The term “buyer persona” has reached peak interest in the last five years, according to Google Trends. If B2B marketing isn’t careful with how these are sourced and created, then interest could plateau or decline.
Personas ought not be viewed as a fad. These are fundamental building blocks of effective marketing. Personas are useful tools to understand customer motivation in order to better influence buying behavior.
Behavior is the operative word and this is where personas can go sideways. Personas are being built on filtered data sources and focused on profiles rather than behavior. In other words, this means marketing needs to strive to understand what your customer trying to do, in addition to who they are, in order to build value in marketing that links those goals to offering.
And so buyer personas are the theme of this week’s Unscripted Marketing links (UML). As always, below are three article I’ve vetted on the topic that I believe are deserving of your perusal. This week includes survey data and salient points from two subject matter experts on the topic.
1) Adoption, Use and Creation of B2B Buyer Personas
Most B2B marketers (64%) create buyer personas and many use these for content segmentation (33%). That’s according to research firm eMarketer in a piece that draws from several survey sources titled: How Do B2B Marketers Create Buyer Personas?When it comes to data sources, the report says most B2B marketers rely on secondary research:
“In a September 2016 study by Annuitas, more than 60% of B2B enterprise marketers surveyed said they used secondary research from analysts or sales team recommendations to develop buyer personas, the two most popular answers. Another 54% said they relied on current customer interviews, while approximately 52% used marketing team recommendations.” [Bold emphasis added].
Secondary information from analysts and sales ought to be just one form of input into the buyer persona. It is essential that B2B marketing speak directly with customers to gain their unfiltered view. Further, marketing organizations should conduct primary research – both qualitative and quantitative – with customers, prospects and suspected prospects.
High-performing sales and account teams will eagerly support and facilitate such research efforts, because it will benefit them directly. Simply stated this in good keeping with proper sales and marketing alignment.
The eMarketer report drew from surveys conducted by Pan Communications, the B2B Technology Marketing Community on LinkedIn, and the Atlanta-based demand generation firm, Annuitas.
Additional recommended reading:
- Anecdote: How to Define a Market Opportunity
- Market Research Mistake: Falling in Love with an Idea
- The Pope and Market Research Surveys
2) Focus on Buyer Goals not the Buying Journey
Buyer personas should focus on the goals of the buyer, rather than a business perception of the buying process or buying journey. That’s the contention of Tony Zambito in a piece titled, “The Importance Of Goal-Directed Behaviors To Buyer Personas.”
He writes that social science suggests buyers are motivated by goals in the pursuit of choice:
“In the world of traditional marketing and sales, much of the focus has been on attempting to understand the “buying process”, or of late, the “buyer’s journey.” In the modern digital world, this continued focused on process leads to some very inherent problems. Which, accounts for many of the reasons why businesses continue to struggle in connecting with buyers.”
Mr. Zambito, who hints of a forthcoming book he’s writing on buyer personas says too many B2B organizations are still focused on product comparisons, buying criteria and objection handling. Yet preferences change over time and perhaps more rapidly or dynamically in digital age:
“The focus on buying process or buyer’s journey presumes the buying process is static and preferences remain the same. In the modern digital age, we are seeing multiple goals and choices emerge in multiple contextual situations. These multiple contextual situations result in multiple buying paths and decisions. Companies wishing to succeed today in a fast changing environment will need to attain deep understanding of the influence of multiple goals within multiple contextual situations pertaining to multiple decisions.”
His entire piece breaks down the typical problems with buyer personas across four main points and sets the foundation to re-think personas in terms of customer goals.
The caution I’d add that I believe this is good advice at the top and middle of the funnel. In the later the stages of a deal cycle, product information and comparisons are quite useful and I’ll share a study of 6,000 B2B buyers next week that substantiates this notion.
Additional recommended reading:
- The Buyer’s Journey and Why Content Marketing is a Thing
- B2B Customers Want Thought Leadership
- Proof of B2B Marketing Value Does Not Start with the Competition
3) Sales: A Weak Source for Buyer Persona Data
Whether a hunter or gatherer, B2B sales is a very difficult job that requires interpersonal and relationship building skills. But this doesn’t make sales a good source of marketing data for developing buyer personas, according to Adele Revella in a piece for CMI titled: Buyer Personas: 3 Big Mistakes Marketers Make.
“Marketers typically gather information about their buyers by talking to sales reps, meeting with product experts, or conducting online research. A buyer persona needs to be based on what you learn in interviews with buyers. The key point here is the need to talk to buyers. If your buyer personas are based on generic or internal ideas about your buyers, your content won’t be any better than it was before you had personas.”
Good sales people shouldn’t be offended by this notion – the high performers embrace it. Ms. Revella, who has published a book on buyer personas (which is on my “to read” list) and founded the Buyer Persona Institute in 2010, explains why:
“It shouldn’t be surprising that your internal sources don’t have the information marketers need. Buyers are reluctant to reveal too much to your sales people for fear that the information will be used to manipulate them. Your product experts may interact with current customers, plus a select few of your largest prospects, but this is not representative of the larger market your content must address.”
She recommends, spending “a few hours a month interviewing recent buyers.”
This is key area where product marketing and content marketing can find synergies: Interview customers content such as articles and blog posts. Instead of asking customers to tell you why your product is so great – which is uncomfortable – ask them about the challenges in their jobs and in the industry.
This strategy has a double benefit. First, you develop content other customers and prospects will read and trust, which places your organization in a position of credibility. Second, the rapport a good interviewer builds rapport that leads to better insights. Not every answer a customer provides belongs on the web – it might be suited in buyer persona.
Additional recommended reading:
- 3 Very Different Ideas for Aligning Sales and Marketing [UML]
- Game Theory: Content Marketing as an Infinite Game
- The Struggle is Real in B2B Content Marketing [UML]
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Photo credit: Henry Burrows, Crop Circle (CC BY-SA 2.0)