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Ardath Albee

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Take a Collective Approach to B2B Personas

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My friend and colleague, Carlos Hidalgo's blog post, Why Buyer Personas are a Potential Obstacle to Demand Generation Success, got me going this morning. He makes some excellent points and I'd like to add a few of my own.

I agree quite a bit with his assertion:

"The Product Marketing team begins to create this persona and lo and behold, the persona is the exact model of the person who would want to buy their product - not an actual picture of the market."

What marketers do to personas is often fantasy. What's worse is that I see agencies jumping on the bandwagon and using templates where they switch out a few words but much is the same across the slate of personas. In my opinion, they should be shot. Yep, I feel strongly about shoddy work.And it gets old cleaning up the hot messes they leave behind.

The problem is, as Carlos points out, marketers see buyers as we'd like them to be, not as they are or how they see themselves.

A few reasons:

  • They create personas in a vacuum - persona creation involves extensive interviewing, internal and external research
  • They model personas after a customer they know well, missing all the variables that come into play across a market segment - we're looking for commonalities and a composite sketch - not replicating an individual
  • Sales is left out of the project - and so is customer service
  • They decide which personas to create before they conduct any research, discounting what doesn't agree with their plan
  • They don't understand the role personas play in fueling a content strategy

Carlos states:

"The days of selling to the decision maker are over. B2B buyers buy in packs and have buying committees - understanding the roles within that committee, the unique views and how they intersect will be key to defining the demand generation content that is developed."

The days of selling to the decision maker are over, B2B buyers buy in packs and have buying committees – understanding the roles within that committee, the unique views and how they intersect will be key to defining the Demand Generation content that is developed. - See more at: http://annuitas.com/2013/12/03/why-buyer-personas-are-a-potential-obstacle-to-demand-generation-success/#!

Absolutely. But here's the kicker that I think many marketers miss. In the example used in the blog post, the group of personas includes VP of IT, CIO and CFO. I'd argue that unless the purchase is really strategic, there is a manager or director doing the research and evaluation and building the business case that will be presented up to his boss, let's say the VP of IT, who will take it to the C-level.

This doesn't mean those personas aren't relevant, it just means they need to be approached differently.

For example: When looking at the buying process, you can't do this well if you only look at it one persona at a time. There are many intersecting conversations between the personas on a buying committee - as Carlos points out - but the thing you're really looking for is when each of the personas get involved.

So, for a C-level persona, consider that the more aware of your company and your expertise, the better for when the conversation is brought to them. Or they assign a staff member to do a bit of research about your solution in relation to an objective they want to accomplish. But, then explore when they may next be involved. It may not be until after your salesperson is involved.

This is important due to the challenge marketers face for a lack of resources dedicated to content development. Some personas need to be engaged from beginning to end in a progressive fashion. Some at specific milestones that matter most to them.

What personas need to help you determine is who needs what, when. And how will you get that content into their hands? In other words, how do you use personas to inform a pass-along strategy? This requires that you determine how to put content in front of the people doing the research that will answer another persona's questions that they can forward along to keep the conversation moving.

Carlos made a point in his post with a graphic that showed a convergence of topics across the three personas and indicated that, at this point, one track of content can be used.

I'd like to disagree. Here's why.

There are different levels of information desired and different perspectives about the same subject depending on the role of the persona. Some of them will require only high-level information, some more detail and some of them will need the information at the "in the weeds" level.

There are also different interpretations on goals. Take for example, ROI. While the CFO will care about time to value realized and putting numbers to that, the CIO may be more concerned about TCO due to budget constraints. The VP of IT may be responsible for interfacing with line of business executives, so his take on ROI will need to be about what they see as "ROI" and he will need the ammo/content to convince them to reach consensus.

Any number of different scenarios could exist, depending on what you're selling and who you're selling it to. This is what personas should help you to determine.

Finally, if personas can be served by the same content, I'd argue they aren't really personas. A true persona will have a different orientation than the others. They will have different goals and objectives based on their specific responsibilities to the company.

One of the key things to consider is who marketing can effectively reach and engage. This is who should be the focus of their demand gen programs. The personas that get involved late-stage, should be targeted for a sales enablement or late stage program.

There is often a difference between who sales wants to speak with and who marketing can reach. We need to focus on both, but differently. All Personas are not created equally. But they must be created as tools that inform content and demand generation strategy as a collective whole.

The Product Marketing team begins to create this persona and lo and behold, the persona is the exact model of the person who would want to buy their product – not an actual picture of the market. - See more at: http://annuitas.com/2013/12/03/why-buyer-personas-are-a-potential-obstacle-to-demand-generation-success/#!
The Product Marketing team begins to create this persona and lo and behold, the persona is the exact model of the person who would want to buy their product – not an actual picture of the market. - See more at: http://annuitas.com/2013/12/03/why-buyer-personas-are-a-potential-obstacle-to-demand-generation-success/#!
The Product Marketing team begins to create this persona and lo and behold, the persona is the exact model of the person who would want to buy their product – not an actual picture of the market. - See more at: http://annuitas.com/2013/12/03/why-buyer-personas-are-a-potential-obstacle-to-demand-generation-success/#!

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More Stories By Ardath Albee

Ardath Albee, CEO & B2B Marketing Strategist of her firm Marketing Interactions, helps companies with complex sales increase and quantify marketing effectiveness by developing and executing interactive eMarketing strategies driven by compelling content.

Her book, eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale, was published by McGraw-Hill.

Her articles and blog posts have been used for university ezines, published in CRM Today, Selling Power, Rain Today and Enterprise CRM News. Marketing Profs has incorporated her blog posts into a number of their "Get to The Point" newsletters.