What’s the difference between a customer profile and the voice of the customer?
It is the difference between data and insights.
Data will tell you a customer chose the green widget. Voice of customer research will tell you why.
Many businesses rely solely on data points to understand their customers and to set their strategy. But that’s not voice of customer research.
Voice of customer research captures the preferences, expectations and aversions of your customers. It uncovers facts and the meaning behind those facts. It digs deeper into customer feedback to ask, “What do you mean by that?” That’s what puts the ‘person’ into your buyer persona.
More than ever, making a human connection with customers is a key to marketing success. If you want to improve retention and loyalty, if you want greater customer satisfaction, if you want to increase sales, if you want to develop breakthrough products, then you have to understand the voice of customer.
And there is no substitute to talking to them.
“Many marketers and copywriters are doing their jobs without ever having talked to a customer,” says Scott Hornstein, partner with consulting firm B2P Partners. “Voice of customer depth research helps you break through the corporate mythology of widely held assumptions and tells you what you didn’t already know about your customers.”
Join us in this interview with Scott to learn how to inject the voice of customer into your business strategy.
- How ‘marketing attention deficit disorder’ (MADD) hinders persona development
- How to differentiate your personas for competitive advantage
- Why qualitative voice of customer research is imperative for effective buyer personas
- Real case examples of voice of customer personas at work
040: How to Gather Voice of Customer Insights That Transform Your Business
Show notes and resources
John: Hi everyone and thanks for joining us again today. I'm John Gregory Olson, with my co-host Jayme Soulati.
Jayme: Woo-hoo, Johnny, thank you. Johnny, Johnny, Johnny. Does anybody ever call you Johnny?
John: A few people do. People that have known me a long time, some of them.
Jayme: It doesn't fit you.
John: It doesn't, no.
Jayme: This was like, "Johnny." He's not a Johnny. Some people are, but you're not, which I think is good. It's a good thing.
John: Okay, well when I was growing up my mom was adamant that nobody call me Johnny. For some reason, that was just a thing for her, "He's not a Johnny, he's a..."
Jayme: Well I'm sure it's an endearment by some, right?
John: Yes. The guys that could get away with it when I was growing up were older men whose name also was John.
Jayme: Oh, okay, that makes sense to me.
John: I had a basketball coach that, his name was John, he called me Johnny and it made perfect sense.
Jayme: I can see that happening. My name, Jayme, it's kind of hard to nickname Jayme, so yeah, which is cool. But, hey John.
John: And Jayme is a nickname for James, right?
Jayme: Okay, but I'm not a guy yet.
John: I know.
Jayme: I know I haven't done any transgender modification.
John: We were talking about what's in the news lately, and let's just leave that one alone, okay? This is a marketing program, all right?
Jayme: Well, could you imagine marketing that topic? It would be like, we could kind of go crazy with ideas for that job.
John: Let's not even go there. The media is saturated with that kind of stuff right now anyway, so we don't need to cover it.
Jayme: Okay, well hear me out. Who and what is on tap today?
John: Hey, guess what?
John: Scott Hornstein is back with us today.
Jayme: I'm so excited.
John: We had him on our episode 29 and he talked with us about direct marketing today. And that was a really great episode, a lot of fascinating insights that he brought to the table. And at the time I asked him, "Hey, would you consider coming back again sometime?" And he said sure. So today is the day we feature Scott.
Jayme: That's awesome.
John: And he's gonna talk about voice of customer research.
Jayme: Well, and too John, the reason why I love Scott is because he's been on the block for a very long time. He's a young guy though, kind of, right? I don't know his age, I'm just saying. But he's got tremendous expertise, and intelligence, and intellect. And he's written a book as well which, John, I have a free copy of Scott Hornstein's book, OPT-In Marketing for the first listener who puts up a new review on iTunes for The Heart of Marketing.
John: All right.
Jayme: Mm-hmm, absolutely.
John: Now do I qualify?
Jayme: No! And you probably have your own copy.
John: I do. I have a copy. I read it years ago when it came out, great book. Really smart stuff in there if you wanna increase your marketing IQ.
Jayme: Perfect. Well, John, why don't you tell us who Scott Hornstein is. I know you've got a great intro for him right now.
John: I do, yes. Let me tell you about Scott before we go into the interview. Scott is an international author, as we just said. He's a speaker and a marketing consultant with B2P Partners. Over the years he's worked with IBM, Microsoft, Semens, HP, AT&T, and many, many others, focusing in the technology industries, finance, manufacturing, and hospitality to name a few. And he has developed a customer relationship methodology that emphasizes the humanity in our business relationships, very cool thing. And he uses this methodology to optimize customer experiences, and customer retention, and customer lifetime value for the clients he works with.
As Jayme said, he's the co-author of OPT-In Marketing, which is published by McGraw-Hill. But he's also written many articles over the years that have been featured in publications like Ad Week, B2B, The DMA, and Insider, Brand Week and many others. And he also teaches at area universities, and also the Association of National Advertisers.
Jayme: So that is pretty intense bio. This guy rocks hot, let me just say. So I really, really can't wait to see what he has to say about persona, John.
John: And we're back again with Scott Hornstein for another interview segment. Scott, the glutton for punishment that is, came back to join us today. And we are gonna talk about developing personas for marketing. This is another area of expertise that Scott brings, and Scott, thanks for coming.
Scott: My pleasure, John.
John: Hey, let's dive right in. As I always do, I like to start out with a foundational question to lay the ground work for the listeners so that everything that we dig into going forward, they know where we're coming from. So can you give our listeners a quick definition of buyer persona and why it's important to marketing and business?
Scott: I certainly will. I'm not sure I can do it quick, but I'll do my best.
John: Okay. Well I'm turning the mic over to you, so you just have fun with it.
Scott: The concept of a persona, for me, comes out of voice of customer research, which is something that I've embraced through my entire career and a premises that I've devoted a lot of time to refining because it is so powerful. And what that process does is to try to learn about our prospects and our customers, not only as business people, but as people. And it shows the sometimes conflicting emotions, and goals, and actions of these people. What it also does for us is it tells us things that we didn't know. A persona, for the definition, is an archetype. It's a representation of a certain slice of your customer or prospect market. And it is meant to illuminate their characteristics, their information behaviors. What's their attitude? What's their motivation? Not only their business motivation, but their personal motivation. Is this good for me? I know it's good for the company, but what about me?
These personas have been used to great effect in B2C. And Best Buy, I think, did one of the absolute seminal campaigns in using this on how to get the best use of their floor space by creating these personas. So a persona, we just did some work for a company in the south who are engineers, they're environmental engineers. And in talking with their base, we realized there were not one, not two, but three personas. Three ways of representing their clientele. While the first two represented real opportunity. One came from an engineering background and one came from a business background. So we were able to follow that through, and say, "Here's how these people learn. Here's their motivation. Here's their background."
The engineers may want to do this because it is interesting as hell and it's the right thing to do, and the business people wanna see where we're making money. And then there's the third group over here and if you see this guy, say hello but he is not your target. You might sell him a nickel's worth, but he's not coming back for more and here's why. One of the other things that this kind of a representation does is to form a unifying point for both sales and marketing. John, this may come as a real surprise to you, but the age old warfare between sales and marketing is still going strong.
John: I thought we solved that.
Scott: Well, we keep trying to solve it, but it won't ever be solved until we all have the same measurement. As long as marketing is judged by leads and sales by money.
John: By revenue, yes, right.
Scott: We're gonna have a problem. And one of the manifestations of this problem is that they each have a different view of who the customer is. Here's a point where we can all agree that this is where the opportunity lies, this is how this person wants to learn, this is how this person reacts. Here's this person's journey, the spots on a journey that they want interaction. And we can work together. And I know this is unbelievable, but if we work together it produces a lot better results.
John: I found that that really works well. I'm being a little sarcastic.
Scott: So the persona is based upon qualitative research, which is very different than quantitative research, because in quantitative we ask the question and we get the answer. But in qualitative we get to say, "Well what do you mean by that? Let's go a little deeper. Why is that so?" So it's a fascinating, fascinating process.
John: I was gonna ask you, maybe this is a good point, Scott, is how do you go about capturing that voice of customer?
Scott: It's through a qualitative research process that we've worked out and developed over many, many years. The original concept of this came from...I learned it from the team who worked with IBM to choose Charlie Chapman as the spokes model, if you will, for the IBM ThinkPad. And the process of interviewing, of going by a carefully constructed interview guide, but then with a highly trained interviewer who can say, "I understand the real objectives of this research so I'm gonna go down this side for a second. Because I don't really understand your motivation yet for why you do this." And to follow that through and then to bring it back. And now bringing it back in the form of a persona is very, very easy to digest.
Look at it this way, John, most of the people who are working on your campaign, be they designers, and copywriters, and programmers, and all these different kinds of people, have never met a customer, have never spoken to a prospect, would not know one if they came across them in the street. What they write to, what they design to, what they program to is some ethereal thing. And maybe it's backed up by a little data, but also what it's backed up by is years and years of widely held beliefs. So that, if the mythology of the corporation is that all of our customers are left handed, how would we know otherwise? Unless we actually spoke to them. It comes down to a conversation, a meaningful, directed conversation.
John: Scott, can I ask a quick question about that? When you are conducting this voice of customer research, are you talking to groups of people like in a focus group, or are you talking to people one to one?
Scott: This is one to one.
Scott: This is one to one and I usually do it over the phone.
Scott: Or Skype, or something remote because we have executives and we have to fit ourselves into their busy schedules.
John: Okay, thank you for that. This is an interesting question: I recently saw a post that was written by Mark Schaeffer, and I think you saw that too, Scott, where he questioned the use of personas by marketers. And he said that personas are too generic, and that they don't facilitate the creation of a original brand voice, and that marketers in the same industry are all writing to the same persona. What do you think: valid criticism? And what is right and wrong with persona creation these days?
Scott: It's very valid. And I think it's very healthy to exercise the concept, to throw stones at it. Because in that way, and as we do things that are measurable and accountable, we have the ability to improve. Well, interestingly, B2P partners did some proprietary research on personas and we found that of the marketers that we spoke to, a little over half, almost 60% that said they're currently using personas, and a third said they're very or extremely effective. However, about a third said personas are not respected or appreciated within the organization, and a quarter said that the personas were not very at all effective, that they haven't revealed any new insights.
Now as you peel back the onion, and this is very, very pertinent to what Mark wrote about, is that where they are not effective, it is largely that the persona was created from existing data. And that perpetuates all of the mistakes that you have done to this point. In the previous segment, I told you about a company down south, Environmental Engineers, who learned a lot through the persona process. I'd also mention to you one of my favorite companies up in Toronto would be people who do backup and recovery software. And I wanna give you a good example of what we learned from doing this research in a persona project with them. This company is very innovative.
David, who's the head of the company, is an absolute genius. And for 27, 28 years they have been enormously successful, just writing code, just doing the programming and selling the software to marketing groups, who then bring it to the marketplace. And traditionally they've served the BSNB marketplace. Well some of the innovations that David has come up with caught the eye of Gartner. And Gartner put them in one of their magic triangles. Now it's notable that they put them, and this is this little company who's dealing in the SNB marketplace, into a preferred position within the enterprise, competing with all of the big boys, semantic for one. Well holy cow, these guys said, "If Gartner said we can compete in the enterprise, why don't we go there?"
We did this research amongst decision makers within the enterprise to find out what they wanted. Well up until this point, this company...and again very, very successful. They built themselves as the cloud backup experts, which resonated in the SNB marketplace. In talking to these decision makers within the enterprise, we quickly found out two things. Number one, they don't care about backup. Backup is a pain in the butt. It's a cost center, it's a hole in the ground that they shovel money into. It's messy, somebody else handles it, I don't wanna know about it. But recovery is part of their commitment to the organization.
But each one of them has in their MBOs, if the system goes down, how fast can the data be recovered, and what percentage will be recovered? So recovery, not backup. The other thing is that they said we have an almost religious aversion to the use of the term, cloud. I am running a billion dollar organization here, do not tell me that my data is somewhere. I must be able to touch my data. So in order to get these people to listen to what Gartner says is superior technology, we had to change the way we were speaking. And we wouldn't have known about it unless we engaged these people in meaningful, directed conversation.
John: Wow, that's a great example. That is really cool. This kind of really sets me up for the next thing I wanted to ask you about. Thinking in terms of our listeners out there, the average marketer for a midsize company, and I'll put my marketer hat on from back in the day because I've sat on that side of the desk for many, many years. And I'm thinking this is your typical day. You're looking at your budget, and how am I doing on my spending, and how am I doing on my revenue goals. And oh, by the way, I just heard about buyer personas and I really think this a good idea for my marketing. But I don't know if I have time to do all this and I don't know if I have the budget to do this. Couldn't I just create a serviceable persona from the data that I have? Do I really need to do this voice of customer thing? What do you say to that? Is there a way to get a persona without doing the kind of voice of customer that you're talking about?
Scott: I would say, actually, no.
John: Okay. I thought you might, but...
Scott: Yeah, a couple of things. Of course there's the old adage that if you do the same thing, don't expect to have different results.
Scott: But also, I find that many marketers right now have what we at B2P Partners call marketing attention deficit disorder. You've got so much going on, there's no time to see anything through. And generally, results are not exactly where you'd like them to be. What taking the time to do this kind of research to come up with the personas from a regional research does, is it narrows the field. It takes out what isn't important and allows you to concentrate on things that are really meaningful, to your target market. Which may be very different than what's meaningful to you. But what's the name of the game?
John: That's a really good. That's a good point, thanks for that answer. Just talking about personas in general, where do you see the greatest impact of using them? And do you have any examples? You gave us one earlier, but talking about marketing in general and developing your message, the right message, are there other things that you can use this persona insight for in your business?
Scott: Well what the persona is meant to do is to illuminate what's really important in the marketing and sales process. And that is really it's finest use. In another example, a large technology company who had just come out with a brand new solution for medical practices, 3 to 49 Docs, [SP] so SNB sort of. And their sales force had called on these offices for many years, and they went in to try to get appointments to sell this new solution. And they weren't getting any traction at all. When we went in and had those conversations, what we learned is that the decision making authority, or at least the majority of the consideration process had been reassigned to the practice manager. That the doc said, "Great, I'm gonna practice medicine, you run the business. Now I may still make the final decision, it may still be up to me whether I'm going to buy a new computer system or a new Mercedes.
But I look to your recommendation first." So which meant a completely different process for generating, qualifying, and nurturing that lead. So again, what we're trying to do here is to make things more straight forward, easier, more efficient, and more productive. So I think that really if you are looking to introduce something, if you are looking to make an advance in the kind of results that you are currently getting. Something that is potentially more impactful than graphics. Here's a way of really getting a better understanding of your marketplace, of your prospects, of your customers. And I really emphasize this more for prospects because if somebody's been a customer of yours and you don't know these things, well shame on you.
John: Right, right. Definitely.
Scott: And also, quite frankly, that the mind share of the corporation today is fully on prospecting. It is not on keeping your customers, which is where I'm headed.
John: It is, yeah, it's been that way for a long time. I remember back when I was in the corporate world that was the same thing.
Scott: Well it's a lot of the push from Wall Street, which says, "What did you sell today?"
John: Grow, grow, grow. Yup. And the thing is, it's not just grow, grow, grow, it's grow, new business, grow, new business. Because you can grow by nurturing your customer base.
Scott: Well actually, that is the most profitable sale.
John: It is! Yes, I agree.
Scott: And I do think that that is the way that business is going these days. And really consumer too, is it's through the network of me. The people that you allow into that circle and how many of your needs they can satisfy. So it behooves you to really understand. Another example, this is for another technology company, and this is in the banking vertical, it's a regional bank with about four or five branches. And talking to the CIO, and he says...we asked him, "How do you get your information about new technology?"
And he says, "Well I get my information from this guy over here, because he started originally supplying us with just some programming, and then he learned that what we need, is we need some staff at busy times, so he started hiring that. And then he started to take over some of our non-critical functions and do them in his shop." So here's an example of somebody who has understood his client, and has been able to grow his business by providing more of what his client needs that is consistent with what he does. So I think it's that concept of network, of also called ecosystem, of what are you bringing to the marketplace, what are you bringing to your prospect that can satisfy more of their needs?
John: Excellent points. Scott, we're getting towards the end here. I wanna give you a chance...
John: I know! I wanna give you a chance to leave the listeners with whatever nugget that you hope they take away or remember the most from what we've been talking about here. Is there anything that you wanna tell them before we wave goodbye?
Scott: I think that one of the most illuminating things in the course of one of these qualitative, directed, focused conversations is to ask your prospect or your customer questions that lead to what is in fact your compelling, competitive differentiator? How do they see what you do as being so different from other people and so necessary, that that is why they are there? You may say to them, "Hey, do you know that we produce ice cream?" And all these other people produce ice cream too. And they go, "Yeah." And they say, "What do you see as the difference between us and them?" Well I know that everybody else has vanilla ice cream, and you produce chocolate as well. And you go, "Great, you're absolutely right. And what do you have to say to that?", "Well, I don't like chocolate ice cream." That clear compelling, competitive differentiation, it's the difference between night and day. And it's got to be in your customer's eyes.
John: That's great stuff, Scott. Thank you so much for letting me pick your brain once again and for sharing your insights with everybody here at The Heart of Marketing.
Scott: John, does that mean I have to stop talking?
John: Well, I'll tell you what. We can keep talking after we're done rolling the tape here if you like, because you're rolling, but...I just wanna say thank you and goodbye, but only goodbye for now. Maybe we'll see you again sometime, or hear you again. So stay with us, friends. I'll be back with Jayme on the other side.
Narrator: Back to The Heart of Marketing.
John: Jayme, what'd you think of Scott?
Jayme: Hey, hey. Good interview, John, way to go.
John: Yeah, thank you. I have to share one thing here before we get into the heart of the matter. And that is, when we did the first interview with Scott, and he heard the final episode, he really got a chuckle out of the three stooges thing we put at the beginning in the intro. So I wanted to throw something in just for Scott.
Narrator: Oh, a wise guy.
John: Okay, that's for Scott, as a added thank you for being on the show. Because he really is a wise guy.
Jayme: He's a wise guy. He's a wise cracker I'm sure, too. I had all I could do not to laugh at him in all that sound byte, just saying. Because you know me.
John: Well let's go to the nuggets, Jayme. What did you come away with that really popped out for you that you thought was important?
Jayme: Well, everybody should know that I am not a persona user, and I need to transfer over into that frame of mind, Scott's frame of mind. And I think he has spent so many years studying persona and the customer. How can you not learn from what he's done? And I think that everything, and it's very powerful, by the way. Scott's research and how he's putting it into play with the clients he serves and probably the corporations where he's worked as well. But, John, for me the big takeaway is this. Everything I read these days in the headline is about user behavior. And we did a story, an episode, John, about neuromarketing. Do we know that episode number, is it 34 or?
John: Thirty four, or 35.
Jayme: Right, so I wanna draw attention to that episode on neuromarketing, what is neural marketing. Because all marketers right now are looking at what consumers, prospects, clients, customers do when they engage with your content marketing or your sales funnel. Right? Do they click, do they press on call to action, how long are they on a website? Are they bouncing off quickly, do they engage in your funnel deeper and deeper? So that's all user behavior, and in order to get to that user behavior you need to have a good solid sense of who your persona is, who is that customer, what do they look like, what do they do. And the second thing, John, is I really love the fact that Scott takes time to talk to the customer one to one via telephone. Because that medium, that methodology, if you will, is kind of forgotten. I think everybody just wants to lure people to a website via mobile device and call that mobile marketing. Well, gosh, what happened to the traditional thing that really worked the best, that's having conversations. Real conversations, real time with the customer, face to face or on the phone.
John: I agree.
Jayme: And I love that. Yeah, I love that technique. And I think it's extremely powerful in helping to build what is the customer seeking. What are they missing, what are they asking for, and how can you as a marketer help that customer get what they want to be loyal. So those are kind of my takeaways, John.
John: I couldn't agree more. I think for me, I will amplify a little bit what you were saying, that one of the takeaways I have from Scott's message is that there is no substitute for talking to your customers. And this whole area of voice of customer research, I think is the way that you put high octane fuel into your persona. Because of what it does, the voice of the customer tells you things that you didn't already know about them. This is a paraphrase of something that Scott said. He said, You know, when you're doing traditional market research, which is qualitative, no quantitative, I get those two mixed up all the time. Quantitative research, it's like taking a poll, you're gathering statistical information that you can quantify. But voice of customer takes it to that next level, where you're getting qualitative information and insights, really, from your customers. Where you can take it to the next level and say, "Well what do you mean by that?"
When Scott was talking about that, that really clicked for me. Not only knowing what customers are doing and what they're saying, but what do they mean? What's the meaning behind that huge thing that, I think, really empowers your persona. And voice of customer helps to, he said, illuminate what is important and what is not important. And a lot of times, when we get our heads wrapped up into the data, we start to make determinations in our mind what is important to the customer based on what's important to us. Right? It's human nature. And voice of customer helps you to cut through that and get to what's really important, what's important to the customer. And you can focus your priorities on that.
Jayme: Yeah, another thing, too, that Scott mentioned that was kind of interesting, is this, "age old warfare between sales and marketing." And I know nobody's surprised about that, but unfortunately it would be nice to have the two meet in the middle a little more. And maybe the customer is how that happens.
John: The customer is. And my experience too, Jayme, is that compensation drives behavior. And when you have marketing who have bonus plans based on one thing, and sales who have bonus plans based on another, you can't bring them together. Because we're all self motivated. Whatever's the best outcome for me is what I'm gonna focus on. And so if you bring that compensation together, I think you have a greater chance of bringing the sales and marketing group together.
Jayme: Yeah, that's wonderful. But I did wanna thank Scott Hornstein for being back on the show with us, John, and your great interviewing techniques are always wonderful.
John: I'm a rookie, I'm just still learning this stuff.
Jayme: You're a rookie? Get out. Dude, why did you tell anybody that? That was a secret.
John: Oh, yeah. I've had a lot of experience interviewing Jayme.
Jayme: Wait, are you sure? I think I actually preempt your questions and answer them before you say it.
John: I know, I know. I don't even have to ask the question, you know what it's gonna be.
Jayme: But remember, I do have a free copy of Scott Hornstein's book, OPT-In Marketing, and if you write a review on iTunes that mentions Scott Hornstein in the review, you will get that book. We will be delighted to send that to you. Thanks.
John: And the first one who does that, is that how you're gonna determine the winner?
Jayme: Yeah, for sure. The first one who puts Scott Hornstein in a review saying, "I listened to that episode and I loved it," or whatever. But yeah, let's check this out. We're just kind of going from the hip with trying to give our fans and our listeners something back for listening to us, and we thank you for that. Anyway, John.
John: That is our show for today.
Jayme: Yeah, it is.
John: Why don't you take us home?
Jayme: Perfect. Everybody, go be rock hot. Thanks for listening.
John: And remember: go for the heart, you won't go wrong.
Narrator: Thanks for listening to The Heart of Marketing podcast, with Jayme Soulati, and John Gregory Olson. Don't miss our next program, subscribe to The Heart of Marketing podcast today.
The first listener who leaves a review on iTunes for The Heart of Marketing and mentions the Scott Hornstein episode in their review will get a hard-cover copy of Scott’s book, Opt-In Marketing. Send us a message with your contact information and we’ll let you know if you’re the winner.