What This CEO Learned From Buyer Persona Research Transformed Her Company

Donna Salvatore, CEO and Founder of Megalytics

How a data analytics firm used voice of the customer research to deliver an instant lift in sales.

– by Candyce Edelen

Most firms think that buyer persona or voice of the customer research is just for marketing. But in reality, deep customer understanding across the organization has a huge impact on a company’s overall success. It differentiates you from the competition, demonstrates organizational expertise, and proves that your company cares.

The company that understands the customer best wins.

This article tells the story of Megalytics. This firm thought they understood what customers were thinking. But they didn’t have the full picture and their messaging was not working. They invested in in-depth buyer research, and it allowed them to transform the company.

The research had an immediate effect on sales.

Based on the research findings, Megalytics raised their prices and converted clients to subscription pricing. This created an annuity stream of recurring revenues, which they didn’t have before. CEO Donna Salvatore said, “I would not have been so aggressive if I hadn’t read the persona interviews. I would have been tip-toeing to avoid upsetting the clients. But I realized how much they need this service.” 

Within 2 months of completing the persona research, sales were up dramatically. Megalytics is well on its way to exceeding its 2018 goals.

Here’s their story…

A Serial Entrepreneur

Serial entrepreneur Donna Salvatore is no stranger to challenge. An avid outdoors woman, she has climbed to just short of the first base camp of Mt. Everest with Sherpa Guide Ang Tsering, who guided Junko Tabei, the first woman to summit Mt. Everest. She has chartered sailboats in the South Pacific and is planning to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in the future. She’s an avid tennis player, skier, biker and sailor and has traveled extensively overseas. She’s also an intrepid businesswoman who’s served as the CEO of 7 technology companies over the past 23 years.

She launched her latest business adventure in 2014 when she founded Megalytics. Since then, the firm has graduated from Elmspring, the Chicago real-estate technology accelerator, and raised $3 million in seed funding. Megalytics has already attracted a client’s list that’s a veritable who’s who in commercial real estate including top institutional and private owners, managers and developers.

Megalytics Helps Manage Risk in Commercial Real Estate

There is a lot of risk involved in commercial real estate transactions, and most due diligence is done manually by 3rd party consultants or in-house. Megalytics empowers property owners and lenders to make better decisions by quantifying the risks inherent in their credit underwriting, tenant risk assessment and portfolio management. The firm aggregates real-time data from hundreds of sources and uses proprietary scoring algorithms to provide the real- time credit, due diligence and risk assessments. It’s used by acquisitions and asset managers when evaluating properties, locations and prospective tenants.

Taking a First Stab at Marketing

Like most startups, Megalytics didn’t launch with a clear marketing strategy. Their marketing was reactive as they pitched to prospective clients. Salvatore explains, “Prospects would ask for specific information, and different team members would create something on the fly to address that specific need. The prospects were very specific in what they were looking for, which was helpful.”

But this approach was resulting in inconsistency. “We weren’t unified. We had a lot of different brochures for each product that really didn’t match. We had PowerPoint decks that were created at different times by different people who had different ways of communicating what we do. We didn’t have a common look and feel or common messaging.”

In the early days, Marketing had to take a back seat to sales and product development. But Salvatore recognized that they needed brand messaging and a marketing strategy. So they started to work on this using internal resources.

“We would read books and do our own thing, coming up with a power statement, frequently asked questions, and an elevator pitch.” They also received guidance from one of their board members, Nina Diamond. Diamond is a marketing consultant and professor of marketing from Kellstadt Graduate School of Business at DePaul University.

But the Megalytics messaging was not based on customer research. As a result, they weren’t attracting much in the way of inbound leads, and the website wasn’t answering questions for prospects engaged in the sales process. “You really couldn’t even tell we worked in commercial real estate by our website,” Salvatore explained.

Looking for Outside Marketing Help

Megalytics realized they needed a better marketing strategy. So the board established a committee to find a marketing company. They evaluated 4 different providers including full-service agencies, a web design firm and a marketing consultant.

Salvatore said, “We were looking for someone who could do everything. We found 3-4 potential firms. Some were out of our budget. Others, we didn’t care for their work product.” Then they were introduced to you (Candyce Edelen) and PropelGrowth. “When we met your team, we felt it was a perfect match, even though you weren’t in Chicago. You were perfect for us.”

Why PropelGrowth?

Diamond said she liked PropelGrowth’s fintech background and our flexible approach. “We knew we could work with you on strategy and then either have you implement or have you coach our team. We appreciated having options. Also, we knew if our budget changed, you would still find a way to work with us.”

Megalytics also liked the fact that research was so integral to the PropelGrowth process. Diamond explained, “PropelGrowth focuses on building a deep understanding of the customer. All the others talked about it, but they don’t help the client develop the customer understanding.” Diamond speculated that if she asked the other firms to do buyer research, they probably would have outsourced it. That meant that the person who did the research would not be the person helping with messaging and content.

Deciding to do Buyer Persona Research

Salvatore was not originally looking for buyer research. “I didn’t completely realize the value, and we thought the personas would be too expensive. But then we got the proposal, and it was very affordable.” They engaged PropelGrowth to do the buyer research, prepare buyer personas, create branding guidelines, and help their internal team refine the messaging in sales decks, sell-sheets and the website.

The Buyer Research Process

I was the PropelGrowth team member assigned to this project. I began by doing in-depth interviews with the Megalytics team, including people from sales, marketing, product, delivery and customer service. Together, the Megalytics team and I analyzed their sales process, discussed recent deals, and reviewed proposals and the assessments generated for clients. This helped me to get a sense of their pitch. Then we collaboratively decided on where to focus the persona research.

Once we had our focus, Megalytics identified interview candidates. Using invitation templates provided by PropelGrowth, the Megalytics sales team began scheduling interviews. Nearly all of the invited candidates agreed to be interviewed. It took about 3 weeks to get all the interviews scheduled.

I conducted the interviews, allowing members of the Megalytics team to listen in when convenient. I spoke with representatives of recent wins and recent losses to help uncover objections and develop customer-centric messaging. After each interview, I provided Megalytics with notes, recordings and transcripts of the conversations. Then I researched the personas online and compiled a detailed composite sketch of Megalytics’ buyers.

The deliverables provided insights on:

  • Business needs and pain points
  • The value they get from Megalytics
  • Buying triggers
  • Decision criteria, barriers and common objections
  • The buying committee and typical buying process
  • Key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • Insight into buyers’ status quo
  • Benefits buyers accrue by using the Megalytics assessments

Buyer Research Immediately Shifts Sales Messaging

While I was conducting the buyer interviews, Megalytics was working on new sales decks and asked me to participate in the meetings. After just two buyer interviews, I realized that the value proposition Megalytics was incorporating into the new sales decks was not consistent with what I was hearing in the interviews. In fact, it was so out of alignment with their buyers’ mindset that I worried it might alienate prospects. I immediately introduced a different tone and value proposition based on what I was hearing from customers.

Based on the insights collected in my research, the PropelGrowth team created messaging, value propositions, competitive positioning and visual branding reflecting the voice of Megalytics’ customers. Then I helped the Megalytics team re-frame the messaging in their sales decks, product brochures and website. I also briefed the sales, marketing and executive teams on my findings.

As soon as the buyer personas were completed, Salvatore circulated the presentations to everyone in the company and to the board of directors. She started using them when meeting with her sales team. At each weekly meeting, they would review a persona and notes from one of the interviews. Then they’d decide how to apply the insights in the field.

Immediate ROI from the Buyer Research

The personas had an immediate effect on sales.

Two weeks after I briefed the team on the results, a Megalytics client’s contract came up for renewal. Salvatore read through one of the relevant persona interview transcripts just before meeting with this client. That particular interviewee said he thought Megalytics reports should be a standard due diligence checkbox for every real estate transaction above a specific threshold.

So Salvatore brought up the research in the client meeting. She pitched an unlimited subscription to get more of the client’s acquisitions staff to consistently use the product. “I gave them a proposal for 2½ times the amount of last year’s contract.” Salvatore said, “I would not have been that aggressive if I hadn’t read the persona interviews. I would have been tip-toeing to avoid upsetting the client. But I realized that they need this service.”

The research also helped Salvatore realize that she could sell subscriptions to smaller firms. Firms that she originally dismissed as not having enough need. After reviewing PropelGrowth’s research, Salvatore met with an existing client that manages only a few thousand square feet of retail space. This client had ordered a few one-off reports, but wasn’t consistent. Salvatore pitched them on a subscription, and they agreed. “I don’t know if we would have tried that without the persona interviews,” Salvatore said. “We would not have known how valuable our service is to them. The persona research gave us to confidence to just go for it.”

Salvatore’s team hit the ground running in 2018, meeting with all their existing customers to convert them to subscriptions. They’re getting positive responses from both large and small real estate asset managers.

“Because of the persona interviews, we realized how important our product is and how much clients need it. So instead of selling one-off reports, we converted everything to subscription pricing this year. This creates an annuity stream of recurring revenues, which we really didn’t have before.”

Megalytics is often asked by clients to do “lunch and learns” for their teams. They spend substantial time and money preparing for these and flying out to the client location. But Salvatore wondered if these meetings were a waste of time. In our buyer research, we learned that this was the way that some of their highest volume users discovered Megalytics and began ordering reports. “It was great to learn that this is not a waste of time.” Now they can invest in doing more of these educational events to build awareness and grow sales volume with existing clients. Salvatore expects this to increase revenue over time.

The persona research also uncovered surprising pricing feedback. When we started the project, Megalytics was concerned that their prices might be too high. But interviewees told me that Megalytics is actually lower than competitors, and that clients think the prices could be higher. “That enabled us to raise prices across the board,” Salvatore said. But in addition, they realized that one portion of their services, the one most frequently used, was also where clients have the least price sensitivity. “This allowed us to adjust the pricing so it’s not fixed anymore, it’s variable depending on the amount of money they have at risk. We wouldn’t have gotten there without the persona research.”

Right after we completed the buyer research, Salvatore’s team updated the website, incorporating the new messaging and keywords PropelGrowth recommended. “We’ve gotten a lot more hits on the website than ever before now that we’ve updated the content.” That new traffic is converting to qualified leads. “A lot of it is just having the right messaging on our website. That increase in traffic is also a nice return on investment.”

The buyer personas were completed in December 2017, and by middle of Q1 2018, sales were already up dramatically. Salvatore and her team are well on her way to meeting and even exceeding their 2018 revenue goals.

Salvatore says her only regret is that they didn’t dedicate enough time for the whole team and her board to discuss the personas with me right after the project was completed. She realized later that the team needed more time to study them and digest the insights. “When I just send them to people, they don’t really spend the time to look closely.”

She plans to use the personas for sales training and fund raising. She thinks the research can help convince investors of how big the Megalytics opportunity is. She’s planning to have PropelGrowth present to her investors and board of directors soon. As budget becomes available, she will also engage PropelGrowth to help them update more of their sales and marketing content to reflect the results of the persona research.

The future is truly bright for Salvatore and her team. I think they’ve just brushed the surface of their market opportunity and have huge growth potential. A virtual Mt. Kilimanjaro summit is most definitely within reach.

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