Getting Started with B2B Buyer Personas

Posted on June 16, 2013

Over the past 5 years, the concept of buyer personas has gained popularity among marketers but sadly many companies still lack them. Additionally, with recent  popularizing of customer decision journeys by McKinsey and Company, it is increasingly important that marketers eliminate as much guesswork as possible when building their lead generation campaigns by understanding who they are targeting (buyer personas) and how buyers are making purchase decisions (customer decision journeys).

Let’s get started.

What Information Should be Included in B2B Buyer Persona?

The key to knowing what to include in a B2B buyer persona is knowing how you intend to use them (start with the end in mind and work backwards).  If you intend to conduct primary research (interviewing your best customers and buyers who exhibit the same attributes) you can also uncover their decision journey at the same time to include in the persona profile.

There are a lot of B2B buyer persona templates out there and they will differ between B2C and B2B – largely based on the fact that B2B purchases tend to involve longer buyer cycles and use of buyer teams (multiple individuals).  As such, you may want to profile each of the members of the buying team so that your inbound marketing tactics address their different needs.

I recommend the following as core information elements to include in a B2B buyer persona:

  •          Profile (buyer role, title, industry, company revenue, employees, buying criteria, buying timeline)
  •          Pain points (frustrations with their current situation/solution)
  •          Motivators (factors prompting them to act)
  •          Validators (where buyers seek to affirm of their decision)
  •          Media channel mix (trusted sources of information where prospects seek info in their decision journey)
  •          Media preferences (specific media properties buyer use)

To help your internal stakeholders relate to your personas, add images and give names.  Assigning a name to the persona helps everyone on the team think of this buyer as a real person, not just a fictitious market segment.

How Many B2B Buyer Personas Do I Need?

This is an ongoing topic of debate.  For B2C, the answer is typically two to four.  For B2B, most decisions are made by a buyer team so you may want to develop a B2B buyer persona for each team member in the decision making process. There are several different models for defining buyer roles but a generic set of buying roles might look like the following:

  • Economic buyer (decision maker): this person is the gatekeeper to the budget and evaluates projects from a ROI perspective.  From a marketing perspective, calls to action that work well with this target include ROI-focused case studies and calculators, financial visibility information such as investors or management team, and risk mitigation factors such as warranties.
  • Technical evaluator: this buyer brings specific technical expertise to the buying situation and evaluates projects on their technical merits and viability.  From a marketing perspective, calls to action that work well for this target include technical white papers, product specifications, and technical discussions/blogs.
  • User buyer: this buyer represents the users of your product or service.  They are looking to understand if your product or service will solve their problem(s) and improve their daily work life.  From a marketing perspective, provide calls to action such as trials, demos, user documentation, or support sites that makes it easy to understand the benefits of using your product or service.
  • Influencer/coach: this is a participant who is somewhat involved in the buying process, and/or highly supportive of your efforts.  From a marketing perspective, provide content that is easy for them to share internally with key stakeholders and bolster internal support for doing business with your brand.

If you sell multiple products or services with different audiences, you would only need to create separate buyer personas if the customer decision journey and buying criteria were different from your base set of buyer personas.

Be aware that different buyer roles enter the customer decision journey at different stages in the process. For example, the Economic Buyer (often a VP or C-level executive) may not enter into the buying cycle until the very last stage. This buyer role is likely interested in product comparisons, case studies and cost justifications. Compare this to the Influencer who might be the first person your company is likely to engage in the buying cycle.  The Influencer is likely interested in non-product-specific information that explains the overall value proposition of your solution.

While this may sound daunting, taking the time to get it right can really help focus your marketing investment so that you are delivering the right touch points at the right time in the buying cycle.  If you are running a CRM system, assigning a buyer persona (typically a custom field you will create) can help your develop the appropriate email nurture track to further stay top-of-mind with the buyer.

I Don’t Have Time to Create All of These B2B Buyer Personas. What Do I Do?

While it’s ideal to have specific personas for every person involved in the buying process, if you have limited time or are getting started, take small steps and build on your progress.

Start with two or three key buyer personas and work through the process. For example, if you are selling technology, consider focusing on your end users, their managers and the IT liaison between that user group and the corporate IT group. This way, you cover the User Buyer and the Technical Evaluator. Then, once you’ve nailed those core personas, move onto the peripherals such as the Economic Buyer or Influencer. Ultimately it depends on your goals, but the important step to go through is the exercise to really get to know your buyers.

How Do I Obtain the Information Necessary to Create the B2B Buyer Personas?

There are five sources of information you should consider when building your buyer personas:

  • Your customers (offline interviews)
  • Your sales team (offline interviews)
  • Social media (online analysis)
  • Search behavior (online analysis)
  • Optional: target buyers (offline interviews)

Start by identifying your best customers (they represent the type of customers you want to win in the future), and ask them why they selected your brand.  Presumably, you were one of several vendors that your customers evaluated before purchase and they chose to buy from you.  Find out why.  Talk to your customers about what pain points and motivators they were dealing with at the time.  Ask them about their buying process (buyer types/roles, cycle, etc.) so that you can create a customer decision journey framework for understanding how to find more customers like them.

Next, talk to the sales representatives that sold your best customers.  Find out what challenges the customer was dealing with and how your company addressed those challenges.  If you use a CRM system, look into the records for those best customers and read the sales comments and evaluate what content was sent to those prospects before they became customers.

From an online perspective, monitor social conversations of customers and prospects to discover what they like (and don’t like) about your competitors.  Find out what challenges they are facing that no other vendor is addressing (this creates a sales opportunity).  Listen for clues as to their buying criteria and needs – this is all valuable in shaping your understanding.

Dig into search behavior for prospects that behave like your best customers.  Look for high volume search queries and keywords and cluster them into groups.  From those cluster groups, deduce what problems or issues buyers are trying to solve.  Look at competitor PPC bid data and on-site click behavior reports to identify information needs that reveal what buyers want during the buying cycle.

Lastly, if you are moving into a market for which you do not have legacy customers to interview, consider conducting primary research to interview companies who you’d like to have as customers.  Find out why they chose the incumbent vendor, the decision journey and buying criteria.  This can be performed by a competent B2B research firm upon your providing screening criteria for the type of businesses they should screen for the interview process.

 


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