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The Secret of Creating Successful Buyer Personas
April 5, 2016 at 12:00 AM
by Stacey Danheiser
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Is your organization creating buyer personas? If not, you’re skipping a fundamental step in your marketing approach. But, perhaps the only thing worse than that is failing to use buyer personas effectively despite having them. And that’s exactly what’s happening with most B2B organizations. According to a recent ITSMA survey, 85% of firms that have created buyer personas aren’t using them.

Why? Because most B2B firms are short-cutting the process to create personas. As a result, they end up with a generic buyer profile that doesn’t answer the critical questions the firm needs to understand in order to be effective.

Challenges in Creating Buyer Personas

A major roadblock in the way of implementing buyer personas is that many marketers aren’t doing enough qualitative research on their buyers. They are sourcing their customer intelligence from their sales teams, which may offer some insight but, rarely ever the complete view of their buyers.

On the flip side, many marketers are spending inordinate amounts of time figuring out too many unnecessary details that are frankly, useless in the complex B2B sales situations. For example, when developing a buyer persona for your B2B solution, does the knowledge that your buyer loves chocolate chip ice-cream apply? While this information could help on the relationship-building side, it definitely won’t be a deciding factor when it comes to your selling your solution. The main problem here is a basic lack of understanding of what type of information to process and what to leave out.

However, these are not the only challenges organizations face with buyer personas. A recent B2B marketers’ survey from Cintell found that most respondents struggle with:

  • Getting their organization to value personas
  • Validating persona insights with qualitative measurement
  • Training teams to use personas in their everyday work
  • Finding third-party data to support persona creation

Let’s quickly go over a few reasons why you should invest your time and effort into creating buyer personas.

Why You Can’t (and Shouldn’t) Ignore Buyer Personas

Consider this: you’re creating top-drawer content and yet, it fails to grab the eyeballs and impact you’d hoped it would. You wait for weeks or probably months, and after seeing no results, declare content marketing is not for you. Sound familiar? Well, that’s because your content doesn’t resonate with your audience. And, it all boils down to buyer personas (or lack thereof).

With personalization becoming key to effective marketing, it’s more important than ever to focus on knowing your buyers better by researching their needs and motivations to buy. Here are more reasons why buyer personas are important for your business.

  • They steer your marketing and sales strategies
  • They help develop a uniform view of the buyers across all silos in your organization
  • They tell you what triggers activate your audience, so you can engage them better at all stages of the purchase process
  • They help segment your audience effectively for better targeting
  • They allow you to create content that strikes a chord with your audience

Data from the Cintell report also shows that organizations creating detailed buyer personas based on the buyers’ motivations, pain points, and specific roles in the buying process are likely to exceed their annual revenue goals, while low-performing organizations are the ones that simply use demographic data in their buyer personas. This means the quality of buyer personas an organization creates reflects in its bottom line.

How to Create Buyer Personas that Move the Needle

Buyer personas are not just a nice template to present internally. In order to work properly, they have to be founded on rigorous customer research combined with relevant sales inputs. They have to provide insights into what motivates your buyer, what their goals and drivers are, what their pain-points are —and not whether he owns a Boston terrier or lives in an opulent condo. Simply put, it’s not just the plain demographics or hobbies that count, what matters most is data or information that will enable better product development, better sales strategy, and better adjustment of the brand message in relation to your B2B buyers’ needs.

Here are some ways you can find out more relevant customer information:

Level 1: Interview your customer-facing personnel such as sales, customer service, and product management. This will help you understand the common triggers and/or factors that prompt customer response across all touchpoints.

Level 2: Conduct online customer surveys to better understand buying behavior, reach out to ask questions on Q&A platforms like Quora and your brand’s social media pages. This will help you develop a solid content strategy that resonates and engages with each profile, at each stage of sale.

Level 3: Conduct 1:1 interviews with your prospects and customers to deepen your knowledge of their motivations, needs, and buying criteria. Unless you have a skilled and neutral interviewer on staff, this approach may work best conducted by a third party.

Level 4 (Gold Star): Incorporate Ethnographic study– which is, basically, observing your customers and prospects in their natural environment, with the aim of identifying the otherwise hidden buying motivations and contexts in which customers may use a new product. This may be a bit more intensive than other market research methodologies, but it’s especially helpful for companies engaged in complex B2B marketing and long sales cycles.

To sum it up, properly-defined buyer personas help you shape your marketing efforts according to what’s most relevant and essential for your target audience. Without this knowledge, you’ll simply be shooting in the dark.