What are B2B Buyer Personas?

A Complete Guide

B2B buyer personas are detailed descriptions of the people involved in an organization’s purchasing decisions. Buyer personas typically include critical characteristics such as the job titles, key responsibilities, behaviors, pain points, motivators, concerns, etc., of those involved in the decision-making process.

Effective buyer personas will go beyond a shallow demographical profile and dig into fundamental questions such as: Where does the buyer go to educate themselves? What goes into their buying decisions? What are their top technical and business priorities for the year? How do they describe their potential concerns, and what specific words and phrases do they search for when seeking solutions?

These types of questions empower B2B marketers to create messaging and marketing that resonates with their targeted personas on a deep level. Without buyer personas, marketers risk writing to the wrong person, not knowing the features that matter to their buyers, or speaking in the wrong vernacular to a particular buyer. 

With a set of insightful buyer personas, however, marketers can develop messaging that targets the right person, speaks in the right voice, and highlights use cases that appeal to their buyer.



The ROI of an Exceptional Buyer Persona

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.

However, B2B marketers aren’t able to capitalize on those benefits by using templated, generic, and run-of-the-mill buyer personas. Instead, great buyer personas should be customized, in-depth profiles that provide real insight into the crucial factors that influence your buyer’s decisions. Below, we’ve laid out the specific components that should be included in any effective buyer persona profile. 

B2B Buyer Persona Checklist

When developing a B2B buyer persona, be sure to include:

  • Business Mindset: Every persona has a unique set of challenges and motivators that influence their overall mindset. Their challenges may be certain pain points or concerns that are ongoing, seasonal, or situational pain points. Their motivators indicate what excites and drives that persona, like meeting monthly goals, earning the respect of peers, expanding skills, growing an organization’s impact on the market, or becoming a thought leader in an industry. Marketers can use this knowledge to produce content that aligns with their motivations and addresses their concerns.
  • Purchase Roles and Solutions Needs: This determines whether a persona initiates the purchasing decisions or if they’re brought in later, what other stakeholders are involved, and how much of an impact they have on the buying decision. Additionally, it should explain how each role would most commonly utilize that particular solution. 
  • Preferred Communication Styles and Methods: People in different roles have different ways of communicating. This should be reflected in how a marketer writes to that persona, the manner in which an organization’s sales team speaks to the persona, and the methods of outreach an organization uses to target this persona.
  • Job Responsibility Overview: An overview of what a specific persona’s responsibilities entail is your first step toward getting a preview of what drives your persona, how they fit into their organization, and the organizational structure your efforts will target at different company sizes (i.e., enterprise, mid-market, etc.). This overview should also include examples of different job titles that may be seen across different types of organizations.
  • How Core Responsibilities are Measured: These include what the buyer persona must do to be a productive member of the organization. Although they may have secondary responsibilities that help other departments, their core responsibilities are what they were hired for and what they’re evaluated on. These will be tasks that the buyer persona prioritizes above all other responsibilities. These core tasks provide insights into who your persona works with daily, what metrics they’re tracking, and some of their daily challenges.
  • Trusted Resources and Channels: This information impacts marketing strategy by informing where a persona learns about industry news and emerging solutions. A persona’s preferred channels of information indicates what they find most credible. Additionally, it will reveal in which medium they like to learn. For example, this may include infographics, peer recommendations, product recommendations, social media sites, webinars, whitepapers, or conferences. 

B2B Buyer Personas: Skip the Fluff

Unfortunately, buyer personas aren’t always useful. Poor buyer personas result from a focus on easy to obtain information vs. details that matter. Here are a few examples of emphases that ruin what might have been a great buyer persona. 

  • Focusing Too Heavily on Demographics: CTOs can be 25 or 65; demographic information like this can oftentimes be irrelevant for B2B buyers. It is typically of little consequence if an IT buyer male or female, or went to a large public university or a small private college. These factors have minimal impact on how they are making buying decisions.
  • Psychological Details: B2B decisions are driven by committees and not individuals; as a result, it doesn’t make a great deal of sense to develop in-depth psychographic profiles on topics like values, lifestyle choices, social and political opinions, etc. What matters most is to understand how these individuals collectively make a decision. 
  • Obvious Information: Buyer personas need to go beyond documenting information that you already know. It’s true that a prospective buyer may belong to popular industry trade groups, read well-known industry publications, go to certain conferences, or use the Internet to search for solutions. However, that does not differentiate this person from most other business professionals who share the same title, focus area, or career trajectory.
  • Catchy Titles: Whether it’s a random “John Doe” or an alliterative “Millennial Molly”, giving your prospective buyers names can help to envision a real person. It’s not necessarily a bad thing; however, it shouldn’t take away from the actual research being presented. Coming up with a fun or charming title is fine if that helps you envision your buyer. Just be sure you’re not losing the industry context to allow space for that.
  • Great Design: It’s always beneficial when information is presented in a way that is visually appealing and easy for a reader to digest. However, the substance of the actual research should always take precedence over its style. Although we can all appreciate a great design, the insights that are presented should be the most compelling part of your buyer persona.

When Do Organizations Need B2B Buyer Personas?

Because personas are foundational to both marketing and sales success, changes in your business or space signal it’s time for updated research. 

New Product or Service

If you have a new solution that you think has a different set of buyers than your current solutions, investing in buyer persona research can ensure a strong marketing and sales push.

We frequently see companies broadening their product and service mix. For example, major cloud platforms like AWS, Azure, and GCP are releasing new services what seems like all the time. The landscape of the services these companies each offer is much more vast today than even it was a few short years ago. 

An organization investigating these particular cloud platforms might have a different set of engaged buyer personas. Perhaps a few years ago, just IT teams were involved in decision-making processes; then, developers became more involved, and finally, marketers and LoB leaders. The personas within these buying teams have evolved, and as a result, a new set of buyer personas are required. 

Shifting to a New Vertical

B2B buyer personas are needed anytime an organization decides to shift into a different vertical. Perhaps the products they were selling before were more generalized to the market as a whole, but they recently see an opportunity to really become more specialized within an industry such as education, healthcare, or manufacturing. 

Each of these industries has unique needs, concerns, and priorities that impact their buying decisions. For example, highly regulated industries like finance will prioritize compliance and security much more heavily than a field like hospitality. These differences will factor into how an organization crafts the content of it’s sales and marketing tactics.

Changes to the Marketplace

When new industry trends emerge, persona research can help you understand their impact on your buyers’ mindsets. These trends can be technology-driven, as new solutions upset the competitive landscape. 

For example, companies selling marketing-focused SaaS solutions will be particularly interested  in new generative AI tools. As more of these features pop up in their competitors’ offerings, buyer persona research will help to discern just how critical these capabilities are to prospective buyers.

Changes to the marketplace can also be business-driven, such as the increasing role that non-technical staff have when purchasing cloud services. For example, an organization that was used to selling to an IT director will have to adjust sales tactics to perhaps target CFO’s, COO’s or other line of business leaders. This will require an update to the organization’s buyer personas.

Competitor Activity

In general, competitors don’t stand still. They may be trying out different marketing strategies or campaigns, producing new content, or structuring their sales efforts in a new way. Conducting buyer persona research can provide some resolution to these scenarios and give some insight into how the people you’re talking to engage with these competing organizations. It can reveal what they think about the content competing organizations provide or the marketing tactics they deploy. It will show how that particular buyer relates to this competitor activity and, thus, how they might relate to other organizations’ potential sales and marketing initiatives.

Outdated Buyer Personas

For marketing departments with an existing set of personas, evaluating whether they are up-to-date and serving your needs is essential. The average decision-making group continues to grow, from 5.4 participants in 2015 to between 6 and 10 in 2019. If your personas are a few years old, you might not be aware of or familiar with new influencers who matter. 

Internal Employees With Limited External Perspective

It’s also worth evaluating whether existing personas come from tribal knowledge from within the company or from recent conversations with customers. While your sales and marketing teams are valuable sources of feedback, you need to hear directly from customers (current, prospective, and competitors). 

Decreased Leads and/or Closed Deals

If marketing teams struggle to generate the number of leads that they had in the past, or sales teams struggle to close deals, it may be time to consider buyer persona research. 

Buyer persona research will answer many questions about how a particular individual makes decisions about vendor selection or the products and services they will acquire, and how they educate themselves on those offerings. A solid buyer persona provides a great deal of intelligence on what buyers want to read, the platforms they want to engage with to get that information, and even how they want it to be delivered. All of these help optimize the types of marketing and sales strategies an organization will use. 

Changes in Leadership and Strategic Goals

If organizations have had a leadership change or a change in tactics and strategies, and it’s just not working as expected, buyer persona research can help to explain why. 

For example, we recently had a client who decided to ship their American sales executives,managers, and sales team members to the UK to grow that market. The research revealed that the cultural mismatch was so high that the sales team was getting in the way of closing new business, even though the product itself was relatively well-received. The organization had to make significant shifts in the sales leadership in that country, and in the end, they were much more successful as a result. 

Buyer persona research helped to reveal these insights by asking key questions such as: What happens in the journey for you on your path to purchase? What kind of engagement do you want to have with vendors? What’s appropriate for your region or your geography? 

What Competitive Advantage Do Organizations Gain From B2B Buyer Personas?

Organizations can use personas to create a competitive advantage by understanding their target buyer better than their competitors. This insight can serve as the foundation for more effective marketing and sales strategies moving forward. Specifically, buyer personas provide:

Messaging that speaks in the voice of the customer (VoC)

Marketers who take on the buyers voice when developing messaging will be able to earn their potential buyers’ trust by using the same tone and vernacular that their personas speak in regularly. This knowledge can only come from conducting thorough buyer persona research that captures your buyer’s authentic voice. 

Shorter sales cycles

B2B sales cycles are notoriously long. 75% of B2B companies take an average of at least four months to close a deal. Buyer personas can help shorten the process by first helping identify the right people you should be targeting without wasting time and resources by initially targeting the wrong individuals. Knowing key motivators, challenges, and concerns, marketers are then able to quickly and effectively tailor their messaging to resonate with the right people that much sooner. 

Additionally, understanding the roles of influencers in the decision-making process can help to identify potential objections and concerns that they may have, helping to speed up the sale.

Enhanced marketing content

When you deeply understand the persona that you are speaking to, you hit on their specific fears, risks, and challenges within their roles in the marketing content you create. You can talk about the meaningful career goals your company can help them achieve and highlight the exact pieces of your solution that they care about. 

In essence, you can target higher needs than just price, capabilities, and features. The result is marketing content that is more effective and targeted to the right person in a way that will resonate with them more powerfully.

Increased ROI on ad spends

No matter what KPIs you use to track your marketing campaigns, targeting the right personas and building messaging that converts is the first step toward achieving them. Once you establish specific buyer personas with deep buyer insights, you can create marketing campaigns that resonate with your audience. Buyer personas help to reduce your spending on low-performing marketing initiatives and channels using content that isn’t optimized.

Effective sales guidance that’ll win and close deals

After you unlock your key buyer insights,your organization’s sales teams can use that information to win business. Go deeper and show your salespeople not just buyer qualification criteria but give them in-depth buying insights that they can use in their conversations. For example, providing hypothetical conversations that they can anticipate with different personas and effective objection handling is one of the most useful ways to leverage your newfound buyer persona research.

How Can Different Teams Benefit From B2B Buyer Personas?

Buyer personas can provide value to a number of different roles within an organization. Below, we’ve broken down how they can work for different job functions.

Marketing Teams

Buyer personas are table stakes to B2B marketers. They are the crucial foundational piece that ensures any marketing initiative is set in the right direction. Without them, marketers risk making a number of mistakes

Marketers need to understand the persona they are marketing to entirely; otherwise, it’s impossible to develop tacts and assets that will resonate. With B2B buyer personas in hand, however, marketers can target the right content at the right people.

Sales Teams

B2B buyer personas are a guidebook for sellers to have meaningful, trust-building conversations with prospective buyers. Buyer personas reveal a buyer’s needs, goals, motivators, and pain points. They also help sales teams to speak their buyer’s language. And by using the same vernacular and industry-related terminology that the buyers do, sellers are more likely to gain their trust. 

Without strong buyer profiles, sellers can make assumptions about buyers that kill deals. B2B buyer persona research mitigates that risk by taking the guesswork out of who they’re talking to and what matters most to them. 

Product Managers

Product managers are problem-solvers. They are charged with shipping a superior product that solves challenges that buyers face. B2B buyer personas inform product teams on what those challenges are, so they can create new and innovative ways to solve them.

How Do B2B Buyer Personas Differ From B2C Buyer Personas?

There are inherent differences in the how B2B vs. B2C products are sold, purchased, and developed. As a result, the sales and marketing strategies these brands deploy are vastly different – starting with development of their buyer persona profiles. Here are some areas in which B2B and B2C buyer personas will differ. 

Information Included in the Buyer Profile

B2C buyer personas rely more on a buyer’s demographics than a B2B persona does. Factors like age, gender, income, education, and geography are critical ways B2C companies can define and target their audiences. For example, a business selling hair growth products will likely see a more signifigant ROI on marketing efforts targeting a 55+ demographic vs. an 18-25 year old demographic. 

B2B buyer personas are entirely the opposite; demographics can often be irrelevant. Businesses sellling to other businesses target positions or roles rather than someone’s age. For example, if an ISV is trying to sell their collaboration software to creative teams, it won’t matter if the creative director they’re targeting is 30 or 60. They’re going to have similar goals, report to similar bosses, and have similar pain points, no matter their age, because of the role they play in their organization.

Number of Personas Involved in the Buyer’s Journey

According to Gartner, the average B2B buying group is between six to ten people, depending on spend and the complexity of the purchase. Each group member has a role to play in the purchase process. B2B marketers need to know how that group dynamic works, who identifies a need, who does the initial research, who sellers will interact with the most, and who makes the final buying decision.

B2C purchases, on the other hand, are largely independent. They tend to involve just one person who others may somewhat influence in their purchase decision, but ultimately, that decision is their own. For example, a teenager interested in buying a new mic for streaming with their own money may consult with a parent on the purchase, but ultimately the teenager will be the one to make the purchase. 

Where Buyers Get Educated

B2B and B2C buyers get their information from vastly different sources. In the B2C marketplace, consumers are look social media ads, influencers, web ads, commercials, etc. They are consuming media and advertisements that are directly targeting their demographic. 

B2B personas are reading publications specific to their industry, subscribing to newsletters relevant to their roles, and attending trade shows and similar events. They also tend to treat their industry peers as a source of critical insights.

How Is B2B Buyer Persona Research Conducted?

B2B buyer personas are created through research studies in which analysts will recruit the right respondents, conduct in-depth interviews (IDIs), and then analyze and present insights. Here’s how the entire process is conducted from start to finish.

Recruiting Respondents for a Buyer Persona Research Study

Recruiting the right participants for a research study is just as important as asking the right questions. For B2B buyer persona studies, these are the types of people who are typically recruited and interviewed:

  • Current customers
  • Target customers
  • Competitors’ customers
  • Purchase Decision Makers
  • Purchase Influencers 

To effectively recruit those participants, some strategies include finding potential respondents through: LinkedIn, industry events and conferences, or online forums. Examples of the types of professionals that a B2B tech market researcher might target include titles such as:

  • Director of UX
  • Chief Product Officer
  • Software Developer
  • Data Engineer
  • Chief Technology Officer

Buyer persona research will typically begin with talking with two to three personas that a company believes to be the most critical. Then, the study can expand to focus on other personas that may be involved in a typical buying decision. 

Sometimes, particularly in larger organizations, buyer persona research in and of itself can bring to light which personas a company should be speaking with. Additionally, it can steer an organization away from unfruitful conversations with less important stakeholders, who have less control of the buying process.

Methodologies Used in a Buyer Persona Research Study

While surveys have long been a popular tool for B2B research, in-depth interviews (IDIs) are the most common methodology used for buyer persona research. An IDI is a qualitative research method in which a researcher asks the respondent detailed, open-ended questions to thoroughly explore the person’s perspectives, experiences, and feelings on specific topics.

Some of the details that IDIs can reveal include:

  • The decision-making process for selecting a product or service.
  • The stakeholders involved in the B2B buying decision.
  • Which stakeholder are more or less important to the buying decision.
  • The factors and information that is needed for an organization to generate consensus.
  • Whether the customer or company is happy with the solutions they have in place today to address the organization’s needs and goals.

Overall, IDI’s can lead to a great deal of discovery and insight. All of which leads to informed and insightful buyer personas that sales and marketing teams can leverage.

Buyer Persona Research: Developing Recommendations

Once responses from the interviews have been collected, researchers must then analyze the perspectives gathered, draw conclusions, and develop recommendations. This includes reviewing transcripts and recordings of IDIs to search for commonalities or themes that have been discovered throughout the research process.

Based on the research, buyer persona researchers will develop solid and compelling recommendations so the client organization knows exactly how to change their sales, marketing, or product development efforts. Some research firms may even go one step further by not just delivering recommendations, but actually helping to activate them.

B2B Buyer Personas in Action: Real-World Case Studies

Great buyer personas reveal actionable insights, illuminating important information that companies can use to create change. Here are three recent examples of how buyer persona research has specifically benefited a few of our clients.

Say the Right Things to the Right People

The context: After successfully establishing relationships with leadership at several universities, a data analytics client of ours wanted to develop buyer personas for a few C-suite roles to help inform their marketing strategy and content marketing efforts. Overall, our client was interested in steering clear of a product-focused message and evolving their messaging and content to focus on the needs of specific buyer personas instead.

Specifically, our client was focused on the needs of a VP of Research and a Chief Academic Officer in a university setting. In a typical university, the VP of Research is responsible for directing the university’s mission, focusing on policy issues, and establishing community relations. Meanwhile, the Chief Academic Officer ensures academic quality in all departments, programs, and services within the organization.

Our client learned that each persona would need to hear a different message to develop a meaningful interest in our client’s offering. Additionally, our client’s sales team discovered that they would best be able to build rapport with the Chief Academic Officer by discussing fundraising in academia. At the same time, the VP of Research would be more interested in communicating to the student body about research grants or new partnerships. 

The key takeaway: Different job positions have different priorities, motivations, and needs. Buyer persona research can identify those, helping sales teams and marketing teams know the types of messages that they should focus on to close deals.

Better Understand Your Market Segments

The context: We recently conducted a buyer persona project for a client who sold a SaaS solution of interest to law firms. They learned that law firms rarely recommendwhat software to use because they don’t want to be liable for anything. 

Instead, they found that they could still market their solution to people in legal roles outside of law firms. For example, our client’s solution may interest Chief Legal Officers or General Counsels who work for companies about to go public. With this knewfound knowledge, our client’s sales team created extremely targeted outreach that included the specific job titles within the market segments that would be most beneficial to them. 

The key takeaway: You can’t always rely on existing clients to evangelize for you. Sometimes, extenuating circumstances beyond your control may prevent them from giving the feedback you want. But with buyer persona research, you’ll be able to find better opportunities that maximize the value of your efforts.

Reveal New Personas – And New Opportunities

The context: A SaaS client came to us to confirm which buyer personas in their space were decision-makers, which were budget owners, and which were 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 essential to the buying process – Chief Learning Officer, Director of Learning & Development, and Instructional Designer. However, it also revealed two additional critical buyer personas – Chief Human Resources Officer and the IT Leader in Human Resources. These 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 recommended our client explore adding additional capabilities to their solution to better support remote workers.

The key takeaway: B2B buyer persona research may reveal new personas you weren’t expecting. At the same time, it can reveal current pain points amongst buyers and influencers, leading to new opportunities.

Cascade Insights & B2B Buyer Personas

Cascade Insights is a market research and marketing agency that works exclusively in the B2B tech sector. We specialize in producing B2B market research and B2B marketing, including B2B buyer personas. Visit our buyer persona research page to learn more on how to get the information you need to effectively reach and persuade your buyers. 

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