Buyer Personas:  Get to Really Know Your Customers

Buyer Personas: Really Know Your Customers

Any marketer worth his or her salt will tell you that, despite the growing “online” nature of much of our social and business interactions and commerce, the foundational elements of good marketing have not, and will not, change. Identifying and understanding your best target segments and buyers, and fashioning a compelling value proposition and effective messaging that communicates that value proposition, still anchor successful marketing plans.

Online commerce does, however, offer opportunities to enhance and refine an organization’s approach to building these plans. Inbound marketing techniques, supported by robust and well-designed web sites that provide targeted, relevant content, make it possible to provide prospects and customers with a richer and more personalized buyer experience.

Of course, the specifics of your inbound marketing and content creation plans will depend on a variety of factors unique to your business, and also to whether your commerce is B2C, B2B, or both. The good news is that, while many of the early and ongoing efforts to personalize the online shopping and buying experiences were focused on B2C, techniques and benefits apply to B2B scenarios as well. In fact, business customers have grown to expect the same attention and focus available to consumers.

The better you do at understanding your target customers, the more effectively you can design programs and content that enhance their experiences. One important question to answer: How do I go about understanding who my target customer actually is?

The Real Value of Well-Crafted Buyer Personas

It is not surprising – especially in the world of online commerce – that understanding buyers is more than simply identifying decision makers and determining their buying cycles. It is really about crafting what is commonly referred to as a “buyer persona”, which can in effect be considered a sort of “avatar” representing the motivations, priorities, business goals and challenges, hopes and fears of their target customers. What separates a quality buyer persona from one that is not is whether it goes beyond superficial information about product feature criteria, budget, and< purchase timelines to incorporate all relevant aspects of your composite buyer’s personality and motivations.

In building a truly invaluable buyer persona, you should take the following approaches and actions:

Go Beyond the Traditional Buyer “Profile”

Marketers have in the past built what is commonly referred to as a “business buyer profile”, which incorporates elements linked to corporate position, role in decision making, and other characteristics that relate to the reasons marketers are targeting them in the first place.< Personas should go beyond this relatively narrow view – getting at all business and lifestyle factors that can influence how buyers think and make decisions.

Focus on goals

Yes, focusing on a buyer’s goals is obvious. Often, however, this consideration is constrained to the business part of a buyer’s life. To be sure, buyers face work challenges that your products and services can effectively address, and understanding those challenges is an important buyer persona consideration. Buyers are human, and they have goals beyond their business aspirations. And those goals can be quite personal. It is important to carefully examine personal factors, such as the life stage of buyers, and how the influences in their lives affect their decisions. It is not uncommon, for instance, for marketers today to look carefully at the age of buyers, their family and other personal circumstances (marital and parental status, circle of friends), where they live, what (and how many) cars they drive, and so on. These factors can help marketers formulate content, communication, and sales approaches that can help facilitate the sales process and close sales.

For example: Consider the CEO of a midmarket company. She places a high priority on impressing her equally successful friends, due in great part to her status within the community and the business world. She therefore would rather tell her friends about a new service she took advantage of that helped her manage her business and lower her costs, than brag about how she applied her superior negotiating skills to obtain the service at a really low price. This CEO is driven by business priorities, relationships, and, yes, ego. What’s important to you is that this kind of goal-oriented data – both business and personal in nature – can make you more effective in nurturing her through the buying cycle.

Invest in Doing it Right

You need to right kind of expertise to create buyer personas that can truly drive your lead generation and nurturing programs. The process can be lengthy – difficult for smaller and midmarket companies – and involves asking the right questions at the right times. You may need to augment existing skills, perhaps via training. Some larger organizations get outside help to get this done right. As a midmarket company, you may be restrained in this regard, and may instead need to leverage existing resources to get the job done.

Regardless of the path you choose, the effort is generally worth it. First, you will be able to arm your salespeople with a comprehensive picture of the buyers they will meet with and sell to, allowing them to expand the conversation to include factors that can work in their favor. Second, if you a marketing executive who must justify program budgets to management, the credibility of your proposals will be enhanced if your personas have been shown to grow sales.

Making It Happen: What You Need To Do Today

The case for rich buyer personas is strong, but it is only one part of an overall approach to achieving online marketing success. If you are a midmarket company, and especially if your business is B2B, orchestrating online marketing and commerce can be a complex. Your customers and partners each have unique needs and issues with which you must deal, making the task of understanding their needs and the important characteristics of buyers and other decision makers within those organizations a potentially daunting task.

The good news is there are a variety of ways to obtain, analyze, and ultimately leverage the information you need. Your sales force can be a tremendous source of customer data (aligning sales and marketing to leverage a process for effective information exchange is a factor here). Focus groups and interviews can also help (again, you may need outside help here). However, you can also take advantage of the very inbound marketing, social media, and ecommerce tools you may already be using. For instance, online ecommerce tools also may include the ability to integrate blogs, forums, and other inbound and community-based tools. An example is IBM’s WebSphere Commerce, which, in addition to supporting online purchases and commerce, can help enrich online experiences and create interactions with buyers that can help you better understand them.


This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

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