7 Tips for a Successful Buyer Persona Exercise

In today’s B2B marketplace, a successful brand hinges on your ability to understand your customers and prospective buyers. Buyer personas provide the information you need to create and maintain your brand because they offer comprehensive insights about the decision-makers who purchase your products or services.

Best Practices for Creating Buyer Personas

1. Identify your goals for the persona exercise.

The first step in building personas involves gathering information about your key buyers. Before you start, you need to identify your goals because the information you gather will vary based on your objectives for the exercise. Questions you should consider include:

What do you want to learn? Do you want a clearer understanding of your audiences’ pain points to help you craft messaging around their challenges? Or do you want to understand the buying process to better target your customers?

How will the personas be used? Not all buyer personas are the same. For example, buyer personas for social media are different than buyer personas for websites. The way you intend to use the persona will influence the types of interviewees you source and the questions you ask.

Who will use them? In the same way that needs differ by audiences, needs also vary based on the people who will use the personas in your organization. Make sure the data you collect for your buyer persona exercise aligns with the requirements of designated users.

2. Decide whether you’ll perform a segmented or unsegmented persona exercise.

Depending on available resources and team structure, you might conduct a segmented or unsegmented exercise. In a segmented exercise, you’ll look at various buyer segments of your business; in an unsegmented exercise, you’ll categorize your customers/prospects into two groups — the economic buyer and the lead researcher.

The benefit of a segmented exercise is that it provides a more granular view of your target audiences. In this approach, you can build different marketing engagement strategies to target each persona. Common ways to segment buyer personas for B2B companies include company size, geography, industry and job roles. The benefit of an unsegmented approach is that it requires fewer total interviews. But because you’re grouping customers and prospects by their purchasing role, you may want to conduct a segmented study in the future to gain a better understanding of your customers and prospects.

3. Determine the mix of research methods

There are multiple ways to conduct research. Typically buyer personas are developed based on qualitative inputs. By incorporating both interviews and surveys, you can collect qualitative and quantitative data that produce deeper insights.

In general, interviews allow you to dig into the “why” behind actions. Be sure to probe deep on every response you receive. Surveys, on the other hand, are a great way to collect information at scale and validate your interview findings. You can use surveys to ask straightforward questions like your audiences’ preferred social channels or content types.

4. Source quality interviewees

The quality of the insights you collect will only be as good as the people you interview. Develop parameters and criteria for the people you interview, whether it’s for a segmented or unsegmented buyer persona study. It’s not only about nailing the right demographics, but also making sure the interviewees have relevant knowledge. The selection process for interviewees is critical for ensuring you speak to people capable of providing the most valuable insights.

Criteria to consider in the selection process include recent involvement in the buying journey, involvement in the decision-making process, knowledge of the evaluation criteria (the mandatory features or services), familiarity with the competitive set, understanding of the internal dynamics that led to purchase, and representation of the full scope of your customer base. Define must-have vs. nice-to-have criteria to ensure you’re speaking to knowledgeable candidates without slowing down the process.

5. Create a discussion guide

Compile the questions you plan to ask during the interviews in a discussion guide. A discussion guide is a useful tool for aligning your team prior to the actual interviews. It gives your team greater visibility to the process and clears up any questions before the interviews begin.

During interviews, the guide will serve as a reference. However, don’t feel like you have to stick to it verbatim. Trust your gut and ask for clarification if you feel something is missing. As you conduct interviews, you can also edit the discussion questions based on what you want to hear more of or what you’re not hearing. The guide is there to help you conduct the best interviews possible. Adapt it as you go to meet your needs.

6. Develop the personas.

After you collect data from the key audiences, it’s time to compile them into digestible and actionable personas. A couple of things to keep in mind as you develop personas:

Identify distinctions and discrepancies in insights. If you’re conducting a segmented study, you might notice an overlap of insights between personas. Go back to the interviews to look for nuanced differences. If there isn’t a noticeable variance between audiences, consider whether it makes sense to combine the personas. You might need fewer personas than you initially thought.

Supplement your insights with additional research. The business marketplace is constantly shifting. Look at industry trends to consider how the buying journey may be influenced. There might be trends that haven’t impacted your buyers, but soon will.

Buyer personas are never final. Just as your business and industry shift and evolve, your buyers change, too. This is especially evident in the tech industry. Revisit your personas and update them on an ongoing basis. You can also optimize them based on paid campaign performance or through A/B testing your website content.

6. Review the compiled personas with various teams in your organization

Educate the internal teams that work with your customers on your findings. Engage your marketing, sales and product teams. Although this step is often overlooked, it is essential for the accuracy, relevance and use of the personas you create.

Education and continual use of personas are key. Buyer personas are only effective when they’re embraced by the organization. Consider placing printouts on team members’ desks so they can refer to them on a daily basis. Also, consider bringing them up in team meetings to determine whether strategies are aligned with the personas.

Buyer personas are the building blocks of your marketing strategy. Only by understanding your target customers can you build a brand that resonates with your key audiences.

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