I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with personas. While I truly believe in adapting your communication to specific audiences, and the the exercise of developing personas forces you to deepen your understanding of the people you market and sell to, I also feel that there are some risks. In B2B markets, everything is bought in the context of the enterprise. If you develop communications for different personas on the buying team that are too tailored to the individual and lose the enterprise context, you put the opportunity at risk.
But there is one persona that really matters. It may not have been thought of as a persona before, but it matters most. That is the persona of the enterprises that you target. Now, persona purists may not like the idea of a company having a persona. In that case, just call it your Ideal Customer Profile. That’s fine too. But it is absolutely critical that everyone involved in sales and marketing for a particular product or service understands this concept in depth.
Bob Apollo, from Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners, recently shared his guide for identifying ideal customers. It is a great read and demonstrates the depth with which we have to understand our target customers.
Some of the key areas for an Enterprise Persona include:
- Firmographics – These are the basics like size, industry, location. But you may want to go further into some of these by looking at size of a group within the firm or the number of locations,
- Demand Drivers – This could include things like changing regulations or competitive pressures.
- Technology Environment – In tech, this is looking at their current technology landscape. Do they have older technology that needs to be replaced? Does a single vendor dominate their technology stack?
- Decision Process – How do they make decisions? Is there a lot of consensus needed or is it top down?
But there are also other psychographic factors that reflect more of the personality of the organization:
- What area drives the technology agenda? Is it business or IT driven?
- How do they approach planning and budgeting? Will they consider new ideas immediately or force them into their planning cycles?
- What is their motivation regarding new technology? Do they want the newest things that they believe can give them an advantage? Or, to the prefer to wait until technology is proven?
And the list could go on and on. And frankly, while it may seem like a lot, you should be continually expanding and refining this persona. The more completely you understand your ideal customer the more effective you will be. It will also provide really useful insights into your individual personas (e.g. The persona for a business unit change agent in an organization where IT drives the technology agenda might include “She is frustrated by IT slowing down the implementation of her new ideas due to claims of needing to assess fit with architectural standards.”)
A great enterprise persona is invaluable for segmentation and qualification. It helps marketing be more targeted. It guides more focused messaging. And it helps maximize the impact and focus of the sales organization.
As you think about the enterprise persona, you can take it even further, as Bob suggested in his piece. For every area that you cover, also look at it from two other perspectives. Beyond the attribute that makes a customer ideal, is there a different “value” that would make them a terrible fit, e.g. qualify them out. For example, and this was more prevalent in the past before As-A-Service models strengthened, a key question was always “Are you a Microsoft or a Unix (and now Linux) shop?” for many vendors. Similarly, are there values that, while not being ideal, are “acceptable.” You could bring this to life with the “anti-persona” and the “okay persona.”
As you go down the path of personas, make sure that the persona you put the most focus on in B2B is the enterprise persona. And evolve it regularly as you learn more and more about your customers.