The Best Way to Research Prospects on a Shoestring Budget

November 22, 2016
by Christine Viera
  • Research Prospects on a Shoestring Budget
  • The Best Way to Research Prospects on a Shoestring Budget

Know Your Buyer.

This is the first commandment of great product marketing. Armed with customer insights, we can effectively profile prospects and create compelling cross-sell / upsell offers for current customers.

But how can you get reliable information on ever-changing buyers?

Where’s the Best Place to Start?

Step one is to explicitly define who you’re going after. Be specific…what group of business professionals, with what rank and titles, in which industries and in what regions or metro areas?

Next, know how your buyers engage with their peers to make decisions. How many different internal stakeholders do these buyers consult in a purchase process? What information do each of these influencing stakeholders need to support their purchase decisions?

You may believe this information is widely understood. You may be right, but why guess? Unless your organization has seen 0% turnover in the last many years — you probably have new sales and marketing team members.

Even long time veterans of your industry may not understand new buyer behaviors. Most salespeople have daily experiences but only with a small group of buyers. So, their tribal knowledge is good but limited. They may not see bigger trends in changing buying preferences.

So what can you do to get actionable persona insights?


1. Use persona maps to surface tribal knowledge on how prospects buy your solutions.

If you don’t know what your sales, marketing, and product managers (aka your tribe) think they know, you can’t test those internal insights against the market. Ask and you’ll learn what customer-facing employees learn from prospects and customers.

This tribal knowledge is important. It’s what’s driving most of the sales and marketing work today. Persona maps are an especially good way to capture those insights in a structured way.

What’s in a map? The target group by titles, seniority in their role, top 3 business challenges, industry influencers, and spending drivers. With that information gathered, you can confirm it with sales leaders and test it in your marketing.

The cost to listen and validate target Marketing Researchprospects this way? That’s right – $0. Just beware of the echo chamber. If you don’t also conduct research, your decisions on content to write, digital marketing, and events can be hit or miss results.

Marketing exists to increase the odds of winning people over. So, move beyond guesswork and gut feel in understanding your customers and prospects.


2. Make persona interviews a must-have.

Persona interviews deliver great insights. You hear how buyers think, talk and consider business challenges, solutions, and purchases.

If this is the only thing you can afford to do, then get on it. Don’t put this on the back burner because of fire drills or busy work. Make it a priority so you have solid insights that guide your marketing and sales enablement work.

How much effort should you make? Target 20-30 people in your target buying pool and talk to them. Make sure you have a mix of current buyers and prospects across different industries and company sizes.

Keep the interviews short with clear, focused questions. Then, listen carefully. It’s highly unlikely that the calls will go by your script. Once you start asking buyers about themselves, they usually open up and share a lot of information. If possible, get permission to record the interview. That makes the interview more accessible for colleagues. Use this research to evolve what you heard from your tribe.

If you’ve recently missed sales or marketing forecasts, focus more on prospects to understand why. Better yet, have a third-party conduct win/loss calls with a sampling of customers and lost prospects. Why a third-party? Because you’re more likely to get honest feedback on why you lost.

From startups to large enterprises, persona interviews deliver high impact on a small budget. It just takes time, a good network of contacts, and discipline.

3. Get real data on your personas.

Even with persona interviews, there’s nothing that commands serious attention like data. So go out and get it.

It’s never been easier to survey the habits and preferences of your target buyers. Whether you have a Voice of the Customer program or launch a survey, leverage your blog, social media, and employees to encourage participation. That’s right. Your sales and service team members can be especially helpful if they know why and who you’re targeting.

Better yet, commission a professionally designed survey. Do this when solid, extensive data is key to making major product investment decisions. It’s a worthy investment when entering new markets or building expensive products. While this doesn’t seem like a shoestring suggestion, relative to the cost of making a blind bet…it is.

Another option is do-it-yourself surveys. These are a new source of thought leadership content according to Frédéric Charles-Petit, a marketing research veteran, via Brand Quarterly. These self-designed opinion surveys are often good enough for taking a regular pulse on trends and business challenges as long as the respondents are in your target buying pool.

Take care with your survey to make sure you don’t reinforce existing opinions or sample the wrong people. For more on the cautionary tale with the recent election – I recommend Why Pollsters Were Completely and Utterly Wrong published in the Harvard Business Review. (Don’t worry, it’s not a political piece.)


4. Close the loop with your internal stakeholders.

Run an internal communications campaign to share the results with executives and frontline sales, marketing and product teams.

Research is only good if people making decisions understand it. So, don’t get lost in the numbers. Help your organization really understand the results and how to apply them. Achieve this goal by creating simple materials summarizing findings and uses. If you have recommendations on what to keep doing and what to experiment with, say so.

Above all, keep conducting this as a closed loop process. People and businesses change constantly. So, don’t rest on your laurels. Keep a pulse on the change and plan this work as a regular program.


High energy, inspired B2B Marketer. Lessons learned largely in high tech and communications industries where I've worked with very smart folks, on very cool things, in very dynamic environments. I like helping others navigate people, tech, programs, and problems with vision, courage, and impact. All opinions are solely my own.