Four Tips to Building Powerful Buyer Personas 

As many product marketers know, taking the time to create detailed buyer personas can provide your company with a powerful inbound marketing resource. By identifying your ideal client–and how your product will meet their particular needs and challenges–you can ensure that your sales, product development, and marketing efforts are consistent and effective across the board. In an ideal world, this helps you attract higher-quality leads, boosts your conversion rates, and increases customer retention over time.

But what if your personas don’t seem to be moving the needle in terms of sales? How can you ensure that your personas are making a difference? Sridhar Ramanathan, Aventi COO and co-founder, and Wayne Cerullo, Chief Prospect Officer at B2P Partners, got together for an #AventiLive Chat to talk about the key components of creating powerful, compelling sales personas. You can watch the entire #AventiLive Chat here, or read on for four tips and tricks to creating killer buyer personas.

The why: what makes your prospects buy

The first crucial aspect of creating a successful buyer persona is doing your market research in order to gain an in-depth understanding of what drives your customers. Talking to your company’s sales and service representatives, surveying your existing customers, examining where your main competitors are succeeding–all of this gives you valuable data.

According to Wayne Cerullo, however, too often personas are created without really digging in deep enough. Instead, personas are used as a repository for details a company already knows about their customers–in his words, “pizza personas.” These personas throw together unrelated facts about an ideal customer without understanding how and why that customer buys–and, more importantly, why they don’t. Without doing additional research, personas often focus more on describing a prospect’s role or identity without actually answering the crucial question: why would they buy from you?

For example, if you have a product in the security software space, you would want to come up with a persona for your ideal security buyer. But in doing so, you’re not trying to understand all security software buyers across the board; you’re trying to present an argument for why a particular person at a particular company should buy your software. That requires more information than just knowing what that prospect’s favorite color is or what kind of car they have; it requires taking a much deeper look at your data to really get into what’s driving your ideal customer’s decision-making process.

The who: create three-dimensional personas

After you’ve done the research necessary for creating your buyer persona, the next step is to segment the data in order to identify common trends and analyze what your ideal customer’s goals and challenges look like. This allows you to tailor your messaging and sales efforts based on that persona’s specific needs and where they are in the sales cycle. Every company’s segmentation will be different depending on their product, but personas are often separated out by roles (e.g. CIO, CISO, salesperson, etc.) or by industry.

The problem with personas based on these big categories is that they tend to be too generic. For example, Sridhar used the example of a company using CIOs as one of their core personas. The CIO of a large enterprise financial institution or insurance company is going to have very different needs, wants, and challenges from someone at a small real estate firm in the Midwest or an Asia-Pacific company. How do you accommodate those differences in one persona?

Instead, Sridhar suggested that product marketing managers need to make three-dimensional account personas composed of multiple individual role-based personas. He cited Gartner data showing that the average enterprise purchase involves six to ten personas, and sometimes as high as eleven to fourteen. So ideally, your go-to-market strategy will include most if not all of the personas that will potentially be helping make the buying decision on an account level–including individuals both within and outside of the C-suite.

The when: don’t let the status quo win

When looking at research data, it is necessary to examine your ideal customer’s pain points as a means to understanding their buying motivation. But a crucial part of this step is to look at pain points from a timing perspective: at what point does an issue become so pressing that this ideal client has no choice but to seek out a solution?

To that end, Wayne suggested doing a win/loss analysis of your data, looking at the prospects who became your customers, those who became your competitors’ customers, and, crucially, those who became nobody’s customers. Since the majority of B2B engagements end in no decision at all, your main competitor is always going to be the status quo. In other words, if a pain point is not pressing enough to make resolving it an absolute priority, then you aren’t going to get that sale no matter how good your product or your messaging is.

Sridhar pointed out that the average CISO, for example, has 72 security vendors. Chances are that CISO probably doesn’t want that many and is in fact trying to reduce the number of vendors they’re working with. So if you have a security product and come to them as vendor number 73 right when they are trying to eliminate vendors, they are unlikely to buy your product. Understanding this pain point and how your messaging and product can address it are integral parts of building a cohesive, successful buyer persona.

The how: approach prospects from a buyer-centric perspective

So after you’ve created a buyer persona, how do you go about putting it into practice? You need to get together the entire group in your company that is going to be involved with this process and decide A) why you are doing this now and B) what will change as a result. Is this about your mission? Do you need to update your GTM strategy? Is there a competitor you need to know how to respond to, or a new buying process that’s involved, or maybe a new person that’s come into the account environment that’s changing the way you approach the decision making?

A product marketer’s entire role, as Wayne put it, is to “connect product with prospect.” Our job is to be the voice of the customer, establishing what they are trying to solve and how you can help them do so with your product. Our superpower, he says, is knowing what makes a specific prospect more likely to make a purchase. We do that by creating both account and individual personas via interviews, quotes, LinkedIn profiles, etc.–our virtual “water coolers,” as Sridhar called them.

Wayne gave an example of a software backup company he worked with at B2P Partners. He said even tech people immediately glaze over at the word “backup,” so it was difficult for this company to get conversations going with senior decision makers. To help the company craft a more compelling value proposition, B2P Partners took a step back to see where people emotionally connected with the product.

They discovered that while data backup isn’t a pressing topic to most people, most feel very strongly about data recovery. The company ended up changing their messaging, pricing structure, and entire GTM strategy based on this slight, customer-centric, shift in focus.

Moving the needle using buyer personas

Ultimately, personas can and should be used as a tool to boost sales enablement. How do we help buyers buy? How can we equip sales people with the right tools to enable their customers? Creating a comprehensive, in-depth buyer persona is the key to helping people solve their problems using your product. This holistic approach to going to market means that you are not just selling a product–you are selling a solution.

For more examples of compelling personas and how to create them, watch the #AventiLive Chat below.