Thanks to HubSpot, buyer personas have become synonymous with inbound and content marketing. Few companies, however, actually spend the time to research, develop, and document their personas.
What you may not be aware of, though, is that buyer personas already make up the backbone of your outreach strategy. Think about it. If you are an ophthalmologist marketing Lasik packages to an older demographic, would you choose to run ads for those services on Snapchat or TikTok? Probably not. Common sense dictates your audience won’t be found there.
But what about the rest of the consumer story? The details within the details that paint the picture of how your customers operate are what unearth insights that have huge impacts on your business.
What is a Buyer Persona?
The field of Inbound Marketing, popularized by HubSpot, defines a buyer persona as a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers.
Breaking that definition down a little further, buyer personas generally are named in such a way that they are easy to remember and recall. Names like “Mary the Marketer” or “Pete the Plumber” are naming mechanisms that allow teams to reference “Mary” instead of “the marketer persona” when referencing the target audience.
The key point in this definition, though, is that buyer personas, according to Inbound principles, MUST be created according to market research and REAL data.
B2B vs B2C Buyer Personas
Regardless of your business or customer base, personas are necessary to stay on top of your customers’ needs. However, there are nuances between B2B and B2C personas, in general, to be aware of.
For example, in a B2C environment, you may be compelled to research how purchasing habits change in your industry when a coupon, sale, or discount is offered on a product. B2C companies are also concerned with seasonal shifts in consumer demand much more than B2B customers, in most cases.
In both B2B and B2C environments, price point is one of the main considerations for any investment. But because B2B investments typically come with a higher price tag, the buyer’s journey tends to be longer.
B2B Personas That Connect
Most B2B companies hold internal marketing meetings to discuss who their buyer personas are without actually talking to their customers. Then, the sales team will have a meeting to discuss their Ideal Customer Profile (ICP), without talking to the marketing team or the customer.
This disjointed method is not conducive to producing a comprehensive and insightful buyer persona that the entire company can rally around. What’s needed in order to develop meaningful relationships with B2B prospects is an approach centered around full communication between customers and between departments.
Creating a Mutually Beneficial Relationship Between Sales & Marketing
The age-old battle between sales and marketing. Sales often claim the leads they receive from marketing are bad. Marketing responds by saying they’re just not working them correctly.
Let’s start with the ICP. When a sales team builds out its target for their outreach, they try to identify their Ideal Customer Profile. When they do this, they refer to accounts or companies. Typical ICP identification is based on the target industry, company size, location, and revenue. From there, they pick up the phone and call.
Traditionally, the marketing team then takes that information and digs deeper to create buyer personas.
Let's pretend you are a B2B enterprise accounting software provider. Through buyer persona research you find that accounting teams have the challenge of using outdated software that doesn't integrate with new platforms used by the company. On top of that, they need their IT team to approve all new software decisions. In this situation, you have two buyer personas:
- Andy the Accountant: He has an outdated system that needs to be updated to increase efficiency and accuracy.
- Ivy the IT Director: She is in charge of approving software requests based on Andy’s recommendations.
Both of these personas have different challenges, motivations, and information to consider while making a decision.
To recap, the relationship should work as follows:
- Marketing creates content to provide value in the eyes of your buyer personas.
- The sales team uses the marketing team’s valuable content in their sales process to better communicate and serve prospective customers at every stage of their buyer’s journey.
Information to Collect Through Persona Research
The best way to find information about your buyer persona is by interviewing current customers. But before you pick up the phone, make sure you have a plan.
We like to create a standard set of questions that are relevant to your business and your customers to help identify trends and consistencies across all of the interviews we conduct.
- What are your biggest challenges?
- What is at stake if you don’t solve these challenges?
- How do you go about researching to solve problems?
- Who do you report to? How big is your team?
- What social media channels do you use for work? For personal use?
- What responsibilities do you have at work? Outside of work?
The goal with these is to discover what makes them tick and how to provide them with the most value throughout their buyer’s journey.
We recommend creating a buyer persona questionnaire template to help stay on track and take notes during the interview.
Buyer Persona Building: A Team Effort
The very first step when starting a buyer persona build is deciding which customers and prospects are important to the sustainability and growth of your business. With that in mind, it’s crucial for the person leading the initiative to involve their sales executives in the process.
As your marketing team understands the data that informs which visitors convert into the highest percentage of leads, your sales team might have clearer data to support which types of customers have the highest value when they convert. These two data points could produce different results, or they could both point to the same general target customer.
Either way, persona decisions should be a collaborative process between marketing, sales, and leadership so everyone is on the same page about the direction of the campaign.
Let’s take a look at how your company can leverage multiple roles within your company to create cohesive personas that stick.
Most salespeople and marketers wear many hats. Buyer persona building is an important project, but there will always be fires to put out or customers to pursue which takes time away from longer-term initiatives.
The best teams effectively divide the work amongst themselves so no one person shoulders too much of the workload. With sales and marketing leadership guiding the project’s direction and signing off on deliverables, and the marketing team running point on research and reporting, you put the company in the best possible strategic position to develop impactful personas.
Buyer Persona Best Practices
Undergoing your first buyer persona research cycle can seem a daunting task. You have to contend with scheduling interviews, sourcing quality research, dedicating internal resources to planning and executing a persona report, and then following up on tracking personas throughout an inbound marketing campaign. There will be some experimentation involved to determine how to approach the development of personas, but with the right guidance, you can skip over common persona pitfalls.
If you’re just starting your persona journey, you’ve come to the right place. This best practices list is meant to guide you away from the common pitfalls experienced by many content marketers and towards a powerful and efficient persona development process.
Best Practice #1: Don't Put It Off Any Longer
Okay. This one’s a bit of a “cheapie,” but we really want it to hit home. The persona research process can involve a lot of communication between clients and customers over the phone, talking them through questions with follow-up and ideas. Because it seems like a lot of time-consuming work, it can be easy to put it off.
According to the following stats detailed in an infographic by SingleGrain, buyer personas are invaluable to a successful marketing campaign in a number of ways:
- If only one out of every 10 people in your target audience is in need of what you're offering, you're wasting 90 percent of your resources and time on ineffective marketing.
- Using buyer personas can make websites two to five times more effective and easier to use for targeted visitors.
- Personalized emails can improve your click-through rate by as much as 14 percent and your conversion rates by up to 10 percent.
- Behaviorally-targeted ads are two times as effective as ads that are non-targeted.
Best Practice #2: Play Dumb
Regardless of how much you think you know about your buyer personas, you can always gain even more insight by keeping an open mind and asking some seemingly obvious questions.
Simply put, be smart and play dumb. Any of your own assumptions or personal bias could influence your personas, so avoid bringing your own ego into the research around those of your target audience.
Listen closely to all responses, be open to each response that might help build an accurate persona, and ask every pertinent question no matter how obvious it may seem.
Best Practice #3: Don't Go It Alone
The best buyer personas come from the collaborative effort of a team, not one person doing all the work. Not only can it be overwhelming for a single team member to take on, but it can also lead to a biased, incomplete interpretation of the persona.
To get your whole team on board, spread your workload to make it manageable. Working together on each persona can also offer different insights and perspectives that help further bring each persona to life. Each person in your team can take on different tasks while providing input into others' work.
Best Practice #4: Allow Personas to Evolve
As we've discussed, the persona research and creation process is ongoing and dynamic, and you're likely to update your personas as the nature of your customers and campaigns change.
You can start by creating a minimum viable persona, or MVP. Once you have this MVP in place, you have enough ammunition to begin campaign planning, development, and analysis. If you have specific deadlines in place for research and work on your personas, be patient but avoid holding off for too long. For example, you may have conducted four out of a goal of six interviews. While you may think the information you've gathered from those four is sufficient to build a complete MVP, consider conducting those last two interviews at a later date and updating your draft. You never know who may offer different insight that's invaluable or game-changing after creating your first draft.
Best Practice #5: Talk to a Diverse and Well-Rounded Sample
Don't limit yourself to contacts within your or your client's companies. Go beyond your own network, taking advantage of channels such as LinkedIn to locate other interviewees, or you can ask your existing interviewees for additional contacts that may be able to contribute additional input.
Taking all of these voices and opinions into account can help you thoroughly cover each persona during the research phase.
Best Practice #6: Use A Buyer Persona Report Template
Just like your questionnaire template is key to conducting uniform interviews that you can compare apples-to-apples, a strong buyer persona report template is the first step towards standardizing how everyone in your organization understands target customers’ needs and desires.
One of the key benefits of having a buyer persona report template is the ability to maintain consistency across your personas while making it easier to adjust the personas should their preferences change over time.
Additionally, report templates ensure that all the T’s are crossed and I’s dotted. You gather a ton of data insights through persona research. By constructing a persona template before you even begin your research, you’re much less likely to forget important details from your research in the final report.
Templates also make the report-building process much less daunting. Instead of attempting to fill a blank sheet of paper with all of the hopes and fears of your customers in a concise and comprehensive manner, the setup work is already done for you. Trust that the strategy behind each section of the persona report has already been considered and let your research flood into each predefined section.