Buyer personas are critical tools that allow us to create B2B marketing content that speaks directly to the wants and needs of the right people at the right time.
When you’re creating content, these basic questions have to be part of the initial discussion:
- Who is your target audience?
- Who are the decision makers and the influencers?
- Which of these personas do you want to target?
- Are your buyer personas documented for your content creators?
In most cases, our clients know who they’re targeting and have buyer personas they share with us. In practice, however, those personas often fall short in one or more areas.
How do you create buyer personas that help you create content that has the most value for your B2B buyers?
Job Roles: Aim for the Sweet Spot
Persona development starts with job functions and the titles that go along with them. You don’t need to get too narrow and focus only on a single title—for example, CEO. On the flip side, lumping too many roles together defeats the purpose of your persona.
Let’s look at an example. Say you’ve decided to focus on C-suite executives as a single persona. Under this umbrella, you’ve included these titles: CEO, COO, CFO, CIO, CHRO, CTO, CISO and CXO. (There are almost limitless other “C’s” you can add to this list, of course.)
Yes, at the highest level they all have a big-picture focus on the business goals and may share a few other common concerns. But looking at it realistically, how can you identify the pain points, key initiatives and other persona criteria to target these individuals accurately? The concerns and the perspective of a CFO will differ tremendously from a chief HRO. In fact, many concerns are likely to be diametrically opposed.
A good rule of thumb for setting persona boundaries is to focus on function and decision-making authority. Finance is a good focus. You can include decision-makers such as the CFO and VPs of finance (corporate, division, regional, etc.).
Profiles: Know Your Demos
When we talk about personas, we’re talking about buyer profiles. This necessarily involves making some generalizations. It doesn’t mean you think everyone in the group thinks and behaves in the same way. Economically, it makes sense to focus the most attention on those individuals who fall around the mean or average. In this way, you reach the maximum number of people in that group with your content. If outliers are important, you can create content specifically for those who fall on the tail ends of the bell curve.
Demographics provide some basic insights about your buyer persona and are typically easy to find with some quick research. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is a helpful resource.
Buyer personas are no place for idealism. Sure, we’d love to paint a picture of a powerful female IT professional and develop the persona around her. But the reality is that only 9.3% of computer network architects are women. While that number may be growing, you have to focus on the 90% to spend your content budget wisely. Conversely, women make up 70.3% of medical and health services managers and 76.8% of human resources managers.
Give Your Personas Some Personality
Titles and demographics are fundamentals, but some of the most important details focus on beliefs, behaviors and motivations. One way to gather this kind of information is to talk to your salespeople—the people who know your personas first-hand. These people on the front lines with your buyers can provide a wealth of insights into the psychographics of your personas.
Another option is to go to the source itself. Personas built on surveys of the roles you’re targeting are the deepest and most complete. In addition to multiple choice questions, don’t forget to include one or two open-ended questions that give respondents a chance to share their thoughts. You might ask, for instance, what their biggest fears are around their jobs.
Capture Key Factors
One of the biggest problems I see with buyer personas are major gaps. Often, there are no demographics or psychographics spelled out, despite snippets of both of built into the descriptions.
Here are the details you should include in your personas:
- Buying group role/decision-making authority
- Pain points/challenges
- Strategic initiatives/areas of special focus
- Buying triggers
- Evaluation criteria
- Information sources/watering holes
- Measures of success
- Potential objections
- How to talk to this person (messaging insights)
Where to Go for Information
There are a few key sources to collect the data you need, two of which I’ve already mentioned.
The first place to go is the Internet to collect general information. Look for job descriptions and demographics to create the foundation for your personas.
Next, talk to your sales team, solutions engineers—anyone who works directly with the people you’re targeting. And if you have the budget, survey your titles/roles.
With the increasing use of intent data, you can gather information from first-, second-, and third-party sources to gain insights into the content your personas are looking for and where they’re going to get it. Here’s a good primer to get started with intent data: “Intent Data Basics: Make The Content + Data Connection.”
For a quick read about persona mistakes to avoid, check out “Beware of These 4 Common Persona Mistakes.” To go deeper, talk with an expert strategist who can help you prepare a B2B persona development plan.
Brenda Caine is a senior content strategist at Content4Demand. She works with B2B clients on content marketing strategy, personas, messaging and ideation; content audits, gap analysis and content mapping; blogs; content development and more. Brenda has a black belt in karate, and when she’s not immersed in technology, you can find her dancing in the ballet studio, lifting weights at the gym or strolling down the avenue in a 1930s dress with a smart hat to match.