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B2B Buyer Personas Getting More Complex

  • Written by Glenn Taylor, Associate Editor
  • Published in Industry Insights

shutterstock 115451893While buyer personas are unique to each company, they all focus on the role each buyer has in making purchasing decisions. And as the role of the B2B buyer broadens, buyer personas are become more detailed and complex. The proliferation of mobile access and evolving content consumption patterns are also driving changes in persona development. 

Today’s B2B buyer personas extend beyond attributes such as job title, industry and company size, and can be tailored to an individual buyer all the way up to a large enterprise. Modern buyer personas are designed to discover how, when and why buyers come to their decisions. Grouping buyers based on beliefs, priorities, goals, preferred channels and previous purchases allows marketers to gain a more accurate read on how they can help solve a certain problem.

“The buyer persona that we’re trying to build is a bit different from B2C,” said Adele Revella, President of the Buyer Persona Institute. “In B2C, marketers are usually just trying to define who is the audience. That approach for B2B marketers ends up resulting in too many buyer personas and it also results in information that isn’t really valuable to the marketer.”

B2B marketers should look beyond title when building their personas. “The misconception about buyer personas is that marketers think they need a VP persona or a director persona, labeling it by role or title,” said Tony Zambito, an authority on buyer personas. “That’s not serving them too well when they do that. They’re basically doing profiling, and buyer personas are not profiling.”

Focus On A Recurring Theme

Personas can vary depending on the buyer, with the leading factor being the scope of the buyer’s goal. Experts assert that using a framework to build personas is only successful when used to build around a few select characteristics. Tailoring messages to dozens of different people in one organization defeats the purpose, experts explained.

“Having more buyer personas just makes your life more difficult, because you can only afford to go to market so many different ways,” Revella said. “You really want as few as possible, so that you can be effective at persuading the buyers.”

According to Justin Gray, CEO and Chief Marketing Evangelist at marketing consulting firm LeadMD, most B2B marketers end up with four or five buyer personas.

“It’s a really simple process that gets blown up and extrapolated into this complex meaning,” Gray said. “But if we can talk to each one of our buyers after they purchase our solution, or even while they were evaluating it, that conversation could really impact how we look at the future buyers.”

The Role Of Content In Buyer Personas

Content marketing serves an essential purpose in the lead nurturing process, giving buyers a glimpse into what’s to come if they decide to purchase from a company. In fact, Russell Kern, President and Founder of KERN, a consultancy, noted that the average buyer will download 10 to 14 pieces of content during the researching, consideration and purchase process, with short video snippets being among the most important content. Providing content that is relevant to a specific point in the sales funnel is an issue many organizations still have trouble with, as reactions depend largely on buyer intentions at the time they receive the content.

Gray added: “We want to treat a buyer who knows exactly why they’re buying much differently than someone who’s simply just exploring solutions.”

The buyer’s journey of today has multiple stops throughout, which makes creating personalized messaging more of a challenge. It’s one thing to understand a buyer’s interests at particular step of the buying process, but another to understand the proper progression between each individual step.

“The problem is that in the last 24 months, consumer behavior has radically changed,” Kern said. “The buyer is now on their mobile device, asking their questions starting at Google, doing all their own research on an question they have about buying a product or service and looking to download content to give them confidence in their purchase.”

According to Demand Gen Report’s 2013 Benchmark Survey, more than half of B2B marketers (54%) used buyer personas in 2012. An even higher rate (63%) stated they planned on deploying personas in 2013, illustrating a commitment to learn more about buyers. The increasing interest in buyer personas goes hand-in-hand with a higher investment in demand generation budgets, with 52% of B2B marketers increasing demand generation spending by at least 20% in 2012 and 2013.

Mobile Impacts Persona Development

The evolution of the buyer overlaps with the mass movement towards mobile. The technology is there for the buyer to make difficult decisions, but at a much quicker pace than with other previous hardware, such as desktop computers. Buyers can take on this growing mobile persona by browsing product information online and interacting with select vendors, regardless of location or device. B2B marketers, perhaps most importantly, can create content marketing initiatives that weren’t feasible even in recent years.

“Even CEOs are doing their research for the most sophisticated solution on their living room couch using their mobile device or tablet while they’re watching TV,” Kern said. “Therefore, all content, messaging and web development has to be done from a mobile-first, all-screen perspective. Responsive design and the mobile user experience must be at the forefront of all communication. There must be an alignment of content over the journey that allows the buyer to get deeper involved and have more engagement, thus creating more preference to the purchase over time.”

Since marketers are dealing with real people looking to make a purchasing decision, any mobile barriers are going to need to be torn down via effective communication. One-on-one interviews, in addition to marketing automation and CRM systems, have obvious data-gathering benefits to assist in building personas. Interviews provide a personalized touch that not only helps businesses understand customer wants, but customer confidence, as well.

“You have to find the right talent within your own organization, use outside expertise, or define the hiring criteria for the person that can [conduct an interview] for you,” Zambito said. “Sometimes you need a third party only because customers or buyers may not open up to an organization.”

With marketing increasingly taking the place of sales in the purchasing process, more B2B marketers have made it a point to eliminate sales speak from their vocabulary and understand the context of the market from which the buyer is inquiring.

“The challenge for me has been educating marketers that this isn’t just another training deliverable, or another PowerPoint deck,” Revella said. “It’s really much more than that. It’s about changing the culture of the way we do business as a B2B company so that marketers are truly experts about their buyers.”