How to conduct buyer persona research in B2B – with examples

How to conduct buyer persona research in B2B – with examples

B2B buyer personas examples

To optimize your sales and marketing campaigns, it helps to build them around targeted buyer personas.

Designing websites with buyer personas in mind makes them 2-5 times more effective, according to Hubspot. For email campaigns, conversion rates increase by 10% on average.

But what exactly is a B2B buyer persona? Is it the same as a B2B market segmentation?

Typically, a segmentation study is a statistical analysis of quantitative data to categorize your target audience. In contrast, buyer personas are usually based on the interpretation of qualitative data.

In terms of the value provided by quantitative vs qualitative research methodologies, the former can give robust customer data to inform decisions. But the latter explains the ‘why’ behind customers’ decision-making and that’s crucial for creating buyer personas.

Similar to segmentations, the broad goal of building multiple buyer personas is to better understand the different groups in your customer base.

That way, you can target each group differently, and more effectively. Ultimately, this should help improve your sales with each different buyer or user persona type you identify.

A B2B buyer persona tends to differ from a consumer one in several ways. They are more likely designed to:

In this article, we’ll outline the wide range of use cases for B2B buyer personas and how to create them, by using evidence from market research.

Contents

Why buyer personas matter in B2B

How to create a buyer persona using B2B research

Best practices for running B2B buyer persona research

 

 

Why buyer personas matter in B2B

A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to selling in B2B tends to result in lost sales and wasted marketing budget.

A personalized approach to individual buyers is the ideal solution, but it’s hard to do this to a significant extent for each separate target customer.

Buyer personas are a great way to understand the wants and needs of different, typical groups among your target audience.

Once your sales and marketing teams understand what separate groups tend to look for – and crucially, why – you can target them much more effectively.

For example, B2B marcomms around productivity might appeal to buyers at companies going through cost-cutting exercises.

But for other buyers, at companies pursuing rapid growth, messaging around scalability could be much more relevant to them.

More specifically, B2B buyer personas can:

  • Inform how to refine marketing messages
  • Help sales teams to engage buyers
  • Ensure consistency between sales and marketing efforts
  • Inform new product development
  • Optimize your channel usage
  • Improve understanding of different customer journeys
  • Help UX teams to make changes to usability
  • Target prospects
  • Prioritize a higher-value or ideal customer type
  • Identify customer pain points

How to create a buyer persona using B2B research

As with quantitative segmentations, there are many different approaches you can take to design qualitative customer personas.

These are some of the variables, with buyer persona examples sometimes based around one of these:

  • Organization type: Segmenting by sector, number of staff, revenue, location, etc.
  • Profitability or potential: Based on criteria such as expected lifetime customer value or high likelihood to purchase
  • Decision-maker type: E.g. buyer vs end-user personas, or personas by job title – CFO, IT director, etc.
  • Needs and wants: Based on subjective factors such as how segments value price, relationships, ease of use, productivity, etc.
  • Behavior: Based on what they have bought before and their purchase habits

However, each of these approaches has drawbacks. In short, they provide a very narrow and limited view of the target audience.

As we’ll now explore, arguably the most effective criteria to build B2B buyer personas around is their ‘jobs-to-be-done’. This tends to present the most accurate version of the opportunity.

Ultimately, your buyer personas should be unique to your business. They should contain the relevant information your customer-facing staff needs to a) understand who their audience is and b) target them as effectively as possible.

An audience persona doesn’t need to describe the ideal customer – in most cases, it will be more useful if it’s based on the different types of buyers you regularly come across.

In a B2B buyer persona template, it’s common to include some or all of the following, plus any other data your sales or marketing team needs:

  • Profile
  • Information sources
  • Comms preferences
  • Purchase criteria
  • Influence
  • Pain points
  • Jobs-to-be-done

You’ll have some of this information already, while B2B research can fill in the gaps for your audience personas. Looking at each of these in detail:

#1 Profile

Buyer personas need to include relevant profiling information, to help your staff visualize who they’re selling to.

Common factors to highlight in B2B buyer personas include:

  • Job title
  • Years in role
  • Department
  • Seniority
  • Company size
  • Industry
  • Other important background information

In terms of differences by generation, consensus varies over whether age matters in B2B. Nevertheless, their typical age is worth including if you have relevant insights your teams should take into account.

#2 Information sources

How does this buyer or user persona find out about relevant products and services? This will determine which channels your sales and marketing teams will use to target them.

Understand their preferences in terms of…:

  • Offline research
  • Online research – Search, email, affiliates, video, ads, etc.
  • Independent sources – expert reviews, customer reviews, etc.
  • Social media – LinkedIn, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, etc.
  • Trusted brands – e.g. their website

Research into the buying process can shed light on buyers’ go-to information sources at different stages.

#3 Comms preferences

The above tells you where to target your buyers. Now your teams need to know how to engage with them.

For instance, which will be more effective – a direct email, or steering them toward an informational blog?

And how should you design the content – should it be short, have a particular tone of voice, or feature visual elements?

#4 Purchase criteria

What are this persona’s key buying criteria? Rank the importance of factors they consider when making a purchase, and know which ones are most likely to help them decide.

For example:

  • Price or value for money
  • Premium quality
  • Brand reputation
  • Specific features
  • Customer service and support
  • Etc.

Staff using customer personas should ensure that messaging focuses on their top criteria.

#5 Influence

Clearly outline the role this customer persona tends to have in the purchase decision-making process.

Are they the sole decider, the main decider, or a key influencer?

It’s also helpful to clarify which other roles in the company tend to influence this persona and how you need to take this into account.

For instance, what information do influencers need, and in what format?

#6 Pain points

List their common frustrations – marcomms and sales efforts should target these pain points.

These could be things they don’t have, or things they have but are inadequate or could be improved on.

When researching pain points for products and solutions, also bear in mind that emotions can affect B2B buyer behavior.

As well as certain cognitive biases, several emotional factors are capable of swaying their final decision.

#7 Jobs-to-be-done

Rather than focusing on the products or services they use, think about the ‘job’ or ‘jobs’ they’re using them for. Define these jobs by their outcomes, not their features – that way, you should see the opportunities more clearly.

As an example, let’s go back to 2006 and imagine a buyer persona for the recently-launched Amazon Web Services. In this case, one of the profiles they’re targeting is a founder of a small B2B SaaS startup.

If Amazon had focused on improving typical features at that time, they would have simply made physical IT servers cheaper, smaller, less reliant on skills, and so on. That would have worked quite well for a new startup with limited resources and space.

Instead, they understood that the job required was to reduce, or eliminate, on-premise IT infrastructure in the first place. The solution they created was a virtual service, with much lower barriers to entry, that’s easily scalable for businesses when they grow.

Arguably, jobs to be done are the key criteria to design your buyer personas around. This method can take into account their pain points, but also the complexities in their different requirements and the different levels of sophistication in their usual approach.

Best practices for running B2B buyer persona research

#1 Engage stakeholders throughout and use their previous data

The top priorities for buyer personas are to be a) accurate and b) in regular use. In cases where the personas challenge your colleagues’ previous perceptions of customer traits, the research and final outputs also need to facilitate some change management.

That’s challenging to overcome if internal stakeholders haven’t given their buy-in throughout the process. To avoid this risk, make sure you include the key ones at important milestones.

Seek their input at the start of the project in collaborative workshops, at regular intervals during the primary research, and when finalizing the results. They need to see how the personas are developing, so they can prepare to factor them into their long-term planning.

They’ll also likely have proprietary information, or secondary data, that you should review before progressing with the research. Sources could include:

  • Customer behavior data from CRM tools, analytics, and other intelligence tools
  • Customer satisfaction surveys or feedback
  • Customer engagement with social media

The personas should build on the data you already have. Again, if you don’t take it into account sufficiently, stakeholders may be hesitant to use the personas.

#2 Base personas on prospects too, not just existing customers

Your customers may not represent the buyer market comprehensively. By including prospects in your research, you’ll get a rounder view of different customer groups.

A thorough jobs-to-be-done exercise may also reveal opportunities to target prospects in adjacent markets, or previously underserved customer groups.

And competitor research in B2B markets could also help you understand to what extent rivals are meeting, or failing to meet their needs.

Again, don’t only focus on finding the ideal customer, as others may offer low-hanging fruit.

#3 Bring personas to life for greater longevity

Personas need to be memorable and an engaging representation of buyers. If they’re too dry, they’ll have diminishing returns as your teams won’t use them often enough.

Any sales or marketing persona data should work with your existing processes so that it’s not standalone.

The final materials need to be easy to scan and share. Visualization techniques and vox pop videos help to bring your personas to life.

#4 Update the personas as buyer habits change

Over time, external factors can have a significant impact on buyer behavior. For example, new technologies or channels may optimize their journey.

Important details in your current personas might change, or a new buyer group may emerge that’s worth targeting.

At regular intervals, or when you detect a major external factor that’s disrupting your sector, sense-check and review some persona examples – are they still relevant? Keeping them fresh also improves their longevity.

Summary

What are B2B buyer personas?

B2B buyer personas: engage a buyer type throughout a relatively longer, multi-stage sales process; drive a long-term relationship or partnership with an ongoing service or repeat business; acknowledge information needs from other influencers e.g. different departments; target based on business profile e.g. industry, company size, revenue, etc.

Why buyer personas matter in B2B

B2B buyer personas can help: inform how marketers should refine messages; sales teams to engage buyers; ensure consistency between marketing and sales efforts; optimize your channel usage; improve understanding of different customer journeys; UX teams to make changes to usability; target prospects; prioritize a higher-value or ideal customer type; inform new product development; identify customer pain points.

How to create research-led B2B buyer personas

These are some of the variables, with buyer persona examples sometimes based around one of these: organization type; profitability or potential; decision-maker type; needs and wants; behavior.

However, each of these approaches has drawbacks. In short, they provide a very narrow and limited target audience persona. Arguably the most effective criteria to build B2B buyer personas around is their ‘jobs-to-be-done’. This tends to present the most accurate version of the opportunity.

In a B2B buyer persona template, it’s common to include some or all of the following, plus any other data your teams need: profile; information sources; comms preferences; purchase criteria; influence; pain points; jobs-to-be-done.

Best practices for running B2B buyer persona research

We recommend that you: engage stakeholders throughout and use their previous data; base personas on prospects too, not just existing customers; bring personas to life for greater longevity; update the personas as buyer habits change.

Chris Wells
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