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A practical guide to building B2B buyer personas

Buyer personas are actionable representations of the roles involved in buying and using your product. While sometimes overlooked, building personas is a critical step in your strategy to successfully engage prospects. While some prefer the term “customer personas”, the labels may be interchangeable as long as the focus remains documenting who they are, what they do, challenges they face, and relevant behaviours.  

When are personas developed? Personas provide meaningful detail beyond the information documented in segmentation. Using CRM terminology, segmentation identifies the right accounts and personas comprise your contacts. 

In the real world, persona building is an art form as much as a science. It is rare to be able to purchase a report with all the information you need, so be creative.

How to capture the right information

Start with secondary data to gain a baseline of intelligence. Analyst reports, blogs, competitors’ publications, product reviews, social media, and thought leadership are good sources. I once found a blog from an industry influencer outlining who facilities managers report to in hospitals. I was curious why someone would publish this, but it was precisely what I needed to map out organisational structure. Many analysts will do informational calls as well to augment published work.  

With your foundation in place, tap into your network for informational interviews. When you ask, be sure to clarify that this is purely a market research initiative and not a pitch. Encourage them to be as candid as possible and be open to raw feedback. Better to have assumptions shot down before spending money on a product launch. 

TIP: Involve key stakeholders early. Sales, support, and others offer vital customer information and alignment is important because your efforts may fall flat without buy-in. When I met a contact for lunch who fit our initial profile of a c-level decision-maker in the right market, I invited the sales director. I explained to both parties the purpose was not to sell anything but to delve into the customer’s expertise. Ultimately, the meeting was fruitful on multiple levels. The interviewee articulated why his segment would never buy but provided invaluable insights on who we should be targeting and why.  

Next, interview your internal product team, business development folks, channel partners, and executives. With the right mix, you should compile a trove of strategic and tactical perspectives and insights. 

Ideally, you will now want to gather primary customer data as well via surveys, interviews, or possibly focus groups depending on the type of product. From experience, an honorarium such as an Amazon gift card, can be very helpful to elicit participation in interviews. The amount should be commensurate with the interviewee’s level of responsibility, while not falling outside of relevant corporate guidelines. Be sure to give a heads up to finance or HR to avoid any later questions about propriety. 

Finally, you can augment your data by sitting in on sales calls, support calls, and attending events. A dual benefit here is the opportunity to identify future case study candidates. 

Questions to Answer: 

Who they are: 

  • Segment
  • Role
  • Typical titles
  • Position on the org chart
  • Firmographics

What they do: 

  • Responsibilities and initiatives
  • Challenges
  • Needs
  • Pain Points
  • Decision drivers
  • Role in the decision

Relevant behaviours:

  • Watering holes 
  • Preferred interactions
  • Applicable asset types
  • Resonant messaging

Roles to focus on:

  • User: primary user of your product or service. 
  • Gatekeeper: a potential impediment to getting your product into production. Examples include IT, legal, or an individual contributor with a limited purview of strategic objectives.   
  • Influencer: able to recommend your product. On a RACI chart, this role would be “consulted”. 
  • Decision-maker: ultimately approves the project. Depending on the account, there can often be different approvers for the vendor and the budget.

*Caveats: Specific individuals may occupy overlapping roles. For example, a user will often be an influencer or gatekeeper as well. Also, some marketers prefer to include an image reflecting what a specific persona typically looks like. I see pros and cons to this practice so go with your personal preference.  

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