331: Creating a Buyer Persona, with Stu Richards

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Developing a Buyer Persona, learning the dos and don’ts, and why it’s essential to understand the mindset of small business owners.

Stu Richards, CEO of Bredin, is our guest this week on the Conquer Local Podcast. Stu is a frequent speaker on marketing to small and medium businesses in North America. Bredin works with some of the largest brands and companies that are trying to appeal to SMBs. Stu explains by doing topic research around the buyer persona, and it allows us to understand better where to invest the marketing dollars and how to spend it accurately. This would include hiring, purchase intent, and brand intention. Stu also sheds light on buyer actions, it is vital to have an eye-catching website, but it is critical to have the right things on it.



George: It’s the latest edition of the Conquer Local Podcast. This week on the podcast, the CEO of Bredin, Stu Richards, is joining us. Twenty-two years at this organization, and we found Stu because he is a frequent speaker on marketing to small and medium businesses in North America. Stu’s organization works with some of the largest brands and businesses that are trying to appeal to SMBs. And they run a number of surveys throughout the year for these customers. They ask questions around day-to-day management, marketing and business development, partnerships and alliances product development, access to finance, operations in HR. We are going to dig under the hood of Bredin and all of their research and find out from Stu Richards what they are learning when it comes to communicating with very small and medium businesses throughout North America. That’s all coming up next with Stu Richards, the CEO of Bredin on the Conquer Local Podcast. 

George: Stu Richards joining us from the beautiful city of Boston, Massachusetts. And he is the CEO of Bredin. Did I say that right Stu?

Stu: Close enough Bredin, but believe me, we get every version.

George: It’s like my last name. I get everything, you name it. Even get Lay and I’m like, how do you come up with that? There’s a T in there. So let’s learn a little bit about you. You’ve been with this organization for 22 years. You do a lot of speaking on how to market to small and medium-sized businesses, and when I started to look at the data that you have, it’s unbelievable. So how have you been able with your organization to come up with all this amazing data on SMBs?

Stu: Well thank you, George. Yeah, what we’ve been at for an alarmingly long time now is really helping companies to better understand and engage with the SMB audience. And we work with lots of different companies, mostly in the US and Canada, in lots of different industries. So as you might imagine, they define SMB differently. It might be by headcount, by revenue, by industry, by stage of growth, you name it. But the common thread is everything we do is to help them either understand the mindset of small businesses or engage them via content. So we do a lot of research among small businesses around, for example, what’s their business outlook? Or how are they feeling about hiring or credit utilization, or what’s their purchase intent or brand perception? All different kinds of things. One of the ways that we do that is we conduct a survey each month of 500 principals of US businesses with up to 500 employees, which we call the SMB Pulse. That allows clients to participate, either ask a couple of questions of SMBs on a cost-effective basis and to get data back pretty quickly and we append a number of questions ourselves into that survey and in many cases, those questions are on how to use content as a way to engage SMBs. And that I think, could be a great way to help with either lead generation or lead conversion.

George: So I wanna unpack that a little bit because it’s very intriguing to me that the survey can be essentially that you can contract to have you run this survey on 500 businesses and then you append some questions in there to get some insights. And what are some of the topics that would be in the surveys that you ask those businesses?

Stu: Oh, boy, well whatever our clients are interested in obviously it has really ranged all different kinds of things like, you know, reaction to the Coronavirus or reaction to last year the Federal Government shutdown or it might be around, what is the products and services are they using for their business? How happy are they with those solutions? Or for example which influencers do they pay attention to? Or what events do they go to? Or what media do they use? All different kinds of things. For us, for Bredin, when we append questions, it’s really around… We create a webcast each month using the results of the questions that we add to the Pulse in addition to the questions that we help our clients with. And so those might be on what is the hiring outlook? And what is the pool that small businesses use? What is the kind of credit? What’re their feelings about alternative lenders? For example, what kind of technology do they plan to buy? How are they using staff?


Finding the Ideal Buyer Persona

George: Stu one of the things that I noticed is a topic that you will research on behalf of one of your clients is around persona and the buyer journey of a business’s persona. So the reason why this is intriguing to me as a lifelong marketer and as a lifelong salesperson that has sold to SMBs. I find that they have a finite budget that they wanna spend and they would rather just take that marketing budget and spray it all over the place and then get down on their knees and pray that it’s going to work and it’s interesting that you dig in to figure out, who is your ideal buyer persona, and why don’t we take all that money and just go after them?

Stu: Yeah, no, we love when our clients develop personas and they’re just such powerful tools and the process of persona development just identifies so many actionable insights that we just, you know, we love the opportunity to help clients with it. And we do have clients who’ve developed personas in a variety of ways. It does not have to cost a fortune and take forever to develop personas. In many cases, there’s a kind of collective institutional knowledge around who a company’s personas are? Whether it’s in the front line sales and customer service team or product management or whoever. Usually, when we start a persona development, we find there’s a pretty good theory around who’s important, whether it’s by role or by industry or what have you. But then in the process of developing personas, whether it’s using qualitative focus groups for exploratory or really trying to quantify the learnings via online. The kinds of things that we can identify for clients are for example; should they really be focused on businesses by usage? Or should they really be focused on a role like an office manager versus an IT director versus business principle? Or should they be focused in some other way? But also what we’re able to provide for our clients are the attitudes that different personas or roles bring to marketing media, the media that they actually prefer whether it is different online venues or other kinds of outreach, the actual kind of messaging that works best so for example; are they really motivated by price or ease of purchase or some sort of reassurance that it’s a leading brand. So helping them to determine what kind of messaging will resonate best with their target audience and how those messages vary by their target audience. What sort of media they can use that’s gonna bring them the biggest bang for their buck. And what kind of product features, for example, are gonna resonate best. Those kinds of learnings can really, really help a client to focus their messaging and again make the most of a finite market budget.

George: Well, it’s really interesting that I think it’s an area that smart business people that have done some research are really digging into. They’re starting to understand that this really is a game-changer. Because in the good old horse and buggy days of the ’90s, or even the late ’80s, there wasn’t this ability to target an audience and there was more of a horizontal approach of, let’s just get them all, let God sort them out. But in today’s world and I like to use this example of the door-to-door salesperson that goes out and knocks on doors and is never home, working 20 hours a day and the persona of their buyer actually doesn’t even like seeing them. They would just like to go online do a screen share, press a button and consume that product and I think that that tidal wave is just gonna happen. So you have to identify that as a business person. You talked about the ease of purchase in certain personas. But I wanna emphasize with our audience it’s more around understanding that there is no one size fits all presentation, there is not one size package that fits every type of buyer. Understanding that buyer persona and figuring out whether they’re the right customer for you or not is very important. And then number two, how do I make the most efficient revenue motion to try and acquire that customer and that really is what this work is helping to do.

Stu: Exactly, yeah, very, very much. Yeah, and it can come down to very, very tactical execution. For example, if you’re really into using video then you’re not optimizing your messaging against baby boomers you have for example or conversely, if you’re really heavy up on email newsletters, you might be missing out on engaging with millennials for whom that tactic isn’t necessarily the highest utilization. So there’s lots and lots of very actionable learnings that you can get from persona development exercises.


Charting the Demographics

George: One of the things I noticed in your data as well, you talk about different demographics. And I think about years ago when our producer Brent and I were in the radio business and we go out and talk to a customer and say, “Yeah, we’re number one with adults 25-54,” and when I was making those presentations and I was 26, 27 years old I was like, this is the biggest pile of bullshit I’ve ever heard. Because there is nothing similar between producer Colleen and me and that is 25-54 we’re in that, it’s too big. It’s too big of a demographic to come up with a message that’s going to come to old, white-haired George, and then young Colleen. We like different things. We might like the same tequila but outside of that, we like different [things] and so by having these insights and really understanding the messaging especially now that we have technology where we can build an audience of just old, white-haired Georges and the things that I’m interested in, build an audience of Colleens and then find lookalike audience. There’s an amazing way that you can build tactics to be very targeted with that message.

Stu: Very much, yeah absolutely.

George: So, if an organization wanted to get you to do this survey, like when I think of 500 businesses, I’m like “Oh, I thought you’re gonna say 5,000.” And when I think about all the things that you’re able to do, it’s very wide-ranging because you talked about maybe we build the product in a different way. So you might wanna have some product managers and researchers getting this information. You might wanna have marketers that need this information. Of course, salespeople need this information to discover who the buyer persona is and what their life cycle might look like in their customer journey. Who’s the ideal company that Bredin works with?

Stu: Oh boy, it really varies, it is always, always a company that’s focused on the smaller or small to mid-sized business audience, but within that, it’s kind of all bets are off. So we’ve worked with everyone from the Googles and Microsofts and AT&Ts of the world to smaller kinda niche or emerging players like Trying Ad or Constant Contact or other marketers that are, I guess in the challenger mode. But the common thread is that they really want to do a better job understanding what motivates SMBs, what keeps them up at night, how they can better serve them, how they can better market to them. In specifically in the context of who we work with, it does really vary. In some cases, it’s the marketing research group that’s driving a particular initiative. In some cases, it’s a marketing group generally speaking. In some cases, it’s a specific content marketing subgroup within marketing. In other cases, we’re working with a sales team and they’re really trying to develop some very high impact collateral or event support materials. So our audiences vary within the bigger umbrella of, they’re all focused on understanding, engaging small to mid-sized businesses.


The Right Questions: Driving Data 

George: It’s interesting, I walked through some of the questions that you asked. I’m just gonna read a couple of them off here. Finding new customers, okay everybody wants that. Managing costs, is that important to you? Finding good employees, dealing with competition, keeping current on technology, retaining current customers. When I read through this list of questions, I’m like, this is a great needs analysis. Now I probably wouldn’t ask all of the questions of my client while I had them on a call but some of these questions, how important is it to you keeping current on the latest technology?

Stu: Oh boy, yeah.

George: And what a great question.

Stu: No it really is, and it’s absolutely small business owners really understand it’s both critical for them to be competitive, for them to be productive, to get the most from their employees and their day, but it’s also absolutely overwhelming if you think of all the developments that happen every day with servers and software and storage you name it. So for them to feel like they can stay current on technology. It’s really critical, they have the fear of missing out and to that end, to the degree that any of our clients or any of your listeners can help them keep current on technology via video or email newsletter or other kinds of content that’s a huge plus. And it’s important regardless of the type or size of the company that we talk to. If you go I think you might be looking at the general slide, but we do break out the responses to questions like that by company size. And it’s interesting the bigger the company that you ask that question of, the more concerned they are about how they can keep on top of and get the most from technology.

George: But it is a very stimulating 52 pages that I’ve been reading of data and I’m a salesperson and definitely not a data person. But as I look at these, I’m becoming more and more of a chemist as the years go by. And I think that part of that is and I wanted to get your opinion on this, you’ve been doing this for a while, you’re obviously an expert in the space. Are you finding that businesses in general and organizations, in general, are using a lot more data to make their decisions rather than just gut?

Stu: I would like to say yes. We always encourage our clients to do as much as we can. We recognize that budgets are finite. One of the things that we have seen our clients really doing well that we absolutely love and encourage is more of a focus on specific industries within the broad, very broad small business or SMB segment. So not just asking generally speaking, what keeps you up at night but for example, how the CPAs I feel about their business outlook or attorneys or contractors or whatever the specific industries are. Because their immediate preferences, their business concerns, the messaging, the respondents really have different perspectives by industry. That’s the biggest driver of how they think about their business, not so much the size or their age or anything like that. And they very much self identify, so to the degree that we can help our clients determine not just how to message most effectively to a role, or to small business, but how most effectively can you message to a CPA or an attorney or a contractor or automobile dealer. That’s really gonna help them increase their relevance and as a result, better achieve their sales and marketing objectives.

George: Well one piece of data that really jumped out to me in your presentation was the sales stage influences. So when you look at these various tactics that are out there. Some people call them social media channels or some people call them apps, it was interesting to see that at the very top of the awareness phase of the buyers’ journey was Twitter and then TikTok and then Instagram and Facebook and Pinterest and LinkedIn and then podcasts. But then when it came to the purchase part of the buyers’ journey, the very most important part was the product section of a website and the resources section of a website and yet we know that Google has done research saying that 84% of small businesses in North America hate their website.

Stu: You have become a chemist, you did a great job reading–

George: I wanna sell websites and I wanna help people sell websites, but I also wanna help businesses and it’s so interesting like oh, the shiny thing over here is, maybe I should do a video on TikTok. Okay, you should for awareness, but it’s not leading the purchase, according to the people that you are and their actual buyers. What’s leading the purchase is an analyst report and a case study and a research report and a video on the website. This is really valuable information, when it comes to, when you’re putting together a program for a small business and how to be effective.

Stu: Yeah, it absolutely is. And you’re absolutely right. Yeah, social media is great for awareness, not… depends on your industry, If you’re a retailer yes, obviously someone can buy straight through on Facebook or whatever. But yeah, if you wanna be a well-rounded marketer and really ensure that you’re optimizing the online experience then yes, it’s really important on your site to be clear about what it is that you do, what the benefit is of the products and services that you provide for whom exactly and to provide context for these senior services. And as an example of that what we often use is an article on the website of a bank that explains what’s the difference between a loan and a line of credit? And a lot of small business owners don’t really understand that. So just having a basic article that outlines what the each of those are and, you know, who they’re for and under what circumstances you’d use them is great and it can lead directly to the loan or the line of credit application page on the product section of a bank’s website. So if you have offerings that are anything other than completely intuitive, it’s really important to provide advisory content around what’s the context for their use? For whom are they useful? And then you can lead people into the products section of the site and there it’s really important to make it easy for people to understand what are your offerings? How are they different from each other? Which one of them is best for my business? How have other companies like mine or other buyers benefited from them? And that can really help facilitate the purchase process.

George: Well Stu we really appreciate getting your time today on the Conquer Local Podcast. Some great learnings from all of that research that you have through your organization Bredin. We’re going to put links as to how people can find you inside the content of the podcast and we appreciate having you as one of our latest guests. If you were to leave one thing for organizations that sell to SMBs that they need to remember because I think you have more insight on SMB than anybody else that I’ve met, from this data. Could you give us that in one sentence? Like if there was just one thing we need to remember?

Stu: Yeah, it is content marketing works, articles, webcasts, anything. Just really be sure that you make it easy to understand, like would your spouse understand it if they’re not in your business, would your you know siblings understand it if they’re not in your business? And with that, you will have success.



George: Well every day that goes by I really appreciate meeting these folks that understand this data because a lot of times in my sales career, you went with your gut and just sheer will. And I look back at that I’ve had some people say to me, you probably should work smarter not harder. When you’re out pounding the pavement and you’re putting in 20 hours a day, it’s pretty hard to work harder. And there is a better way and it’s defined things like this buyer persona thing, everybody’s talking about it. There’s a reason why. Buyer persona and thinking about the needs of those buyer personas and coming up with a tactic for specific buyer personas in how to show the value of your solution is a game-changer for an organization. It’s a game-changer at the street level; it’s also a game-changer at the marketing level; and it’s a game-changer at the product development level, where you really understand the needs of that persona. It’s so interesting that Bredin does a ton of research around this and understanding the persona and the buyer journey. We’ve talked a lot about that here on the Conquer Local Podcast. The other thing, what are the attitudes? And what are the buyers’ trends right now? And having that information on a regular basis. Gordon Burrell, who has been a guest on this podcast a couple of times just had his annual convention in Miami and one of the big parts of the Burrell Convention is where he releases all of that data. I was not allowed to be there this year because we were on a travel ban at that time. So I was very, very sad. I always like hearing it from Gordon and his team but that didn’t stop us from getting that information because we’ve been using it for so many years. It’s just a part of our DNA because it crafts the way that we go to market because we found some very, very good data. So this company Bredin and Stu Richards, pretty easy after we listened to him for the last 20 some odd minutes. He knows what he’s talking about because they do a number of these surveys. Of these cohorts of 500 businesses, and they ask great questions and it was that one piece validated what we know on the podcast and we’ve talked a lot about. You’ve got to use the right tactics for the right reasons. Social media is a great tactic for driving awareness. But if you’re looking for the conversion in the sales point, Stu’s data points that you have to have a great website experience. And more than just a shopping cart or more than just e-commerce, you have to have that product description, you have to have frequently asked questions. It’s right there in black and white that the majority of buyers look to those items. Having this data is key to you working smarter and not harder and having more success as you go out every day to conquer local. Thanks to Stu Richards, CEO of Bredin for joining us on this week’s edition of the Conquer Local Podcast. As always, my name is George Leith. I’ll see you when I see you.


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