Why Your Buyer Personas Are Obsolete


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“Starving the future to feed the present is a mistake – it leads to obsolescence and stagnation. Sometimes it is hard to make this understood.”       Burton Richter

We have seen a tremendous rise in the interest and use of buyer personas since 2001.  The first year I introduced the methodology for creating buyer personas for marketing and sales.  It will serve no purpose to rehash how much buyers have changed since then as well.  You know this already. 

The new reality is buyers will keep changing – at an accelerated pace.  Just when we thought, we have caught up, out comes new technology and processes destined to change buyers forever.  This means the buyer personas you have already developed can be potentially obsolete.

In recent works with organizations, I have witnessed buyer personas used which have very little resemblance to the buyers of today.  The new reality of buyer personas is that they can be obsolete for a number of reasons. Let us look at just a few:

Your Business Model Has Changed

I doubt your business has stood unchanged in the past few years.  Have you made acquisitions?  Have you introduced new pricing structures?  Have you centralized or decentralized?  There are number of ways a business can change. 

You Have Launched New Products

The launching of new products is usually fraught with risks.  Buyer personas can be a big help in aligning marketing and sales around a launch.  Are you using buyer personas developed before the launch of new products? 

You Have Entered New Markets

Global expansion has become the norm.  The desire to expand into new verticals and new frontiers beckons every business.  Have you expanded into new geographic or vertical markets?  Are you still using the same buyer personas before expansion?

Your Buyer’s Behaviors Have Changed

I know.  I mentioned above you already know this.  However, let me ask.  Do you know how they have changed specifically for your business?  For example, you know buyers today are more social savvy.  Nevertheless, do you know how their buying behavior towards your business has changed because of this? 

You Developed Buyer Personas Without Buyer Research

If you developed buyer personas independent of conducting any qualitative buyer research, do not think you can count these.  (True story:  I was invited to look at buyer personas developed by a team; I asked how were they developed?  They responded they had a beer and pizza night and crafted them that night.  I am one hundred percent sure these do not count as buyer personas.)

You Did Not Get An Unfiltered View

 We already know that buyers today spend up to 60- 70% of the buying process without the help of a sales representative.  To get true unfiltered buyer insights takes more qualitative research expertise today than ever before. This is due to less relational interaction and more digital interaction. The biggest difference in quality versus poor buyer personas is the amount of investment made in third party qualitative buyer research. 

Your Buyer Personas Do Not Tell The Whole Story

Are you buyer personas limited to a picture and a description that reads like a job posting?  If so, you are missing the critical story about your buyers.  What are their goals?  What trigger events cause them to act?  What does their buyer’s journey look like?  Lacking answers to these questions means your buyer personas are pretty pictures at best.

What To Do If Your Buyer Personas Are Obsolete

After an honest assessment, you have determined your buyer personas are obsolete.  What should you do?  Here are a few steps you can take:

Identify The Right Targets

Take a hard look at how any of the factors above may have changed ideal segments and buyer understanding. 

Do The Right Level Of Research

I have a strong point of view on this.  Buyer personas are only valuable if based on qualitative research.  Given the complexity of an evolving digital world affecting buyer behavior, third
party QR expertise is the path towards deeper buyer understanding. 

Make Your Buyer Personas Relevant To Strategy

Buyer personas are designed to inform marketing and sales strategy.  I have seen many buyer personas created that are relevant tactically, for example in lead generation, but not strategically.  Although we have seen a rise in the use of buyer personas, an unintended consequence is they have disappeared from the boardroom where they once lived.  For CMO’s and CSO’s reading this, you can bring them back to life in the boardroom and vicariously become your best friends.

Design To Meet Needs Of Intended Users

Build and customize your buyer personas to meet the needs of different audiences.  They will be of a big help to those using the buyer personas tactically for demand generation, content marketing, lead nurturing, and sales. 

Rewards Can Be Great

I have worked in several situations over the past couple of years whereby buyer personas were refreshed. The rewards can be magnificent. Defined strategies, informed lead nurturing programs, and improved revenue performance. 

The quote from Burton Richter is meaningful to me.  It is easy to starve the future when we have pressing needs in the present – like hitting next quarter’s target.  Conducting optimal qualitative buyer research, understood through buyer personas, is an investment into the future.  Not doing so can lead to what Burton Richter states – obsolescence and stagnation

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.


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