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4 Tips for Creating Useful B2B Personas

By Ian Truscott, Founder and Executive Strategy Director, appropingo

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As marketers we’ve all been in those conference rooms, the whiteboard is full, there are flip-charts around the walls, and we are discussing personas. It’s a worthy endeavor, a core tenet of a marketing plan, understanding who you are selling to and trust me, some B2B companies are still only thinking about their products and features.

But sometimes we can get a bit carried away and create a white elephant that will die of neglect, quietly on a shared drive, never to fulfil its purpose to guide a content marketing plan, steer an agency brief or inform a campaign. Before you know it, you are back at it again, whiteboard marker in hand.

Recently, I had a chat with Marketing Results Club editor Derek Little about personas, in this podcast episode and this brief post fleshes out some things to consider when creating useful personas.

Think “needs” not job titles

The watchword for good content marketing is usefulness. Create something useful for your buyer not only demonstrates the relevance of your product and services to the buyers problem, it creates trust as it shows you are like them and “get it”, plus, as an added bonus they are more likely to share your useful content to show that they “get it” to their peers.

However, typically when we are creating personas we don’t start from a point of usefulness, instead what we often start with are job titles.

“We are selling to the CMO” someone will proclaim. The first problem with dropping the C bomb when you talk about who you sell to, is that a quick trip through sales will often show you that this is aspirational. In B2B you are probably actually selling to a community of influencers and a committee of lower level folks. Pitch your story to an aspiration C suite and it flies over the heads of the real people that buy your product and is of no relevance to them and their needs.

"If you are thinking about personas, identifying their needs, your needs and finding real examples is not a bad place to start." Click To Tweet

The second is that job title may not be the guiding light to usefulness. For example, when we think about personas for job titles like CFO and CIO, we think about risk, of ROI, cost reduction and we flirt with the negative ideas that someone might get fired. We decide what is useful for these roles, but because we believe we are “selling to the CMO” we deprioritize them.

I have worked with a wide range of CMOs and our target CMO, or someone in their influencer circle may be risk averse. Useful content for them could be around ROI, risk and reassurance and they have more in common with the tradition CFO/CIO persona than the CMO persona on our flipchart and we miss an opportunity, because we focused on job title not need.

Create clusters around need

In B2B we are, of course, selling to people, not businesses and most people have basic needs, like not getting fired, looking good in front of peers, wanting to enhance their career, make more money for their families and work with good business tools. Meaning that making a buying decision at work is often more emotional than making a significant buying decision at home.

The problem with personas is that these general human needs get buried in the silos of each persona and the focus turns to persona specific needs, especially those that align to the product offering, like for example “the CMO needs to improve social media engagement”, probably true, but their most important need could be that they don’t want to be fired.

It’s not just the human basic needs that can get buried in the personas, there will be common industry pains and trends that we need to ensure get addressed in our useful content and not lost in the persona process.

Once you are over these basic needs, think about what this persona needs from you, how could you help them? What do you have?

For example, you may have “industry analyst” as a persona that plays a role in the buying process. They need material that feeds their hypothesis on the market and opportunities to share their research. You have access to clients, case studies, speaking slots at events you sponsor and a channel to share their work (etc. etc). 

Don’t ignore your needs

We tend to cast our net wide when think personas, from the CEO to the janitor, but we have to ask what role does this persona really play in the buying process and what do you want this person to do? Are they useful to you?

I once did some work with a large B2B financial organization in New York, we did some research and persona work for them and the bit they found incredibly useful was discovering that they were creating content for a segment that was of no value to them, that didn’t buy their products or influence the decision.

Having to create relevant content for a wide range of personas can muddy the waters, however useful it might be, being specific about your needs and who the important people are in satisfying them, enables you to create very clean, focused messaging.

With this model of mapping your needs and theirs, it’s easy to then create a plan that connects these two things and to understand the value of the relationship you are creating.

Get real examples

This is my favorite; this is how you call bullshit on the goldfish bowl thinking that can happen in that conference room of flipcharts, post-it notes and whiteboards, that contains a bunch of marketers that have rarely spoken to a sales guy, let alone a customer.

Don’t give your persona a fake name, find the real people in the CRM, your case studies and from your sales guys that influenced a deal and are involved in the purchasing process. Find them on LinkedIn and use their name and picture. If it does nothing else, it’s a reminder for us B2B marketers that we are not selling to businesses, but to people. Specifically, engaging in a relationship one person at a time.

Finally..

No an exhaustive “how to” for creating personas, obviously there is a lot more to it than this and if you have the budget, there some wonderful research tools and agencies that will dive into the data lake, and emerge with insight, not post-it notes and whiteboard markers.

But, if you are thinking about personas, identifying their needs, your needs and finding real examples is not a bad place to start.

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Ian Truscotthttps://appropingo.com
Founder and Executive Strategy Director, appropingo.

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