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Buyer Personas: Where (and How!) to Start
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13 August 2010


Jeremy Victor

 

Earlier this year, I wrote a post, Humanize Your Marketing With Buyer Personas, because of what I feel is lacking in a lot of B2B marketing today. That is content – read marketing material of any kind – that is created and crafted in a way that is makes a personal connection and demonstrates a real life understanding of the people to whom the company is trying to market.

Much of what I come across still reeks of "me, me, me; we are great.”

I am becoming more and more convinced that the reason for this is that marketing departments haven’t slowed down and taken the time to create buyer personas. This is such an important step for any type of B2B marketing today. Forget social media and content marketing for a moment, the reason buyer personas matter so much is that B2B buyers and B2B buying has changed. So even if you never decide to venture into Twitter or Facebook, you still need buyer personas to effectively create trade ads, tradeshow booth signage, or any marketing material if you want to reach these changed B2B buyers.

So in this post I decided to answer the questions that are most likely top of mind for you when it comes to buyer personas. Here goes:

What is a buyer persona?

A buyer persona is a description of a specific person for whom your products and services are intended. It goes beyond statistics and demographics, and defines behaviors, motivations, likes/dislikes, traits, etc. Its intent is to help you reach your customers on a human level.

Why do buyer personas matter to me and my b2b marketing anyway?

A buyer persona enables you create marketing content that is for someone and not everyone.

Why is it important to create marketing for someone rather than everyone?

We’ve heard it before, it’s a cliché, but it’s true – in B2B buying – one size does not fit all. What’s important to the CFO is completely different than what is important to the CIO. Creating a piece of content to address both of their needs may work in some cases, but to truly connect, build trust, and influence that person, you need to be able to address their specific needs individually.

And that same thing is true for ALL the individuals involved in the B2B buying process from users, to the influencers, and the executives. Beginning your content marketing plan with carefully crafted buyer personas enables you to ensure your content speaks directly to the needs of someone. And that my friends is how we connect on a human level.

Why are buyer personas so important now?

Gone are the days of plowing through everyone in a company’s phone tree to reach the final decision maker, the person with the pen to sign the contract. B2B buying just doesn’t happen like that anymore. Today’s decision makers delegate, they empower their staff to gather information, make recommendations, and come to consensus on purchasing decisions.

Granted, you may think B2B buying still happens the old fashioned way, but that is only because the overwhelming majority of B2B selling still happens that way. But B2B buying has changed and so should your B2B marketing. Honestly, if you are still following the old model of B2B selling, my take is that you are doing more harm than good. You are likely losing brand value in the mind of that decision maker you are interrupting with every unscheduled call.

Remember, every single interaction creates an impression – positive or negative. In today’s world, where attention is a scarce commodity, an unscheduled call in a busy person’s day very rarely ends positively. Right? Be honest.

Start using buyer personas and create content that will attract buyers to you.

Where do I start when creating buyer personas?

First things first, you need to begin by gaining a full understanding of how your products are purchased. If you sell to multiple industries or market segments, you need to evaluate the buying process for each industry separately. You need a detailed view of who is involved, their role within the organization and within your buying lifecycle. Additionally, you need to understand the process a purchase such as yours goes through for approval. I suggest mapping it out.


We use a seven stage process to analyze and assess the buying lifecycle. While the chart above makes everything appear linear, rational, and sequential, upon digging into the details, you quickly realize that couldn’t be further from the truth. Fear, risk, and urgency are the main factors affecting B2B buying behaviors and careful attention must be paid to those factors during the mapping process.

What are the seven stages of the buying process (lifecycle)?

There are many, many variations and descriptions of the stages of B2B buying. The subtle difference in our description of the Buying Lifecycle is the specific words we’ve selected to describe each stage. The purpose is to help you visualize each as an event the buyer will deal with and experience. With this frame of reference, it makes identifying the challenges, obstacles, risks, and fears your marketing needs to address much easier. The stages are:

  1. A Problem Realized

· The Causal Event

· The Work Around

· The Breaking Point

  1. A Search For Help

· Project Definition

· Team Formation

· Solution Research

  1. A Choice To Be Made

· All Options Listed

· Solution Comparison

· Short List Created

  1. An Approval Sought

· Expense Authorization

· Proposal Review

· Stakeholder Sign Off

  1. A Final Decision

· Risk Assessment

· Negotiations

· Contract Approval

  1. A Solution Delivered

· Training

· Implementation

· Go-Live

  1. A Life As A Customer

· Buyer’s Remorse

· Calls To Support

· A Promise Fulfilled

At Make Good Media, we spend a considerable amount of time with our clients in this phase of a project because it is so vital to an effective social media and content marketing plan. In our opinion, you can’t effectively target your content without knowing which stage of the buying lifecycle it is for and the specific someone (or buyer persona) you are trying to reach.

Now that I understand the buying process and who I am trying to reach, how do I create a buyer persona that will humanize my marketing?

First and foremost, a key point should be made: your products are not the center anyone’s universe but your own. Broaden your scope of thinking about your buyers and realize that your product, no matter how important it is, will only ever touch a portion of their day-to-day activities.

Here are just 10 Buyer Persona development questions that we use with clients to get them started:

  1. What are this persona’s most important job responsibilities and activities?
    • Which ones relate most closely with your products?
  2. What are the top three – five challenges or problems for this individual in their job?
    • Which ones relate most closely with your products?
  3. How does this persona measure success?
    • Do any of your products have the ability to help them achieve that?
  4. How is this personas success measured? By whom (what stakeholders)?
  5. What’s at risk for this individual in the purchasing process?
  6. What could go wrong for them if the purchase is a failure?
  7. What has prevented this persona from considering your products in the past?
  8. What is the person’s likely progression within their career? What other roles have they had? What do they aspire to become?
    • What is the person’s level of education?
    • What is the person’s age?
  9. Does this persona require a specific skill set, degree, certification, or other continuing education?
  10. How does this persona typically seek new information and keep up to date with the industry?
    • What events do they attend?
    • What do they read? Online and off?

After gathering this data and answering these questions, you can begin to paint a fairly clear picture of the person, the human being with real life struggles and achievements that you are trying to reach. From these answers, you should then name your buyer persona and draft a bio so that you can have it to reference when creating content.

To close

As I said earlier, we help B2B marketers in medium to large size companies with creating buyer personas, and the most important thing we are sharing with them is that today you can’t have an effective content marketing plan (or blog, or twitter stream, or video) without them. Because as soon as you get into the content creation phase of anything, the first question you ask is, "For whom are we creating this?”

If your answer is, "for everyone,” sadly the result will much more likely be, "no one.”


BIO


Jeremy Victor is the president and founder of Make Good Media, a B2B social media and content marketing company. The firm consults mid-to-large size businesses on social media, content marketing strategy, and content creation with the core outcome being to develop a compelling story that will attract and influence today’s B2B buyers. Jeremy also serves as Editor In Chief of Make Good Media’s publication, B2Bbloggers.com (@B2Bbloggers), the online magazine shaping the future of B2B marketing. You can follow him on Twitter at @jeremyvictor.




 

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