Understanding B2B Buyer Personas

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Understanding B2B buyer personas places an organization in the best position to align go-to-market resources in a laser-like fashion.

According to “Understanding B2B Buyers a 2016 Benchmark Study, companies that consistently met or exceeded their marketing qualified lead and bookings targets by developing, maintaining and incorporating personas into their daily routines.

The question then is, “So if the value of personas is so great, why doesn’t every B2B company use them?” There are several reasons and they all relate to the amount of effort involved:

  • The time it takes to educate and convince the organization as to what a persona is and the value of using personas
  • The need to supplement provisional personas with primary research (both qualitative and quantitative)
  • The task of undertaking educating and training teams on how to use personas in their day-to-day work
  • The need to locate third-party data that supplements internal persona development

Understanding B2B Buyer Personas – Stats

It’s a fact that companies that exceed qualified marketing lead and bookings goals are over twice as likely to create personas than companies that miss these targets.

Over 70% of B2B organizations that exceed revenue and lead goals have documented personas vs. approximately 35% that simply meet goals and approximately 25% that miss them.

B2B Buyer Personas Are Living Things

Personas are only valuable if they truly represent the key roles in the buying process. So it’s important that, if the roles (decision maker, approver, recommender, influencer) or the functions (IT, Sales, Marketing, Finance, Procurement, etc.) in the buying process change, then the personas must also change to accurately represent the buying model.

Research shows that B2B companies that exceed their lead and revenue goals were over seven times more likely to have updated their personas within the last six months.

Over 45% of companies who responded to the survey exceed revenue goals and indicate they have an effective process for maintaining personas. This compares to only 13% of companies that fell short of these goals.

In addition, nearly two-thirds of companies in the survey that exceeded lead and revenue goals had updated their personas within the last six months.

Understanding B2B Buyer Personas – Data to Use

Multiple sources of intelligence are available internally and externally to B2B marketers to facilitate the creation of personas. The best-in-class B2B companies use a variety of methods to compile insights about their buyers, while their underperforming counterparts reported using fewer sources of data.

Companies that exceed revenue goals used these five sources of insights to develop their personas:

  1. Conducted qualitative interviews (both customers and non-customers, employees, partners, analysts) – 82%
  2. Interviewed the customer-facing executive team – 71%
  3. Interviewed sales development reps, insides sales and field sales people people – 59%
  4. Reviewed CRM & SFA data – 53%
  5. Interviewed customer success teams – 53%

Organizations that exceeded revenue and lead goals use far more research to develop and maintain their personas than those that simply meet or miss their goals.

Also, three additional sources of information that were not mentioned (but which can easily be incorporated into the process) are: survey information, market studies by third parties (analysts, consulting firms, etc.), Linkedin profiles and job postings.

B2B Buyer Personas and the Role of the Qualitative Interview

The strongest indicator of success in the persona creation process was the use of qualitative persona interviews. However, this can be a double-edged sword. Over 80% of respondents who exceed revenue and lead goals reported conducting qualitative interviews to create personas compared with just under 33% for those that met goals and 30% for those that missed goals. However, qualitative one-on-one interviews are expensive, time consuming and hard to schedule.

In order to limit bias, it’s best to have only one person conduct the interview so that it is conducted the same way each and every time. The person should interview real buyers (both potential and existing), influencers (analysts, thought leaders) and those teams responsible for making a consensus decision. And, in order to understand the process, the person slated to do the interviews should challenge assumptions and document the real internal workings as to how decisions get made. Doing so will facilitate the development of the richest personas.

The last hurdle for qualitative research is to record, classify or segment all of the qualitative information and then quantify it. If executed properly, the qualitative interview can provide the most powerful information — but it requires a level of sophistication to execute. Note, 70% of companies that missed revenue and lead goals did not conduct qualitative persona interviews.

Understanding B2B Buyer Personas – Data to Include

Best in class B2B companies that effectively use personas know they need to go far beyond understanding buyer’s job titles or other demographic segmentation information. B2B marketers that include organizational goals and priorities, drivers and motivators, fears and challenges as well as buying process information that will build the most useful and insightful personas.

Information typically included in Persona Development includes:

  • Demographic information
  • Role in buying process
  • Buying preferences
  • Hobbies and interests
  • Organizational goals and priorities
  • Personal goals and priorities
  • Drivers and motivators
  • Fears and challenges
  • Education
  • Recommendations
  • Social behavior
  • Groups and associations
  • Content topic preferences
  • KPI/success metrics
  • Personality traits

The B2B Buying Committee

While B2B technology purchases have always been complex, they have become even more complicated in the last decade. As the CIO and line of business heads compete for budget and the technology to do their jobs, the purchase decisions have moved from a single person to a committee. It’s true that Sales may have the lead role on a sales force automation system purchase and Marketing the lead for a CRM system. That said, there are other constituents in the buying process — and IT for example can often step in and stop, delay or overturn a purchase decision.

The best salespeople know that in order to close a deal, it’s critical to articulate value according to the various needs and preferences of each of the personas in the buying process. In short, a grid can be created to separate strategic from operational and technical from business. It’s critical for sales teams to deliver a value statement or unique selling proposition to each persona to ensure a relevant and meaningful dialogue that leads to action.

It’s estimated that 70% of companies who miss revenue and lead goals do not account for the full buying committee with their personas.

Who Owns the B2B Buyer Persona

In most B2B organizations there is not a single person held accountable to develop personas and proactively ensure that the organization utilizes them. In most organizations, product marketing is involved in person or roles because they regularly interact with product management to develop solutions. And, in demand generation or field marketing, personas are developed to create a blueprint or sketch of the target buyer. However, the persona should follow the lifecycle of a solution and span the entire sales cycle and every function within an organization.

Putting B2B Buyer Personas to Work

Building personas takes a fair amount of time, effort and experience. To maximize the return    on this           investment, insights from personas need to be utilized across the organization. The key is to embed uses into everyday processes as well as build in regulating mechanisms to encourage and reward behavior.

Understanding B2B Buyer Personas – Usage

The most common use of personas is by the content marketing team. They use personas to guide the development of relevant messaging and tone of voice. Companies that are more successful put personas to work in website messaging, PowerPoint presentations, collateral, signage and demand generation programs.

Few B2B organizations use personas to train customer service and support teams to improve their interactions with clients. Yet these functions touch customers every day and have a direct impact on customer satisfaction and potential upsell, cross-sell and churn. This represents an opportunity for even the best B2B organizations to improve business outcomes which will result in positive financial impact.

Understanding B2B Buyer Personas – Segment

For those B2B companies that have defined personas, it’s important to translate this segmentation strategy to their marketing database. Most often, B2B companies use personas to segment their database contacts and leads for demand generation and customer communications. Almost all B2B companies that segment their database by persona exceed their lead and bookings targets.

The most effective B2B marketers not only segment their database by persona, but they go beyond demographic information (title, industry, employees, location) to identify the contact. This is an important extension that allows marketers to extend their persona-based strategy into their integrated demand creation campaign execution. Doing so ensures the right content is being sent to the right people at the right time.

Understanding B2B Buyer Personas – Obstacles

Much of the reason why personas fail is due to most employees not understanding what a persona is, not having access to the information and the information not being in a format that is reusable. As a result, most of the employees in B2B organizations that have personas can’t recall the primary personas and key attributes about them.

Understanding B2B Buyer Personas

B2B Buyer Personas are essential to focus go-to-market resources, especially development, marketing and sales to:

  • create a product that is built to solve a specific business problem
  • provide economic value by achieving specific, positive, business outcomes
  • understand how to approach, communicate and motivate individuals and committees to purchase

There are no silver bullets or fast food approaches to creating, maintaining, implementing and understanding B2B buyer personas but the benefits will certainly outweigh the costs.

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