Buyer Personas in B2B: Get into the head of your customer

This week I interviewed Adele Revella, Buyer Persona expert and founder of the Buyer Persona Institute. In this article you can read about the how and why of a Buyer Persona in B2B.

Can you give a simple definition of buyer personas?

“You’re creating an example of the real people that we want to influence to buy our products. It’s important that we understand that the buyer persona is an example. A buyer persona is not one person. It is a composite of different people we interview in order to understand in-depth how they consider our products or service solutions and what attributes they have in common”.

One objection that marketers could have, is that we have so many different buyers in B2B. It makes no sense to develop those examples. What would you answer?

“It is absolutely true that every buyer is unique. In an ideal scenario, the salesperson in a sales call has the chance to present the product as a perfect match for that one individual buyer’s needs. In that case, it is far better to not have a persona.

But in marketing, we don’t have that privilege. In marketing, we have to come up with one message, one set of content, or at least a few messages that have to impress a lot of buyers. We create personas to reflect as best we can who these real people are. There will always be differences, but what we are looking for, is what they have in common. And we’re looking for the critical and specific aspects, five categorical insights, that make it possible to really understand what is similar among a set of buyers”.

The whole thing around buyer persona is not new. Our colleagues in the B2C have been doing it for a long time. What makes it so urgent to start using buyer personas in B2B?

“Absolutely, in Business-to-Consumer this idea has been around forever. What’s different in B2B is that for many decades in my experience (especially working in the technology industry) we could differentiate our products effectively based on what the product is, what no one else did.  For most of the customers I work with, that’s becoming harder to do. Our products are kind of maturing, our buyers have a lot of choices. And also because of the internet, buyers have access to their choices.  Now we have to step up our game in B2B marketing and say that it is not good enough to just talk about your product and its unique features. Because buyers don’t care.

There are lots of other companies providing those choices. So, we are having to say ‘Okay, now we are going to have to be more like the car companies’. I like to talk about Volvo because when people generally think of Volvo they think of safe cars. But all cars are safe, we wouldn’t buy them if they were not. It is just that Volvo had to make a decision on marketing around safety. To do that Volvo identified a very clear persona, of someone who would value that quality. It is not that they don’t have cup holders and classy cars. It is just that they had to choose something, a focus. For B2B marketers this is the challenge we face now”.

You said in your eBook; In order that somebody will be your real buyer, the solution that you can solve with your product or service has to be one of the top list problems or challenges he has.

Yes, in order to get them engaged early in the buying process. That’s what I call the priority initiative insights. My insight needs to be for each of my target buyer personas. We usually start off thinking we should go target a senior-level executive because they write the cheques. And we say to the salespeople that they have to get to these decision-makers quicker.

In the buyer persona research, you can get insights in their priority initiatives. Most people only have about five problems. These guys of the C-level got these focusing areas; time, budget, and political capital. The lead generation campagnes won’t be effective in attracting their attention. I’d still probably need to market this executive later on in the buying process, but I’m not going to do the demand generation of these personas.

So this is the back story of buyer personas. I had to get to midlevel management. These are the people who have the important problem I can solve with my product or service. But in order to get the deal started and help the sales people get the deal started, I needed insights about the priority initiatives of the real personas”.

And just to be practical. What are the necessary steps a marketer should take in order to develop those personas?

“It sounds easy and there is a lot involved. There are a lot of things we can do to understand buyers, but what is really the most critical is that we actually listen to them in real life. So we interview them, for example at events, at conferences, and online. The most effective way is to phone them. What you do need is to have a deep dialogue with your buyer. Initially, marketers are confronted by this. They find it very scary and challenging. But in fact, with a little bit of guidance, we found that we can educate people to have an effective and productive interview”.

You said before, that most marketers don’t distinguish between buyers and customers. Can you tell us what is the difference?

“A buyer is somebody who hasn’t acquired the product or services solution we want to market on. He or she is a potential customer and not an existing one. If we have a launch and we target people who already bought product A and I want to cross-sell product B, we can talk to the existing customers in order to find out how they would react to product B. On the other hand, if our objective in our marketing strategy is to find brand new customers, we actually have to interview those people.

Typically, marketers are talking to people who already own the product. When we speak to these customers, we learn about what they like or don’t like about the product once they own it. This is quite different from what we call the decision criteria: how do they evaluate, what aspects specifically about the product do they evaluate as they compare the different options before they buy it”.

One of the most difficult steps in the process is getting the buy-in from the organisation to go through this process. How would you help them to sell this internally?

“This is part of the reason why I wrote my eBook. I really wanted something that is quite portable, that people could freely access and share within their organisation. It is an education process, educating the right people. Funnily enough, the most receptive individual to this idea is usually the head of sales. Salespeople themselves are usually not so receptive. I have to go through the Head of Marketing to go to the Head of Sales telling him or her what we’re trying to do.

You have to tell him: ‘We know that we’re been talking about products. We know that you are always complaining about the material of content that we are producing does not really resonate with buyers. Guess what; we’re confessing up, we agree. Now, to really understand what does resonate with buyers, we need to talk to a few. In this way, we bring sales into the story and I’ll tell you this: I have a 100% success rate in converting them. I guarantee the Head of Sales is the one who is frustrated with the current state of content. This guy is very easy to win”.

So that could also be the part, which actually aligns marketing and sales.

Yes, the cooperation between marketing and sales is a huge source of frustration for people. We just take that out directly. We are going to align sales and marketing. We are going to quit talking about our products, we’re going to talk about what our buyers care about”.

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