Do You Have Any Idea Who You're Talking To?

Do You Have Any Idea Who You're Talking To?
Stephanie Tilton - Thu Feb 11, 2010 @ 01:44AM
Comments: 23

It's a no-brainer: You can't make a connection with your audience unless you know who you're trying to reach. This gets down to marketing basics – you need to develop buyer businesspeoplepersonas. Yet my unscientific polls show that a fair number of B2B marketers haven't undertaken the exercise of developing buyer personas. In all fairness, looking back on my days in product marketing, I don't recall many of us creating personas either. While part of it comes down to time constraints – it's not a quick process – I'm sure a large part of it has to do with simply not knowing where to begin. After all, unless someone shows you the ropes, it's not exactly an intuitive process. So here are words of wisdom from those who have done the dirty work.

What is a Buyer Persona?

According to Adelle Revella, who has been using buyer personas to market technology products for more than 20 years, a buyer persona is:

"a short biography of the typical customer, not just a job description but a person description. The buyer persona profile gives you a chance to truly empathize with target buyers, to step out of your role as someone who wants to promote a product and see, through your buyers' eyes, the circumstances that drive their decision process."

How to Develop a Persona

As C. Edward Brice, the Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing at Lumension, said in an interview with me last year: "You don't need to create the most expensive and grandiose profile. The level of sophistication will depend on your company's skill set, budget, and available resources…The key point is to focus on a specific role and better understand how that role buys, what are the key pain points and motivations, what are the right type of questions to ask, and who do those people turn to for purchase validation, whether peers, analysts, or media sources."

Break it Down by Roles

That said, you need to develop personas for all the roles involved in the buying process. Technology marketers can break personas into the three major buckets recommended by Adele Revella:

  • Economic buyers – Those concerned about the cost of the solution.
  • Technology buyers – Those responsible for integrating or managing the solution.
  • User buyers – Those who will use the solution on a day-to-day basis (or are responsible for the satisfaction of those using the solution).

Let's assume you're targeting the person using the solution. This may surprise you, but it's not sufficient to say your target audience is the "business decision maker at small insurance firms."

To be effective, your persona must reflect as much detail as possible about the target person's background, daily habits, activities, challenges, and problem-solving approaches. Michele Linn offered lots of great questions in a post last year. Here's a short list:

  • What work issues keep this person up at night?
  • What sources does this person turn to for information and daily news?
  • How does the prospect go about making business decisions?
  • What types of organizations does this person belong to and what events does he or she attend?
  • Does this person seek advice from colleagues, industry peers, or unbiased third parties?
  • What is the prospect's comfort level with technology?
  • How is he or she dealing with the problem today?
  • What phrases does the prospect use to describe the issues he or she is facing?
  • Does this person prefer high-level details or a deep dive into a topic?

C. Edward Brice suggests the following ways to find this information: "Reach out to your media partners, such as TechTarget. These companies conduct a tremendous amount of research into how their audiences consume the information they publish. Talk to your sales team to understand buyer roles. Conduct low-cost research using free survey tools. Mine your database for information on company size, roles, titles, etc. and map all of these to a simple buying model."

Getting to the Real Value

As Angela Quail, SVP of customer insights at Goal Centric Management stated in a MarketingProfs article: "Simple customer profiles, even ones bursting with rich, research-based attributes and details, are not enough; you must also carefully consider each of your internal departments' capabilities, and then generate scenarios and insights that translate your customer data into innovation opportunities."

In the article, Angela breaks buyer personas into four components:

  • The buyer description focuses on demographic information, as well as the prospect's typical behavior, attitudes, needs, and goals – all in relation to something you can help them overcome or achieve.
  • Scenarios help your various departments or teams envision the prospect achieving their goals in the course of their work.
  • Insights help your company pinpoint how the prospect's situation can be improved by making it easier, faster, cheaper, etc. to achieve their goals.
  • Innovation opportunity handoff is where your company puts all this information into play by either developing new offerings or enhancing an existing one, and by tailoring communications that reflect your deep understanding of the prospect.

And one more bit of wisdom from Adele Revella: "The most important insight about a buyer persona is the answer to this question -- what prevents this type of buyer from choosing us?"

Looking for additional resources? Adam Needles lays out the Four Keys for Success Using Buyer Personas to Focus B2B Marketing Automation Campaigns. Check out Bulldog Solutions' Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Buyer Personas. Refer to Enquiro Research's Business to Business Survey 2007: Marketing to a Technical Buyer for a comprehensive persona example. Start following Adele Revella's Buyer Persona blog. And if you want outside help, talk to Angela Quail's company, Goal Centric Management, which offers training and creation of user and buyer personas.

Does your organization develop buyer personas? Share your recommendations and tips!

About the author: Stephanie Tilton is a content-marketing consultant who helps B2B companies craft content that nurtures leads and advances the buying cycle. You can follow her on Twitter or read more of her posts on Savvy B2B.

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Comments: 23

Comments

1. Rob Leavitt  |  my website   |   Thu Feb 11, 2010 @ 11:34AM

Great post Stepahnie. I'm equally surprised at how little some of the B2B marketers with whom I work know much about about who they are trying to reach. I've been doing a bunch of thought leadership projects for tech and telecom companies lately, and I feel like I'm spoiling the party when I start every kickoff with "so tell me about the audience." They want to jump right into scheming out the content and distribution, but, as you say, it's awfully hard to do a good job with those if you don't know who you're allegedly connecting with. Personas is a great way to do this, and I also agree that even a modest effort can go a long way. More persona work is certainly better -- especially since the most effective B2B marketing is very highly targeted, but let's at least get started with some small steps! Thanks for laying this all out so well.

2. Stephanie Tilton  |  my website   |   Thu Feb 11, 2010 @ 03:09PM

Rob, I know what you mean about "spoiling the party." I often hear the same thing when I ask about the audience for a white paper, ebook, etc. -- it's either "the technical and business decision makers" (i.e., we're trying to reach everyone with this one piece) or "the CIO" and that's where it ends. I get the sense that many companies can't justify taking the time to define their personas, and yet, how much time, money, and opportunity are they wasting by trying to reach a generic audience? Thanks for stopping by!

3. Stan Woods  |  my website   |   Thu Feb 11, 2010 @ 10:50PM

Great piece Stephanie. It often feels to me that in B2B people don't do the obvious and spend the bulk of their time thinking deeply about their prospects and what they need because they're still struggling with the necessary shift away from the broadcast-centric, interruption-based marketing model they are used to. When your marketing structure and culture is set up to talk without listening and all is based on the strictures of your, rather than your prospects', timetable, it's hard to make a volte face.

4. Stephanie Tilton  |  my website   |   Thu Feb 11, 2010 @ 11:15PM

Stan, you're absolutely right -- B2B marketers are making a lot of adjustments these days. But you'd think that developing buyer personas would already be ingrained, as the concept is nothing new. Perhaps its a carryover from many years of poor habits, or can be attributed to the simple fact that no one taught marketers how to develop a persona (no one ever taught me). To your point, unless marketers take it upon themselves to prioritize this exercise, it'll likely remain a gap for quite some time (and render useless their efforts to adopt an inbound marketing/content marketing mindset). Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

5. Tony Zambito  |  my website   |   Fri Feb 12, 2010 @ 01:26AM

Stephanie thank you for your mention of Goal Centric. My colleague Angela Quail and I have been evolving the concept of buyer personas since 2002 after spending time focused on the origins of personas in the late 90's. Angela points to one critical aspect we've uncovered over the years and that is: buyer personas are more than just a description or a profile and that the true gains come from the combined focus on the four components you shared in your article. Thank you for sharing. Angela and I are currently focused on the next generation of Buyer Persona 2.0 for it has been our long term goal to evolve buyer persona development into a "best practice" element of marketing (www.buyerpersonainsights.com). Thank you for sharing and an excellent article.

6. John White  |  my website   |   Fri Feb 12, 2010 @ 04:37AM

These personas (personae?) are not only for internal consumption, but also for external use; i.e., your writers.

The vague answer to "Whom are we talking to?" is as difficult for those of us trying to write a white paper or case study or blog post as it is for a sales manager trying to build a strategy. Once we understand the audience, we can tell your story effectively.

Of course, we'll write anything you want for any audience you want (especially during a recession...), but it will be a better product if you describe to us the persona of your ideal reader.

7. Stephanie Tilton  |  my website   |   Sun Feb 14, 2010 @ 07:52AM

@Tony - I'm so glad you came across my post. I look forward to learning about Buyer Persona 2.0. And I appreciate the fact that you and Angela are out there evangelizing on the best practice of developing buyer personas. I'm guessing (and hoping) that the adoption of the content marketing mind-set and marketing automation solutions will force marketers to invest in this critical exercise. Thanks for the link!

@John - You're right that buyer personas guide anyone who needs to create content assets for a company. In fact, it's in my current role as a consultant and freelance writer that I see this gap. As you point out, writing an effective white paper, eBook, case study, etc. starts with an understanding of who you're trying to reach. Thanks for stopping by!

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