Don't Just Listen, Grok Your Buyer Personas

By Adele Revella August 14, 2007

Grok (rhymes with 'rock') is a verb that captures the essence of what we strive to achieve through buyer persona profiling. A marketer who groks a buyer persona is capable of experiencing 'the literal capabilities and frame of reference of the subject.' Thus grokking a buyer isn't just about listening and acting directly on what is heard, this word challenges us to understand so deeply that we can anticipate needs that people cannot even articulate.

Attendees of our Market course sometimes argue against the idea of market-driven companies, telling me that customers don't know their needs or can't express them. But that is the critical difference between listening to buyers and 'grokking' buyers. The former could be accomplished by a recording device and interpreted by anyone who understands the language. Grokking requires much more skill, resulting in a level of intuition and empathy that is without comparison. A marketer who has grokked a buyer persona can act as that persona's proxy, developing solutions, messages and programs with scary accuracy.

It isn't easy to achieve this level of insight. Many companies try to shortcut the process by hiring marketing people who are former customers. But every individual's prior experiences are limited to a finite number of companies that inevitably misrepresent the market as a whole. That's why every marketer, regardless of background, needs to engage in an ongoing dialogue with the market, constantly looking for new insights into how buyers think. A former customer can leverage prior contacts and industry experience as a starting point, but that's where the advantage ends. To develop personas, we all need to listen with the intention of learning to think like the buyer.

Most marketers experience difficulty convincing their management about the need to grok buyer personas. I've seen the best results when a persona initiative is introduced in support of a goal that internal stakeholders believe is strategic and new, such as entering a new market segment, repositioning a current solution, or launching a new product. Look for a project where key stakeholders are likely to admit that 'business-as-usual' won't get the job done. This provides an opening to ask questions about each of the different types of people who will influence buying decisions. Check to see if anyone inside the company can confidently and succinctly identify the most critical three-to-five business problems confronting each of these types of buyers. Evaluate, through internal discussion, how each of the targeted buyers will investigate solutions to their problems, and what criteria they will use to make a decision. See if anyone can talk to you about competitive solutions, not just direct competition but any other product or service that could also address the targeted persona's problems.

While internal audiences can rarely deliver everything we want to know, the process of asking good questions opens minds to the importance of thinking like the buyer. If it is difficult to get stakeholders to agree on the answers or provide enough detail, it's easier to gain approval for the additional time and resources needed to gather the information externally.

No persona is ever complete. Grokking a buyer persona isn't a project that has a beginning and end. Your goal is to commit to an ongoing process that continually measures and improves personas. To ensure internal support for this idea, avoid postponing programs while you conduct lengthy or expensive research. Instead, capture the best data you can and get on with making something happen. If your go-to-market project includes sound measurement practices, you will inevitably improve the quality of your information and increase internal support for the importance of buyer personas.

Learn more at Pragmatic Institute's Market.

Categories: Go-to-Market Personas
Adele Revella

Adele Revella

Adele Revella is CEO of Buyer Persona Institute and author of Buyer Personas: How to Gain Insight into Your Customer’s Expectations, Align your Marketing Strategies, and Win More Business (Wiley 2015), named a Top 5 Business Book by Fortune magazine. Adele’s unique perspective derives from decades of experience as a sales and marketing executive, trainer, researcher and entrepreneur. Learn more at, follow her on Twitter at @buyerpersona or connect with her on LinkedIn at

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