The rush to personas continues in B2B. But the value returned from that investment sure feels questionable. from a marketing perspective (user personas for product design and usability are incredibly valuable). I did an informal poll of our go-to-market team and we struggled to come up with examples of personas having a big, positive impact (if you have any, we’d love to hear from you).
There are a few reasons why I believe that is the case (based on my own client discussions and our team discussion):
- The biggest value in B2C personas comes from grouping people based on psychographic characteristics (how they want to be perceived, etc.). But in B2B, an individual’s psychographic dimensions have to fit within the organizational context.
- Persona efforts tend to focus on individuals, but they don’t work alone. B2B Buying is done by large teams.
- Often most of the focus is “what belongs in the persona,” rather than how it will be used. My colleague Suzanne White advises on building “personas with a purpose.” She suggests that you start at the end–focusing on how the personas will be used can help shape what goes into them.
Given this, what then matters most with B2B personas for marketing? The title said the most important thing, but I’ll extend it to two.
- The most important persona-style effort a B2B organization can invest in is the development of an ideal customer profile, something we coined as “The Enterprise Persona.” That profile can, and should include psychographics of the enterprise (among other dimensions)–something that Gartner is helping with via our Enterprise Technology Adoption Profiles. You can build 3 personas in this area. You start with the ideal customer. Then identify deviations from the ideal that would be viable as a good target–the acceptable customer profile. And, finally, identify deviations from ideal that would be a signal that a win, or the ability to make sure the client got value even if you win, would be unlikely–the unacceptable customer profile. Understanding this is most important.
- Once you know your ideal customer, then you need to understand who participates in the buying team. As you do this, you may want to think about personas (with purpose of course). But when you do that, there is a big difference in focus from what is most often associated with personas. We aren’t looking for the unique messages to the individual persona. Instead, we are looking for the common themes that can unite the different personas to build consensus (This is explored in detail in the great book–that I cite a lot “The Challenger Customer“). Where can you look for that common ground? Well you might start by looking at your ideal customer profile (and consider doing some positioning work as well).
Most of all, don’t invest in personas blindly and don’t agonize over them. Find focal points of value and invest there. If needed, expand over time as you find other “purposes for personas.”
But, always, always, always, put the enterprise context and the search for common ground first in your B2B persona efforts.
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