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If you’ve come up the ranks in B2B Marketing and/or Sales, you know the quarterly and perhaps even monthly drill. We look at opportunities via company name, whether they are Global 2,000 or Fortune 500, deal size potential, and other few factors that likely make up segmentation. Usually a component of this effort is the target role and title you’ve got neatly pegged into a sales automation or CRM application. This is often accompanied by the mandate that we need to sell to the C-Suite or the CIO or CFO and whatever C label we may find.
This may have been just fine – that is – until buyers have become fairly self-directed in the buying process as well as enabled by the Internet and social technologies. The mountains of CRM produced data slicing probably is getting stale at a faster rate also. The target buyer title identified and department most likely shifting in a timeframe of six months or less in some cases.
What is becoming more and more evident is that buying behaviors are getting harder and harder to discern because B2B marketers are not exactly privy to the changing behaviors. We may be from a quantitative viewpoint, which is limited to tracking and monitoring Internet and social technology data, but not from a qualitative perspective. Here is where buyer persona development can be of help. In a previous article, Buyer Personas Require Qualitative Research and Contextual Inquiry, I mentioned that buyer persona development is at its’ core a research methodology grounded in the practices of qualitative research and contextual inquiry. At this point in time in the social age, although it has always been a process by which to understand buyer behaviors for nearly a decade, buyer persona development is a critical means for B2B companies to get a handle on how to understand and segment buying behaviors.
What buyer persona research can reveal are distinctive buying behaviors within industries, marketplaces, organizational types, and etc. One of the main misunderstandings about buyer personas I’ve seen both by providers and companies is that the starting place is with the title and role of the buyer. Setting them down the path of building what are more buyer “title and role” descriptions and profiles masked as buyer personas. The resulting profiles adding a little more knowledge about potential buyers but not yielding the deep insights needed to discern buyer behaviors.
Another key area buyer persona research can help with is the changing nature of multiple decision-makers and multiple complexities in the buying process. While we can readily acknowledge the profound changes in buyer-seller models of doing business, it is not so easy to see the profound changes occurring in how complex organizations conduct business and buying. New intra-social technologies and collaboration platforms are rewriting the rules of how divisions, departments, teams, and personnel work through complex purchasing and procurement. Creating new and distinctive buying behaviors that can exists among complex solutions and organizational goals.
B2B marketers themselves must figure out the adaptations they must go through in order to map to changing buying behaviors. But first, they must obtain a qualitative understanding of buyers and their new found buying behaviors. In the areas of content strategy and content marketing, I am seeing the same path towards “titles and roles” being taken although under a new name. Here’s what I mean: although we are giving B2B marketers a new label of content marketing to work with, many B2B marketers are still writing and publishing to the title and role set forth by the organization and not to the buying behaviors that have changed. I believe actually minimizing the full power and impact that content strategy and content marketing can have.
Let me end with an illustration. A B2B organization that I worked with recently was involved in high-tech solutions for data centers. The natural impulse was to target the title and role of the CIO (and you all know the chorus part of that familiar song – “sell to the C-suite”). This meant that their content messaging and approaches were all aimed at the CIO. What qualitative research for building buyer personas revealed was that all of this messaging was going right in the proverbial trash can. What was discovered was that for this particular high-tech solution, title and role meant very little. What mattered most was that certain markets and industries had distinctive research and approval processes as well as buying behaviors for this solution which were carried out by people with varying titles and roles from IT Network Managers to Vice President of Information Architecture. The organization began to build its content around the issues and goals that were being tackled within the buying process and not specifically to a title and role. They learned, via qualitative means, how to become relevant to buyers no matter the title or role. Buyer Personas were built and segmented by how they reflected more the nature of the behavior an archetype buyer will exhibit when addressing this particular problem and solution.
B2B marketers, to truly engage with buyers, can do so by adopting and investing in a qualitative research-based approach to building buyer personas and segmenting by buying behaviors as opposed to titles and roles alone. Increasing the probability of an inbound inquiry or even that a buyer may pick up the phone when your organizations makes an outbound call.