Developing and Applying Buying Personas

3 October 2017 | Research

We take a look at the emergence of Buying Personas, and the role of research in helping to develop them, as B2B suppliers seek to develop customer models which combine practical and emotional needs with a view to meeting them more effectively.

The rise of Buyer Personas – a tool to help B2B marketing

Achieving a successful business relationship in the B2B environment has always been notoriously difficult.  It needs to accommodate a range of individuals who have different roles, objectives and interests at heart.  Trying to please everyone can often dilute the offer, and focusing on a single individual runs the risk of missing or alienating a vital part in the decision chain.

Over the past 10 years, corporate buying processes have increased in timescale and complexity, which has compounded the problem.  More and more people are becoming involved in decision making, and companies are also increasingly seeing the involvement of procurement departments which have a unique set of goals (many of which may be separate from the actual project under discussion).

Understanding and combining these disparate needs can be a herculean task.

Add to this the growth of the online environment – companies are undertaking more self-directed research before they even approach a potential supplier, and are less reliant on ‘traditional’ sales pitches to gather information and make initial judgements about potential partners.  It is ever more difficult to gain traction with B2B buyers, and indeed you may be knocked off the list before you even knew you were on it.

To help cope with the new challenge, we are seeing an increase in B2B companies developing buyer personas.

A buyer persona is purely a structure to help understand how products and services are bought by key customer segments.  In essence creating archetypes of people who represent the actual buyers, it is based on insight into buyers’ buying behaviours – including the goals, needs and objectives of a buyer.

The buyer persona is then harnessed to make informed decisions on effective marketing and sales strategies, targeted at different stages/ levels within the buying process.

Buyer personas can be a very powerful tool to draw together the factual and emotional underpinnings of corporate decision making.

They unpeel the layers of the ‘corporate onion’ to really understand and portray the goals, attitudes and outcomes of that organisation, thus placing buying decisions in context.

Buyer personas are research based representations of the buyer – who they are, what their behaviours are and what is driving this behaviour, how they think, when and where they buy. We are aiming to identify a collective pattern of attitudes, beliefs, perceptions and drivers and represent this in a single, specific entity that represents these buyers – in effect a behavioural segmentation that is buyer-centric.

Key for a buyer persona is that it moves beyond the rational/ functional aspects and includes emotional dimensions.

B2B buyers are people too, and emotion does play apart in decision making.  This is different from a segment (groupings of similar entities which can be based on any set of rules within the data – most often based on demographics) or a cohort (groupings based on similar experiences).

Understanding the buying process, or customer journey mapping, is not new. However, these techniques often focus on a set of actions that a buyer takes in the journey – and certainly these can be used to improve the experience – but this does not get under the skin of the buyer and look at what is motivating their behaviour.

Developing a buyer persona hinges on independent qualitative and ethnographic
research as well as anthropology (business and digital).

This is not something that can simply be created – it needs a strong and solid research foundation. A buyer persona will include a blend of demographics, firmographics and psychological insight.

What is important in a buyer persona is understanding the landscape, objectives and needs, value drivers, motivations and obstacles that impact on buyer decision making. What are clients’ pain points, what are the success factors and barriers to buying from this brand, what are the decision criteria?

By going beyond the functional and really understanding how, when and why buyers come to their decisions, and then grouping buyers based on beliefs, priorities, goals and preferences, it becomes clearer whether, which ones and how those decisions can be influenced – we are moving from just looking at the attributes of the person to understanding the triggers, outcomes and resources that influence the buying decision.

And this is where research comes in.

A buyer persona should be a well-rounded, 360-degree view of the buyer– and should include the customer voice, the sales team view and other available insights and information.

We are not trying to create the business equivalent of a consumer segmentation, but rather something that is focused on what buyers are trying to achieve within their business context.  Each ‘persona’ may include several archetypes – for example an influencer, target user and buying team – and these may be very different from each other according to their responsibilities, areas of focus and strategies/ goals.

The research task is to collate this information and develop a usable and actionable persona that can then be implemented throughout the supplier organisation.

This is not as easy as it sounds – and distinguishing the useful information from the merely interesting is a real discipline that requires a lot of time and thought.

The ultimate benefit is that, by understanding these drivers, it is easier for suppliers to develop approaches and materials to achieve the desired outcome, and in doing so create a more compelling and satisfactory experience for the customer.  A buyer persona combines the practical benefits of a course of action with the emotional rewards of that action set within the corporate context.

A well-developed buyer persona allows suppliers to apply the knowledge through well timed and targeted interventions, so the ultimate customer is more likely to engage with and contribute to the process and progress being made – this is the difference between simply pushing someone towards a course of action, and involving them in that action so that they work with you to achieve the desired outcome.

Writing well targeted content, understanding what is influencing them, segmenting them effectively and developing a brand presence that ‘speaks’ to customers will make clients’ offers more relevant and engaging.

Whilst they are tricky to get right, understanding how to create this momentum through emotional engagement underpins the value of buyer personas.

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