Misconceptions About B2B Buyer Personas

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I’m really tired of seeing people dismiss B2B buyer personas as worthless. Although, I have to admit that many of the personas I review from prospective clients are little more than recipe cards for disconnected experiences. And shame on those who are building and promoting what I’ll just call fake personas.

A half-hearted or misguided attempt to build buyer personas is not worth doing. Just forego the whole thing if you think there’s an easy button.

But here’s what bothers me even more. Year after year I read research where marketers report their biggest challenges include:

  • Knowing who to target and how to engage buyers
  • Creating compelling and engaging content
  • Creating content for specific stages of the buying process
  • Proving the ROI from content marketing

When you have 43% of B2B marketers saying their content is only hit or miss when it comes to driving value (Rising Above the Fray) and 40% say top challenges for ABM are knowing what content to use and  delivering a personalized customer experience(45%) (Not Another State of Marketing Report), there’s a disconnect between marketers and their audiences.

You’d think we’d be making progress. But the above three findings from 2021 reports indicate that’s not true for close to half of the marketers who participated in the research.

It could be—with buyer personas built to uncover true insights about attitudes, perspectives, change management, and thought processes of the people who buy and use your products and solutions.

Here’s the kicker for me > Despite the above challenges reported, two-thirds of marketers say they’re using buyer personas to inform their marketing strategies and content development. (2021 Content Management & Strategy Survey – PDF)

There are two potential conclusions I draw from the above circumstances:

  1. Marketers are fibbing about actively USING buyer personas.
  2. Their personas are not developed to be actionable. In other words, they are profile templates (fakes) masquerading as personas.

Well Built B2B Buyer Personas Provide Answers to Marketing Challenges

I’ve been building B2B buyer personas since 2007 for my clients. It’s an involved process that begins with talking to people. Lots of talking—mostly listening—goes into persona development.

And yes, your buyers and customers are primary conversations, but it goes beyond them to your sales, product, and customer teams. A selection of those who have customer-facing involvement or access should be included.

This does two things.

First, these internal conversations provide access to an extraordinary knowledge bank of insights and perspectives about your customers based on their interactions with them. What you can learn is often surprising.

Second, these conversations create buy-in and ownership across functions for the establishment of actionable buyer and customer insights that will get used in the presentation of consistent buyer and customer experiences.

Now, go talk to buyers and customers. Make sure you cover all the involved stakeholder roles so you can determine which personas are most worthwhile to spend time developing and addressing. As you have these conversations, you’ll begin solving the challenge of who to target and how to engage.

As a note of caution – this does not happen sitting around a conference table with your team and hashing out opinions over a pizza (or via zoom call with a Grub Hub-delivered lunch).

As you’re talking with buyers and customers, listen carefully and guide the conversation to learn:

  • How they discovered the problem and why they decided to try to solve it
  • Phrases and keywords they use describing the problem and the actions they took to solve it
  • Questions they needed to answer along the way
  • Obstacles that got in their way—from consensus to budget to justifying their decision
  • Areas where a lack of confidence slowed them down
  • Misperceptions they had to work to overcome—for them or for others on the buying committee
  • Who else they talked to—internally and externally
  • Where they went (channels) and how they chose to learn (webinars, reviews, blogs, videos, conferences, newsletters, influencers, analysts, etc.)
  • What they expected as an outcome—is that what they got?

Amp up your curiosity in these conversations. What you learn can instigate transformative light-bulb moments you can’t get anywhere else.

This information will help you solve your content challenges and help you create a plan for addressing buyers’ needs across their buying process. Not just give you ideas for one-off content that doesn’t build momentum or help them advance in decision making.

One Thing About ABM and Buyer Personas

I’ve also heard recently that marketers practicing ABM don’t need buyer personas, only account personas. I don’t think you want to hear my initial response to that.

But what I want you to consider is that an account persona is valuable. Yes, I agree. But without the buyer personas to roll up under it to inform your approach to each role within an account, I’m not sure where you go.

Account personas give you an understanding about the company. It’s mission, business objectives and core values to help you weave a thread of company/account relevance throughout your communications, content, and messaging. This insight helps you create experiences that bring people on the account together, rather than approaching personas in a singular thread (never advised).

So yes, account personas are a valuable, but not to the exclusion of buyer personas that help you establish relevance with each role and perspective included in the account’s buying committee.

Finally, A Persona is a Construct

The concept of a buyer persona is represented as a construct that the industry has labeled as such. I build and present mine in a way I’ve found valuable because they help my clients use them to great effect. Every bit of information included is in some way actionable. That’s the most important part of a B2B buyer persona.

Get rid of the stuff that creates noise and isn’t usable, including basic consumer demographics and things like salary, marital status, and stuff you’ll never use as a B2B marketer. Get to a level of depth in information that promotes relevance.

For example, a goal is never as simple as “grow revenues.” What does that mean to the persona you’re trying to engage? Perhaps it’s “creating efficiency in product development to get products to market faster” which results in revenue growth.

You can compile all the information discussed above in any form you want. You can call it anything you want. The most important thing is that you have the information you need to finally solve these persistent marketing challenges and create meaningful, relevant experiences for your buyers and customers.

I’ve found the answer to this to be the construct of a buyer persona.

Just don’t believe that simple one-slide templates with high-level pablum are going to get you there.

As I said before, there’s no easy button for buyer persona development. But boy are they worth it when you see engagement climb and can prove the ROI of content based on active contribution to pipeline velocity.

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