March, 2012 | motarme

What are Buyer Personas and Why Do You Need Them?

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The goal of Marketing for B2B companies is to generate awareness of and desire for our products or services.  To do this successfully we need to understand the customers we are targeting so we can reach them and persuade them to buy.

Specifically, we need to understand

  •  Who are they? – which industries, what kinds of companies, what kinds of jobs do they have?
  • What do they want? –What features of our products or services are most likely to appeal to them?  What alternatives do they consider?
  • How can we reach them? – where do they hang out online, what newsletters do they subscribe to, what conferences do they attend, what other sources of information do they use?

Sales people can develop this knowledge over time through regular interactions with customers and prospects.  But frequently Marketing either gets this information secondhand via Sales or not at all.  This makes it harder for us to identify the right target buyers and create the right kind of messaging.  This is a problem for all marketing activities, but it’s particularly important that we have good understanding of target buyers as we design new websites and online campaigns.

We use Buyer Personas to help fix this problem.  Buyer Personas are a way to summarize what we know about our customers and identify the gaps where we don’t know enough.  A buyer persona is a one or 2 page description of a  “Sweet Spot Customer” we are trying to acquire.  Most companies are targeting more than one kind of buyer or industry, so we may have about 3 to 4 personas to create.

To build these Buyer Personas we usually carry out some telephone interviews with about 5 to 7 existing customers or prospects.  The idea is that if we can understand our favorite customers and profile them then we can track down other companies and customers like them.   Each call takes about 10 minutes.

Typical questions include:

  • Why did you originally choose <company / product name>?
  • What were your top criteria when selecting the solution?
  • How did the supplier selection process work?
  • Who else was considered as a supplier?
  • What do you like about working with <company/product name>?
  • What could we do better?
  • How important is the solution we provide to your business?
  • How do you keep yourself informed about what’s going on in your industry?
  • What do you think is the best way for us to reach other people like you?

How Do You Develop Buyer Personas?

Step 1. Define your ‘Ideal customer’

The first step is to define your “Ideal Customer” – what kinds of businesses do you want to target?  The best way to start is to think about the customers you already have.  Which customers are your favorite and why?  Which customers really value and understand what you do?  Try ranking them using factors like revenue, profitability and ease of doing business.

Target sectors and companies

Once you have a ranked list of your favorite customers, start categorizing them into groups using factors like:

  • Their industry sectors
  • Their location
  • Size e.g. typical turnover, number of staff
  • The markets they targetYou will now have a list of ideal customers categorized into one or more target sectors.

Step 2. Identify the Typical People You Interact with at those Companies

For B2B products you normally have to sell to more than one person.  Some typical people involved could include an IT or technical evaluator, an end user, someone from procurement, the business owner and so on. Have a look at your recent sales and think about who you had to sell to on the client side.


Step 3. Interview Some of Your Customers

Carry out the interview with some representative customers.   It is important to do this on a person-to-person basis – you can’t build a Persona using an email survey or focus groups or research reports.  They have to be based on direct conversations between you and your customers. (You can use surveys and other data to build out the personas after you have completed the interviews).

As you complete your first interviews you and your marketing team will start to build up a clearer picture of your target customers’ jobs and what they are looking for in your solution.

Personas and customer profiles

Step 4. Draft the first personas

Now we summarize the description of a typical buyer into one or two pages of bullet point information.  This should list the key characteristics and attributes of this person.  This will include information like their age, gender and role. But unlike normal ‘customer profiles’, which describe things like demographic data, Personas also try to capture ‘softer’ information like the buyer’s attitudes, goals, behaviors and preferences.  You are trying to build a description that sounds like a real human being, not a statistical snapshot.

The Persona should describe what their needs and priorities are in relation to your type of product or service.  It’s a good idea to add a photograph or some other image of a person to help make the description seem real.

As a checklist when writing your Persona , ask the following:

  • Does the Persona sound like a real person?
  • Will this Persona help me when I’m making decisions about how to market to them or what features to add to my product?
  • Is my Persona description usable by others in the organisation – sales or product development?
  • Does the Persona highlight useful insights e.g. key concerns, things to avoid in our messaging?

Sample persona

Step 5. Enrich Your Personas with Market Research and Other Data

When you have completed your first draft you can add market research data to improve your personas.  For example, reports that predict change in the use of technology among your target buyers might be useful.  But this secondary research should only be used after you’ve actually spoken with some real customers.

Step 6. Message Map

When you’re confident that you have a  good set of personas, you can draft a short “message map” for each of them. A message map is a diagram that highlight the 4 or 5 top goals or concerns for each of your personas.  You use it to check that you’re marketing campaigns are relevant to your customers.  For example, if you are about to run an email campaign to some IT buyers, you can cross-check the campaign against the message map to make sure the points you make are relevant to their goals.

Message Map

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