In this blog, Matthew Creswick, Group Marketing Director at The B2B Marketing Lab, tackles the real elephant in the B2B marketing room: buyer personas - highlighting what businesses do wrong and how to correct those mistakes.
In the Inbound Marketing world, every campaign or content plan should start with buyer personas. After all, buyer personas enable us to understand who we are trying to market and sell to. Without them, we would be running campaigns and creating content with no idea of who they are for.
But while buyer personas are and can be incredibly useful, for years they have been used incorrectly and inefficiently. Instead of carefully analysing their target market to understand the individual wants and needs of potential prospects, many just create buyer personas based on the job titles.
In this blog, I’m going to talk about the problems with buyer persona development right now, as well as what can be done to fix them. There’s also a really helpful video from Guy Washer, our Consulting Director, at the end of the blog which discusses researching and building buyer personas the right way.
The first problem:
Buyer personas are rooted in stereotypes
Ninety-nine percent of the buyer personas we come across are stereotypes: Marketing Mary, Salesman Sam, Director Dan, we’ve seen them all. In fact, we were guilty of doing it ourselves. Our last round of buyer personas included someone called Founder Frank for heaven’s sake.
So, rather than focusing on the behaviour and needs of the people they are meant to represent, buyer personas (nowadays) rely on job titles and blanket assumptions. Just because someone is a start-up founder, that doesn’t mean they are a millennial, hoody-wearing 24-year-old called Scott.
For example, if you provide HR software, with the current approach your target audience is suddenly only those in HR looking to implement a new HR system. What about those in that same company that also want a new system, but don’t belong to HR?
For instance – Barbara in Marketing may want an HR system implemented so that she can track her holiday allocation; James in Customer Service may want an HR system implemented so that he can raise concerns regarding customer behaviour; and Martin the founder of the company may want a new system just to improve the HR function overall. Everyone will have their own reasons and wants, so it doesn’t make sense to disregard them.
Taking all of this into account, personas should be objective/challenge based, as opposed to job function or responsibility based. For example, one buyer persona could be: “The person who wants to implement a HR system”. Of course this might encompass more people – but you’ll get a better understanding of why those people need an HR system. It’ll also help you to create more personalised content.
The second problem:
Once they’re created, they don’t get used
More worrying than buyer personas being stereotypes is the fact that once they are created, they’re never used again.
Companies usually do everything right: they bring together different departments to brainstorm, ask questions to segment their target audience, and use data to validate assertions.
But after compiling all of the information into a nice template, they stick their buyer personas somewhere (sometimes on the wall) and forget about them
Again, we were guilty of this ourselves in the past. We would run all the workshops, developing really comprehensive personas – the kind you could send to anyone and they would be like “wow” – but not use them.
And then we would wonder why our content wasn’t resonating as much as we’d like.
I’ll let you in on a secret: buyer personas aren’t just for show. The hard work you put into creating them can translate into real results for your business. You just have to remember to use them.
At every point of your marketing and sales activity, you need to be thinking about the end user – your customer – who is more or less represented by the information you put into your personas.
If you’ve done your personas right (and if you’re using existing data and customers) you should be able to attract the right people to your website.
The third problem:
They are all made up
Though best practice is to interview customers and prospects to obtain useful, actionable data, most companies don’t.
As a result, these buyer personas are based on purely assumptions, they are inaccurate and not representative of the people that these businesses are trying to target! There’s no point creating buyer personas if you don’t actually interview customers and prospects to get the data you need. Even if you’ve got information stored in your CRM – you need to use it.
Want to take a more strategic and data-driven approach to buyer persona creation? Just watch the video below, featuring Guy Washer, our Consulting Director at The B2B Marketing Lab, to find out how!
We’re not exempt from any of this.
We’ve made mistakes just like any other business, but what’s important is that we’ve learned from them. Here's what we used to do:
We used to base buyer personas on assumptions
We would sit around a desk, invite our teams – marketing, sales and customer service – and start brainstorming buyer personas. Rather than pull up the data we had, we would make assumptions about our target audience, including their problems and behaviour.
We used to build buyer personas and leave them
After going through the effort of building detailed personas, we would just put all the information in a document, make the document pretty and then just save it somewhere. We probably have about three or four different buyer persona documents.
Not interview customers and prospects
Because we didn’t interview customers or prospects, our buyer personas would often miss the mark, and be purely what we thought was the right answer.
So what have we learnt?
Learning from our mistakes has taught us to...
Base buyer personas on real data
We base our buyer personas on actual data. This enables us to create high-quality, targeted content.
Build AND use buyer personas
No more leaving buyer personas on our Google Drive. We take ours out and use them to inform content creation.
Talk to customers
Better to hear from the people you market and sell to right now. By interviewing our customers, we can uncover business challenges and pain points right away.
Buyer personas are the foundation of your marketing and sales activity. If you want to reach the right people, increase website visits, convert leads and secure new business, you need to start with them and not neglect them.
After you have your personas sorted, you can think about creating high-quality content. If you need help or aren’t sure where to start, our eBook – B2B Content Creation for Lead Generation – will help. Check it out below.