Meet Michelle. 👋 Michelle is 38 years old and lives with her partner and two dogs in North Carolina. She is the Marketing Manager for a medium-sized construction company, earns $70,000 per year, and is looking for a way to increase leads and generate more revenue for the sales team in her organization.
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You’ve probably seen something similar to this. Either within the organization that you currently work for or another. It’s a typical, albeit brief, example of a traditional buyer persona.
A buyer persona is the fictionalized representation of an ideal customer companies use to guide their strategy and tactics. Their aim is to pinpoint your potential customers' specific needs and interests in a bid to make it easier to create focused content and messaging to meet these specific needs and concerns.
Most marketers will say buyer personas are a crucial component of any organization, essential to ensuring that you are targeting the correct people at the correct point in their journey.
“It’s hard to overstate the importance of creating buyer personas. Whether your organization is engaged in B2B, B2C, or non-profit marketing makes little difference. Why? Because the creation of buyer personas should inform everything you do as a business owner or inbound marketing professional.”
And they are still important. However, the way that they have previously been created and implemented (or not, in some cases) is outdated.
We need to re-examine why and how buyer personas are created and used in order to ensure that they enhance the buying experience. But first, let’s dig a little deeper into what exactly a traditional buyer persona looks like:
What exactly is a traditional buyer persona?
The purpose of a buyer persona is fundamental to help you understand your customers (and prospective customers) better.
Adele Ravella, author of Buyer Personas, defined a buyer persona as:
“... an archetype; a composite picture of the real people who buy, or might buy, products like the ones you market, based on what you’ve learned in direct interviews with real buyers”
Buyer personas help your team focus your time on qualified prospects, in order to ideally attract leads that will close and customers that you are more likely to retain.
In other words, the buyer persona is an exercise that you go through so you can not only identify easily your specific buyer in a crowded marketplace, but perhaps more importantly, your best fit buyer can identify you as the right fit for them in a sea of many choices.
Depending on your business, you may have a little as one or two personas, or as many as 20. The problem is, however, that traditional buyer personas are not always based on a deep understanding of your potential customers.
Why are traditional buyer personas no longer effective?
The ultimate goal of any marketing pursuit is to create a smoother, more meaningful buying process that results in an increase in leads, revenue and profits. However, I see a few mistakes organizations make repeatedly. The three most common and problematic mistakes:
Creating buyer personas using inaccurate data.
Focusing solely on demographic data.
Organizations take too long to make them and then forget about them.
1. Creating buyer personas using inaccurate data
In order to utilize your buyer persona, it needs to be accurate.
Oftentimes, organizations will develop a buyer persona using facts gleaned from online research. However, this information is not specific to your company and product. It focuses on high-level pain points and generalizations.
To create a usable buyer persona, you will need to uncover specific insights about your ideal customers. This will enable you to create the content required to communicate effectively with the people you truly want to work with and attract, and not a vague hypothesis.
The best way to develop an accurate buyer persona is to speak to your sales teams and talk to your customers and potential customers via intensive market research. This will allow you to gather clear and deep insights on how and why your buyers choose you (or in some cases don’t choose you).
This in-depth feedback provides immeasurable insights and will allow you to develop a buyer persona that is actually reflective of your ideal customer.
2. Organizations focus heavily on demographic data
Potentially the main challenge that organizations face with traditional buyer personas, is that they are heavily focused on demographic data.
Age. Location. Profession. Interests. Yes, they might be relevant, and important to consider in terms of targeting and messaging, but they don’t necessarily tell you how and why these people buy your product or service.
Your buyer persona needs to be more nuanced and sophisticated. It needs to go further than demographic data and explore how they purchase.
By focusing on demographics, businesses are missing one really important thing: They don’t take into consideration how our potential customers buy.
How do they actually make a buying decision? What is important for them to understand in order to become confident in that buying decision? What questions do they ask before buying?
We already know that the way buyers make purchasing decisions has changed over the last decade. IMPACT partner Marcus Sheridan explored this in detail in his book They Ask, You Answer.
Simply put, consumers have the means to be more informed than ever about their purchase. With the world at their fingertips, the buying process has fundamentally shifted. And a buyer persona needs to take this into account.
3. Organizations take too long to make them and then forget about them
Oftentimes, organizations get caught up in a long, involved process to develop a fictionalized representation of what their ideal buyer looks like. Then once that’s all done and dusted, they put the buyer persona in a digital drawer, never to be looked at again.
These personas don’t get used by the marketing or sales teams and, even worse, they never get updated or evolve even though the buyer constantly is.
If accurate and applied, a buyer persona can be a crucial component of your marketing and sales strategy. However, there is really no point in creating a buyer persona if you don’t use it to inform the buying process.
Your buyer persona needs to be woven into every aspect of your marketing strategy. It should inform all of your marketing decisions and communications.
Rarely used and inaccurate buyer personas based heavily on demographics are not working as they should. The amount of time and therefore money that goes into creating these personas means they need to be relevant. They need to help focus content and allow you to communicate effectively with your ideal client.
So, do you really need a buyer persona?
The short answer is yes. You do need a buyer persona.
Understanding your consumer is crucial. It’s the core component of They Ask, You Answer, and any strong marketing strategy.
You do need to understand your customer better than anyone else and be willing to answer their questions in a way that no one else will. Personas are one of the best ways to do this, but we need to change the way they are created and managed.
How to create buyer persona the right way
Go beyond demographics
You can’t just hone in on demographic data and assume that this will be enough to effectively communicate with your ideal buyer.
You need to focus equally on buyer behavior. Why do your customers buy, and how do they move through the buying process? Understanding this will allow you to create a buyer persona that truly documents how and why people buy.
According to Adele Ravella, five critical components should be included in your buyer persona, and they all relate to the how and why of your customers' buying behavior.
What goes into buckets? I’ve included examples of a potential IMPACT client to illustrate these components:
1. Priority initiatives: List three to five problems your potential buyer will encounter that will help justify the purchase of your product/service.
Example: We know that we need to focus on generating more of the right type of leads for our sales team.
2. Success factors: These are tangible or intangible benefits the buyer associates with success, and how your product/service will help them achieve this success.
Example: Our leads and revenue will increase, and the caliber of clients that we attract will improve.
3. Perceived barriers: What factors stand in the way of your company being the chosen purchase? Why would someone not buy from us?
Example: We’re more expensive than the competition and we don’t do a good job of explaining our pricing model.
4. Buying process: How does the potential customer explore and select a solution that will overcome the barriers and help them achieve success?
Example: Seeking recommendations, searching online to find two or three companies that seem to be the best in the marketplace.
5. Decision criteria: What aspect of the product will the buyer assess when evaluating alternative solutions available? This should include research from buyers who choose your product and those who don’t.
Example: What is the time and cost commitment as well as the potential ROI of implementing a new digital sales and marketing strategy? How long will it take?
All these components should be included in a buyer-focused buyer persona that will help you effectively understand your potential buyer. They should each be evaluated in-depth to ensure a comprehensive view of your ideal buyer is understood.
This understanding is inherent to the They Ask, You Answer process. Understanding your customer better than anyone in your industry is at its core. And this model of buyer persona will help you more comprehensively explore the nuances of buyer behavior and incorporate these into your marketing plan.
In addition to these factors, ask yourself and ensure your personas answer the following questions:
What specific problems do we solve for our ideal buyers?
How, in their own words, would our buyer describe their problems?
How do we solve these specific problems?
In what ways does the buyer benefit from our solution?
Why would someone NOT buy from us?
What are the most common sales questions and objections we receive in the buying process?
Exactly how does a good-fit buyer evaluate their options and decisions?
In what ways do we help our buyers evaluate and make a confident decision?
What are the most important decision-making factors for a buyer?
What do we already know about our ideal-fit buyers who have already bought from us and enjoy working with us?
Test, then document
Don't spend months researching and putting together this persona and not actually marketing or selling. We've seen companies do this, and it quickly turns into months of no actual work being done, just research that may be outdated by the time you're "done."
You need to take what you know about your persona (or your assumptions) and start testing it out; seeing how it actually performs in the wild, then documenting what works. This is the insight that is truly valuable and should make up your persona. And once you have it, you need to be regularly updating your documentation to reflect any changes.
Armed with this information, marketing teams can create strategically designed content to attract ideal-fit buyers, and sales teams can more easily identify ideal-fit buyers in the marketplace.
All in all, when done right, buyer personas lead to a far more effective digital sales and marketing strategy.