B2B Buyer Persona Research: Truth Over Templates
The power of a strong B2B buyer persona is undeniable. In the past, creating them brought a competitive advantage for companies that used them. Today, it’s more than just a benefit; it’s a necessity. However, if your personas are so generic that you can’t effectively reach your target audiences, you might want to think about basing those personas on a firmer foundation of truth.
According to HubSpot, using buyer personas makes websites 2-5 times more effective and easier to use by target audiences. Additionally, buyer personas enable personalized emails that improve click-through rates by 14%, conversion rates by 10%, and drive 18 times more revenue than broadcast emails.
As a B2B marketer, if you’re not investing time and resources to understand your customers at a deeper level, you’re likely falling behind your competitors who are. But if you’ve tried to DIY your buyer persona research through “how-to” guides you’ve Googled, you’ve just wasted your time. Many DIY personas are so templated, generic, or irrelevant that they can’t help you deliver effective messaging that resonates.
B2B buyer persona research isn’t one size fits all — it has to be tailored to suit your unique business needs. For example, you may think you know which personas you should be targeting, but are you absolutely sure who the key decision maker is? If so, do you know what makes them tick? Do you know what messages resonate best with them? Do you know where they turn to for information during the buyer’s journey? These are the questions that customized B2B buyer persona research can answer for you.
Below, we’ve laid out six case studies of clients who came to us for B2B buyer persona research. As you’ll see, none of them built their personas based on a simple template. And, without buyer persona research, many of these clients would have failed to understand the truth about prospects, buyers, and the market landscape.
Research Finding #1: Will the Real Decision Maker Please Stand Up?
Yes, We Spend Time Together, But Truly I’m Not That Important
The context: A Global Solutions Provider wanted to better understand the needs of IT buyers who worked at SMB’s. Our client provided hypotheses around two buyer personas for us to explore, along with other personas of interest.
Independently, we sourced and recruited 49 in-depth interviews that consisted of decision makers across three specific verticals. Our research confirmed the two buyer personas this client suspected were involved in the buyer’s journey, the IT Buyer and Procurement Specialist — but neither were decision makers. We discovered two additional personas, Finance Leaders and Business Owners, who were the actual decision makers.
Given this, one of our recommendations was that our client create ready-made business cases for the IT Buyer and Procurement Specialist personas, so they would be able to have effective conversations with the real decision makers — Finance Leaders and the Business Owner.
- The real decision makers may not be the buyers you spend the bulk of your time with.
- At times, you have to write messaging that someone else delivers on your behalf.
Sailing Into the Unknown — Not Once, But Twice.
The context: This SaaS provider wanted to confirm which buyer personas in their space were decision makers, budget owners, and influencers. They had a pretty good idea of who their three personas were — or so they thought.
After 36 interviews, our research validated those three personas were important to the buying process but we also revealed two additional, critical buyer personas. While the first set of personas were involved in the buying process, the newly discovered personas held final authority and decision-making power.
Additionally, our research revealed a huge opportunity for our client to leapfrog competitors. Interviewees expressed a need for solutions to be more user-friendly with the COVID-19 work-from-home environment. We provided deeper insight into what was important to each buyer persona and recommended our client explore adding additional capabilities to their solution to better support remote workers.
- B2B buyer persona research may reveal personas you weren’t expecting.
- B2B buyer persona research can reveal trends or pain points amongst buyers and influencers, leading to new opportunities.
Research Finding #2: I’m Complicated, You’ll Have to Learn to Live With That
Look Before You Leap Into a New Vertical
The context: A data analytics company came to us for buyer persona research. This organization wanted to explore a new vertical for future sales efforts. Our client had an idea of who their buyer personas were, but didn’t know how to reach them or what things were important to them.
Through nine in-depth interviews, we found that the chief buyer persona in this space would be hard to reach. Working for research universities, this individual had major budget constraints. They would often consider an open-source tool before looking to buy. Hence, our client would have to be clever about messaging and pricing strategies to land them.
We recommended our client offer their solution at a lower cost and add equity into startups assisted by university tech transfer offices (TTOs). As TTOs facilitate the commercialization of research, this would help our client gain exposure with the target persona. Additionally, our client would send the message that they genuinely cared about the pain points of the vertical and possibly land a long-term buyer.
- Stepping into a new vertical can present serious marketing challenges. Conducting B2B buyer persona research up front can save you from major headaches later on.
- Research can reveal valuable insights for your personas, like a persona’s mindset, major constraints, pain points, and opportunities.
The Size of the Playing Field Matters
The context: This SaaS company came to us with hypotheses they wanted us to validate about eight existing personas.
After 45 IDI’s, our research revealed that these personas were the correct targets if a persona’s job title was the only variable. Yet, more was in play. We found that an individual persona’s needs varied greatly depending on the size of the company they worked for.
We found three clear company divisions: start-up, scaling, and established. Our research revealed the need for marketing strategies based on company size. For companies in the start-up phase, we recommended our client promote themselves as a solution that would take the leg-work off of smaller teams. For companies in the scaling phase, we recommended our client provide educational content that would simplify the integration process. This would reduce customer churn as the organization grew. Additionally, our client should promote the implementation of new modules since customers are less likely to leave a vendor they have invested in. For companies in the established phase, we recommended our client present themselves as a holistic solution. This strategy would resonate best with these personas as they are typically looking for an all-in-one solution.
- There may be more dividing your buyer personas than just titles and responsibilities. B2B buyer persona research can reveal these nuances.
Research Finding #3: The Best Strategy Isn’t Always the Most Obvious One
Focusing on the Trustworthy
The context: Frustrated with poor research findings they received from a different research vendor, this investment research firm wanted to gain a deeper understanding of their buyers.
We discovered that this organization’s target buyer spent a lot of time online. As a result, we adjusted our research to gather information on how they spent this time. Our research uncovered the specific websites, social media influencers, podcasts, and news sources these buyers followed.
We recommended our client reach out to the influencers these buyers focused on. Social media influencers offered the best partnership opportunities, maximizing target audience exposure and ROI. Additionally, we recommended our client focus on exclusivity in their messaging.
Utilizing this strategy would give our client a way to showcase their exclusive dataset, which was information that a prospect could not get from a competitor.
- Letting someone else sing your praises can be a good thing.
- B2B buyer persona research might require additional sources of information beyond IDI’s, such as researching social media.
Personal Growth Can Come Before Organizational Success
The context: One of our clients, a small software company, was dancing with giants and they needed a way to compete more effectively. Given this landscape, our client needed to make smart decisions about how to market and how to sell if they were to survive.
After conducting eight interviews with individuals who influenced business solution purchases, our research revealed that target buyers cared as much about technical capabilities as they cared about using tools that let them grow and develop their skill set outside of their current role.
To help our client target this persona more effectively, we recommended they appeal to the user’s desire to increase their marketable skills. For example, our client could offer training and certifications. This would send the message that adopting the solution would provide a recognizable skillset that could accelerate their career.
- Personal growth is always top of mind, even when it’s a business making the decision.
B2B Buyer Persona Research: Skip the Basics
A closet full of white t-shirts and khaki pants won’t get you noticed. Neither will a persona built on rudimentary templates. Instead, B2B buyer personas should contain a great deal of truth, challenge the organizations that read them, be full of nuanced insights — and much like a snappy wardrobe, help your organization stand out in the crowd for all the right reasons.
So here is a bit of homework for you to think about. If you created your buyer personas from a Google template and you’re not getting through to your customers or prospects, give us a call. We have the context and expertise needed to deliver customized research with actionable insights. But only if you’re a B2B tech company.
This blog post is brought to you by Cascade Insights, a firm that provides market research & marketing services exclusively to organizations with B2B tech sector initiatives. Want to learn more about the people behind your personas? Our B2B buyer persona research can help. For more information on all types of B2B market research, visit What is B2B Market Research.
Special thanks to Sean Campbell, Co-Founder & CEO, Tyler Honsinger, Director of Research, Alissa Sauer, Senior Quantitative Consultant, Hercules Randolph, Senior Consultant, Celeste Palacios, Senior Research Analyst, and Cody Peters, Account Manager, for advising on this piece.
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