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In part 1 of this reflection on the future of buyer personas, I focused on how it is important to leave some of the major misconceptions about buyer personas behind in order to peer into the future. In part 2, I would like to offer perspectives on why the practice and process of buyer personas, as we’ve known them for the past decade, must undergo significant change to be relevant in the social age.
Without a doubt, we are seeing the most dramatic change in buyer behaviors since post World War II. In my opinion, the seller to buyer world has literally been flipped upside down in unimaginable ways brought on first by the advent of the Internet and now by emerging social trends. In a recent article, The Influence of the Social Buyer on Business, I alluded to areas that are undergoing transformation as well as new relational aspects emerging. These being areas related to new social buyer ecosystems, social business models, and new social buying cycles. The areas mentioned are also having a transformational affect on the practice of buyer persona research and creation. Let us look at several factors that give insight into why changes are needed:
Frame of Reference Must Change
Our reference point for decades has been sellers in the mode of finding – or shall we say hunting – buyers. Organizations implemented simple to complex strategies designed to find buyers and persuade them to hear what they have to say about their products, services, and solutions being offered. Much of marketing and sales still operates the same way today from this frame of reference. Training programs still continue to be focused on finding, probing, presenting, and the likes all aimed at persuading a buyer to hear what a company has to say. Simply stated, the defined role of marketing and sales for the past century has been to be the deliverer of information and to persuade. In today’s social age, this is no longer true. Marketers and sellers can expect social buyers to know if not more than they do, then plenty about products, services, and solutions well before they even get the chance to engage. This is of importance to the process of buyer persona research and development because it means organizations must be in a social listening mode to take in the insights about social buyers. The insights gained may not match up well with an outbound or inside-out frame of reference. The frame of reference succinctly must go from how to get buyers to hear to how to listen to buyers.
The Connected Buyer
Social buyers today are highly connected to peers, influencers, informational sources, suppliers, and academia. Creating new forms of social buyer ecosystems that are also malleable – meaning they are likely to undergo ongoing movement and changes constantly. This has profound implications for buyer persona research. We can no longer have a concrete buyer-centric view whereby we look at the singular buyer. Social buyer persona research will need to adapt to a discrete social buyer ecosystem perspective to truly understand how social buyers are connected and creating new social ecosystems literally on the fly.
No Longer a Snapshot – More Like a Movie
Prior to as well as since personas were originated, the aim was to capture a static snapshot of the user or buyer at a particular point in time. As buyer personas evolved, a prevailing notion was that buyer personas came with a “best if used by” date. At first, it was recommended that new buyer personas be created every 5 years. This timeline continued to shorten. I say it is just about gone altogether now. Let’s face it – a lot happens – even in six months. Buyer persona development will need to adapt to helping organizations have an ongoing dynamic view of social buyers as opposed to a static snapshot of a buyer. This is creating implications on how social buyer personas are researched as well as developed and will call for new methodologies.
Time to Jettison the Sales Funnel and Buying Stage Views – Might as Well Throw Out the Buyer Journey Too
There has much debate as well as thoughtful new ideas about the sales funnel or the sales pipeline view marketing and sales has been wedded to what seems like forever. If you have been around in marketing or sales even just a few years, you know that what you learned in college still looks the same. The buyer has stages leading to a purchase decision. Wherever you are now, these stages have been altered slightly, given new names, or diagrammed differently. But, the view is still the same – like gospel – by golly there are four, five, or six stages that buyers religiously go through. There has also been much discussion about the buyer’s journey – including from me – on how we have to map to the buyer’s journey as they go through these buying stages and how we track via the sales funnel. My view has changed on this the more I see qualitatively how a new social buyer is emerging. Closely associated with the view of the connected social buyer, I am seeing the social buyer self-creating socially oriented cycles and circles that are meaningful to them in their pursuit to achieve goals. I will offer more insight soon in a separate article on the emergence of Social Buyer Circles. This is an important development that will alter significantly social buyer persona research and development.
The above represents just few of several reasons why the future of buyer persona research and development is social. The social age is causing many businesses to rethink and reinvent themselves in the wake of the emerging social buyer. Buyer persona research and development is no exception.