By John Kennedy on 2016-09-14 10:09
To be found online today is critical, according to the 2014 State of B2B Procurement study from the Acquity Group, 94 percent of business buyers do some form of online research.
Knowing and understanding your market place has always been key for a successful sales & marketing strategy. And with increasing numbers using the Internet as a source for making informed buying decisions, knowing who your buyer is has become vital, and that’s where buyer personas come in as a part of a comprehensive inbound marketing programme.
A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on various data sources from market research, to existing customer insights and informed assumptions.
By creating a persona you should be able to visualise what these prospective customers are thinking and doing as they weigh up various options to solve a problem that they are searching to resolve.
Without knowing who your ideal customers are, their backgrounds, goals, challenges and how your product or service will benefit them - it’s very difficult to shape content to attract website visitors and build trust in what you are saying. Most businesses end up with a one dimensional customer description that is too generic and does not help the sales process.
Inbound marketing is about attracting leads to visit you, pulling in traffic to your website using content as a magnet, educating rather than selling to strangers who once nurtured become prospects, leads and eventually customers.
Content marketing is the fuel that drives the inbound marketing engine and it gives empowered buyers that are self-researching the answers they need.
When businesses present their content across multiple distribution channels the idea is to create interest and shift prospective customers towards your solution. More and more customers are looking for self-service experiences and want to research and buy online unassisted, with the option to receive support if any issues arise.
Having a well defined buyer persona will help you achieve a number of things:
- It's easier to create relevant content and reach your real audience with that content when you write with a person in mind
- It humanises your customers by painting a portrait of them
- It helps clarify the pain they experience and how you should present your business as a winning solution
- Targeted and relevant content will help build trust and reduce the length of the sales cycle
- It presents an opportunity to describe bad as well as good clients, a negative persona can support effective use of your time - no reason to target particular customers if you know they will never convert to a sale
Why do we need buyer's personas?
In terms of how we as businesses produce content what tends to happen is that we write for a large target group or segment of people and our message then gets watered down. Instead of grouping people into buckets trying to address too many different needs, a detailed buyer persona will help you figure out how your content fits into the buyer's journey, consumption habits and what influences their behaviour.
Creating buyer personas and integrating it with the buyer’s journeys will help you determine content type, format and the delivery strategy for your buyers.
What do we need to think about when starting out on a buyer's personas?
- We need to understand the way our personas think
- What are the alternative options they have available other than selecting your company
- What ultimately "tips them over" to buy
- Do they have particular content consumption preferences
- How can you influence their focus on you as a problem solver
- Articulating clearly what the buyer's pain is to solve or opportunity to exploit
What do you need to cover to create a buyer's personas?
- Facts & demographics (Name, gender, age, education, occupation, etc.)
- Behaviours & search habits (What websites do they visit? Where do they source information from?)
- Problem & needs (What service, similar to yours, are they using? What is their biggest challenge?)
- Goals & dreams (What are they trying to accomplish? What is most important to them?)
- Firmographics (company and organisation details)
- Key influencers (Who do they considers as a thought leader?)
Example below is from HubSpot and their persona checklist:
Starting out with buyer's personas
When just starting out as a business it is challenging to come up instantly with well thought out personas, so in the beginning it is accepted that these personas are mostly based around assumptions. If you need some inspiration on creating a persona, online tools such as personapp are a great way to get you started with this process.
To reveal as much as possible on how to influence your persona’s buying decision the 5 Rings of Buying Insight are a great way to see what affects your buyer's decision making (example below from www.buyerpersona.com).
- Priority initiatives – What causes certain buyers to invest in solutions like yours, and what is different about buyers who are satisfied with the status quo?
- Success factors – What operational or personal results do your buyers expect to achieve by purchasing this solution?
- Perceived barriers – What concerns cause your buyers to believe that your solution or company is not their best option?
- Buyer’s journey – Who and what impacts your buyers as they evaluate their options and make a selection?
- Decision criteria – Which aspects of competing products, services, solutions, or companies do your buyers perceive as most critical, and what do your buyers expect for each?
According to Forrester, "We have to start thinking of customers in very specific terms. Company size is no longer a sufficiently informative lead attribute". The key is understanding our customers business issues, interests, needs and pain points. 74% of business buyers told Forrester they conduct more than half of their research online before making an offline purchase.
A Marketing Sherpa case study found that using buyer personas leads to a 171% increase in marketing-generated revenue.
As the marketing revolution rolls on, buyers are making clear that they do not want to be sold to. They want to manage the relationship on their own terms, search for solutions to problems and educate themselves before they speak to a sales person.
Buying cycles today are longer and more complex as there are often more stakeholders to consider. This increases the need for a more collaborative approach between sales and marketing on how to engage customers.
The Buyer's Journey
The HubSpot approach (see below) can be used to assess what type of content your buyer personas will be searching for depending on what stage they are at in their buying journey. For example, maybe they are at the beginning and need to be aware only that they have an issue that needs to be addressed rather than your company trying to sell a solution too early.
The buyer's journey can be divided up into three different stages; Awareness, Consideration and Decision when the customer finally makes a purchase. The chart below summarises what type of content a buyer would potentially need on each stage of that journey.
The Sales Funnel
As you nurture the buyer persona through your sales funnel there will be a need to develop different content depending where they are in the funnel and the content consumption habits that they have. The sales funnel can typically be divided up into three parts:
1. Top Of Funnel (TOFU)
2. Middle Of Funnel (MOFU)
3. Bottom Of Funnel (BOFU)
For each of the above stages, there is a variation in both the message and possibly the communication platform from which to distribute the message, while moving through these stages, the content interests are going to change and become more specific to their problems, pains and priorities.
Conclusion / take aways
To make your buyers’ needs the focus of your marketing strategies and tactics, avoid the three biggest mistakes we can make with personas.
1. Don’t get too personal - the focus should be on how the buyer makes a decision
2. Stop basing your analysis on a "gut feeling" - talk to buyers and get their insights
3. Don’t develop too many buyer personas, because you will end up with too much work to be able to reap the benefits of a targeted approach
Buyer personas are proven to bring returns to your marketing — page visits, lead conversions, revenue and more. But if you're using buyer personas that aren't seeing ROI for your targeting, it may be time to revise them.
Download our Buyer's Personas templates to identify what data and insights you need to start building your Buyer Personas..