adele-revella-interview _0

Adele Revella on How to Avoid the Most Common Buyer Persona Mistakes Made by Marketers

buyer persona mistakes


Adele Revella is the person behind and in this episode, we talk in detail about buyer personas. Adele is a well-known expert that consults with some of the biggest companies around to get deep insights into their buyer personas. She helps them understand:

  • How they buy
  • When they buy
  • Why they buy

We will dive deep into helping you understand the types of qualitative info you need to understand about your target customers so you can attract more of them. Listen in and avoid making buyer persona mistakes that limit your success.

Listen now and you’ll hear Adele and I talk about:

  • (02:30)  Introduction
  • (03:30)  Why is understanding a buyer persona so important?
  • (06:00)  What are some misconceptions about how to create a buyer persona?
  • (08:24)  Who should you interview to gather the information that you need?
  • (09:40)  What types of questions should you be asking and why?
  • (11:45)  Why can’t the sales team do the interviews?
  • (13:10)  What are some of the explicit insights that you are looking for?
  • (18:30)  Why isn’t the first answer the one that you want?
  • (23:45)  How many people do you like to interview?

Resources Mentioned

More About This EpisodeGroove Digital Marketing Podcast

The Groove Digital Marketing podcast is the podcast for entrepreneurs  who want to discover how to use online marketing and sales automation tactics to massively grow their business.

It’s designed to help entrepreneurs discover which proven tactics and strategies  are working most effectively today – all from the mouths of expert entrepreneurs who are already making it big.

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Trent Dyrsmid: Hey, there, bright idea hunters. Welcome to the Groove Digital Marketing podcast. I am your host, Trent Dyrsmid. This is the podcast where we help entrepreneurs to discover ways to use digital marketing and marketing automation to dramatically increase the growth of their business.

If you are a marketing executive or an entrepreneur and you’re looking for proven tactics and strategies to help you increase traffic to your site or to increase conversions and ultimately profits, well, you’re in the right place.

The way that we do that is I bring in proven experts to share with us exactly either what they used to become successful, if they are a successful entrepreneur or if they’re a subject matter expert, I get them to share with us all of the insights that they have used to become that expert.

This show is a perfect example of that. My guest is a woman by the name of Adele Revella. She is the person behind a company by the name of In this episode, we’re going to talk in detail about buyer personas.

Now there’s a lot of buzz out there these days about buyer personas. In the reading that I’ve done and the research that I’ve done, oftentimes the entire story is not there. Adele really is a well known expert in this area. She consults with some of the biggest companies around. They pay her quite a large sum of money to gain really deep insights into the buyer persona; how they buy, when they buy, why they buy and a whole lot more information.

In this interview, we’re going to dive pretty deep into helping you to understand the types of qualitative information that you need to learn about your target customers, so that you can attract more of them.

In just a moment, we’re going to welcome Adele to the show.

Before we do that, I just wanted to very quickly draw your attention to a section of Groove’s site that is absolutely filled with free resources if you go to, you’ll find a full listing of all of the downloadable pieces of premium content and ebooks that we have available for you. With that said, please join me in welcoming Adele to the show.

Hi, Adele. Welcome to the show. Thank you for making some time to talk with me today.

Adele Revella: Oh, and thanks for having me, Trent.

Trent Dyrsmid: No problem at all. We’re going to talk a whole lot about the importance of buyer personas today. Mistakes people make. What they should do to get them done properly and a lot of details around that topic.

But before we dive into all of that, I really want my audience, because you’re a well known expert on this particular topic, I would like my audience to get introduced to who they’re about to hear from. Who are you and what do you do?

Adele Revella: Yeah, I’m the CEO and founder of Buyer Persona Institute, a company I founded in 2010. What we do is help companies understand at a really deep level what motivates buyers to choose their solutions or their competitors or to ignore all of the value that we deliver and just stay with the status quo. That’s really what we’re up to as an organization.

Trent Dyrsmid: Okay. Let’s start with the very basics for people maybe who haven’t yet started to drink the Kool-Aid on the importance of buyer personas. Why is this such a big deal? Why do companies, large organizations, spend quite a bit of money to really gain an understanding of their buyer persona?

Adele Revella: Well, it’s because the buyer’s in charge. They buyers voting with their pocketbook every day about whether they’re going to do business with your company or someone else.

It’s gotten really worse, if you will, for salespeople and marketers as buyers have become more and more independent thinkers about how they’re making decisions. According to most of the data we see, buyers are 60 to 80% of the way to a decision before they ever even raise their hand and say who they are and are willing to engage with a salesperson.

Unlike early in my career, where we could just get their contact information and then turn them over to a salesperson and the salesperson would figure out what the buyer wanted and then adapt the company’s story to the needs of one particular account, now we’ve got a situation where buyers are getting all that data off the Internet or from their peers or from third parties. And the company’s got to work a lot harder to understand what it’s going to take to be really persuasive with all of these really independent buyers.

Trent Dyrsmid: When you say “really persuasive,” do you mean that the content…?

Because my understanding of this is if your content, of course, is not relevant, then they’re not going to read it. The number one way to make it relevant is to really make sure that you’ve written for that very specific buyer persona. Is that more or less what you’re saying?

Adele Revella: That’s one very top of mind and critical value from understanding your buyer. But companies are using this to even go deeper. I mean, they’re deciding which products they’re going to build. They’re deciding which products they’re going to focus on at the moment, especially the bigger companies that have, I don’t know, some of our biggest clients can’t even tell me how many hundreds of products they have.

They’re using this sort of insight into what their buyers want to prioritize their product road maps, their marketing decisions and then certainly, as you say, Trent, it’s a really top of mind issue, how are we going to actually talk about these products and the value they deliver and make it relevant in our marketing content?

Trent Dyrsmid: Okay. Are there some misconceptions you think about what a buyer persona is not?

Adele Revella: Yes. There’s unfortunately, buyer personas have become a bright shiny object for a lot of companies, so now you’ll find a lot of advice on the blogosphere about how to build them and how to gain insight into your buyers.

Most of the work you see out there is around how, what, who is the buyer. Who is the buyer? And maybe some of the personal attributes of the buyer. I think marketers really need to think in the context. I know marketers need to think in the context of what’s the decision we want to influence about that buyer.

Not just who is the person, because we could describe Trent right now. We could describe you based on your job and whether you’re married or not and what your hobbies are, but if what I want to sell is, I don’t know, like maybe some technology around a marketing automation solution, a lot of that information around your hobbies and whether you’re married and so forth isn’t helpful to me.

What I really want a buyer persona to be about is some very specific insight about how, when and why your target buyer chooses a product like yours.

I don’t mind all the other things that people are saying around let’s also know is Trent more introverted or extroverted? Is he more of a risk taker or not? It’s kind of like okay to know those things, but not if it’s at the cost or at the expense of understanding what it takes to persuade you to choose my solution.

Because that’s the job we’re in. We’re marketers and we’re companies selling things. We’ve got to know what it’s going to take to persuade you to choose what we’re selling. That’s got to be our primary goal.

Trent Dyrsmid: Yeah, that makes perfect sense. Okay. When a company wants to develop their buyer personas or you’re doing this for one of your clients, who are you actually looking to interview?

Adele Revella: Yeah, that’s the key and it’s a great way to pose the question, Trent, because somehow or another we’ve got to get this data. An interview is the way to get it. Not surveys. Not focus groups. We’ve got to interview someone, and that’s because when we get into that interview, we have a chance to go off script and really probe and ask in depth questions.

A lot of companies will start by interviewing their internal stakeholders. You know, once again, this is one of those things where it’s not horrible to do that, but it really is not the most effective way to get to the insight. Because what it does now is we’ve taken whatever internal knowledge we might have and we just organized it into a new format and put it into a template. We give away templates on our web site. There’s lots of templates. You can put it in a template.

But what you haven’t really gained from that is the kind of insight that you can get when you get a recent buyer on the phone. Somebody who has either purchased from you or purchased from a competitor or evaluated all those options and just decided to stay with things as they are before they did the evaluation.

Just take them through their story about what went down? What happened? How did they initiate that search? Why did they initiate that search? And then all the things that they did along the way.

When you do that and you have a chance to just listen to their answers and then ask good follow-up questions, this is where you get the insight that no one in your company has. Your buyers are going to share things with you that they haven’t shared with your salespeople. They haven’t shared it with anyone.

This is really what changes how we think. That’s really what an insights about, by the way, Trent. People confuse insight with knowledge, but the word has a very specific meaning. An insight is something that takes us down a path that we weren’t thinking about or gives us some kind of really actionable information that changes everything.

It’s the kind of thing you try to do with these podcasts, right?

Trent Dyrsmid: Exactly.

Adele Revella: You’re trying to deliver insight to your listeners, something that actually reshapes their thinking a little bit. That’s why people tune in. It’s to hear something that sort of changes the game for them.

Trent Dyrsmid: That is precisely correct. I want to draw on a word that you used, the “unscripted” word. I come in to all of my interviews with a plan for the questions that I’m going to ask, but just like probably when you’re doing your interviews, the answer to the very first question on that plan of say, five or six questions, might take me in a direction or down a rabbit hole that’s so incredibly interesting that I then ask three or four or five additional follow-up questions, and I may never even get to the original questions that I asked.

But yet the interview creates a lot of insight, to use your word, and I get a lot of people that email with feedback that’s exactly like that. I can really see from having interviewed so many people on the podcast and the learning that I’ve got from that, how it would translate very well into helping to understand the how, when and why that someone makes a purchase.

Adele Revella: Precisely. You’ve got it. That’s right.

Trent Dyrsmid: Okay. Why can’t the sales team do this?

Adele Revella: Because buyers are leery about salespeople. Salespeople have an agenda and it’s called “closing a deal.” That’s the agenda we want salespeople to have. This isn’t any kind of a knock against the salespeople. That’s their job. They get paid to sell stuff and to close business.

Buyers are not going to open up and share this information. In fact, we teach marketers or when we do the work for them, to say at the beginning of the interview, “Nothing you tell me will be shared with your salespeople,” because that’s the only way we get the buyers to really tell us things that really get to the heart of the matter for them.

We don’t want the salespeople involved in the call. Now we are going to share the results of all these interviews with the salespeople, but we’re going to share them in aggregate. That’s what the persona does. It allows us take away all the names and create a picture of the result of all these interviews aggregating into this thing we call a “buyer persona.”

Trent Dyrsmid: Now when you go into this, having done this as long as you have for as many clients as you have, are there any specific insights or categories of insights that you’re really wanting to dig up the gold on?

Adele Revella: Oh, yes. Yeah. We decided when we started the company to be very explicit about that, because as you say, when you’re trying to define an interview, you do have some kind of an agenda for the interview. You don’t want to have a script, right, for this podcast? But you want to have an agenda.

Marketers need an agenda for this interview, too. So we define just five insights that you want to get from these interviews.

Do you want me to walk you through this, Trent?

Trent Dyrsmid: Yes, please.

Adele Revella: Okay. The first one, we call it the “priority initiative insight.” What this tells us is, gosh, the thing that really drives me crazy as a marketer, why do some buyers decide to take action while others are just sitting around doing nothing about this?

This tells me what’s happening. In the B2B world, it’s like what’s happening in the buyer’s organization? What’s happening in their business? What’s happening in the world, if it’s B2C. What’s going on in the environment that cause this buyer to say, “Hey, today’s the day I’m going to wake up and actually start looking at spending this kind of money, doing something about this problem,” right? That’s the first insight.

The second one, we call it the “success factor insight.” This is the one that looks like a benefit. Once I’ve gone through the interviews and I’ve collected all of these results or collected all of the results of the interviews, and I list out the success factor insights, it’s the results or outcome or benefit that the buyer says and believes that they’re going to get out of choosing to buy from me.

I love this, because it’s almost like the buyer’s written my benefit statement. They really have. By just finding out and asking them to describe the results they expect.

What happens is it’s a lot more detailed. It’s a lot more specific and it’s a lot shorter than what happens we go through our own kind of benefits analysis.

The third insight is the one that most marketers get really excited about when we share this with them. It’s called the “perceived barriers insight,” or what I call the “bad news insight.” Because this one tells you what your buyers’ objections are. They tell you why your buyer doesn’t approach solving this problem, why they sit on their hands and/or why they don’t buy from you.

We get some competitive insights here. We really find out from buyers what they perceive. That’s so critical to underline here, because with marketing, we’re dealing with perceptions and not reality.

Sometimes we’ll run across circumstances where a company has maybe had a problem with their product or their service. They fixed the problem, but the perception remains that that problem exists. Now we know we need to step up our efforts and in a very specific respect, because of this perceived barriers insight.

The fourth one is what we call the “decision criteria.” This looks a lot like features. If success factors looks like benefits, decision criteria look like features. I spent 30 years in technology industry marketing and learned a long time ago, “Don’t talk about features. Talk about benefits.”

But the fact is the benefits our product delivers are precisely the same benefits that our competitors’ products deliver. If we don’t get into some kind of decision criteria, like what are the actual — when the buyer looks under the covers, and says, “Am I really going to get that benefit from your company?” they have a set of criteria.

It may be capabilities of the product or it may be attributes of your company and how stable you are or the kind of service you’re going to deliver, but you want to hear from a buyer’s words what criteria they use to evaluate and compare you against the competition?

Then finally, the last insight and not necessarily in order of priority, but the last one we usually talk about is one that a lot of people are talking about. We call it the “buyer’s journey.” This tells us who all’s involved in the decision? What resources they consult as they go through the process that I’ve just described?

In B2B, where I work, where we do most of our work, where it’s a very high consideration decision, there may be many buyers involved. It tells us all of that. We hear this from the buyers, describing who was involved in the decision and what role they had in the outcome of choosing us or choosing a competitor.

Those are the five things. If you’re going to collect other information about your buyer, that’s fine, but we want to make sure you get those five insights, Trent.

Trent Dyrsmid: Now when you’re doing these interviews, I don’t imagine that you just pull out your sheet and rattle off through those five questions, so there’s an art form to this, in that the first answer that they give you is generally not the one that you’re after. Can you expand a little bit on that?

Adele Revella: Yeah, as a matter of fact, the buyer has no idea that that’s my agenda. We don’t send them those questions ahead of time at all.

Here’s what we do. We teach — we do, and we teach marketers to do this, so yeah, we’ll do it for people, but we also have training to teach marketers to do this.

There is one scripted question. It’s very important. It’s funny. It’s so hard to get marketers to start the interview this way. They always start with, “How’s your day? How’s it going?” Don’t start that way.

Here’s how we start every interview. “Trent, take me back to the day when you first decided to look for a new marketing automation solution. Tell me what happened.”

What this does is it puts the buyer in the mindset of going back — it could be months or even longer — to that moment in time when that triggering event, that priority initiative surface in their world, and they decided to look for something new.

Then what we do is we very carefully walk them through their story. So we get them to talk for five or ten minutes about what was going on for them at that moment when they started to look for something.

Then we start walking them through their story. We say, “Okay, great. So you really decided that you needed to, that you had to find a new marketing automation solution. Tell me what you did first to evaluate your options?”

They’ll say, “Well, you know, we went out on the Internet or we talked to some colleagues or some peers or we asked a friend or we talked to people in the company.” Again, we spent another five or ten minutes getting them to talk about that whole experience.

You know, “Oh, you went to the Web, website. Well, when you went out there, what were you looking for on those sites? What did you hope to find? What did you really find? What was hard to find? What was special about the companies that you decided to stay on their sites? How did you decide at the end of that Internet search who to include or exclude from your consideration?”

Really key questions, because what you’re getting there are their decision criteria or their perceived barriers or their success factors, but you’re not ever asking the question that way. You’re just getting them to tell the story.

You know what’s great about this work, Trent, is that the buyers really get engaged in telling their story. The key to success here is really about your enthusiasm for their story. It’s really about empathizing with their story and asking interesting follow-up questions to that. And noticing where they’re really engaged and where they get emotional about this, and how hard this was?

Then asking the questions [inaudible 00:22:07]. Then you just continue to do that. You say, “Okay, so now you went on the Internet. How many companies did you have? Oh, five? Okay. What did you do next with those five companies? What did you do next?”

And they’ll tell you what they did. “Well, we sent out an RFP” or “we called them up on the phone and talked to them” or “we talked to their salespeople” or so forth.

Then you walk them all through that. “Well, how did you decide?” I’d talk for five minutes about that. “What were you doing there? They came in for a demo? What was really valuable about the demos, where you decided to continue to talk to those companies? Who attended the demo from your organization? Did each of the people in that demo have a different idea about who was best and who wasn’t? What did they say about that? What did they think was best about the demos?”

“What did you think about that? After all the demos, how many companies were you still considering?” “Well, we got it down to two.” “Okay, great. Now what did you do?”

You see where this is going? I’m just getting people to tell me their story. It’s a really unexpected experience for the person you’re interviewing, because they’re just so accustomed — and we teach marketers never to say the word “research.”

Don’t tell people you want to do research. You’re not doing research, because research is boring. Those are the people who call at dinnertime and want to know, you know…

They’re going to ask you some survey questions. They’re going to read them so fast they don’t know what they’re saying. There’s five choices. None of those match what I wanted or cared about anyway, but I got to choose one, so I do.

This is different. We want your candid feedback about what works and what didn’t as you went through this buying decision.

Trent Dyrsmid: Absolutely.

Adele Revella: That’s where you get the insight. Yeah, it’s amazing.

Trent Dyrsmid: Yes. Absolute gold. I was writing like mad as you were going through your questions and I hope the audience was as well.

I had another question. What the heck?

Oh, yes. I want to finish up with this one. When you are retained by a client to do this for a product of theirs or a service of theirs, how many people do you generally like to speak to?

Adele Revella: Well, when we do the work, we deliver it as a project. It’s a little different when we train marketers to do this, because we know we’re going to come in and we’re going to basically do the interviews and then we’re going to deliver the results. And then we’re not probably going to do much follow up work.

You know, the answer’s probably going to surprise you, Trent, but we do ten interviews. That seems like a small number, and that’s because a lot of us are really attuned to doing quantitative studies, like surveys, where we want to get a statistically valid sample size.

But in this kind of work, which we call “qualitative work” — what I’m going to tell you now will probably surprise you even more. Frankly, if you’re an experienced interviewer, as we are, after four or five interviews, we’ve started to hear the same things we’re going to hear in the remaining five. It doesn’t really change that much.

So it doesn’t take many interviews. We do ten. We change that sometimes because sometimes companies will say, “Oh, well, we want you to interview different people in different industries” or “we want you to interview people in different company sizes or different geographies.” Then the answers, we have to work with that number a little bit, but generally its ten interviews.

Now when we teach marketers to do this work and they’re doing this for their own company, we tell them that as soon as they’ve got six interviews, they should go ahead and write up their results. They can really start to work with them.

But then we tell marketers to please continue to do one interview a month for the rest of their lives. Forever and ever. Part of that is so that when they’re in a meeting and someone says, “Well, what should we do about this? We’re trying to make a decision,” the marketer can say with confidence, “We’re interviewing buyers all the time. We just had an interview in the last three weeks, and here’s what the buyer’s saying.”

It’s a little bit of a different answer to that question.

Trent Dyrsmid: Yeah, that makes sense, too. I really like that. Keeps your finger on the pulse on an ongoing basis.

Adele Revella: Yeah.

Trent Dyrsmid: Before we wrap up, and I’m going to give you an opportunity to talk about where they can get a hold of you and so forth, what haven’t I asked you that I should have to really enrich this interview for the audience?

Adele Revella: Well, it turns out that that’s tough, because there’s so much I can say about this. But I would just say to you that this is really a competency that we’d love to see marketers begin to have as an expectation.

I know some of your listeners may be outside of the marketing organization and maybe managing marketing or have that team, but there’s so many — I’ve been working now for 30 years with really brilliant marketing people who don’t really have a core competency that earns them a seat at the table in strategic decisions.

I hope that companies will take away from this that this isn’t like another “to do” or another tactical item, but instead of that, our vision is really to alter the way marketing is perceived within companies. That there’s no one in the normal course of business who has the level of insight that we’re talking about here, because there’s just no naturally occurring opportunity to collect this data at this level.

Our vision is really to start to see marketing evolve into an organization that is known and respected for their competency around what the buyers want. And that this becomes the foundation of everything that the company can decide about how now we’re going to create a wonderful experience for our customers, for our buyers, so that we’ll be hugely successful.

Trent Dyrsmid: Makes a lot of sense. Okay. So for folks, you mentioned that you have some training programs and also you do consulting. If people want to learn about either getting access to your training or working with you, Adele, what is the easiest way for them to do that?

Adele Revella: We’re at We have made information freely available on our website. We have ebooks and templates and a blog that’s been going on for eight years now around buyer personas that is all ungated. There’s nothing you have to sign up for to get any of that.

Then the closest ways to contact us through the site as well, so I’m also on Twitter @buyerpersona and on So it’s pretty easy to find me.

Trent Dyrsmid: Well, I’d like to thank you very much for taking about a half hour to come and chat with me. I gained some good insights and I suspect the audience did as well. So thank you for your time.

Adele Revella: Yeah, thank you for having me, Trent.

Trent Dyrsmid: No problem. Take care and have a wonderful day.

Adele Revella: Thank you.

Trent Dyrsmid: All right. To get to the show notes for this episode, go to, and if you enjoy this episode, I’d love it if you help me to spread the word about it by going to, where there is a pre-populated tweet awaiting the click of your mouse.

That’s it for this episode. I’m your host Trent Dyrsmid. Thank you so very much for tuning in. I look forward to having you back for another episode soon. Take care. Bye-bye.

About Adele Revella

adele-revella_0Adele Revella is a keynote speaker, workshop facilitator and author of The Buyer Persona Manifesto. A career marketer with decades of experience in the B2B technology industry, Adele has approached the discipline from all sides: sales and marketing executive, consultant, trainer and entrepreneur.

Adele is currently President of Buyer Persona Institute, the company she founded in 2010 to ensure that companies have deep insight into what persuades buyers to choose the solutions they market.




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