It’s time to create buyer personas you can actually use

It’s time to create buyer personas you can actually use

Persona brainsIt is seductive for companies to slip into a me-first mindset. Under pressure to explain new products and differentiate themselves from competitors, organizations want to share all the details about what makes them special.

Yet focusing too much on your own story and not enough on your customers’ is a great way to turn people off. To attract and retain an audience you must shift your thinking away from what your organization wants to say to understanding what your buyers want to hear.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos had a strategy for ensuring his company stayed focused on its customers. “Early on Bezos brought an empty chair into meetings so lieutenants would be forced to think about the crucial participant who wasn’t in the room: the customer,” Forbes reported. All people had to do was look at the chair to picture the buyers — their personality, their concerns and their expectations.

Like Amazon, companies that are truly customer-centric bring the customer’s voice into every important decision, every marketing campaign and every piece of cornerstone content they create.

How can buyer personas help?

Buyer personas are an aggregated example of a target customer who wants your product/solution/service/idea. They are particularly useful to understand how buyers make complex purchase decisions, when they need to invest significant budget, compare among choices, and have high expectations.

Marketing and sales teams build buyer personas to create targeted campaigns. Instead of a scattershot approach, personas help pinpoint prospects so you can spend time and resources more wisely.

As part of a comprehensive content strategy, buyer personas help you find the best match between what your organization has to offer and what messages to emphasize in your content. They can be sensational sources of evergreen content — bedrock pieces with longevity, rather than quick hits based on on time-sensitive news stories.

If you get it right, potential buyers and existing customers will read your content and say, “Yes, that is exactly what I needed!” 

How to build buyer personas that are actually useful

Unfortunately, most first-round “buyer personas” are not sufficient to help marketers make actual decisions that help them do their jobs.

Generally, that is because most personas are designed in the echo-chamber of an internal meeting. When you only rely on assumptions or second-hand conversations that pass through an internal filter to build personas, your data is flawed.

How to step up your game? A few tips:

  • Research the heck out of your target audience. Follow them on social media and listen carefully. Study the topics they share and the specific words they use.
  • Talk with everyone you can. Engage at trade shows. Sit in on sales meetings. Hold direct interviews with existing and prospective customers. Don’t forget lost customers, either. If we only talked with people who liked us, we’d never fully understand what people really think of us.
  • Get an unbiased point of view. Having an external expert interview customers offers anonymity and provides a channel for honest feedback. Customers often tell a third party about hidden issues, motivations or competitive interests — things they might never tell a vendor directly.

The other major reason most buyer personas fall short is because they all sound the same. Pretty much all B2B buyers are motivated by general business goals like “increasing productivity” or “lowering costs.” That’s not enough information to help you tailor marketing messages or create content that drives action.

You can shape spot-on marketing messages that connect with your audience by developing more specific personas.

Each buyer persona must include 4 things

1. Objectives (tangible and emotional)

Consider: what goals or outcomes does a persona hope to meet by completing a purchase? How will a buyer determine if a purchase is successful?

Most people have tangible goals like lowering costs or building revenue. The more specific answers you have to these questions the more on-target your messaging will be. For example, a more specific answer would be, “I need to help international teams work better together,” or “I must find ways to integrate more easily with other products.”

If you can suss out a persona’s emotional or personal goals, you’ll be able to build an even deeper connection. For example, a newly-minted Vice President might need to make a big impact, quick. Or, a manager might need to have greater understanding of the data to gain the respect of executives.

2. Decision making process

Describe how your persona tends to make complex purchase decisions. What three to five factors does your persona use to compare alternatives or competing options? What would stop your persona from making this purchase decision?

Typically in a B2B sale, multiple people are involved in a decision-making process. The more you understand about how each one of your personas is involved will help you to determine who is most influential and who is the final decision maker.

Think about timing. Everyone has “pain points.” But what triggered the persona to set aside budget or start shopping around at this time? What’s the final step of the decision-making process? And, on an ongoing basis, what will keep that persona coming back for more?

3. Hangouts – online and offline

B2B buyers find three pieces of content about your company for every piece your organization creates, according to Forrester Research. Great, so what they are reading to get their questions answered?

Are there specific LinkedIn groups they join? Trade shows they attend? Particular newsletters or blogs they read? Who do they look up to as experts? Knowing the answers to these questions helps craft a customer engagement plan that incorporates word-of-mouth and influencer marketing.

4. A little “backstory”

Personas have personalities. The more real you can make the personas you develop, the more real they will seem to your organization.

When you write up a persona guide, give each persona a photo and use that photo consistently. Include a sample quote, using words the persona would really use.

When I was with video conferencing company TANDBERG we had giant posters in the hallways of our four key personas. We referred to them by their “names” when making decisions.

What a buyer persona is not

  • Personas are not demographics. A demographic describes a group of people, based on their age, gender, location, salary, etc. In contrast, a persona is an individual, with a personality and desires. For example, “Millennials” is a group of people of a certain generation, not a persona. Not all Millennials think alike or shop alike. We need to get more specific to know what makes them tick.
  • Personas are not job titles. If you are a B2B company, knowing the job titles of your ideal customer base is essential for building target lists and segmenting your database. It is definitely a key element in a lead scoring program. But, let me ask you: what are you going to say to those people when you find them ? That’s when having well-designed buyer personas is essential.

Bonus points for even more effective personas – some final thoughts

Most companies build personas when they are entering a new market, refreshing a website or relaunching a brand. But personas should be refined over time. As you keep talking to people, use every opportunity to challenge early assumptions and get more specific.

Lastly, make sure your personas don’t just stay within the marketing department. While the marketing department has been hunkered down building detailed personas for a new website, sales is out in the field conducting demos. The product team is creating user stories to develop the next release. Get everyone working off the same information.

That empty chair should be in every major meeting, for each department. When an organization has a cohesive, consistent understanding of a target buyer, it acts as one. When it doesn’t, an organization’s brand feels inauthentic and customer relationships suffer.

If you’d like a little help with creating your buyer personas, let me know.

by Margie Agin, Centerboard Marketing Chief Strategist