Imagine your company is about to launch a new product. As a B2B marketer, it’s your job to lead the charge on developing buyer personas. You need to gain insights into the people who will be buying your company’s new product.
To begin your research, you scroll through Google and see dozens of guides with instructions on creating your own buyer personas. There are templates you can fill out. They have checklists you can follow. There are sample interview questions for you to ask your current customers.
Initially, this may seem promising. However, given the importance of getting this research right—and the level of risks that are involved—DIY buyer persona research can be added to a growing list of things that are better left for the professionals.
Other projects like updating your kitchen, changing out your snow tires, or cutting your own hair may all seem like things you could potentially handle on your own. However, unexpected setbacks are bound to pop up along the way. These setbacks threaten to leave you with results that range from lackluster (at best) to catastrophic (at worst).
Similarly, marketers who attempt to take on a buyer persona research project on their own can expect to face setbacks that result in a reduced quality of output. These issues can lead to generic, run-of-the-mill, and sometimes even inaccurate information for companies.
How Do I Know If My Company Needs Buyer Personas?
Before further exploring the risks of DIY buyer persona research, it’s important to first address whether or not this is a project that your company needs. There could be a variety of reasons that precipitate a company requiring this type of research, but a good rule of thumb to follow is: Whenever there is any doubt that you are saying the right things to the right people, you need buyer persona research.
In the example above, your company launching a new product should warrant you conducting buyer persona research. This will confirm who the specific buyer of that product will be. Once confirmed, you’ll be able to align your company around effectively marketing and selling to them.
Or, perhaps you’ve noticed the market shifting slightly. You get the sense that you’re no longer speaking to the right person in the buying decision process. At one point, IT leaders were the primary influencers in the buying decision process. However, you’ve noticed that shift toward LoB leaders in recent years. In this case, it’s critical to research your buyer personas in order to verify who is making the primary buying decisions.
Feeling any sort of uncertainty about the people that you are targeting with your messaging should trigger buyer persona research. Without this crucial foundational research, it’s impossible to develop messaging that speaks to the right person.
Risks of DIY Buyer Persona Research
Once you’ve established that buyer persona research is needed, you then have to decide how to best gather it. Marketers who attempt to tackle this project on their own tend to run into some common setbacks. Here are the five greatest risks we see marketers making while attempting to conduct buyer persona research on their own:
1. You may not have the time needed.
Although you’ll start the project when you have the time, you may find yourself needing to hit pause as more urgent issues pop up. For example, a digital ad that you are running may not be performing well, and you need to figure out why. A glitch in your email marketing platform may prevent you from sending something out on a certain date, and you need to find a workaround. A change in your organization’s priorities may force you to immediately redo pieces of marketing creative.
As these issues arise, you may find you just do not have the time needed to commit to this project. When we conduct buyer persona research, it typically takes about 5-7 weeks. We have the manpower and resources to deliver quickly, without the daily distractions of all the other duties you are handling.
2. You’ll only hear from your current customers.
Marketers who attempt to conduct their own buyer persona research often only hear from their current customer base. We believe this is a mistake. In order for you to be able to thoroughly understand the complete market landscape that exists, you need to hear from those that may never have even considered your solution before. You also need to hear from those that decided to purchase from a competing company.
Once you tap into the reasons why certain buyers have never previously considered your solution (or those that chose a competing solution), you will be better equipped to deliver marketing that resonates beyond your current customer base.
3. Research typically is not part of a marketer’s duties.
Between setting marketing strategy, delivering campaigns, testing creative pieces, and more, B2B marketers have a lot to accomplish under strict timelines and tight budget parameters. To ensure maximum ROI, marketers need to first know that their messaging is targeting the right people through buyer persona research. However, a B2B marketer’s job duties will seldom include conducting their own market research on top of their already pressing primary responsibilities.
Since our primary job responsibility is conducting market research, we have the time and resources to execute such projects thoroughly. When interviewing buyers, we don’t simply read off questions that we’ve written down. We probe for insights, ask questions that keep conversations flowing naturally, and clarify why certain capabilities impress them. We ask about the perceived value of your differentiators, push them to describe “missing features,” and more. By digging deeper into certain responses, we can unlock the specific buying insights that we know you need.
4. You’ll get biased answers from your salespeople.
Utilizing your sales team to gather insights on the people they speak with is a great tactic for marketers to better understand their customers. However, when it comes to using their experiences to learn about their customers’ buying behaviors, they may have a biased outlook.
Because salespeople often interact with buyers during the final portion of the buyer’s journey, they may have a skewed perception of what that full process looks like. For example, salespeople may believe that C-level executives are the most important persona to target in marketing materials. However, it’s often a director, manager, or another position that’s in charge of discovering different vendors. So, those are actually the people that need to be marketed to. Developing buyer personas for those types of positions, rather than C-level positions, would be much more valuable for your company.
5. Experienced researchers can tap into industry insights.
With more than 15 years of experience in the B2B technology sector, we understand certain things about the field based on the past research we’ve conducted. For example, we know to not waste time building a procurement persona (even though sales interacts with them) because they are not the ultimate decision-maker. In the earlier example above, we understand C-level executives rarely search out for new vendors on their own. So, we wouldn’t focus our buyer persona research on them either. By tapping into these types of insights, marketers can save themselves time and money in the long run.
Buyer Persona Research: Pass by the Pitfalls
One of the most popular games during the early days of console gaming Pitfall by Activision (the same company that is now known for more modern titles like the Call of Duty series). In order to find a variety of treasures spread throughout the game, the main character Pitfall Harry first needs to navigate around snakes, quicksand, crocodiles, and more.
B2B Marketers are like Pitfall Harry, searching for treasure like leads, revenue, and new customers. All the while, they are dodging dangers like bad messaging, not enough time, and a lack of buyer understanding. Unlike Pitfall Harry, who had to take on his journey without a supporting cast, you don’t have to do it alone. You can pass by the pitfalls. But first, you have to ask for some help.
As experienced B2B market researchers, we can help you avoid the traps, the crocodiles, and the missteps. Instead of running headlong into the jungle as Pitfall Harry did, drop us an email or a phone call. We’ll get you past those pitfalls without fail.
With over 15 years of experience in the B2B technology sector, Cascade Insights can ensure you are saying the right things to the right people with our buyer persona market research services.
Special thanks to Sean Campbell, CEO, and Philippe Boutros, Chief of Staff, for advising on this piece.