What Are Buyer Personas?
Whose opinion are you more likely to trust when buying a new car: a hard-selling car salesperson you’ve never met before? Or a good friend who just made their own purchasing decision after months of careful research?
As a B2B product marketing leader, you already know that personalized messaging is the key to differentiating your product and attracting new customers. According to Forrester, the number of buying interactions (or the steps involved in “one individual’s buying journey to obtain information about competing offerings or providers”) involved in a purchasing decision has gone from 17 up to 27 in the past two years. Today’s buyers are doing far more research when evaluating a purchase, including both their own efforts (such as online searches) as well as talking to different providers.
In order to stand out on that lengthier buying journey, it’s crucial for companies to establish trust and tailor their approach to fit the customers’ needs––not the other way around. But how can busy marketing teams possibly establish trust with a huge number of faceless, nameless potential customers?
Well, it’s never going to be simple, but a good place to start is by creating effective, detailed buyer personas. That phrase gets used a lot, so before you start coming up with names, hair colors, and hobbies for your ideal customer, let’s dig into the specifics of what a buyer persona really means.
So what exactly is a buyer persona?
A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer. In a B2B context, that customer is the person (or people) who make the purchasing choices at your prospective client companies.
Take note that these profiles are only semi-fictional, however––they shouldn’t be based on blanket assumptions or stereotypes about your ideal customer. Instead, they should be based on real world data and in-depth research into your customers (both existing and prospective), your competition, and the market.
As Aventi Group consultant Rebecca Dark writes:
By turning a persona into a person, you gain better knowledge of how a person reacts to the world around them. This understanding can help drive better decisions on how to position and message your product or service. In the end, a person will buy your product, not a generalized group of personas.
In her post, Rebecca takes us through a series of questions she recommends to get beyond the standard set of personas and demographics to achieve what she calls an “aha moment.” Aiming for a deeper level of understanding in your personas will allow you to apply these insights not only to your messaging and positioning, but to marketing tactics including demand gen and media relations, and to your product features and roadmap.
Why do I need personas?
In short, buyer personas allow you to make the best possible first impression with your prospective customer. How? By speaking directly to their needs using the methods and venues most likely to reach them.
But buyer personas sound complicated. And potentially costly to make.
It’s true––creating personas takes time and resources, as we’ll discuss in more detail shortly. But when your messaging demonstrates that you understand and prioritize your buyers, they are more likely to trust you and be open to hearing what you have to offer.
So in the long run, taking the time to create detailed buyer personas will ensure higher ROI on your marketing activities by generating higher quality leads and driving demand for your products and solutions.
How do I create a buyer persona?
Creating an effective buyer persona starts with a deep dive into researching your ideal customer. It’s not enough to just guess as to what they want and need––you have to ask the right questions and do the necessary footwork to find out.
That sounds like a lot of work! Is there a shortcut to making buyer personas?
Unfortunately, no. But it doesn’t have to be hard. Start with the basic demographics of your ideal customer (age, location, gender, etc.) then add as much information about their role as you can find, including:
- What industry are they in?
- What position do they hold?
- What size is their company?
- Who do they report to?
- Does anyone report to them?
Then go beyond that into the less obvious questions:
- What publications do they read?
- Where do they get their industry news?
- What are their long term professional goals?
- Why are they working in that particular industry?
- What social media platforms do they use?
- What do they value the most, either personally or professionally?
- What objections might they have to adopting a product like yours?
Perhaps most critically, find out your persona’s biggest challenges and pain points. This might be the trickiest information to gather, but it’s also where you’re going to be able to demonstrate the most sympathy, generate trust, and ultimately, position your product as the solution.
Important note: Only include information that is relevant to your business decisions. Will the fact that they have three kids potentially change the prospect’s purchasing decision? Possibly, depending on your offering. But if not, best leave that out of your persona.
For more in-depth information on building powerful buyer personas, read our blog post here.
Where do I go for the information that goes into my personas?
Get creative and get curious. Some examples include:
- Analyze backend systems, like Salesforce, to understand buyers and influencers for opportunities and closed deals.
- Talk to your sales reps––they interact with your customers more than almost anyone else, so their insights are going to be invaluable in creating personas.
- Conduct surveys, focus groups, polls or interviews with existing customers to find out what was behind their decision to purchase your product and what challenges it helped them solve. (Consider offering a free download or other giveaway as incentive for participating in your customer survey or interview process.)
- Use form fields on your website to capture prospect information.
- Browse LinkedIn profiles of the people who hold relevant decision-making roles in your target industry.
- Look at your own marketing automation tools like HubSpot or Marketo to see what content leads to the most conversions and which messaging is resonating the most with your audience.
No matter where you choose to look, make sure that you have a wide range of both qualitative and quantitative data to back up the assumptions you make about each of your personas. If the data does not hold up the assumption, then you can reexamine it and make a new one.
The research is done; what’s next?
Once you’ve done all that, sit down with your team to take a look at all the information you found out above. Patterns will start to emerge from the data, which you can then segment into specific personas. You might even want to give each persona a fake name, gender, and stock photo––it can help to think about what might appeal to this fictional persona if you think about them as an actual person.
I have a persona (or three)––when do I use them?
Well, all the time. From marketing to product development to sales, this deep understanding of your customer should inform everything your company does.
From a product marketing perspective, a persona should influence how you choose to engage with a prospect based on where they are in their buyer’s journey. Different approaches will resonate differently depending on the persona you’re engaging with, so make sure that you create enough personas to reflect all of the decision makers that will potentially be involved in your prospect companies’ purchasing choices. Depending on the size of your company and your offering, this might be one or two, or it could be twenty––but you can always start with a few and scale up as needed.
Buyer personas put the focus on the customer’s needs
In the end, doing the research to create a set of buyer personas not only leads the way to more effective messaging, warmer leads, and faster sales––although those are certainly some of the benefits of doing so. Buyer personas can also keep your company focused on and in closer communication with your customers and their needs, helping make your content more personal, honing your business objectives, and just possibly benefiting your company as a whole.