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The tried-and-tested way to get familiar with your audience is the persona. You know what they are. You’ve created many of them — we all have. But how do we really make them work for us?

It’s simple stuff. When you don’t truly know your audience, you make – or are forced to make – assumptions about them. You assume they want a speedy service over a quality one, or that they prefer tradition to innovation. Assumptions mostly rest on cliché, stereotype and half-truths. Working this way, your marketing becomes thin enough to see through.

So how do we refresh the sad B2B buyer personas we’ve got sitting in an old Word document? How do we turn them from something a bit academic and unloved into something we use time and time again to help strengthen our marketing?

This is how.

1. Go beyond demographics

Marketing personas should be built on the simple question: what do your buyers care about?

Whilst you might only need to know someone’s age and their income bracket to sell them a Kit Kat (!), in the B2B world things are a bit more complex. Demographics tell us very little about the desires, pains and values of our audience.

You need to understand what motivates your buyers, what problems they face and what makes them happy. You need to become a bit of a psychologist.

You already know where to look to gather this kind of information — you’ve got to get as close to your actual and potential customers as possible. You can use job specs, LinkedIn profiles, industry forums, professional websites and case studies. The most important thing is to actually speak face to face with real people in your audience. If you listen to what they have to say, and ask the right questions, you’ll learn more from them than you will from ten hours of online research.

Getting that data is the first step. Transforming it into something succinct and valuable is the next. We like to use a framework to structure the cares and concerns of our buyer personas into six core areas:

  • Jobs: what your audience are trying to get done, for example, launching a new campaign.
  • Motivations: what drives them to keep going, for example, always learning new things.
  • Goals: key milestones they’re working towards, for example, improving CPL to a certain target.
  • Challenges/tasks: problems they’re trying to overcome, for example, a poorly-implemented CRM system.
  • Pains: issues that make their life harder, for example, an incompetent colleague.
  • Gains: benefits they want, whether knowingly or unknowingly, for example, more recognition at work.

This is the framework we use to get into the mindset of our audience, which is inspired by Strategyzer’s wonderful ‘triggers’ that encourage you to think about what your customers do, want and need.

2. Include key areas of your Marketing Strategy

The problem with many buyer personas is that they tend to be a bit bland and generalised, so much so that they lose their usefulness in actual strategic and tactical marketing work.

To combat this try dividing your personas into sections: each section should contain relevant information for a core element of your marketing strategy. For example, you could have sections on value propositions, content creation, outbound marketing or advertising campaigns.

You need to know different things about your audience based on which area of marketing you’re focusing on. Their wants and needs change at different stages of the funnel and according to the different methods you’re using to reach them.

Like the CMI preaches, consider what your potential customer will be thinking and feeling at every stage in their buyer journey so you can allay their doubts and excite their hopes. If you integrate this information into your personas, you’ll find them ten times more useful than their bland counterparts.

When creating a value proposition, include the triggers that might cause your audience to search for a solution. When would the situation become bad enough to make change happen? What is your buyer persona looking for in a solution?

What objections are they likely to have to your solution, and how can you resolve them? What benefits will they need to see, to what degree, to overcome the negatives?

Once you’ve got all this information in your persona document, creating value propositions becomes a far easier task.

3. Stop thinking of personas in isolation

When you sell a B2B product or service, you’re not just selling to one person. You’re selling to an entire buying team who influence and impact each other continually throughout the buying process.

If you sell marketing software, you’re not just selling to the Marketing Director; you’re also selling to the CMO who gives their input, the CIO who signs off on the purchase and the Marketing Managers who each have their say.

Yes, you should be thinking about your buyer personas as human beings with strengths and weaknesses, hopes and fears — but within a business framework.

When you create personas, group them together into the teams that you’re likely to encounter during the selling process. Tony Zambito, persona expert, believes all B2B businesses should create company personas as well as buyer personas.

We structure buyer personas around this overall company persona that represents the type of business you want to work with. This shifts your personas towards the kind of account-based marketing that’s so important in B2B; otherwise, you’re targeting people that might belong to completely the wrong kind of organisation. You’ll also want to conduct deeper behavioural research into your company personas, rather than relying on demographic data — but that’s a topic for another post.

For now, if you include these three elements in your B2B buyer personas. you’ll turn them from dusty generalisations into practical tools to strengthen every element of your marketing.

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