Your Top Ten Questions About B2B Buyer Personas

Recently, we partnered with Demand Gen Report to present a webinar about the power of personas. During the session, I encouraged our B2B marketing friends to create them, or if they already had done so, to pull them out of the drawer and get motivated to use them more effectively to create engaging content and more qualified leads.

Our webinar was one of the most popular and well-attended in Demand Gen Report’s webinar series, and our participants had a lot of insightful questions! Here are the answers to ten of them, plus a bonus I wanted to share.

Question #1. What role should Sales play in the development process?
It’s important to ensure both Sales and Marketing are in alignment from a segment prioritization perspective.

You will also want Sales’ agreement in defining what makes up the profile of the people and the organizations within those segments. Your company needs a common definition of the market that you’re going after, and of a lead, so the marketing and sales teams work together collaboratively and efficiently.

Question #2. We’ve developed personas, but they aren’t getting used. Any thoughts or suggestions on how to activate them?
This is a very common challenge. I would recommend first trying to answer these key questions: Do your personas really represent your buyers’ perspectives? Do they focus on particular segments in a meaningful enough way? Do they identify pain points? Do they specifically identify the process that person went through? If you have a persona document that says things like, “We really care about reliability,” or “Service is really important to us,” chances are you might have a persona that’s not well-executed or useful. Try going back to the research to see if it can be retooled.

If you think your personas contain many critical buy-cycle insights, confirm that your sales team is aware of how and when to use them. Also, look within your marketing organization to make sure your extended teams understand how to use them. As a marketing leader, you should establish the expectation and the mandate that both Sales and Marketing utilize your personas, and you should help them understand what that means.

Question #3. How often should we refresh and update personas?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. But if you’re serving a more mature market that isn’t subject to changing dynamics, you can probably stretch out the shelf life of your personas. You may find that they work even longer than a year. On the opposite end, if you’re looking at personas that might be targeted at an emerging or new market that is still immature, or a product / solution that is newer to your organization, they may need updating more than once a year.

The time before retirement will also depend on the feedback coming in from your team members using the personas in their respective roles. So bottom line, it’s a judgment call.

Question #4. We are in the early stages of persona use and development. When can we expect to begin seeing the results of our persona use?
Generally, you’re looking at one to three months to implement successful buyer personas. A big driver is the time it takes to schedule interviews with prospects and customers to get the insights you need. It’s important to make sure your teams are in agreement about upfront tasks like defining segments and profiles. If those alignment pieces are already in place, then you’re ahead of the game. If not, and you feel that there is a disconnect between Marketing and Sales, then you’ll need to allow some time to get through that.

When it comes to conducting the actual interviews, you’re likely trying to fit this into a lot of competing priorities that both you and your profile interview subjects have. If you’re looking to condense your time frame, outsourcing is a way to complete the process faster.

Question #5. In the interview process, how many influencers vs. buyers within the company should we engage?
This depends on how important all the influencers are to getting your deals done. We have clients that have dedicated influencer personas because they matter that much. It’s always a good rule of thumb to start with decision-makers.

Question #6. Do you have best practices on how you approach customers and prospects to participate in an interview with you? What’s in it for them?
Believe it or not, this is usually not a “hard sell.” We tell them we are a third party hired by “blank” that wants to hear about their experiences when they were looking to make a purchase decision. In some cases, we do offer an incentive for their time, anywhere from $50–$250 depending on title seniority.

Question #7. How significant is the move from general persona work around a role, vs. adding vertical / industry overlay? Do you see those rates go up significantly?
It depends on how specialized buyer needs are for your industry. In some cases, vertical specialization insight is not important. But if you sell based on a vertical approach and buyer needs and drivers tend to be very different across industries, then conducting an appropriate number of interviews across these industries will matter.

Question #8. Is this type of work critical to supporting ABM (account-based marketing) programs?
Personas might be less germane to ABM if you are truly working off a list of specific accounts (versus a profile of accounts) for your ABM efforts. If it is a list of accounts, we see account profiling as more valuable than personas. If it is profile-based ABM, then personas can have a lot of value.

Question #9. Do you think we should provide persona details with the “lead / campaign details” that come over with each lead to Sales?
Yes — the more information you can provide to your sales team, the better. This is especially the case if they are aligned and on board with the strategy of utilizing personas.

Question #10. Would a “journalistic approach” to developing insights be a good tactical approach to creating personas in order to “tell a story,” rather than just providing data points?
Yes. Whatever research approach you adopt, the more you can get the buyer to tell you their detailed story, the better.

Bonus question: Can you recommend a persona template format we can get a copy of?
Yes, The Mx Group’s template! If you’re ready to start a persona project with a team of B2B marketing experts, get in touch and let’s get to work.

08/16/2017

About Tim Cook

Tim has more than 25 years of B2B marketing experience. He leads The Mx Group’s Client Services and Demand Generation departments. Previously, Tim held senior marketing positions at the global outsourcing firm Convergys, and served clients at McCann-Erickson and Resource Marketing. Tim completed his B.A. in English literature from Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts. He completed certificate programs in integrated marketing communications and change management at the Chicago Graduate School of Business.

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