Nope. Not if they’re like most B2C buyer personas.
You’ve probably seen the type of document I’m referring to. Meet Joan. She’s an HR director; 35 years old; married. Annual salary: $120,000. Has a graduate degree in social sciences. Strong communication and interpersonal skills. Etc. Etc. Etc.
Sure, some of this information could be useful if you’re chatting up Joan at a conference, but it matters a whole lot less when you’re trying to market your B2B products or services to her. And that’s the problem with most buyer personas: they’re basically just personal profiles.
They tell you nothing about why or how Joan has made previous purchases on behalf of her organization—what went into her decision-making process, how she researched and vetted her options, why she instantly rejected certain options and explored others.
Here’s what Ardath Albee, CEO of Marketing Interactions, Inc., wrote about buyer personas in her outstanding article, “Why Marketers Are Keeping B2B Buyer Personas In the Closet:”
“When you develop content for a buyer of a complex B2B solutions, how would the knowledge that your buyer had a Jack Russell terrier apply? Don’t strain yourself. It doesn’t. What does apply are insights to the work life, objectives, orientation, and obstacles your buyer faces that could be addressed by whatever you sell. I don’t care if he lives in a tent, a sprawling rambler in the suburbs, or a cramped apartment in the city. That’s not going to influence how he builds consensus with his team to buy cloud storage, beef up his network to enable mobility, or decide to virtualize his company’s call center.”
Let’s get back to Joan for a moment and her role in making B2B purchases. At most companies these days, Joan is probably just one member of a group that decides on any given purchase. And this group most likely follows a mandated process for seeking, vetting and purchasing products and services, which means it’s a good bet these individuals go about making B2B purchases very differently from how they make B2C purchases (i.e., purchases for themselves). So the information contained in typical B2C-style buyer personas won’t help you market your B2B products and services to these folks. You’ll have no actionable insights regarding their company’s purchasing process, nor will you know the specific requirements of the group’s members at any given stage of this process.
I’ve worked with a number of B2B clients who spent a small fortune on buyer personas. Initially, some of these clients loved their persona documents because they humanized “the buyer.” But this affection faded pretty quickly when the clients realized they couldn’t use these high-priced personas to understand their buyers’ purchasing process or influence their decisions.
Does this mean buyer personas are utterly worthless for B2B organizations? Of course not. But if you want to invest in personas that you can actually put to use, the personas need to be built properly. “For personas to become useful tools, they must be based on interviews gathered from salespeople, customer service interactions and the buyers (customers) themselves,” notes Ms. Albee.
She goes on to say that these interviews must be focused on “what the buyer is trying to achieve” and “how we can help buyers manage and expedite change.” She even offers a helpful list of questions you can ask to extract this information, so by all means read her article.
Interviewing buyers directly is a wise choice if you decide to develop your own buyer personas. Use your interviews to draw out crucial information such as:
- Which individuals/functions/departments are involved in making purchasing decisions?
- What levels of influence do they have?
- How do they go about researching and assessing their options?
- What attitudes and biases might cause buyers to look favorably or unfavorably on your products or services?
There’s actually quite a healthy debate about the value and effectiveness of B2B buyer personas. However, almost everyone agrees that personas can be useful marketing tools when they’re properly constructed—which could mean you’ll have to live without knowing whether your buyer owns a Jack Russell terrier.
But what fun would life be without a few small mysteries?
About the Author: Michael Civiello is a communications strategist and senior writer at fisher VISTA. He collaborates with clients every day to develop messaging, content and PR campaigns that build brand awareness and marketplace credibility.
Image by Unsplash courtesy of Freerangestock.