5 step plan to build personas for internal audiences

Are B2B marketers forgetting a key audience group? Serai Schueller explains the importance of internal personas

It’s no surprise, the better you understand your audiences, the better you can connect, communicate and inspire action. For decades, marketers have used buyer personas to do just this. By painting semi-fictional descriptions of an ideal audience group, marketers force themselves to articulate the most important details about the people they want to reach. As such, they can craft personalized communications to evoke that coveted, 'someone-gets-me' feeling from a specific audience.

Yet, there's a missed opportunity.

In over 500 interviews and surveys with marketing, IT, and creative professionals from around the world, we learned that organizations do not leverage personas to their fullest potential. Of those that even use them, the majority (66%) only use customer personas. And, while customer personas are incredibly important, marketers are ignoring another key audience - their very own colleagues and internal teams.

The value of internal personas

In today’s complex marketing environment, B2B marketers wear many hats. Between complicated team dynamics, hierarchies and processes, it’s tough to keep operations running smoothly. No matter how well-intentioned, many marketing teams struggle to effectively and efficiently communicate and connect internally. At first, these hiccups cause only minor frustrations.

But compounded over time, internal breakdowns can have devastating effects on the health of your organization. These disconnects divide teams, waste resources, injure morale, tarnish your brand, and ultimately impact the customer’s experience.  

So, what can you do?

Just as you strategize to reach audiences outside of your organization, you need to do the same within your own walls. By building personas for internal audiences, you equip your team with a guidebook on how to collaborate and engage with one another. While personas aren’t the silver bullet to organizational harmony, they're a foundational step in the right direction. Personas challenge people to think and speak from their audience’s point of view. So, rather than a 'marketing executor' persona wasting time talking to a 'marketing executive' persona about the nitty-gritty details of a project, they're reminded to keep the conversation high-level.

By outlining details like decision-making responsibilities and priorities for each persona, people know who to involve at which point in a process and when. Ultimately these efficiencies lead to improved processes and communications that move your brand forward.

How to build internal personas

Creating personas for your marketing organization doesn’t have to be a big undertaking. Typically three to five personas will do the trick. Anything more may be too specific, while anything less may not account for all key audiences.

To get started, I recommend following this five-step plan:

1. Identify gaps in people and processes

Write down what’s working and not working within your marketing function, taking into account information you gather from others. Does the team communicate effectively with outside partners and departments? Which processes and activities are inefficient?

Brainstorm any and all redundancies, performance shortfalls, serial misunderstandings and blind spots that impact your organization and customers.You’ll be amazed at the insights that surface during this exercise and how easily you can remedy some of them!

2. Outline the first draft for your personas

Think through the different marketing roles and responsibilities within your organization. Referencing the list you created in step one, ask yourself which groups share the same challenges, motivations, and perspectives. Bucket like-minded audience segments under a unique persona name.

Keep persona names descriptive enough to be self-explanatory, but broad enough to absorb audience changes that occur over time. For example, the persona name 'marketing executor' is simple yet informative. You know immediately that these are the folks that make the big ideas happen. And although their tactics and responsibilities may change over time, their persona name holds strong.

From here, fill in persona details such as who they are (i.e. graphic designer), what they want to know (i.e. big picture vs. tactics), what motivates them, and what decisions they are responsible for. Having these clearly defined personas establishes a shared understanding among the team of how to effectively collaborate with each persona.

3. Gather input, revise, rinse, and repeat

After formalizing your personas, put them to the test. Get others involved to help flush out the redundancies, gaps and assumptions. Hold focus groups with two to three people at a time. Or get individuals from each of your personas in the same room to collaborate and provide feedback on your persona draft.

Lastly, be transparent. Explain the challenges you faced when putting together each persona. Share breakdowns you discovered in step one and use your conversation as a forum to crowdsource fresh ideas for your persona descriptions. Incorporate feedback, repeating as necessary.

4. Roll out personas

Since you involved much of the team in step three, your personas likely don’t contain a lot of surprises. Regardless, schedule time with the marketing team for an official rollout. Use this as an opportunity to highlight key learnings from step one and explain how personas can help address these people and process gaps.

Find creative ways to drive user adoption. For example, explain how personas can benefit the team, so they understand what’s in it for them. Or provide actionable and realistic examples of situations where personas could come in handy.

Beyond this, share your personas with other non-marketing departments. It helps for other teams to understand the way you work, should collaboration opportunities arise. And, who knows, you may even inspire them to create personas of their own!

5. Be open to change

Ideally, your personas should work long term. However, business is never stagnant. From reorganization to staff upskilling and priority shifts, your internal audiences can quickly change and evolve. If your internal audiences start to look different over time, update your personas to keep them accurate. Keep your personas active and top of mind by ensuring that everyone including new hires, utilizes them and applies audience insights to the way they work, communicate and collaborate with others. This way when change hits it’s your natural inclination to revisit your personas.

Final thoughts: The chain reaction

Your customers make up a crucial audience that cannot be ignored. However, to succeed as a B2B marketer today you need also to consider how key audiences are connected. While it’s tempting to sort out the kinks with your internal audiences later, you need to think about how they impact traditional audiences like your buyers. If your internal teams fail to collaborate and communicate, you’ll struggle to present a unified brand to the outside world. If your internal processes are broken and inefficient, you’re taking time away from serving your customers. And, if your marketing team can’t work in harmony together, team morale and corporate culture will suffer, poisoning the attitudes and behaviors of the people that directly interact with your customers.

So what do you think? Is it time to take a look inside the walls of your organization and pay attention to the internal audiences that power your brand?

B2B Marketing Spring 2018

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B2B Marketing Spring 2018