Specific is best: How buyer personas are maturing

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A while back, we wrote about the art of creating buyer personas, and also about making buyer personas work. The idea was great. But how is the concept of buyer personas maturing in practice? It turns out that there is both good news and bad.

The good news is that buyer personas are being widely adopted by B2B marketers. The bad news is that their sales teams are not always so enthusiastic, which suggests that something is not quite right. Done well, buyer personas can be a hugely helpful sales tool. So if your sales team aren’t using your carefully-prepared efforts, it might be time to ask yourself a few hard questions.

B2B or B2C?

Much of what has been written about buyer personas is focused on the B2C market. If you try to apply it direct to B2B, it’s not going to work. For example, in B2B, you don’t need to know how many children or dogs your customer has, or where they live. Instead, you need to know their position in the company, what questions they ask during the buying process, and particularly their problem issues.

Ardath Albee, author of Digital Intelligence, identifies nine essential elements of a B2B buyer persona:

  • Key responsibilities and objectives of your customer. What do they need to accomplish? The ideal objectives are SMART for buyer personas as well as real people;
  • The problems preventing these objective from being achieved, again in detail;
  • The obstacles that prevent your customer from moving to the next stage in the process. It may be helpful to think of these as questions which they need to answer before they can move on;
  • The questions your customer is asking at each stage, which is linked to the obstacles. What do they need to know to have the confidence to make changes?
  • The personality traits associated with your customer’s role, and their career background;
  • Keywords and phrases that they might use when searching for solutions to their problems, so that you can include them in the content that you create;
  • How to engage your customer at each stage of the buying process, including channels and types of conversations that you will need to have with them;
  • A day in the life of your customer, which should ideally be written in the first person, so that you really get inside them; and
  • How your customer consumes information, and where they engage with others, including potential sales.

But before all this, you need to know who your customer is. In B2B, that may well be several different people within the organisation, all of whom have different roles. Your personas need to include influencers and end-users as well as the decision-maker.

As important as being able to include all these aspects is that you are drawing on accurate data in doing so. Second-hand or anecdotal evidence is not good enough. You have to get out there and talk to your customers to develop reliable buyer personas. This means having conversations, where you build up a relationship, and not interviews, where you fire questions at them.

Specific is best

You also need to be as specific as possible. You and your colleagues in sales need to understand your buyer in detail, and that means their detailed problems and issues, so you’ll need to dig deep. You’ll also need to revisit them every few months, if not more often. Why not ask your sales team to update you and the personas every time they speak to a customer? The more layers of detail you can provide, the more you will all know your customer, and be able to tailor content to them.

As much as 75% of the content that is out there is useless to buyers. This means it is worth considering how your content will add value to your buyers and customers. If it doesn’t add value, they won’t bother to read it. You might, for example, be better off curating than generating original content, because curation can really add value for customers.

Not a simple process, but very worthwhile

Nobody said that creating good, usable buyer personas would be easy. It takes time and effort to get it right. But if you get it right, they can add huge value for both marketing and sales teams, and make everyone’s lives better. It’s worth putting in the effort, focused in the right way.

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