How Many Buyer Personas Do I Need? (The Answer You Need To Know)

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English: Black and white icon of a question mark.

English: Black and white icon of a
question mark. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I get asked this question – a lot.

I read many incorrect answers – a lot.

The right answer matters – a lot.

Confusion Reigns

This is one of the most asked questions I have encountered since creating the buyer persona concept a dozen years ago. What concerns me today with the rising interest in buyer personas, is how often this question is answered incorrectly. The result is confusion in many arenas.

First, a look at the usual confusing – and incorrect – answers proliferating today:

  • A buyer persona should be created for every role
  • Buyer personas are built for every function and department
  • Create a buyer persona for each different marketing message
  • Create a buyer persona for every role on the buying team
  • We need to create a buyer persona for each campaign
  • We should have online and offline buyer personas

The biggest source of confusion relates to three primary areas:

One, is equating a buyer persona to a role.

Two, a narrow tactical focus on marketing messaging.

Three, the focus of the buyer persona reads like a job description.

Some of the best buyer personas researched and created have been role agnostic. They became significant game changers to business strategy.

The opposite can happen. Where there are an inadequate number of buyer personas. Causing an organization to miss out on a significant new opportunity. Causing the one or two buyer personas used to be overly generalized and useless.

Finding The Right Answer

To understand the right answer, we must first understand foundational principles related to all personas in general. Personas are representative archetypes, which models behavior. In psychology, archetypes are used to model various norm and atypical behavior. In the design world, personas are used to model usage behavior. In the business world, buyer personas are used to model buying behavior.

What is it about the relationship between buying behavior and buyer personas you need to know?

When seeking deep buyer insights about buying behavior qualitatively, one of the primary insights we look for is goal-directed behavior – in our case – goal-directed buying behavior. Goal theory is one of the building blocks of many of the social sciences such as psychology and anthropology. Goals are powerful human drivers. They can exist at the conscious as well as the subconscious level. Many powerful goals live at the subconscious level.

Distinction

How does this apply to the question we are looking at? The answer can be presented in this way:

If the archetype of business and personal goals related to one buying group is distinctly different from that of another buying groups, it requires a unique buyer persona.

As mentioned above, some of the best buyer personas I have seen researched and created were role agnostic. The best way to get this across is to use an actual example:

For one large enterprise software organization I helped, on-site buyer interviews were conducted primarily in operations functions. For the sake of this example, the buyers usually were Senior Director of Operations to Chief Operating Officers. We uncovered a deep profound insight, which was unexpected. If you think operations, you think efficiency. Are you not thinking this now? For one buying group, this was true. However for another, there were very distinct goals emerging around expansion and growth. This was true on both a business and personal goal level. For this example, we have one-segment yet two distinct buyer personas in the same approximate archetype roles and functions.

This company served two primary segments. A simple graphical representation looks like this:

Buyer Persona Goals

Buyer Persona Goals

Important Principle

This is one of the most important principles for creating informing buyer persona. In the example mentioned, this resulted in software enhancements, new sales enablement approaches, and new sales tools to meet buyer goals. This can affect the effectiveness of content marketing at a strategic level. While messaging may have a common platform, addressing the goals of distinct buying groups takes some different perspectives. More than just mapping to buying stages.

For senior executives, do not miss this principle. I have seen great cases were an unexpected new buyer persona and market opportunity came out of such research and insight. Resulting in a significant leap over competition or entrenchment of a leadership position.

Need Help?

The next time you are confronted with this question, keep this key principle in mind – the distinction of goals. Sometimes, it takes further conversation around a key principle. I am available to help in answering further questions on this specific aspect of buyer personas. Go here and schedule time with me: Conversation with Tony. I am always happy to help out on one of my favorite topics. Please share widely – it is important many of your peers and colleagues have the right answer to this question.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Tony Zambito
Tony is the founder and leading authority in buyer insights for B2B Marketing and Sales. In 2001, Tony founded the concept of "buyer persona" and established the first buyer persona development methodology. This innovation has helped leading companies gain a deeper understanding of their buyers resulting in revenue performance. Tony has empowered Fortune 100 organizations with operationalizing buyer personas to communicate deep buyer insights that tell the story of their buyer. He holds a B.S. in Business and an M.B.A. in Marketing Management.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Tony, I hope this clears up some of the confusion.

    In my research for articles on trends in B2B selling and Revenue Performance Management, I came to the conclusion that very few marketers are doing a good job developing personas, and most don’t understand how buyers perceive their journey either.

    The job of the modern B2B digital marketer is too complicated. Personas, campaigns, nurturing, … the list goes on. In my opinion, this is holding back adoption and growth of marketing technology.

    I don’t know what the complete answer is, but it seems to me that better software is one. Or tools that help marketers through the task of developing basic personas that will help them be more successful. Or more education that is readily available.

    My perception (please correct me if I’m wrong) is that marketers don’t have the time and skills to do digital marketing “right” so they just use the new tools to blast away like before, and hope for the best.

  2. Thank you Bob for your comment – much appreciated.

    How does that old adage go “Hope is not a strategy”

    I will agree with your assessment, there is a long way to go on personas in general and how to understand a buyers path or journey to a purchase. Two contributing factors are the narrow tactical focus of buyer personas in marketing around messaging and B2B marketers continue to work under preconceived notions of what a buyer’s journey may look like.

    Buyer personas are meant to represent archetypes which models buying behavior. A communications platform for deep and profound buyer insights which informs customer strategies. I do not believe you can get that through software alone.

    I was interviewed recently by Michael Brenner and stated “Marketing is in the throes of a buyer revolution and caught unawares on what to do about it”. Still learning on what the “right” thing to do is. Confusion begets complication as we try more and more things and believe a scientific and quantitative approach will be the answer to it all.

    You perception is so correct. In my experience with several organizations – you can see the double edge sword. “We need to understand our customers/buyers and do the right research – oh by the way – you have a quota of X leads by the end of the quarter! Don’t miss it!” Thus, the mad scramble happens with marketers under pressure – left with no time to do the right thing and develop the right skills.

    Thanks again Bob – always insightful comments from you!

    Tony

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