Personas are the way that B2B marketers have identified their buyers for years. Whether you use them for demand gen, email campaigns, social media, content marketing or even deciding what trade shows to attend, you are probably not getting the full benefit from them. It is now time to think differently about your personas.
Katie Martell is the co-founder and CMO of Cintell, a customer intelligence platform that enables companies to better understand their buyers. I had the chance to ask her some questions about the state of B2B buyer personas.
1. How are B2B buyer personas changing?
Personas have been traditionally used as a mechanism for identifying buyers, but unfortunately putting them to work has remained a challenge for many organizations. We’re all probably familiar with the smiling stock photos with a cute name like “Sally the Senior VP” hung on the wall of the office, or hiding somewhere on a company intranet. These important strategy tools are often trapped in what I call “PDF Purgatory” unused and quickly becoming irrelevant to the modern marketing and sales process.
However, in a world where B2B buyers expect a new level of relevance and a buying experience to match, high-performing organizations are figuring out how to embed personas into their workflows. In a recent benchmark study we conducted, for example, organizations who exceeded lead and revenue goal were 2.4X more likely to be effective or very effective at putting personas to work in their organizations.
They’re most commonly used to guide messaging, content marketing, and tone of voice, and companies who are able to use personas to guide demand generation activities were 2.4X as likely to exceed lead and revenue goals.
2. How has technology enabled personas to become the core of customer intelligence?
The landscape of customer intelligence solutions has always been focused on how to aggregate the right information about customers to make informed, relevant decisions across their lifecycle. Personas, however, have traditionally been considered a departure from customer intelligence efforts, as they are often constructed without any real intelligence (unfortunately many companies still use internal assumptions about buyers to construct personas) and live in static, disconnected formats such as a Powerpoint or PDF.
The rise of technology in the marketing industry has led to an explosion of information available to marketers about their buyers. We are sitting on gold mines of behavioral data in our marketing automation systems, for example, that can be used to validate some of these assumptions we’ve made about our personas. Data providers track immense amounts of highly actionable information about buyers across the web, including what they’re reading and downloading, what technologies they’re using, what’s happening in their industry and more. This information can be used to enhance our understanding of target audiences and in a real-time way so that personas are not only valid, they are maintained and kept up-to-date with our changing buyers.
3. What role do social media and content marketing play?
One external source of insights we’re seeing as very helpful in maintaining personas is Twitter. If your buyers are active across this network, they’re telling you a lot about themselves – for example, how they describe themselves in their bio field, what topics and individuals they are following and reading, what content types are resonating, and other intelligence around the key trends and real-time priorities in their world.
This, and other persona insight, is central to the role of content marketing. I like Jay Acunzo’s definition of content marketing, “Content marketing is just solving the same customer problems as your product but through media you create and distribute.”
To solve these problems, you need to understand these problems. Personas, done right, illustrate the problems faced by your audience in a way that allows you to know exactly what to create to catch their attention. More importantly, personas well-researched allow you to do so in the right tone of voice, using the right word choices, and published in the right places. In the same benchmark study mentioned, high-performing companies were 1.6X as likely to understand the fears and challenges of their buyers than companies who missed revenue and lead goals.
4. Many companies claim to be customer-centric, but their marketing doesn’t express that? How do personas help B2B companies focus on their customers?
CEO’s certainly want their organizations to be customer-centric. They know customer-centric companies are 60% more profitable (Deloitte and Touche), and 63% even see rallying their organizations around the customer to be one of the top three investment priorities this year (PWC). However, this sentiment is often given more lip service than real action.
Marketers are increasingly looked to as the resident expert on the customer, and there is a huge opportunity for marketing leaders to earn stronger internal visibility by driving customer intelligence into all areas of the business, using personas as a mechanism for understanding customer needs on a deeper level. When personas reflect the authentic needs and priorities of customer segments, they become immensely valuable to other functions, including sales, product development, and customer-support.
5. Describe how transformative it is for a company when personas are shared beyond the marketing department.
We know the impact of personas on marketing. Case studies have shown campaign lift, increased email marketing open rates, higher click-through rates, higher lead quality, and more. When personas can be utilized in other areas of the business, efforts across the board are more relevant and market-driven. Studies have shown 10-20% higher customer satisfaction levels, a metric that will make any Chief Customer Experience Officer happy, 3X increase in closed deals, and 2X faster time-to-market processes in product development. These are the numbers that customer-centric and market-driven companies can expect when action is taken over lip service.
6. How can B2B marketers get started thinking about personas in this new way?
For a B2B marketer who already has personas living in a PDF document, I would start by validating the existing insights. Are they accurate and up-to-date? Were they created with real research and data or driven by assumptions? Do they contain actionable insight relevant for sales? For content marketers? For demand gen? What information are you storing in your behavioral processes such as lead scoring / marketing automation that could help to inform/validate some of these insights? What third-party data providers do you have relationships with who could add more insight to your buying audience?
Once they’re created, it’s time to put them to work. Map your contact database to persona for proper segmentation. Make personas easily available in your CRM for sales to access quickly. Audit your content assets by persona to understand the gaps and help your teams understand who each piece is intended for. For more inspiration, here are 29 ways to use personas across the business.