Who are your customers?

It’s a seemingly simple question that every marketer should be able to answer without any hesitation. However, answering this question isn’t always as easy as it seems.

At the highest level, B2B marketers can answer this question by describing the types of companies that fall into their target markets. But therein lies the problem, because even though B2B organizations ultimately win accounts, their customers — the ones they need to attract, please regularly and build trust and loyalty with — are individual people.

With that in mind, let’s ask that question again: Who are your customers? It’s a lot trickier to answer than you thought, right?

Identifying and Understanding B2B Customers Requires Buyer Personas

Fortunately, identifying and understanding your B2B customers doesn’t have to be so tricky, but it does require putting in some work to develop buyer personas.

Buyer personas are essentially profiles on the different types of customers you have. These personas help you group all of the people who you want to target into different buckets to better understand factors like who they are and what they’re interested in. Taking it a layer deeper, B2B buyer personas typically outline things like:

By helping identify and understand customers, B2B buyer personas deliver significant benefits to marketers. For example, Aberdeen Research finds that using personas (and mapping content to the buyer’s journey) can help increase conversions by 73%. Meanwhile, SiriusDecisions reports that personalizing messaging based on buyer personas can yield two times the average sales pipeline and lead to improvements like a 28% increase in campaign responses, a two to three month decrease in sales cycle length and a 25% increase in marketing influenced revenue.

Ready to reap the benefits of B2B buyer personas? Not so fast… Unfortunately, far too many marketers miss out on benefits like these because of three potential pitfalls:

  1. They don’t have any buyer personas
  2. They make mistakes when developing buyer personas
  3. They don’t use buyer personas to their full advantage

If you’re reading this post, you clearly have an interest in buyer personas and recognize the need to create them (or improve what you already have in place), so that means we can cross the first pitfall off the list. Now, let’s help you avoid the second two pitfalls by reviewing the most common mistakes when developing and using buyer personas and how to fix them.

4 Mistakes to Avoid When Developing B2B Buyer Personas

Developing buyer personas is a time-consuming, resource-intensive project, but the results will be well worth the effort — as long as you don’t cut any corners. As you begin the persona development process, be sure to avoid these common mistakes:

  1. Following a B2C buyer persona model: Buyer personas are not unique to the B2B world. But even though B2C marketers use buyer personas for similar reasons, the actual persona model is quite different when looking at B2B vs. B2C. For instance, B2C models rely on significantly more demographic data (and different types of demographic data) than B2B models. Although it’s fine to list an age range and typical gender for a buyer persona in a B2B model, this range is more of a loose guide to humanize the persona. After all, if you have an accounting director persona listed as skewing female ages 35-45, there’s no reason you also can’t speak to a male director or a director aged 28 or 60. In the B2C model, however, factors like age and gender aren’t just background details to help the persona take shape and become more human like they are in the B2B model. Instead, they’re defining factors that count for a lot. As a result, if you follow a B2C model instead of a B2B model, you will end up focusing on somewhat irrelevant factors that won’t end up helping you very much when it comes to using your personas strategically.
  2. Not talking to customers: There’s a lot of research that goes into developing B2B buyer personas. As part of this research, you need to do things like review your marketing database to understand the types of roles in your system, how they engage with your marketing campaigns and what interests them and review external factors, for example by engaging in social listening. While this data can tell you quite a lot, it can’t tell the full story. To truly understand who your customers are, you need to talk to them. Specifically, you should pick a handful of representative accounts and talk to the different contacts your company has within those accounts. During these conversations, ask questions that align with the various points of information in your personas, such as: What are your pain points? What do you need to do your job better? Where do you turn to stay informed?
  3. Not talking to your sales team: In addition to talking to customers, you also need to talk to your sales team. That’s right, it’s time to put that age-old sales and marketing divide to rest and work side-by-side with your sales team to truly understand who your customers are. These internal conversations can provide an additional layer of insight that you can’t get simply from looking at the data and even talking to customers. Your sales team can fully close the loop by sharing details on the types of questions customers ask and their common objections to buying your product/service. Beyond having conversations about these factors with your sales team, it can also be helpful to listen in on a few sales calls to hear what’s happening firsthand.
  4. Not naming your personas: Naming your personas might seem like a silly exercise, but it actually makes a very big difference when it comes to seeing your personas as people and ensuring adoption. Giving your personas names helps everyone across the organization “speak the same language” and understand in an instant who different personas are and which contacts fit each persona. To really ensure adoption, have a little fun with your names (because who doesn’t want to talk about Marketing Madonna and Accounting Adele?).

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Putting B2B Buyer Personas to Work

Once you develop your buyer personas, you then need to put them to work. Once again, there are several mistakes that you need to be careful to avoid, including:

  1. Not educating your marketing and sales teams on the personas: Even if you have the best possible buyer personas, they won’t do you any good if no one knows who they are and how to use them. As a result, it’s imperative to do a “getting to know you” session for your buyer personas to educate your marketing and sales teams. During this session, you should provide detailed information on who each of the personas is (including what they’re interested in, how to reach them, the best way to talk to them and common objections they might raise). You should also provide background on how you created the personas to help build trust and you should share “cheat sheets” that everyone can refer back to on a regular basis.
  2. Not segmenting content and campaigns based on persona: One of the biggest benefits of personas is that they help you better understand your customers and buyers so that you can speak to them on a more personal level. Therefore, you need to use your personas to make this personalization a reality. For example, you should create email lists for each persona so that you can segment campaigns and messaging based on persona. Additionally, you should recognize that different types of content and different levels of detail within that content will appeal to different types of personas. Across the board, whether you’re developing new content or launching a campaign on any channel, you should always design the output with a specific persona in mind.
  3. Not using personas to understand gaps: Once you start segmenting content and campaigns based on persona, you can then begin to understand where the gaps exist. For example, do you have a lot of resources for Marketing Madonna but barely anything for Accounting Adele? By mapping both content and campaigns built around that content to your personas, you can easily determine where you need to do more and where you might be a bit oversaturated. You can then use this insight to guide where you focus your efforts.
  4. Not using personas outside of marketing and sales: Although the initial focus for buyer personas is typically marketing and sales, these profiles can actually help everyone throughout the organization. For example, product teams can use personas to better understand areas for improvement to address customers’ pain points and eliminate common objections prospects have to buying from your company. And that’s nothing to blink at, as Pragmatic Marketing finds that organizations that use personas in product development typically see a 10-20% increase in customer satisfaction. In order to extend the benefits of your buyer personas to the rest of the organization, you need to make persona-related resources (including information on what personas are as well as “getting to know you sessions” and cheat sheets for your personas) available to everyone.
  5. Not reviewing and updating your personas regularly: Last but not least, your buyer personas need to be living, breathing profiles of your customers, not static documents. The nature of roles, including goals, pain points, sources of information and everything else, evolve over time, and your personas need to evolve along with them. As a result, you need to revisit your personas on a regular basis to ensure you keep them up to date. This review should bring in users from marketing, sales and any other teams that use the personas to discuss whether or not they are hitting the mark. You should also conduct some research like you did during the development process. While the research doesn’t necessarily need to be as detailed as it was the first time around (unless you find your personas aren’t hitting the mark), you should still look at data from your marketing automation and CRM systems and speak to customers. As a rule of thumb, you should take on this review about once a year or any time you have a change in business strategy, a new line of products or services or recognize external factors (e.g. regulations) that will affect your customer base.

Who Are Your Customers?

We’ll ask you one last time: Who are your customers? With the right personas in place, this question shouldn’t be so difficult for B2B marketers to answer after all. Nailing down the answer is just a matter of taking the right steps to develop and use personas in your business.