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 personas. 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.