shoes – Five Suggestions for Marketing

In my experience, though, the best approach for marketers to understand what sales needs is to get out into the field and walk a mile in their shoes.    Once you do so, it won’t be so easy to refer to sales people as cavemen.    Here are five things every marketer should do to better understand their sales colleagues.

  1. Make some cold calls.  Spend half a day calling the names on your lead list.  Leave an effective voice mail.  Get someone on the phone, uncover their pain points, summarize your commercial insight, and ask for a meeting.   Discover for yourself the real qualifying questions and objections, so you can build a better battle card.
  2. Give your pitch.   Deliver your Challenger Sale commercial teaching presentation, or whatever approach your team uses.  Identify where your slides don’t flow, your animation bogs down, or your slide notes need improvement.   Modify your deck based on what you learn first-hand.
  3. Get Social.  Check the Twitter and LinkedIn profiles of your sales colleagues and see if they can be improved.   Conduct a 40 minute webcast on how best to leverage social media tools.  The small investment on your part will yield big results in both amplification of your product line, and in sales’ ability to sell socially.
  4. Be Proactive.  Reach out to your sales colleagues proactively.  Don’t wait in your cube for them to call you.   You’re the domain expert, so act like one.  Call them up and let them know you can help them, even if it’s just on the phone.   They’ll welcome the help.  It’s one less presentation for them to give, and if you do well, you’ll build trust and a reputation as a useful resource.
  5. Keep moving forward.  Just like at Ironman, you have to keep moving.  The surest way to fail is to stand still.  There are always updates to make in product capabilities, competitive analysis, market trends.

What’s your experience?  Are your marketing and sales teams working together, or are they observing a “no drafting” rule?  Have you walked a mile in your colleagues’ shoes?

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Managed Services Marketing Mix – The 4Ps May Change, Goals Don’t

Unlike marketing mix terminology, swimming has undergone REAL change
Unlike marketing mix terminology, swimming has undergone REAL change since the 1960s

In a recent MSP Mentor blog, I discussed the relevance of the 4Ps as a construct for a cloud and managed services marketing mix.   First articulated by marketer E. Jerome McCarthy in 1960, the 4Ps (product, place, price, and promotion) are considered outdated by some when it comes to B2B marketing in today’s cloud era.  Harvard Business Review conducted a study of over 500 companies around the world, and has suggested that the SAVE model (solution, access, value, and education) better represents the current realities of B2B marketing.

Half a century after the 4Ps were first rolled out, so much has changed in how businesses buy products and services.  We don’t head down to the local department store to make our purchases any  more, we find what we need on-line.   Neighborhood retailers aren’t battling one another for local customers, they sell to a world-wide market.  We gather the information we need to make a purchase ourselves, through social media and web, rather than relying on the local shop owner to educate us on the benefits of her service.

But no matter what terms you use, the goal of the managed services marketing mix remains the same – to effectively position services relative to the customer’s problem, and against alternative solutions.   Does using the word “solution” automatically provide marketers with a better orientation toward solving customer problems than does “product?” Is it necessary to use the term “access” to represent the fact that we no longer go to a physical “place” to make our purchases?

The fundamental aspects of the marketing mix are the same, whether your preferred abbreviation is the classic 4Ps or the modern SAVE.

An Example of a REAL change since 1960:  The Pull Phase in Freestyle

When I started swimming competitively, Indiana University was the dominant force.  The Hoosiers won six consecutive NCAA Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships between 1968 and 1973, a streak unmatched before or after.   Although Mark Spitz was the star, James “Doc” Counsilman coached the team from 1957 to 1990 and wrote “The Science of Swimming,” the definitive guide.  Published in 1968, the book provides scientific explanations for the techniques used to swim the major strokes.

Just like the four components of marketing mix, the five phases of a swimmer’s arm movement are tightly coupled.  The reach, catch, pull, push, and recovery all work together to propel the swimmer through the water.  But unlike the debate about the relevance of McCarthy’s 1960s era marketing mix terminology, there has been real, significant change in how we swim freestyle since that time.

In freestyle, the pull phase starts once the swimmer’s hand enters the water and begins to move backward.  Analyzing the strokes of champions, Councilman advocated forming an “S” pull by bending the elbow between 90 and 100 degrees and moving the hand across the mid-line of the body, while pulling backward.  This sculling approach would provide some lift to the swimmer’s body in order to reduce drag.

Once considered a best practice, the “S” pull is no longer in favor.   Now swimmers are taught to move the hand along the side of the body in a deep-catch stroke during the pull phase, in order to focus the propulsion backward most effectively.   Research by scientists at Johns Hopkins University has shown the advantages of throwing out the old “S” pull guidance in favor of a deep-catch pull.

The Implications for Managed Services Marketing Mix

The four other components of the freestyle stroke are generally taught the same now as they were then.  The terminology for all phases of the stroke is the same now as it was then.   The lesson is that terminology matters less than actual practice.  When considering your managed services marketing mix, call it 4Ps or SAVE.  What counts is what you do.

What do you think?  4Ps or SAVE?  Do you still swim freestyle like we did last century, or have you entered the modern era?  Tell me what you think!


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Challenger Sale Commercial Insight is a team pursuit

Challenger Sale Commercial Insight: A Team Pursuit

Over the past year, my organization has implemented the Challenger Sale  in our business.   As the solo marketer on the team, it has been my job to create the sales enablement content for our target use cases.   Building the Challenger Sale commercial insight has been the hardest part, and we’ve learned that it takes a team to do it.   Just like cycling teams competing in a team time trial, our success depended on the coordinated efforts of specialists within our group.  Here’s how we finally crossed the line.

At first blush, the definition of a Challenger Sale commercial insight seems pretty easy:  “A compelling, defensible perspective from a supplier that materially impacts  a customer’s performance and directly leads back to their unique capabilities.”  The commercial insight is the key to the “Reframe” point in the Challenger Sale choreography.   It’s the content, based on your product’s unique advantages,  that sales uses to uncover a previously unknown problem in the current way the customer does business.   The commercial insight disrupts how the customer thinks about her business,  and ultimately leads to your product as the unique solution to the problem.

At first, building the Challenger Sale commercial teaching presentation seemed simple.  Our product, CA AppLogic Cloud Platform, has unique advantages, and we have dozens of customers using it to launch profitable new services.   But we struggled with articulating the commercial insight, as if we were playing a game of hot potato.  Sales looked to me to deliver it, but I needed them for their understanding of how customers were solving problems.  The sales guys didn’t have a detailed understanding of the specific ways customers were using the product, so we turned to our technical sales staff.   Technical sales teams understood that, but they didn’t know how to quantify the business benefits the product delivered.   For that, we needed the customer.  No one group by itself could deliver the Challenger Sale commercial insight.  It took a team.

This cooperation is like that of a cycling team’s in a team time trial.  For a team of nine riders, the time trial finishing time is determined when the fifth rider crosses the line.  Therefore, the individual riders work together.   Each rider takes a turn riding hard at the front of a pace line, while their teammates follow inches behind, taking advantage of the slipstream.  After a turn of twenty seconds or so, the front rider steers off to the side and joins the back of the group to recover and prepare for the next pull at the front.  Teams succeed by synchronizing the efforts of the individual riders.

Challenger Sale Commercial Insight: Team Roles

Here’s how the riders in our pace line synchronized efforts to build our commercial insight.

Product Management:   We knew our commercial insight would be based on the unique way our cloud platform helps customers reduce costs and launch cloud services quickly.  Capital expenditures are lowered by virtualizing not just servers, but also networking and storage.  Operational expenditures are lowered by tightly coupling applications to the underlying infrastructure necessary to run them, and treating them as a single entity.   There’s less complexity, so it takes less effort, skill, and time to build, launch, and run services in the cloud.

Marketing:  Since our target customer was the revenue owner at a service provider charged with delivering profitable cloud services, we needed a Challenger Sale commercial insight that would reframe the problem in terms of revenue, profit, and fast time to market.   By studying the market, we knew that service providers measure the health of their business in terms of revenue and profit per data center square foot.   We needed to translate the unique product capabilities into a financial benefit in these terms, which the customer could then modify based on her own launch plan.

Sales:  In order to help the customer quantify the top line revenue projection, we needed examples of pricing, packaging, and take-up rate from other service providers in the market.  Luckily, many service providers publish this information publicly.  Our sales team provided public information from existing customers that was useful in building these projections.

Technical sales:  Our Challenger Sale commercial insight depended on the quantification of the capital expense, labor, power consumption, and other expenses necessary to run cloud service on our platform.  Our technical sales team had the experience to provide this information based on the product functionality and real-world implementations.

The customer:   Our customers showed us the the business model format that they used to make investment decisions in their company.  We built a model which aligned to their desired format, but helped the business owner tailor it to their particular plans.  The result was a quantified commercial insight that the customer “owned,” and presented as their justification for the investment in our product.

Here’s a snapshot of the overall P&L that results from this work.  P and L Summary Picture

As Forbes has written, implementing a Challenger Sale approach requires new marketing skills.   Through this team experience we got a good start, but there’s more to learn.  Please let me know about your experience.

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