B2B Buyer Personas

B2B Buyer Personas: Delete the Fluff

Sean Campbell
Authored bySean Campbell

The industry standard for B2B buyer personas is wanting. I frequently see buyer personas built by other vendors that read more like a dating profile than an exceptional piece of analysis and insight.

In these poorly amalgamated personas, significant time is spent on demographic details and personality traits of a buyer when other topics are far more critical.

Here are a few warning signs that your B2B buyer personas are too fluffy to be useful.

Overemphasis on Demographic Details

Yes, it matters (somewhat) if the IT buyer is 35 or 45 and the developer is 25. That said, ageist marketing isn’t something B2B marketers should strive for. Does it really matter to SaaS sales whether an IT director has gray hair and an application developer does not?

Overemphasis on Career Goals

Far too often, I see buyer personas that include generic career goals like, “aspires to be VP of marketing,” or “wants to build more modern applications.” Saying of a system administrator, “hopes to be IT director someday,” is just stating the obvious.

Generic career goals don’t really impact B2B sales or marketing efforts.

Style Over Substance

I am all for a good looking piece of work. But, sometimes, you can go too far. For example, a client showed our firm a persona that used the Star Wars logotype throughout, and each persona looked like a movie poster. What was the problem? The most profound insight in these B2B buyer personas was that the CIO reads either the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal and that they care about profitability.

Neither point should be considered insightful.

Sadly, the team that originally developed these buyer personas focused on the packaging rather than the insights.

Just Stating the Obvious

Is it helpful to say that developers learn from developer conferences? Or that IT professionals learn from training and certification courses? Both points are evident to any B2B marketer who has targeted technology buyers for more than two weeks.

If an eighth-grader can guess that the CEO is in charge of the company and that the director of marketing needs the VP of marketing’s approval…why are you including these points as worthwhile reading? Instead, focus on relationships that are unexpected or where power is shifting across roles in an organization.

General Purpose Learning

All too frequently, buyer personas mention general interest publications as a key source of information for a B2B buyer. For example, CIOs don’t get key business insights from the New York Times or the Economist. Why? Because these sources aren’t 100% targeted on a CIO’s needs.

Technology buyers turn instead to websites, forums, and communities (online/virtual) that are 100% tied to their niche. An excellent buyer persona should identify these sources and steer clear of references to media publications with a general business audience.

Cheesy Buyer Titles Like “Barry the Buyer”

The Star Wars theme example above had a persona named “Barry the Buyer.” Not all that insightful.

I’m not sure why it is, but this kind of thing abounds in buyer personas.

My best guess is that instead of going with what’s meaningful, these buyer persona writers played it cute. You can avoid the “Barry the Buyer” problem by having industry expertise. With industry knowledge, you can come with an insightful and charming title for each buyer — all without losing the industry context.

Irrelevant Data on Communication Preferences

All too often, communication preference insights are blunt and weak. For example, “If you want to contact a VP or C-Level inside an IT organization, send an email. For lower-level managers, leverage social media.” Not only is this implicitly ageist, but it also isn’t valuable information.

Instead, buyer personas should provide insight into the type of content they want to see when reviewing multiple vendors and their solutions. Is that specific persona more interested in whitepapers, webinars, attendance at a conference, access to a demo, an online environment, or something else entirely?

Also, what about initial outreach? Does each persona appreciate a packaged single piece of content, do they value an offer of a demo, a presentation, attendance at a conference, access to online materials, etc.

Focus On What You Can Use

Instead of playing it cute and filling a persona with fluff, focus on what you can use to affect sales and marketing efforts today and tomorrow.

Here are just a few suggestions for what to address the next time you build a B2B buyer persona:

  • How do buyers relate to each other and how do they motivate each other to decide on a given vendor? Too often, buyer personas read like each buyer is an island in the buying process when that’s never the case in a B2B sale.
  • What meaningful career goals can your company help each B2B buyer achieve?
  • How does each buyer rank their key buying criteria for solutions like yours? Price might be at the top of the list for one buyer, capabilities for another, and integration challenges for a third.
  • When discussing technology, buyer persona needs should be more specific than “looking to integrate machine learning.” In what ways, with what specific technologies, for what LoB needs, and how soon?
  • Go deep on the buyer’s journey. What’s the very first step a buyer takes to get educated? Then the next, and the next, all the way until they decide to email or call a vendor for the first time.

Delete the Obvious

It’s not smart or insightful to include what any 8th grader, MBA student, or newly minted marketing manager would know. When you see this kind of data in your buyer personas, it’s time to delete it and ask your research vendor for more.

Try this exercise the next time you get a persona from a vendor, delete all that’s obvious. Then see what you have left. It may not be much.

If so, we’re here to fill in the gaps and get you set in the right direction.

With custom market research and marketing services, Cascade Insights helps companies seize opportunities in the B2B technology sector. We work with everyone from enterprise tech stalwarts to up-and-comers in fields such as FinTech, MarTech, Health Tech, and more. Learn more about our B2B buyer persona research here.

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