What constitutes a useful buyer persona? What should you include in a buyer persona for your organization? There are differing opinions on the exact recipe. The field of persona development is similar to the art world — different practitioners have models and styles that work for them and their clients.
After researching the existing persona strategy within organizations of all sizes spanning startups to enterprise teams, industries from financial services to manufacturing software to mobile apps, I have distilled the complex formula for the perfect buyer persona down to one simple truth.
A persona is like a snowflake, and no two are the same.
The truth is, no matter which template or model or framework you follow, your personas should include the kind of actionable information that give your teams what they need to work smarter, and represent your business with real empathy toward the buyer.
What goes into a persona will be different for every company, but great personas do these eight things:
1. Guide Programs and Real Decisions
Cintell advisor and B-to-B marketing strategist Ardath Albee cautions that persona development should not be approached as a checklist item, or as something that is filed away in a drawer once completed. Instead, personas should be used as actionable tools to guide marketing programs and business decisions. As everyone in your company likely can’t get face time with real customers, personas should serve as the next-best thing.
2. Get Beyond a Job Title and Shallow Demographics
Mind the difference between database segmentation properties (like their industry, company size and more) and persona insights, which get a lot deeper into the life of your buyer. Researching this insight is your opportunity to get to know your buyers well beyond their job titles. It’s not important in a B-to-B setting to assume their favorite color or hobbies. Instead, great personas tell the larger story of their challenges, motivations and unique perspectives as professionals. They allow us to respect our audience with more relevant messaging than demographic segmentation alone.
3. Help Sales Sell With Empathy and Confidence
Sales enablement is about arming your front lines with the right messaging, materials, presentations and strategies to close more deals. But one common trap that derails many sales enablement plans is a myopic view of the world. We are really good at giving sales product-related messaging; to the point that we often forget their most critical skill is empathy. Personas should elicit that sense of being in the shoes of the buyer, and give sales a full and complete sense of what it’s like to be the person on the other end of the phone.
4. Become Accessible Across the Organization
It’s 10 a.m., do you know where your personas are? This phrase harkens back to the late-night PSAs that reminded parents to be watchful of their children, but has specific relevance to the sad, abandoned personas of the modern day. Don’t let your hard work result in a document living at the bottom of a desk drawer, or hidden deep within the company intranet. Marketers, if we want our teams to use these insights, we must make them easily accessible.
5. Unite and Unify Siloed Teams
One surprising, but very common issue we’ve found is that buyer insights are fragmented across businesses. Some teams have different pieces of the puzzle, but as a whole, the organization doesn’t agree on a common definition. To test this theory, walk down the hall and ask three various departments, “Who are our buyers?” You may hear three very different answers. This happens when businesses are operating under product-focused priorities without a common, unified view of the customer. Personas in this environment can unite functions, especially sales and marketing, when they are constructed in a collaborative way, and are used to represent one unified “truth” across the business.
6. Be Collaborative and Evolve Over Time
To that point, to be truly collaborative tools, personas should allow for the feedback of those interacting with buyers on a day-to-day basis. Your sales and service teams are an excellent source of insights, as they are constantly engaged in the world of real buyers. Allow them to give feedback easily, and be willing to change and update your personas accordingly. Position these personas not as a marketing mandate, but as a way of getting on the same page about the target audience so they — and everyone else in the business — can be more effective.
7. Include External Insights to Keep You in Tune With Changing Markets
When was the last time you updated your buyer personas? Did you know that nearly half of the folks researching B-to-B purchase decisions are Millennials? This emerging market segment has different research behaviors, expectations and preferences. If you’re not leveraging personas as the conduit for continual market research, you’re setting them up to become irrelevant. You may be missing out on key changes in your audience, such as new regulations or laws that are top-of-mind for your buyers. Great personas are current representations of the external trends and issues happening in their world, and the new and emerging buying habits within it.
8. Encompass the Full Buying Committee
For personas to be effective, they should represent all the individuals involved in making the purchase decision, and in B-to-B environments, that is almost always more than one person. Each has different priorities, different roles in the decision process, and call for different messaging. Understanding the influencers, users, advocates or detractors of a purchase will give you ammo for content marketing decisions across each unique journey.
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