Marketing is all about good storytelling – and most marketers know this! The tricky part is understanding what the story is about, and who you’re telling it to.
Mediocre marketing tells a story about the brand – who we are, what we stand for, what we sell. Great marketing tells a story about the customer – the goals they’re trying to achieve, the life they want to live, the person they aspire to be, and how the things we (the brand) sell help advance that story.
One might say the difference between a mediocre marketing story and the next Great American Novel is the characters. Marketing is not an autobiography. Putting the customer at the center of the plot is essential.
And that’s why building customer personas (yes, even in B2B) is so important: because the customer personas you build tell you who the characters in your marketing story are – and thus, what your story needs to be about.
What Is a Customer Persona, Anyway?
Customer personas help brands define their ideal customers, humanize them, and operationalize them by providing marketing and sales with the insight they need to lay the groundwork for everything from successful ad campaigns, social media strategy, channel selection, content marketing, and more.
Personas are built using the information you have about your existing customers, including demographic, psychographic, and behavioral data. They don’t depict real customers of yours, but rather draw on what you know about all your customers in different segments to deliver a representational view. Ideally, a customer persona will be brief enough to be summarized in one page, and detailed enough that the marketer or salesperson using that persona can make reasonable, data-informed hypotheses about what this “person” likes, dislikes, struggles with, etc.
The Case for B2B Customer Personas
And while customer personas are frequently used in the B2C world, there’s ample motivation for B2B brands to get on board, as well.
Most B2B brands have done (or are doing) enough segmentation work to at least start to understand what kinds of markets they sell to, who their ideal and acceptable customers are, and what kind of customer wouldn’t be a good fit for their product or service. That segmentation work is an essential component of a go-to-market strategy, not to mention product development and product marketing efforts.
Persona building is a layer on top of segmentation, meant to help you understand, within a certain segment, what kinds of people or personality types you might encounter and want your marketing to speak to. They’re also an essential part of customer journey mapping because ideally, your journey map tells the story of a customer’s experience. We don’t tell stories about how a segment (e.g. “mid-sized professional services firms”) makes purchases or engages with us because…well, mid-sized professional services firms don’t make purchases. People make purchases. And in order to sell things to people, or create positive customer experiences for people…you need to understand people.
In the B2B world creating customer personas is especially helpful because odds are, you’re not selling or marketing to just one person, but rather, dealing with a buying group: a set of individuals with different perspectives, needs, and pain points, who need to come together in order to make a purchase decision. Understanding those people, and who among them has most influence on the purchase decision, can help your brand better support buyers through their buying tasks, to purchase, and through the customer journey to repurchase, loyalty, and advocacy.
So How Do I Start Building A B2B Customer Persona?
To start building B2B customer personas, first look to your segmentation work, if you have it. Which segments are ideal for you – most valuable, or of highest priority given your commercial goals? What kinds of businesses are ideal vs. acceptable customers for you? Focus your persona-building efforts on those segments, rather than building a set of personas for every segment you might sell to (and if you haven’t done any segmentation work, talk to us! Gartner can help you get started).
Ideally, your personas should “bring your segments to life”, meaning personas will capture the essential information about a given segment that marketing and sales could use to better connect with buyers in that segment. You may want to examine who was on the buying group for past closed deals, to start to understand what kinds of stakeholders are most commonly involved in purchasing from you.
Draw on data sources like:
- Sales rep interviews
- Customer surveys
- Customer interviews and VOC
- Behavioral data
Finished persona profiles should give marketers and sellers insights into questions like: What business issue this persona is trying to solve? What barriers might they raise or experience during the purchase process? Where do they go to do research? How do they set their purchase criteria and make a selection? How do they use the product, and how do they evaluate it as customers? Try to incorporate natural customer language into the persona profiles as much as possible using actual quotes from customers.
An important caveat: don’t assume you must build out a persona profile for every single stakeholder involved in a purchase. Personas can certainly include role information, or be role-based, but remember your goal is not to map team roles, but to understand the types of people that might be worth targeting in your marketing and sales efforts. You may find that your personas encompass or span several different roles!
Once you have your personas built, you’ll begin the work of socializing them across the organization. They should become a core component of future journey mapping work, as the customer journey looks different for different kinds of individuals. And you will have to update your buyer personas (and your segmentation, and your journey maps) over time as customers and contexts change.
But you will now have the foundation for not only understanding your customers better, but also understanding how your customers relate to one another – giving you both scale and increased opportunity for tailored, resonant marketing, smoother deal progression, and improved customer experiences.
For more information on how B2B organizations can segment their customers, map buying-group stakeholders, build B2B customer personas, and apply them to demand generation, sales enablement, content marketing, and customer experience work, reach out to your Gartner account representative and schedule an Inquiry call with us!