How to use B2B buyer personas in a targeted marketing strategy

How to use B2B buyer personas in a targeted marketing strategy

B2B buyer personas provide fictional profiles of your typical buyers. Each persona, typically developed using qualitative market research insights, represents a different group of your B2B customers or prospects. Companies use personas to target their sales and marketing efforts with more accuracy and personalization.

Why B2B buyer personas matter

No two B2B customers are exactly alike – each one has their own unique idea of what the perfect product or service looks like. That’s why using a one-size-fits-all sales strategy will likely decrease your win ratio and waste your marketing budget.

A fully personalized strategy for each and every prospective buyer would be ideal, but rarely feasible. Even for a B2B company with tens of clients, the resources required would be extraordinary – let alone for those with hundreds, thousands, or hundreds of thousands.

This is where buyer personas can help. They are a great way to get an understanding of the wants and needs of different, typical groups in your target market. Once your teams know what these different groups tend to look for and why, they can target them much more effectively.

As a high level example, Gartner has identified four B2B enterprise personas in relation to product purchase decisions. These are the traditionalists, fence-sitters, adventurers, and transformers.

Fence-sitters, at 39% of the market, represent the most common persona. They struggle to commit to buying decisions but are among the most open to seeking innovation. 

While traditionalists are the least common – 9% of the market – they are the most likely to complete ambitious or premium purchases, so still well worth marketing and selling to. But their low risk appetite and lack of openness to change means the sale will be difficult.

This is an example of a needs-based persona. There are several different types you can use, e.g. a role-based or behavior-led persona, depending on the best fit for your sales and marketing objectives.

If used, these personas would then have the detailed information that sales and marketing teams need to inform their approach. Each persona would specify customer preferences around product information sources, communications, purchase criteria, business challenges, and so on.

In short, using B2B personas can:

  • Inform how to target messages throughout the marketing funnel
  • Optimize your channel usage
  • Help your sales team to engage different buyer types
  • Prioritize higher-value or ideal customer types
  • Support account-based marketing
  • Inform new product development
  • Help UX teams make changes to usability
Contents

What are B2B buyer personas?

B2B buyer persona variables

How to research B2B buyer personas

Designing memorable personas for targeted marketing

Measuring persona-based marketing campaigns

Best practices for creating buyer personas in B2B

What are B2B buyer personas?

These personas use (mainly) qualitative data to create a fictional profile of a typical buyer representing a group of your customers or prospects.

In that way, they differ from B2B market segmentation research. A market segmentation is a statistical analysis of quantitative data to robustly categorize your target audience.

Weighing up the different outputs provided by the quantitative and qualitative research methods: 

  • Segmentations provide the strength in numbers required to inform or validate your sales and marketing decisions
  • Buyer personas help your teams understand what customers want or need and why, so they can target them more accurately

Arguably, the qualitative nature of personas often makes them easier to integrate into your processes and systems. A segmentation needs to be applied accurately and requires scenario-specific data that you may not always have during marketing activity planning.

Also, resembling more ‘art’ than the precise science of segmentations can feel more intuitive to your teams and therefore easier to use. A data-heavy approach can create segments that are statistically optimal, but impractical if your colleagues can’t recognize them among your customers.

B2B personas tend to reflect the longer, more complex selling process in comparison to consumer sales. Purchasers of business products and services tend to be less open to persuasion and want to feel like they’re finding their own way through the buyer journey.

Compared to B2C, they are also more likely to be buying something that others in their business will use, not them.

There could be different roles in the decision-making process such as an initiator, influencer, buyer, end-user, and final decision-maker. The purchase decision could involve several different departments as a result.

B2C brands use buyer personas to:

  • Quickly and easily sell to a group of consumers with similar traits
  • Meet their more transactional needs – ad hoc solutions for simple tasks
  • Target one consumer by demographic information e.g. age, gender, location, etc.

B2B personas differ from consumer ones in several ways – they need to help companies:

  • Sell to different buyer types throughout a relatively longer, multi-stage sales process
  • Secure a long-term partnership via repeat business or an ongoing service
  • Meet the needs of several stakeholders e.g. different departments
  • Target clients based on business profile e.g. industry, company size, revenue, etc.

B2B buyer persona variables

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

Variables include criteria such as:

  • Organization type: Divided by sector, number of staff, revenue, location, etc.
  • Decision-maker type: E.g. buyer vs end-user, or by job title – CFO, IT director, etc.
  • Needs and wants: Based on more subjective factors such as how they prioritize price, brand reputation, ease of use, etc.
  • Behavior: Based on what they have previously bought and their typical purchase habits
  • Profitability or potential: Based on factors such as expected lifetime customer value or likelihood to purchase

However, basing a business persona on either one of these approaches has its limitations – they can provide a narrow or restrictive view of the target audience. Arguably, the most interesting foundation to build B2B personas on is via a jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) framework.

Grounding buyer persona research in the JTBD framework helps to identify why buyers use your products and services more precisely. In some circumstances, it can also shed light on undiscovered opportunities in adjacent markets or with previously underserved customer groups.

How to research B2B buyer personas

At the start of a buyer persona research project, seek the input of key stakeholders who will use your outputs or oversee their rollout in your business.

They’ll likely have proprietary information or secondary data worth reviewing at the outset, such as:

  • Customer behavior data from a CRM platform, analytics or other intelligence tools
  • Customer engagement with your social media channels
  • Customer satisfaction feedback or survey results

Your buyer persona design should build on data you already have – or at least acknowledge it, if your latest research disproves old assumptions.

Use exploratory qualitative research interviews with your existing customers to get the insights you need for the buyer personas. However, your customers alone may not represent the target market comprehensively.

By including prospects in your research, you’ll likely get a more complete view of the different buyer groups out there. Also, running B2B competitive intelligence research will reveal to what extent your rivals are satisfying or failing to meet their needs.

Key stakeholders need to see how the personas are developing at key milestones during the research process, so they can prepare to factor them into their long-term planning.

Collaborate with them at in-person or virtual workshops during the primary research and when finalizing the results. You may need to work through some change management if the personas challenge previous assumptions about your customers.

Designing memorable personas for targeted marketing

To be effective, each buyer persona should be a unique customer description – tailored completely to your business, customers, and prospects.

They must have the relevant information your sales or marketing team needs to understand the different groups and target them effectively.

Personas don’t need to describe ideal customers – often, it will be more useful if they are based on buyers you regularly come across.

It’s common to include the following, plus any other specific customer data your teams need:

  • Profile – e.g. job title, years in role, department, company size, and industry
  • Information sources – e.g. preferences in terms of online / offline research, use of independent sources, and social media
  • Comms preferences – do they prefer a direct email or informational blog, and so on
  • Purchase criteria – which do they prioritize out of criteria such as value for money, premium quality, brand reputation, specific features, and customer support?
  • Influence – how big a part do they play in the final purchase-decision?
  • Pain points – what are the most common frustrations to target?

The final materials need to be memorable and useful as an engaging representation of buyers.

If they’re too dry or not distinct enough, your teams may not use them often enough.

B2B personas need to be easy to use and share, so always make them stand out with visualization techniques or even vox pop videos to help bring them to life.

Measuring persona-based marketing campaigns

Once you start using your personas to target marketing efforts, monitor their performance – e.g. via your B2B marcomms or sales figures – to make sure they’re delivering results.

As a more qualitative type of output compared to quantitative segmentations, this isn’t straightforward, but there are a few ways to do it.

Set goals to measure the personas against. Are you using them to improve conversions, generate leads, improve customer loyalty or something else?

Your goals will determine which metrics to track – for example, for lead generation, track the number of form submissions, sign-ups, downloads, and so on. Try using A/B testing to compare the changes resulting from using your personas versus not using them.

Alternatively, if introducing personas is the only major recent change to your marketing strategy, you can do a before and after comparison. Compare your marketing results while acting on the personas to the data obtained before you started using them.

Buyer personas rarely remain accurate forever. External factors and trends can have a major impact on buyer behavior over time and new technologies or channels may change their buying process.

Important details in your personas might change, or a completely new buyer group may emerge that needs precise targeting. So, keep sense-checking your personas at regular intervals, or when you think an external factor is disrupting your sector.

Best practices for creating buyer personas in B2B

#1 Create enough personas to avoid missing opportunities…

Make sure there’s a persona for each key group in your customer base and among the different types of prospects you’re targeting.

And if you’re looking to grow inorganically then ensure customers in new markets are well represented too as part of your go-to-market strategy.

Take care not to miss revenue opportunities due to overlooking a key group in your set of marketing personas.

#2 …But don’t make too many personas

However, there’s a balance to strike. If you create too many personas, your marketing and sales teams will find the set too difficult to use as intended.

To be memorable and relatable, the personas need to be distinct and there should not be much overlap between them.

If you think there’s a risk of creating too many personas at the analysis stage, then try not to focus on any niche customer types that do not represent a relatively high value opportunity.

#3 Ensure the personas work in tandem with your segmentation

You design a segmentation and persona in different ways. So, it stands to reason that your personas won’t be exact copies of your segments otherwise what’s the point of having both?

But buyer personas should not contradict your B2B market segmentation. Any sales or marketing persona data should work with your existing processes so that it’s not standalone.

Use an existing segmentation to create hypotheses to test that your detailed buyer persona research will either validate, challenge or interpret differently.

When creating your buyer personas, sense check them against your segmentation. As explored earlier, a segmentation provides robust research data to inform your actions, but buyer personas explain the reasons behind customers’ wants, needs, and decisions.

Both help you sell and market to customers more effectively.

Summary

Why B2B buyer personas matter

Using B2B personas can: inform how to target marketing messages; optimize your channel usage; help sales teams to engage different buyer types; prioritize higher-value or ideal customer types; inform new product development; and help UX teams make changes to usability.

What are B2B buyer personas?

These personas use qualitative data to create fictional profiles of typical buyers that each represent a group of your customers or prospects.

B2B buyer persona variables

As with segmentations, there are many different approaches you can take to design buyer personas. Variables include criteria such as: organization type; decision-maker type; needs and wants; behavior; profitability or potential.

How to research B2B buyer personas

At the start of a buyer persona research project, seek the input of key stakeholders who will use your outputs or oversee their rollout in your business. Use exploratory qualitative research interviews with your customers to get the insights you need for the buyer personas. Also consider including prospects and some competitor research.

Designing memorable personas for targeted marketing

It’s common to include the following, plus any other specific data your teams need: profile; information sources; comms preferences; purchase criteria; influence; pain points.

Measuring persona-based marketing campaigns

Your goals will determine which metrics to track – for example, for lead generation, track the number of form submissions, sign-ups, downloads, and so on. Try using A/B testing to compare the changes resulting from using your personas versus not using them. Or if introducing personas is the only major recent change to your marketing strategy, you can do a before and after comparison.

Best practices for creating buyer personas in B2B

We recommend that you: create enough personas to avoid missing opportunities; but don’t make too many personas; ensure they work in tandem with your segmentation.

Chris Wells
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