Last week, Steve Rayson wrote a blog post over on Anders Pink, B2B Buyer Personas - A Waste of Time? I'm honored that he wrote about a post I published and shared a few metrics I'd not seen. Steve's blog post is solid and pulls in other research and points to be considered - you should go read it.
But Steve concluded with one point that I'd like to counter. He wrote:
"The challenge for B2B companies is to create content that addresses the questions B2B buyers are asking and helping buyers make better decisions. This is complex with multiple people involved as the buying process progresses. Thus it seems to me that buyer personas are more essential than they ever were. However, single buyer personas are probably ineffective and could well be a waste of time. What is required is a full understanding of the buying process, multiple buyer personas and a clear identification of their requirements at each stage of the process."
[Note: emphasis moved to make my point]
I don't mean to be rude, but I disagree with this kind of thinking. Although that last sentence in his paragraph is right on the money, it's the one I highlighted that has me stirred up. It's the equivalent of thinking "this project is too big (expensive, complex, difficult), so instead, I'll do nothing."
Quitting before you start when you know improving the relevance of your marketing programs will bring rewards is a huge fail. Yes, B2B companies buy with committees. Yes, to do this optimally would require more than one persona.
But a HUGE misconception is that buyer personas are an all-or-nothing proposition.
Sometimes taking an iterative approach to a complex program can be the best way to tackle it. Think about the value you can reap from just one persona. With personas this can be especially valid considering that what's at the end of a persona project is content strategy and development. Sometimes, it's not the persona creation that's the problem, but the execution that goes with each one.
So let's say you can only produce one persona.
First - select the primary persona that sales is clamoring to get into conversation - provided that marketing can influence them. This is important. For example, many salespeople want to speak with CXOs but what we learn is that someone at the director level is doing the research, evaluation and creating the short list for their CXO boss. So take a good look at your choice.
Now let's look at the benefits that one persona can bring:
- Relevance: There's always one persona who is a primary target over the others for each company - one that is better as a way in than the others. If you look at your database, this persona likely makes up a bigger group of contacts than the others. Wouldn't you rather be highly relevant to this major audience than to be serving up good, but not really compelling content, to all of them?
- Your Ideas in the Room: The thing about B2B personas is that they're part of a group - a buying committee. They talk to each other. They eventually need to reach consensus. If the persona you target is influential, then he or she is capable of bringing your company's ideas and expertise into those conversations.
Considering that short lists are created today - often without speaking to the vendor - this is a critical consideration. But to be motivated to do so, your content must be so relevant that your prospect thinks he came up with them. A persona can help you get there.
- Pass-Along Value: During the interviews you conduct for developing your ONE persona, you'll learn a lot of things. Asking the right questions is critical. But, if you know you're only creating one, then make sure to ask about the others involved, who can push back and why. What obstacles did this persona have to overcome to gain consensus?
Armed with this information, you can generate content that will help your prospect answer these questions and respond to pushback introduced by others on the buying committee. He or she will pass along your content to help validate the answers.
These are only three benefits, but they should be good enough to get you to consider why even one persona is better than none.
But consider the learning benefits for your marketing team, as well.
One persona is a test bed for:
- Proving increased relevance will make a quantifiable difference
- The opportunity to tweak and refine and learn what works
- Quick wins that earn the ability to ask for more budget and prove it's a good investment
- Developing a process and workflow for content development
- Developing a persona-driven engagement program for better execution
- Creating one solid story across the entirety of the buying process tha can serve as a template as you add more personas when you're ready.
One of the things I always ask clients at the onset of a persona project is if they have the resources to actually put the personas to work. If they don't, then creating them all now isn't the best choice.
Because personas are never once and done. They need continuous updating and refinement. Three or six months or a year from now they will be different - depending of course on fast fast the market you serve is moving.
If all you can do is create one persona, I say, Get moving! The payoffs will be worth the effort.
If you want to get your feet wet, try the Up Close and Persona app that's featured over to the right. It's a free, simplified process, but it will get you started thinking about what's involved in creating one persona.