It is Time to Revisit Buyer Personas

Buyer Persona tools are a growing area of focus for sales and marketing teams.  Pragmatic Marketing and other B2B product marketing firms have long promoted the value of personas for product planning and marketing messaging.  They help identify customer needs and features as well as associated positioning.  According to B2B Marketing Strategist Ardath Albee, they help “build relationships based on expertise and authority that helps buyers see your company as a mentor and the best choice to solve their problem or capitalize on an opportunity.”

“Buyer personas are important because they allow us to focus our sales and marketing efforts on people who need our solutions to do their job better, to help their businesses grow, to help their businesses essentially reduce cost, to help the increase efficiencies, to help them realize the goals they are setting out to achieve.  In order for us to do that, we need to understand that buyer intimately,” said Ned Leutz of Zoominfo.  “By doing our homework fully we can better understand these people and then, of course, increase our success rate when we are reaching out to them.”

The problem with personas is that they have historically been high-level tools that quickly fall into caricature and disuse because they are not rigorously defined and maintained.  “Many customer intelligence efforts today are ad hoc, uninformed, and manual projects that are full of assumptions and rarely kept up to date,” says persona vendor Cintell.  “Even if you’ve hired a consultant to develop buyer personas, insights are often trapped in static PDF documents abandoned at the back of a desk drawer leaving critical customer intelligence underutilized.”

Unfortunately, there were few tools available for identifying and researching personas.  Instead B2B marketers focused on building segments that approximated their personas for marketing campaigns while product managers posted persona profiles in meeting rooms during road mapping and feature definition exercises but failed to use these tools beyond the early product definition stage.

Recently, three vendors have begun to address the B2B persona problem.  Zoominfo focuses on  amongst a company’s best customers.  These personas capture enough information about the attributes of their best customers to help identify similar prospects at other companies.  Such a tool operates as a next generation customer cloning tool as it looks at both firmographic and functional information around leads.  The tool can also be used to evaluate attendees at conferences or webinars to help tailor discussions.

ZoomInfo Personas provide a multi-dimensional cluster analysis for identifying persona categories and prospecting against them.
ZoomInfo Personas provide a multi-dimensional cluster analysis for identifying persona categories and prospecting against them.

Avention also recently rolled out its OneSource DataVision platform for enrichment, segmentation analysis, and Look-alike prospecting.

Leutz recommends that the firm ask questions such as

  • Who are your top performing customers?
  • Who are your best leads?
  • What were your biggest deals?
  • Which customers close faster?

This information that can be gathered from the CRM, marketing automation platform, webinar attendees, and trade show lists.  It can also be gathered from your sales reps, the CFO, and customer conversations.

While Zoominfo can assist with answering Who, they fail to provide insights into What or Why.  In short, Zoominfo’s personas are basically the next generation of peer listings;  they are a starting point for the persona process, but they do not assist with identifying persona needs; determining whether the cluster contains economic buyers, influencers, or users; or specifying what kind of content would be of interest to them.  They also do not assist product management in determining product roadmaps and future capabilities.

There are also several vendors that recently launched tools for defining and maintaining buyer and user personas.  Cintell and Akoonu offer marketers tools for defining personas in a centralized platform that collects survey data and research alongside the profiles.  Both of these services were launched about a year ago so will be evolving quickly.  The two services are cloud based hubs for collecting persona information and sharing it with both platforms (e.g. Marketing Automation and CRM) and employees.  They are ongoing intelligence gathering services for continuously refining and updating personas and then disseminating this intelligence to marketing, sales, and product management.

Cintell Personas cover professional insights, social insights, content trends (intent data), and personality data.
Cintell personas cover professional insights, social insights, content trends (intent data), and personality data.

They also promise to immediately map leads to personas, helping inform messaging, campaigns, and targeting within the marketing automation platform and segmentation and analytics in the CRM.  When tied to a well-researched persona, sales reps would have a better understanding of the prospect’s role, needs, and informational requirements.  Personas provide sales reps with a summary of buying habits, preferences, and motivations along with market research reports, customer interviews and surveys, and persona specific articles.  As living documents shared across the organization, they would also assist product management in identifying latent needs and customer pain points and marketing communications in tailoring content for the persona.

“Our new empowered B2B consumer seeks relevancy and empathy,” said Cintell Co-Founder Katie Martell.  “And marketers know this: In a recent ITSMA study, technology marketers  predicted that understanding buyers will soon become their #1 responsibility.  But getting to this insight is not easy. Efforts to research and leverage personas today are highly manual, shallow, very static, and fragmented throughout the business. The opportunity here is to empower B2B organizations with a platform to gather primary research, enhance it with external market and buyer insights, and combine it with data from internal business systems. The new competitive advantage for companies is a richer understanding of buyers through meaningful, ongoing customer intelligence.”

I don’t see these persona definition platforms as long-term standalone offerings as their functionality is a tight fit for marketing automation.  They will likely be folded into marketing automation platforms once the technology has matured.  It is also possible that predictive analytics companies fold these tools into their products as persona assignments would inform lead scoring and messaging.  Furthermore, several of the predictive firms aspire to becoming recommendation engines, a feature that persona platforms could easily support.  Conversely, business signals would be valuable in building out a fuller understanding of personas.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s