Buyer Personas in B2B Marketing

Join #B2BChat on Twitter every Thursday at 8:00 PM EasternBuyer personas are a hot topic of discussion in the B2B marketing world, but how do you create the personas that you need and ensure you are getting the value you need out of them? Do you even need to create B2B buyer personas at all?

B2B buyer personas were the topic of discussion recently on #B2Bchat and the group shared their perspective on these and a number of other questions.

Here are three of the takeaways I came away from the conversation with:

  1. Many B2B marketers do not understand what a persona is. If you discuss personas, taking an extra minute to define what you mean, and ideally provide an example, will make the discussion more valuable for everyone.
  2. Some marketers do not see value in personas beyond the audience research. Moving from research and insights to personas may simply be seen as marketing fluff. Agencies or consultants selling persona development need to emphasize the extensive research that goes into their personas, not just the value of the character-based output.
  3. Keep personas focused on the business environment. Priorities, pain points, information sources, buying process, motivations and roles are key pieces of information. Information on their consumer profile is far less valuable in a B2B context.

Highlights from the chat are captured below or available on Storify.

Buyer Personas in B2B Marketing [#B2Bchat]

Highlights from #B2Bchat discussion on September 13, 2012

Storified by Eric Wittlake · Wed, Sep 19 2012 22:10:37

Let’s get on the same page to start. What is your definition of buyer persona?
A Persona is an individual composite sketch designed to represent any key group you want to communicate with. #b2bchatBilly Mitchell
@b2b_chat A0. Personas: Consolidating audience research into one or more profiles of individuals that represent different segments #b2bchatEric Wittlake
@wittlake Love that this response highlights starting from research to define rather than "gut." #b2bchatHaidn Foster
A0 what a role’s priorities, fears and dreams are #b2bchattraci browne
Do you use buyer personas in your B2B marketing today?
A1 Personas help provide context for creating more relevant content. So yes, we use personas and recommend that our clients do too. #b2bchatBilly Mitchell
A2 Yes! It’s like a back story for novelists…you need it to know how they’ll react in different situations #b2bchattraci browne
A1 Nah #b2bchatMaureen Blandford
What is the most important information to include in personas of B2B buyers?
A2 How they are funded. How their success is measured. What stresses them out… #b2bchattraci browne
@b2b_chat For B2B: motivations, business type, career level… + @tracibrowne’s list 🙂 #b2bchatHaidn Foster
@b2b_chat Two keys, everything else is nice but not necessary: (1) Priorities and (2) How they buy. #b2bchatEric Wittlake
A2 Important to find out what their pain points are first. #b2bchatJennifer G. Hanford
A2 Definitely important to find out how they buy…and how long their revenue cycles last. #b2bchatJennifer G. Hanford
A2 Defining a persona’s current perceptions and sources of information are important factors #b2bchatBilly Mitchell
Also key: influencers in buying decision. #b2bchatHaidn Foster
A2 HOW MUCH DATA inputs they’re coping with on a daily basis (and it’s not just cuz I have a post coming out on this) : ) #b2bchatMaureen Blandford
How important is it to include consumer profile points, like income, kids, dogs, sports, etc? 
Some say B2B and B2C are same because it’s all person-to-person. A well-crafted persona will reveal many differences… #b2bchatBilly Mitchell
@b2b_chat A3 Experience, expertise, social or cultural environ more important #b2bchatMary Klest
A3 My opinion is skip that bit…not relevant to creating persona…only relevant to once a relationship is established #b2bchattraci browne
A3 Doesn’t matter if B2B or B2C..should be thinking P2P (person to person) either way – #justsayin #b2bchatJennifer G. Hanford
@JennGHan I agree. But what is important about the person (P2P) is different in B2B vs B2C #justsayin #b2bchatEric Wittlake
In B2B, it’s rarely ever as simple as person to person. Rarely. Ever. #b2bchatMaureen Blandford
What are key information sources for developing buyer personas?
A4 Wikipedia #b2bchattraci browne
A4: SoMe profiles, posts, articles, interactions, comments #b2bchatDan Hanssel
#b2bchat to understand your buyer persona, you need to interview recent buyersAdele Revella
A4 Talk to sales. Analyze best customers. Look for overlaps. Talk to best customers, ex-customers, listen and learn. #b2bchatBilly Mitchell
@b2b_chat A4 Emails, Marketing, Sales, field service, interviews, observation, forums are key sources #B2BchatMary Klest
A4 Data from industry trends should definitely play a factor in developing buyer personas. Marketing research is helpful, too. #b2bchatJennifer G. Hanford
A4 @wittlake agree w/ask sales…also, get to know your customers…not just asking but spending time with them #b2bchattraci browne
How do you use personas in your marketing today?
A5 Use personas to craft marketing messages, content/social strategy, arm salesforce, etc. Almost anything customer/lead-facing. #b2bchatHaidn Foster
Personas help remind us to create content more about what the customer / prospect needs to know. Not what we want to tell them. #b2bchatBilly Mitchell
marketers use buyer personas for messaging, targeting, segmentation, launch strategies and sales enablement #b2bchatAdele Revella
We’ve created free tool w/ B2B expert Ardath Albee @ardath421 and welcome feedback: #b2bchatBilly Mitchell
A side discussion developed around the value of personas, sparking this question: Persona is nearly a buzzword today and we have been doing audience research for decades. Do you really need them?
@b2b_chat A6 Personas make it personal. Audience research is not the same. #B2BchatMary Klest
how you gonna charge the big bucks wout a fancy name? RT @MaureenB2B: havent we always understood targets- didnt call it personas? #b2bchattraci browne
A5 I’m with @tracibrowne – I’ve never NOT analyzed my aud – I’m not convinced the new Persona approach helps anyone but novices #b2bchatMaureen Blandford
Good description, actually > RT @MaureenB2B: A5 We just called it Audience Analysis #b2bchatJennifer G. Hanford
Q6: If prospects = dozens/hundreds, do 1-to-1 marketing. If thousands or more, need personas/types. #b2bchatDan Hanssel
What are opportunities to use personas that are being missed today?
Q7. biggest opportunity is segmentation, focusing on differences in how/why buyers choose rather than demographics #b2bchatAdele Revella
A7: Micro-targeting is secret sauce of digital/social…refine personas and address specific needs, don’t generalize #b2bchatDan Hanssel
@billymitchell1 And personas are not about title. Good example is CIO’s research, they define three broad CIO types. #b2bchatEric Wittlake
RT @wittlake: @b2b_chat Behavior-Based Lead Scoring! We score leads on behavior we know some wont exhibit! #b2bchatJennifer G. Hanford

Looking for more information on creating and using B2B buyer personas? I don’t normally recommend books, but these two are definitely worth your investment:

Waiting for Your Cat to Bark? by Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg.
This continues to be my favorite book on personas (note it is not specific to B2B). The perspective on how to determine which personas you need is particularly relevant to, and missing from, many discussions of B2B personas today.

eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale by Ardath Albee.
Ardath’s book builds on personas to develop more effective B2B marketing. If you are looking to develop better B2B personas or put your personas into action, pick up Ardath’s book and subscribe to her blog.

Your Turn

How do you see personas adding value beyond other forms of audience research, or do you feel personas are simply fluff? Share your view in the comments below or with me on Twitter (@wittlake).

Interested in #B2Bchat? Join the discussion on Twitter every Thursday at 8:00 PM New York time using the #b2Bchat hashtag and follow @b2b_chat for announcements of each week’s topic.

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  • Thanks Eric for leading this discussion and posting a very accurate recap. I am sorry to have missed the first half of the chat. I am working with many large companies who have invested big bucks in persona development only to be disappointed. Their are two reasons for this:

    1. People need to get much deeper insight into how buyers make the decision they want to influence. If they’re relying exclusively on tribal knowledge, generic data from third parties, or obvious information available online about demographics and such, the buyer persona is unlikely to add value. Marketers need to learn how to have an unscripted, probing interview with recent buyers to find out how they arrive at decisions.

    2. Buyer personas are not the goal, but rather a tool to achieve the goal. Don’t start with the plan to build personas. Instead, start with the plan to get smarter about an upcoming launch, campaign or other initiative where it would be difficult to succeed doing business as usual. This makes it easier to justify the investment in digging deep into just the aspects of the buyer’s decision that you need to influence.

    • Adele, great additions. Your #2 in particular is so on-point, and unfortunately so counter to how many people approach numerous marketing activities today, including personas.

      Thanks for joining the discussion on Twitter last week as well!

  • Hi Eric – Thanks so much for recommending my book! I’m sorry to have missed the chat.

    One thing I noticed in the transcripts was the insistence that “audience analysis” was the equivalent of buyer personas. I think that misses the point. It’s too broad. As Adele says below, marketers need to delve much deeper to be effective – and that must be created as a tool to achieve a goal. Totally agree.

    • Thanks Ardath. I agree, and that was one of the things that was eye-opening to me. I really liked what @maryklest added here: “Personas make it personal. Audience research is not the same.”

      In practice, one of the big differences I often see is that personas help us connect on a more emotional level with people. When we can relate better to them, then we will be able to create marketing that helps them relate better to us. It takes more to get there than just doing the audience analysis, but once you are there, you should be able to get a lot more out of it as well.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  • Hi Eric,
    Okay where was my invite to the chat Eric! You bring up a good point – perhaps a sore point in some respects. Buyer Persona definitions are all over the map these days. I originated the buyer persona methodology in 2002 based on the foundations of personas in general that I learned from Alan Cooper in the late ’90’s – considered the founder of modern day personas. Buyer personas serve as a communications platform for informing customer strategy. They involve conducting 3rd party qualitative buyer research to understand the unfilitered view of how customers think, who they are, how they make buying decisions, and why these decisions are important to them.
    Here is the key that everyone in marketing, sales, and the C-Suite need to get on the same page about – you don’t make buyer personas up and you cannot derive true unbiased, unfiltered, and unarticulated deep buyer insights without committing to 3rd party qualitative research that removes the conscious and unconscious barrriers of the company involvement.
    Good job Eric!
    Tony Zambito

    • Tony, we totally should have invited you! Great input, thank you. I really like the point you make here about committing to third party research and getting to completely unbiased perspectives.

      Thanks for commenting and let’t get you on a future chat!

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  • Joe H

    Great post… Are there examples of B2B buyer personas in on websites today that are worth examining? There is a lot of chat around persona development, but finding strong examples has been a bit elusive fo me. I’ve found some companies appear to have trouble sticking with them as marketing strategies evolve and shift, though I am still a believer.

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