All posts by Tom Schmitt

How to Create the Most Effective Buyer Groups to Increase Sales and Revenue

I was having a conversation at lunch with a friend that has been in the marketing game for decades. He told me of a mutual acquaintance that had spent weeks crafting a “personas” for his technology firm. They had conducted internal meetings with sales team, looked into web visitor data to see what was converting and what was not converting.

Created a killer presentation.

The meeting went really well. He faced the usual tough questions from some skeptics, but approval was given.

This colleague then moved ahead to implement and execute plans using the agreed upon personas. He went to a meeting with user experience group and product development teams to show them the persona and started to get immediate pushback and hard questions. They presented their own user research that was conducted on a demo site. They had gathered data on how people used the site, who they were and what made them convert into qualified leads.

Now there were arguments about which customer and potential customer is the real target. It was like that book Sybil – multiple personalities dueling to be heard.

What happened? Why were there two different versions of reality?

Who is right?

Who decides?

What do we do going forward?

Several issues lead my friend and his effort off the rails – starting with the word personas.

How can you prevent this same marketing tragedy from derailing at least a few weeks worth of work?

Buyers are Humans Too

Using years of experience across different industries and many products, we have developed a process that is designed to create the most effective buyer groups that lead to increased revenue and profit.
Notice I did not use the word personas?

There is a good reason for that. And it is one of the reasons our friend ran into trouble.

The term personas is overused.

It is quickly getting tired.

It was created in a classroom. It is a generic term. And it is ironic that it is used to provide emotional context to customer groups.

In fact when writing a good headline for this post, every time I used the word personas instead of buyers or buyer groups or buyer decision groups, it bought the emotional score of the headline down 10% or more!

Personas have deservedly earned a bad reputation – not because the concept or idea of identifying your target customer is bad, but because the idea of coming up with a fictional representation of a diverse customer group does not represent the customer.

The typical way that teams and leaders are told to create personas is to think of your customer as not just demographics like age, sex and household income, but to also add behavioral and psychographic attributes and a cute name that brings a fuller picture into being.

Some marketing automation tools even encourage marketers to use personas to allocate resources.

And give you a handy template in powerpoint to go ahead and just type right into! Easy!

Personas are very often used by marketing automation systems to manage a funnel that is deemed to be linear. What stage of the decision process are buyers in so that you can serve them the right information at the right time.

A recent survey showed that up to 85% of companies don’t even use their personas that they spent time and effort creating. Unfortunately, although 73% of companies use, or plan to use buyer personas, the majority (85%) of companies are not using them correctly (according to the ITSMA).


This is a clear indication that a different approach is needed.

Creating a picture you can use

While creating personas may seem like sound judgement, the reality is that very few organizations take the time and spend the money to complete all of the research required to create a robust picture of who their buyers really are.

Most marketing teams are time and resource pressed and take short cuts. In fact, 24 percent of employees over the past two years have their work hours increase, and 22 percent have had a reduction in the level of resources needed to do their job. A familiar situation for many, outlined in a study from Florida State University management professor Wayne Hochwater.

graph for time pressed

They might talk to sales people about who they are meeting with – and that’s certainly worth doing – but according to Gartner – 66% of buyers have already spent time researching a solution before they even get in touch with a prospective vendor, get with a salesperson, or go to a website.

research before contact


While sales is important – you must talk to customers, you must see what they do before they get to your lead funnel. This is why demand generation is important, you must influence and reach them before they become a lead. Most never even make themselves known to you.

Customers and potential buyers aren’t sitting in YOUR conference room. You must get out and talk to them.

To do anything different results in faulty assumptions and is one key reason why personas have gotten such a bad reputation. The rest of the organization can see Marketing coming with their cute titles like “Successful Sally” and “Decision Driven Dan”. Fictitious representations created with the help of expert writers that sound great – but miss the mark.

What moves a buyer to action

You should really be interested in buyer motivations. Why people buy what they buy. It’s the age old question that even when you can measure everything, still leaves us stumped. Personas were designed to provide development, creative and other teams in the company with an image of a customer that they could use to create ideas or products around. They served as a focus point to keep in mind when creating.

What this does in reality is divorce the creative process and user design process from real customers and users.

This leads to the thinking from others that “marketing comes up with this stuff”.

And, like our real life example above – dismissed even before the ink is dry on the presentation.

How to prevent that from happening?

How do we go about this process in the right way to create a robust, actionable view that can be used to fuel decisions that lead to revenue growth and profitability. And that everyone can have the comfort of knowing aren’t just developed by a few select people in a conference room.

Broad usage means better traction

The first step is to always assemble a cross functional team. Sales, product development, finance and customer service are all impacted by the creation of buyer groups and need to have a voice in their creation. Ensuring their participation allows you to balance different perspectives and thoughts.

The next step is to brainstorm and think about all of the ways that buyer groups could be used in the organization.

Here are several ways that we have successfully used buyer groups in companies we have worked with:

Product development
User experience design
Sales team alignment
Sales material development
Content development
Brand positioning
Audience segmentation
Resource allocation
Marketing automation
Conversion tracking
Customer service scripts

There are many ways that buyer groups can be used within your company – they are not used exclusively for marketing. Challenge your team to come up with as many different impacts as possible to ensure that all areas of the company keep the buyers first in mind.

All about the money

The key to creating the most relevant buyer groups possible is to look at revenue factors. Focusing on demographics, how busy a buyer is, what they like to do for a hobby or how they like to receive information about your company or product neglects the key reason you are creating an understanding of who the buyers are – sales impact.

Look at sales volume and trends of your existing customers first. Segment your current buyers into groups by total volume, then analyze by different secondary factors such as margin, customer service calls, geography and number of products they own. You can assign a weighted number to each of the criteria based on their relative importance to tease out the best view of your current customers.

Use the familiar 80/20 rule when looking at the data and apply across the groups to ensure that you are developing an understanding of the most margin rich customers. By looking at sales volume first, your buyer groups are organized by the most important rule first.

This analysis defines what is the most important principle in creating buyer groups – how much they spend.

From a revenue and margin platform you can then determine what buyer groups to research further as it will help you define the most valuable and margin rich opportunities.

Good answers from great questions

The next stage is to conduct the research. Good buyer group definition consists of interviews with existing and potential customers. Yes this takes time, but to not use in person or phone interviews limits your ability to ask good questions, follow up and truly understand what makes your buyers actively pursue your products. Make sure you cover all revenue and margin segments as well as the geographies that matter most.

Depending on the size of your business, the number of interviews will vary, but aim for at least 5% to 10% of customers in each group. So if you have 300 existing customers, broken into three distinct revenue groups, you would then have 5 to 10 completed interviews in each group, and a total of 15 to 20. This is a guideline as the larger the company, the percentage should accordingly drop. You would mimic the figures for potential customers, then gaining a total picture of the representative groups.


Click here to download a FREE PDF of Ten Questions to Ask Buyers


Don’t rely on sales to say “I know my customers – I talk to them all day” remember the research from Gartner that said 66% of buyers don’t have any contact with the company prior to making a decision.


So they really don’t have an idea what a majority of potential buyers are looking for to help them make a decision. Supplement the open ended interviews with website analytics, social cues gathered from sources like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, from current and potential customers, online surveys, Nielsen, IRI, Experian or other third party research depending on your category.

Assembling all of the information will take a team some time if it is done right. A key element of all of this is to understand where different customers are in the purchase cycle and what information they like to use to assist in making a sound decision about your category and product. The buying cycle is complex.

They might not be able to articulate it accurately, but that is why it is so important to have open ended interviews. The approach allows for give and take and the potential to uncover key information that could never be uncovered in just an online survey or a focus group. One of the key reasons personas took hold is that it provided a personality driven picture of who “customers” are.

Again, this is a fictionalized representation and provided a nice shorthand that creative thinkers could wrap their minds around. To ensure adoption, we have seen success when you actually trust the people you work with and provide them with the means and ability to assist in conducting the interviews.

In the place of Sally Superhero or Dan Decisionmaker, try actually giving them a moniker related to their revenue impact on the company. Represent them on a grid based on revenue and margin impact. Might use labels related to revenue sizing like Ed Enterprise or their distinct need for service after the sale like Customer Service Christy.

Buyer Group Define BeforeAfter

Labels stick, make them relevant to your business and how they impact the revenue and margin. Gives a clear idea operationally and functionally what the focus needs to be when crafting and aligning the organization with these buyer groups.

Click here to download a FREE PDF of Ten Questions to Ask Buyers

Save the fluffy and cute names for your pets, they might sound great, but they don’t lend themselves to memorable or meaningful insight based on all the work that you have completed.

If you need expert help, give us a call or shoot us a note. We’d love to help.

We’ve Created A Handy Guide to Help You Manage the Daily Hurricane of Data

As the end of summer approaches, I love the annual appearance of the windswept weather guy on our favorite news channel.

You know the one, he attempts to stand in the thrashing wind, slammed by waves that would toss a small boat onto the sidewalk, reporting on the nasty hurricane conditions as the wind blows him off camera and into the ocean.

You might feel like that weather guy every day as you get pummeled by a constant stream of data and numbers to review, trying to get a handle on your business.

There might be a break in the clouds and you hope for a reprieve.

Only to realize that it was the eye of the storm passing and you are about to get whipped by the circular motion of the data cycle that begins again.

In 2012, 639,800 gigabytes of global IP data was transferred every minute. By the end of 2013 it had increased to 1,572,877 gigabytes each minute. That is a staggering 130% increase in just one year. This statistic highlights the tension we feel as we attempt to understand the state of our business.

Data increase 2012 to 2013

Source: Intel


The average time spent on devices increased 157% in just four years. No doubt a result of the explosion of platforms and the connectivity they bring long after the workday is over.

Time Spent Chart

Source: comScore Media Metrix


All this connectivity creates information. From who our customers are and if they liked our latest offers. To their return rates and satisfaction after the sale. Data is crucial to understanding what is working – or not – and how our efforts are affecting the bottom line.

Without a plan to manage the flood of data, you’re rowing in the ocean with a small paddle, searching for the right information that can be the life preserver of profitability.   We have been able to use data to understand and fine-tune our businesses for decades.

Business analysis had, until recently, been the exclusive domain of Fortune 1000 companies. Developments in technology give even the bakery on the corner the ability to test, measure and adjust flavors every hour if needed. With tools in the cloud, sophisticated data sorting and real-time analysis can tell us if chocolate or red velvet is a crowd pleaser.

We should be using all the data we can get our hands on. How do we manage the constant stream and make sense of it all?   The key is having a plan and using the right tools to gain insight. A flight over the storm to see where you are now and where it’s headed – so that you can plan ahead and find the safest harbor.

Click here to download a FREE PDF of this guide

We’ve created this guide to help in several ways.   In this post and in the tools we created that you can download for free, we outline the six steps designed to help you figure out the data you have, organize and prioritize it, add what might be missing and ways to manage for the future.   The six steps covered in detail are:

  • Getting the right team together
  • A review of the data you are collecting now
  • Analysis and scoring
  • Filling in the gaps
  • Taming the spreadsheets with tools
  • Test run, revisions and implementation

Before we start, we need to assemble the right team.

Getting the Right Team Together

A project of this size works best if you have a cross-functional team and senior management buy-in.   This will ensure you get help from people that create and use the reports and that they are invested in the future plan. The last thing that you want is to only have a few departments involved in the effort. You run the risk having an incomplete picture for the company.

Having the right team will help you frame the project as a positive contribution. Some people may feel threatened and fear that changing report creation will take away a task that is now their job.

To be sure that the project is viewed in a positive way, get buy-in from all levels of the company for the project first. Use internal communication tools to spread the word about the effort. This is key to a successful implementation. Help folks understand that increasing clarity around data creates a more profitable company and benefits everyone.

The Review

To develop a sound plan for managing data, you must begin with an understanding of what your organization is already spending time and effort collecting and creating.   Having a team that represents all functional areas of the company is critical in this early stage.   Your team can assist in gathering every report that is currently created. They will know if their team is creating a critical spreadsheet they rely on every day to manage their business.

Once you have gathered all the information, tear apart the reports to understand the information that is key for your business. This might appear to be a daunting task given the reams of paper in front of you, but it is critical in creating the right plan and flexible path for the future.   Download a tool we have created that you can use to help sort your data.

Click Here to Access this FREE Tool

The guide has several functional groups filled in that can be changed based on your organization. Typically they will be departments like finance, marketing, sales and operations. The groups can also be product or customer focused depending on your organization.

Analysis and Scoring

Chart the key data points from each existing report and their source.   For example, operations might report the number of items produced for a given product line each day. Sales could report sales data by channel for that same product. They could be combined in an existing report. By separating the individual components, you can use that data in a different way, providing new insight into your business.

After you have this step completed, it is important to define who is going to use the data – not everyone needs – or wants – access to everything. List the names and titles of people that currently access or use this data. This then becomes a guide for what team members and titles in the organization are granted access to the reports that are generated. Don’t worry if you are missing someone, that will become obvious in the testing phase. If someone is missing access to a key report, they will let you know right away.

The next step is to rank each piece of data. If it is mission critical give it a score of 5. If it is a nice to have, give it a score of 3. And if you are asking yourself why in the world you would care about that information, give it a score of 1. This will create a scorecard that allows you to structure the data and make hard choices about your data needs. This scorecard can be used to define the most important information that forms the top line page of the dashboard.

The scorecard can help you understand the data that should be the focus of your efforts. Start with the mission critical list. Some of the reports coded as nice to haves may be constructed from mission critical reports. The scorecard will also let you cut down what is not key to managing the business. Don’t get bogged down by others that want to look at more – people can only focus on few points – this process forces focus.   After assigning a score to each piece of data, move to the next stage of the project – understanding what you are missing and what you might need for the future.

Filling in Gaps

Once you have sorted the scorecard and rated the data that is most important in managing your business, you can see what you might be missing.

Create a road map to gauge the data you are collecting now and the data you are going to need in the future as your business grows and expands.

Data can be organized and coded many different ways. But you can’t report on what you don’t have – so the scorecard will help you understand what might be missing. From here you can fill in the gaps and create a fuller picture to help manage the business. This might lead to generating data from new sources.

Some reports are generated to answer one question one time – but the report is still generated in case the question comes up again. The source data that is used to create an ad hoc report can be placed in the data storehouse, and by understanding what you have and how it can be combined, future ad hoc reporting – along with time and effort it takes – can be minimized.

Taming the Spreadsheets With Tools

With the scorecard complete, it is time to take the most important pieces of data and meld them into a new tool that takes the numbers and presents them in a visually appealing dashboard. Unchaining the data from a basic spreadsheet can provide more frequent and automatic updating. There are many resources can help – from simple dashboard tools to sophisticated enterprise-level business intelligence engines.

We created a quick guide to some of the most popular tools around – CLICK HERE TO READ.

The list provides a few tools to review and try. Most offer a free trial using your own data which can provide a good idea if they will work in your specific environment. The dashboard you choose should reflect the priorities that you outlined in your scorecard.

If the focus of the data is more financial in nature, you would want to ensure that the ones you test and confirm have robust capabilities in that area. If the data will be used in a more general way, then one that has a broad scope, but might limit the depth, could be a better choice.

The key is to not rush to a decision. Choose several to test and use a trial period to find the best fit. You are now ready for the next step in the data evolution – testing to ensure flawless execution.

Test, Review, Revise and Implement

Once you have chosen a dashboard tool to assist in creating the reporting environment, you will move into a critical testing phase. You should start the testing phase with sample data and if all goes well, test with a live data feed. The timing of this stage will be dependent on tracking down reporting errors and fixing flaws. The new dashboards you create will be compared to existing reports to ensure accuracy. This is key as if reports are wrong, all the work potentially be wiped away as teams will not trust the information.

Be patient and allow plenty of time on the schedule for this step. After a successful live test, you will want to set up a test site where you can provide access to end users and invite feedback. This test site should also include the permission levels and secure areas that will be part of the final product.   This will ensure the visibility of sensitive data is executed the way that you want and need it to be. The final product should meet their needs – and if it doesn’t – be open and willing to change.

Depending on the size of your organization, you might have to start with one group or department and deploy each conversion one at a time. There is no shame in starting small and expanding. It is smart to start with a smaller data set instead of trying to manage an entire organization’s reporting needs.

Fewer data points translates into a smaller test footprint. This makes it easy to track down flaws in the testing and implementation phase.

Final View

With the right team, clear analysis, structure and tools, the tide of data that can overwhelm your business can be calmed into a smooth stream. Illuminating and providing understanding of potential. All while saving time and money.

To get a FREE PDF of the 6 Steps to Managing the Hurricane of Data – click this link:

Click here to download a FREE PDF of this guide

To get a copy of the FREE scorecard tool to help you Manage the Hurricane of Data – click this link:

Click Here to Access this FREE Tool

Here Are 10 Tools You Can Use to Manage Data

Remember that time a few years ago when you needed to get the market share for each product by package size by market trended over a 12 month moving average and raw monthly data? Me too!

And the presentation was in two days?

And the research group needed at least three days to pull the reports out of IRI or Nielsen, combine them with your in house sales data and specific geography, and print them out for you?

Not to mention the time it would take to ensure the numbers were correct.

Good times!

Thankfully, that weekly request and run around the building approach to business intelligence can be a story one listens to around the old brand manager campfire at the annual brand summit.

Today there are a myriad of tools and platforms  – well over 100 – that can help you and your business churn through and manage the hurricane of data that comes in waves each day.

In fact, a recent report from Gartner estimates that more than half of net new purchasing is data discovery driven

All of these promise end users the ability to create reports and dashboards without the need for IT resources on an ongoing basis. Once the set-up and integration is complete, the IT team can effectively work issues as needed.

And you can drill down and twist the data to your heart’s content. Or the Division Presidents heart – whichever.

Saving everyone the fire drill run around the building of a few years ago.

With close to 100 different offerings to choose from, we’ve assembled a quick guide as a starting point. This is by no means meant to be an exhaustive listing. It does provide you with some thoughts on a range of products with different capabilities.


Click Here to Download a Free PDF of This Guide


Good Data

GoodData offers cloud-based, flexible reporting using the company’s proprietary platform that can work with any data source. Combining large data sets from different sources in real time, GoodData creates great looking reports and dashboards. A sharing feature provides users the ability to collaborate in almost real time with others. Permissions can be configured in a number of ways, protecting sensitive figures as needed from team to team. Implementation is quick but does require some technical expertise. GoodData provides a great option for cloud-based analysis of your data.



iDashboards is a user-friendly, interactive dashboard tool that you can use to view critical business data. Featuring a wizard that helps connect data sources, the easy to use tool guides you through steps to personalize the visual display. A proprietary feature captures data that is similar across different dashboards, drawing attention to patterns. Data can also be combined for scenario planning. iDashboards is available as a local installation or in the cloud and is highly rated for mobile applications. If you need an easy to deploy tool for your data, iDashboards deserves a look.



Birst uses a unique two-tier structure that allows stable storage for one unified view of your data, and a second level, flexible interface giving business users the ability to analyze and discover, as well as generate dashboards and reports. It features a short development time, making it easy to use and integrate. There are several sets of vertical reports included, but end users can easily create reports on their own. Known for stellar customer service, there is also a highly engaged community that speeds deployment and offers ongoing assistance. Birst provides businesses of all sizes on-premise and cloud deployments that are flexible and can scale.


Qlik screen

Qlik offers two products, both use an associative data engine that gives users the ability to filter data quickly without the typical use of queries. Qlik uses in memory technology that allows real-time analysis of data. Different data sources can be combined and displayed in a drill down visualizer. Qlik View is designed for technical users to push business intelligence tools out to the company. Qlik Sense is a more recent product that allows IT to manage the data that business users build dashboards with. Both offer great visual tools for discovery and Qlik Sense offers tools for storytelling and smart search. Available in web based and on-premise, Qlik offers free trials for both products.



Tableau provides the ability to rapidly develop and leverage business insight by combining a broad range of data sources. Featuring an easy to use, drag and drop interface, Tableau can be deployed and used at all levels of the company to analyze information and quickly change perspectives. The visual presentation of the data is highly rated, letting users perform free-form exploration and share in an appealing way. For advanced analytics, larger firms may need to integrate with third party applications. Tableau offers on-premise and cloud based deployments as well as a free trial.


Adaptive screenshot

Adaptive Insights offers a powerful cloud-based suite of products based on the design of Excel that helps you speed up initial deployment and ongoing new user training. A highly customized model can be built and used for analysis of real-time data, allowing for scenario planning and forecasting of multiple metrics – from financial and payroll to operations and marketing. The Discovery tool is designed to allow end users the capability to combine different data sets and custom views without programming help. Information can be expressed across any variable including time frame, customer, product, vendor or geography. Adaptive is a flexible and powerful solution no matter the complexity of the business.



Domo is a business management suite that features a powerful back-end in the cloud that combines any number of data sources. Domo allows you to connect with the software and data you already have, whether it is already in the cloud, on-premise or in a spreadsheet. Using an intuitive interface, data can be displayed at a high level and drilled into to get a closer look based on parameters you define. With a number of existing connectors to popular software, the time to get the system running is reduced. Domo offers an integrated solution for companies of all sizes.

Yellowfin BI


Yellowfin BI started as an embedded reporting tool and it retains high marks for offering a range of ways to present your data in a highly collaborative environment. Analytic tools are available in storyboards, mapping and data discovery as well as the standard dashboard and business intelligence views. Yellowfin gets high marks in ease of use featuring interactive and intuitive radio buttons, sliders and checkboxes – user-friendly ways to drill into the data. Mobile access is also a strong point, allowing access anywhere. Yellowfin offers a cloud-based and easy to use business intelligence tool.

Logi Analytics

logi analytics

Logi Analytics offers two different tools that cover visual display of data and insights based on data. Logi Info provides a platform designed for technology professionals that allow companies to rapidly deploy interactive dashboards. Logi Vision allows users to connect existing applications and spreadsheets, blending data to uncover patterns without code. Reports can be totally customized with CSS and Javascript. Logi gets high marks for mobile use and low cost of implementation. If you are looking for a rapid deployment at a lower cost point, Logi should be on the evaluation list.


Board Screenshot

BOARD has one product that uses a toolkit approach to offer broad capabilities and flexibility to handle business intelligence without programming help. The dashboard features drag and drop simplicity to build complex dashboards, charts and reports that allow for deep analysis and visualization. BOARD is custom designed by users, easy to set up and configure, cutting down timelines. It is deployed on a local client environment. BOARD offers a powerful customized self-service experience for any size firm.

Large enterprise options are not covered as I’m not trying to write the Bible of Business Intelligence, but here are the larger players that you can add to any comprehensive search:

IBM – Bought a legacy leader in the field, Cognos, in 2008 and has integrated the capability across many products. The recent introduction of Watson Analytics will add to their product line.

IBM Cognos

Microsoft – There are several product platforms from Microsoft – SQL Server, SharePoint and Power BI.   Take some time to determine which ones fit your specific requirements.

Microsoft Business Intelligence

Microsoft Sharepoint

Oracle – Oracle has so many products and variations, we’ve provided just three links here. One to an overview that shows the breadth of the product line, a more comprehensive enterprise product in OBIEE, and a focused business planning product, Hyperion. Again, take some time to understand which ones might fit.

Oracle Business Analytics

Oracle Enterprise Business Intelligence

Oracle Hyperion

SAP – A standard in the space, SAP has several broad product options including SAP BusinessObjects and SAP Lumira.

SAP BusinessObjects

SAP Lumira

SAS – Analytics is what SAS excels in and the breadth of products shows. Just three links here in what is nearly an entire company dedicated to analytics and business intelligence.

SAS Analytics

SAS Business Intelligence

SAS Visual Analytics


Closing View

With so many options to review, it is important to start with an understanding of your data and business requirements. We’ve created a guide and tools to help.

See our previous post on Managing the Hurricane of Data

If you have a solid idea of your data and how it can impact your business, you can then begin to work with some of the companies above that meet your business needs. Ask them to demonstrate their capabilities with your actual data and create reports for you.

Ask each company that is under serious consideration to create a proof of concept and outline the length of time it took to produce the proof of concept. Pay for this if you have to, as it will give you a great idea of the actual cost and time involved to implement the solution.

Create a test user group that can be a part of the demo to track the ease of use that so many providers talk about. Real users in real time give you a real idea of just how easy it is.   Use a tool to evaluate all the options with a scoring system that can weight different capabilities.

We’ve created a tool you can download that helps.


Click Here to Get This FREE Tool


Once you have all of the data, it should be clear which of the many options can work to provide your business with the best platform and tools for your current and future business intelligence needs.