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Buyer personas are only as useful as the information you collect during buyer interviews, so it’s critical that what you capture and document in your personas is valuable to your marketing process. In the B2B realm, there are a few common areas that are always useful, and some information that is only useful in specific circumstances. Here’s the down-low on what you should consider when building your buyer persona:

B2B Buyers are People Too

A critical mistake many B2B marketers make is focusing too much on business-value messaging. The Corporate Executive Board, in partnership with Google, released a 2013 study that revealed the missing link for many B2B buyers was an emotional connection to the company brand. This statistic may be a bit surprising; you’ve probably written a lot about rational things when marketing to B2B prospects.

B2B prospects don’t stop being people the instant they put on work clothes.

“The reality is a person is a person throughout the purchase process,” says Stephanie Tilton, principal of Ten Ton Marketing.
It’s important to know the person behind the title when developing your buyer persona. Now this doesn’t necessarily mean collect demographic data about the individual; instead, focus on the pain points in their professional life.

Do they manage people that they have to develop? What, for them, constitutes success? Are they looking to climb the ladder at their company? What new technologies or industry trends concern them? Is there some sort of internal barrier to making decisions at their company? Where do they go for information? These are just some examples of questions that help you get to know the person you’re trying to influence.

Knowing the person behind the title has also taken on much greater importance as buyers have become more empowered in recent years. “[Buyers are] inundated with a lot of noise,” says Adele Revella, president of Buyer Persona Institute. If you don’t show value right away, Revella notes, your buyers are likely to disengage quickly. As a result, gathering demographics is only part of the story — now you need to know what motivates and inspires your buyer too.

What to Include in Your Persona

Certainly, basic demographic data is important to your buyer persona, but it isn’t the only information a good persona needs. A robust buyer persona includes the basic qualifications and duties for the target job role, along with top priorities and what success against those priorities actually looks like. You also need to know the decision criteria for the buyer; these are the measuring sticks used to evaluate alternative solutions to a problem.

Another class of information to include is perceived barriers. These are what the buyer thinks will prevent them from achieving their goals, as well as impede doing business with you. This area can sometimes provide the most critical information in the entire persona development process, but it’s also the toughest because this line of questioning can reveal bad news about your company. Buyer personas show their true value here, and Revella actually warns her consulting clients upfront that they’re going to hear some negative things about their company when her team runs their persona interviews.

What Not to Include

Business decisions are made by people whose emotions affect their decisions, but according to Tilton, this doesn’t mean you need to include personal details.

“I still see B2B marketers thinking it’s important to note that Bob, who’s the CIO, is married and on the weekend likes to play volleyball,” says Tilton.

However, not everyone agrees. Karen McPhillips, VP of marketing for PlumChoice, notes a clear benefit for hobbies in how you structure creative materials, your content marketing, and even events. For example, one of the personal dimensions included in her company’s IT Managers/Directors persona is that they want to be viewed as heroes. McPhillips suggests working heroism into your marketing when targeting those IT professionals.

“Maybe there’s some fun, creative aspect where you bring in Star Trek, for example,” says McPhillips.

Keep in mind that you shouldn’t focus too heavily on personal details in your B2B persona. The critical information to know is how your buyer works, who they work with, and what factors influence their decisions. Personal details such as a love of Star Trek can only add flavor to your marketing messages; that shouldn’t influence your persona too heavily.

How Long Does this Take?

Developing a robust buyer persona takes a fair amount of time. Revella says eight to 10 interviews is generally enough to gather good insight and develop the initial persona. Keep in mind too that this isn’t a one-and-done activity, so to speak. You’ve got to conduct at least one interview a month, Revella says, in order to keep on top of what’s going on in the marketplace.

“We really want this to be an ongoing investment that the company is making,” Revella says.

A detailed, effective buyer persona can make the difference between targeted marketing that increases corporate sales or “one-size-fits-all” product-centric messaging that completely ignores the very real pain points your buyers deal with on a day-to-day basis. It’s within your power to create the kind of personas you need to drive marketing results; all you’ve got to know is what to include and what to leave out.

Sometimes, creating a good buyer persona can feel like a game; as it turns out, that’s not the only way games can infiltrate the B2B sales process. See how savvy managers have started to gamify the B2B sales process to maximize effectiveness.

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