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Are B2B Buyer Personas Important for Marketing?

Are buyer personas, specifically, B2B buyer personas, important for B2B marketers to develop and use in attracting the ideal buyer? After all, when segmenting markets, marketing professionals can deploy several segmentation strategies that include demographics and psychographics. 

As you read through this article, you will discover that buyer personas are not a demographic segmentation tool but more of a goal-driven buyer’s behavior. But first, to fully understand the buyer persona, it’s essential to trace the concept to its origins to understand its original purpose. From the first creation of personas, we can then discuss the importance of buyer personas in the B2B marketing context.

What Are Buyer Personas? Definition and Origins

Creating B2B Buyer Personas - sketch of person head down by computerIn Alan Cooper’s 1999 published book, The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Why High Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity, Cooper outlines his case for personas to better design user interfaces and leading decisions about visual design, functionality, navigation, and content using technology. Personas are not necessarily actual people but based on real people. In other words, personas, according to Cooper’s book, are hypothetical archetypes for existing users that drive decision-making for interface design projects. 

In 2001, a colleague of Cooper, Tony Zambito, adapted Cooper’s technology design personas for marketing purposes, leading the way to what we know as Buyer Personas in marketing segmentation. It’s best to clear the air now; buyer personas are not necessarily a segmentation tool by themselves but more of an ideal buyer personality defined by their goals. 

Thus, Zambito’s buyer persona definition incorporates the elements of the original persona definition but with a focus on the buyer. Zambito states that the buyer persona definition is:

“Buyer personas are researched-based archetypal (modeled) representations of who buyers are, what they are trying to accomplish, what goals drive their behavior, how they think, how they buy, and why they make buying decisions.”  

 But make no mistake, while they appear to be simple representations of what the ideal buyer looks and acts like, buyer personas are well-researched concepts that help marketers better design marketing messages that move the ideal buyer along the buyer’s journey. 

We can sum up buyer personas in the following seven points:

  • They are hypothetical archetypes (or models) for actual buyers that drive buying decisions for a brand’s products or services.
  • Buyer personas are not real people but represent real people moving along the buyer’s journey.
  • They are not made-up but discovered through research and the investigative process.
  • Personas are imaginary but defined with significant accurateness.
  • Their goals define buyer personas; that is, the buyer’s goals in making a purchasing decision.
  • Creating effective marketing messages and campaigns incorporates a personas’ needs and goals.

Now that we have a basic understanding of what a persona is and is not, it’s time to turn our attention toward the three different types of personas that B2B marketing managers should develop as part of their marketing strategy.

The Three Types of Buyer Personas: Primary, Secondary, and Negative

When discussing buyer personas, marketers often focus on developing several primary buyer personas for a single product and target market. Creating several primary profiles may seem suitable for some small retail businesses. However, to truly understand the buyer’s goal in a B2B context, the marketing professional should focus on developing primary and secondary buyer personas and consider creating a negative buyer persona. I will discuss the benefits later in this article.

Three Types of B2B Buyer Personas sketch of profiles with cogs and gears

Seventy percent of the B2B buyer’s journey is complete once the prospect agrees to speak with a salesperson. Thus, making the first 30% of the journey a critical part. The first part of the buyer’s journey moves the prospect from attention to purchase in what’s known as the AIDA model of micromodels for marketing communications. The second stage of the AIDA model is the interest stage, where B2B buyer personas play a critical role. The interest stage of the buyer’s journey is where marketers develop marketing communications content that fulfills the prospect’s needs and goals, moving them along the journey toward an action, like a sale.

In B2B contexts, there are often multiple people in the buying process. There are administrators, assistants, and other employees of a firm that may participate in the decision-making process, such as provide feedback for the products and services under consideration by the primary buyer. In this instance, the additional participants in the process are considered secondary buyers. Thus we need a secondary buyer persona.

Finally, a negative buyer persona refers to the type of buyer that you want to avoid in your marketing initiatives. However, the negative buyer persona follows the same narrative as the primary and secondary personas but is less critical in developing your marketing strategy.

Developing negative buyer personas will help you better understand your target audience by learning which person is not a potential customer. Creating a negative buyer persona could prevent you from wasting valuable marketing resources and targeting the wrong audience. Negative buyer personas also help your average acquisition cost and strengthen your understanding of your current buyer personas.

B2B Buyer Personas Example

The following buyer persona narratives format follows best practices for creating B2B buyer personas. A recommendation for creating B2B buyer personas is to create a single persona with several secondary personas for each product or service your firm offers and the industry — or market — you plan to target. 

To better understand the personas’ goals, I will write buyer persona examples related to the commercial electric vehicle industry. An industry I spent time marketing for and one that I am familiar with their buyers.

Primary Buyer Persona Example

Sam is a 58-year-old male that was born and raised in Nevada City, California. He currently lives in his childhood city with his wife, Mary. Mary is a homemaker, and the two have been married for 35 years and have two adult daughters and one grandson, all living in the same city. Sam works as a transportation director for the Sutter County education offices and commutes 1-hour each way to his job in Marysville, California, along the picturesque Highway 20. 

As a lifelong resident of his small mountain town, Sam has seen what progress has done to the local environment. He also understands that there needs to be a balance between conservation and progress. Sam does not see himself as an environmentalist; however, he does care about the environment and local wildlife. Sam spends his weekends with his wife hiking in the nearby trails and often takes his grandson fishing at the local lake, just like he did with his two daughters when they were young.

One weekend per month, Sam and his wife volunteer at the local animal shelter to care for and clean up after the animals. Sam sometimes uses his Ford F-250 to help transport the animals when the regular shelter truck is out of service. He doesn’t mind using his truck but does get concerned from time to time about the impact his diesel engine truck is having on the local environment that he and his family love so much. Sam has witnessed the effects of drought and other environmental issues on the local forest and wildlife and wants to do his part to help prevent further damage to the environment while still maintaining jobs in the area.

Secondary Buyer Persona Example

Jarrod is a 35-year-old lead mechanic for the Sutter County office of education transportation department. He’s been married for ten years and has a 7-year-old son he enjoys playing ball with on the weekends and evenings. Jarod’s wife works for the same department as an administrator, and they both drive a short commute to work together after dropping off their son with Jarrod’s wife’s mom in the mornings. 

Jarrod and his wife live in Yuba City and make the 12 miles one-way trip daily. Jarrod has a trade degree from a leading automotive tech school and enjoys working on cars and commercial vehicles. His primary interest includes working on diesel truck engines. However, he has recently been training to support electric vehicles the county is considering buying. Being a family man and the father of a young child, Jarrod is always looking at ways to save money. He understands the need to save and provide for his family and their future, just like his father did for Jarrod and his four siblings. 

Even though Jarrod loves the sound of a diesel engine and the range of the internal combustion engine, he understands the need for the county to save on transportation costs, thus their desire to move toward all-electric vehicles. His concern is not so much moving toward all-electric, but that for the security of his job. 

Jarrod does not have the final decision-making capabilities in making a vehicle purchase for the county; however, Sam often consults with Jarrod. He values Jarrod’s opinion on the types of vehicles he purchases for the county.

Negative Buyer Persona Example

Tracy is a 47-year-old administrator for the Sutter County transportation department. Originally from Los Angeles, California, she moved to Marysville five years ago to get a new start after her divorce. She has twin teenage sons, one in the third year of college on the east coast and the other serving in the US Navy, stationed abroad. 

Tracy is a heavy smoker and likes going out on weekends to local bars and clubs with a few of her friends that live in the same city. Where she lives is not that important to her as long as it’s close to some nightlife. Tracy didn’t initially plan on moving to Northern California but did so because she had relatives living in the area. She often tells her family and friends that she wants to move on from the smaller city and live somewhere on the east coast.

Tracy doesn’t care what she drives as long as it saves her money and she can get up and go where she wants and when she wants. She’s not a fan of electric vehicles considering their short range and the time it takes to charge their batteries. Coworkers often hear Tracy making negative remarks about Tesla car owners and their electric cars.

Explanation of the Three Buyer Persona Examples

The three buyer personas examples above demonstrate the narrative for each type of persona. A combination of demographics and psychographics makes up the buyer’s behavior and goals. We learned that Sam is a decision-maker who cares about his environment while preserving jobs. He feels he can accomplish both goals by introducing all-electric vehicles to his fleet of other existing vehicles.

Jarrod, while not a decision-maker, does provide input on vehicle purchases. His main goal is to keep his job and family’s financial security. However, he is open to electric vehicles providing he can still keep his current position.

Tracy is our negative buyer persona. She is precisely the customer we do not want to target. Some marketing professionals may try to change her mind through various content along the buyer journey. However, it would be a waste of marketing resources considering Tracy does not hold a high value for electric vehicles.

With each persona, the marketing professional can begin to craft messages and content that helps the decision-maker and influencers gain interest in the product and come to a buying decision. With Sam, the marketing message may include environmental topics, sustainability, and job creation. For Jarrod, the marketing messages may consist of job creation and the total cost of saving money on repairs while demonstrating how mechanics can be utilized, with a bit of training, to service electric vehicles and the growth and demand of future EV mechanics.

Let’s turn our attention to the details that go into developing a buyer persona template.

B2B Buyer Persona Template Breakdown of our Primary Persona

Buyer Persona Research Illustration of people and computerCreating the buyer persona begins with research. Research and interviews from real customers or potential customers, then the gathered information is fine-tuned into a fictional character, breathing life into the character with both demographic and psychographic (behavioral) data. An excellent place to begin selecting your samples for the interview may come from your sales team. The sales team is the liaison between the customer and the firm that often gathers customer and prospect data.

Salespeople meet lots of people, understand their needs, and gather information about their prospects. Suppose your sales team collects good, in-depth information about their prospects. In that case, that information can be converted to a buyer persona, reducing the need to conduct in-person interviews of customers.

Keep in mind that a single fictitious persona is a culmination of multiple real people. If you discover that your sales team does not have the necessary data to create personas, you will need to conduct interviews to create effective buyer personas. The interview process can take anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks, depending on the product or service you are selling and how much information you need to gather.

Let’s look at the buyer persona breakdown for Sam to better understand the type of data we require to create our personas.

Demographic Data

Age: 58

Occupation: Transportation Director for a Government Agency in Sutter County, California.

HomeLife: Married to Mary for 35 years. Father of two adult girls, Casey and Amanda. He has a 5-year old grandson named Derek

Education: BA in Liberal Arts from California State University, Chico. He also took business courses at the local community college for two years and one year of auto mechanic classes.

Technology used: Sam is computer savvy and prefers to use his desktop computer. He doesn’t spend much time on his computer or phone when at home but does most of his technology use at work, like checking emails and looking for vendors online. He does use a smartphone, but it’s mainly for calls and some game time when at home.

Lifestyle/Psychographic Data

Activities: Sam is a caring man that is close to his family. When time permits, he likes doing things outdoors on the weekend with his wife and grandson, and daughters. Sam cares about his community and the people living there. He and his wife spend one weekend per month volunteering to help the animal shelter.

Sam commutes to work one hour each way and sees the impact of gas and diesel vehicles and manufacturing plants on the local environment and air quality. He does not consider him an environmentalist but cares about the environment and what he can do to help reduce the negative impact. 

Ultimate Goal: His goal is to find a balance between preserving the environment, especially local areas while helping people stay employed to earn a living for their families. 

Needs: Sam wants the feeling of security for his family, both financially and environmentally. He prefers to do his part in making an impact on improving the air quality. He seeks to balance saving jobs and reducing costs and waste for his organization and personal life.

Pain Points/Frustration: The high cost of fuel and maintenance on vehicles and the environmental deterioration of his local forest. He’s patient but wants to know that there is a solution and that he is doing his part in working toward that solution.

Quote: “I believe we can find a balance between nature and man, where we coexist without the destruction of the environment and the loss of jobs.”

Notice that there are additional elements in the breakdown for Sam than is written in his narrative. The information in his analysis is what we would include in a buyer persona template. However, we may not necessarily write it all out in the narrative, yet all the information is essential when developing the fictitious buyer persona.

B2B Buyer Persona Best Practices: Essential Details and Tips

The following are the essential information required for a successful buyer persona. The data is a culmination of demographics and psychographics of a fictional customer but based on research and interviews of actual customers or prospects. For B2B marketers, it’s ideal for developing 5 to 7 personas, with one primary B2B buyer persona and several secondary personas. Creating a negative buyer persona can help you solidify who your target audience is and is not.

Essential Details

  • A real name, like Sam or Tracy
  • The personas age
  • Add a photo for realism (can be stock photo)
  • Personal information about family and home life
  • Working environment. The working environment may include any tools used, but it’s not a job description.
  • Pain points/frustrations
  • Their attitudes
  • Motivation for wanting to buy your product or service
  • How do they seek information and resources? Perhaps their favorite places to congregate online, like social media sites, blogs, or forums.
  • Personal and professional goals.
  • A direct quote that sums up their attitude or goals.

Tips for Developing an Effective Buyer Persona

The more information you add to your buyer persona, the more focused you will be developing the ideal customer and targeting that customer base. The following are tips to help you achieve an optimal buyer persona.

  • Write a one to two-page narrative with the essential information gathered about your persona. Create the same narrative for each primary and secondary persona you create.
  • Provide one or more fictional details about the buyer’s personal life, interest, or habit, making them memorable and unique.
  • Do not base the buyer persona on a single real person, but a composite of various customer types.
  • Use different personas for different market segments and products or services. Do not recycle a persona from another marketing campaign intended for a separate market area.
  • Minimize the number of personas you create for each target market and product or service. Typically, there is a primary persona and about two to seven secondary personas. Adding a negative buyer persona can help you fine-tune your demographics.
  • Make the persona believable so that it makes sense to develop marketing messages and campaign around that archetype.

Summary

While buyer personas were born from developing personas for technology products, marketing has embraced the concept to target their markets better. While buyer personas are not necessarily a segmentation strategy, they incorporate demographic and psychographics to help develop fictional characters based on research and interviews.

The buyer persona may seem like a straightforward narrative on the surface, but much work and detail develop the buyer persona. Interviews and research can take two to six weeks to create just a primary buyer persona. The more detailed a person gets, the better your marketing department can develop marketing communications messages and content to help move the buyer along the buyer’s journey and down the marketing funnel.

In the end, the question, are B2B buyer personas important for your marketing initiatives? The answer is simple, yes. If you want to reduce marketing costs and resource waste, get precise with whom you are targeting and whom you do not become critical. The buyer persona is a goal-oriented tool to help you reach your goals without waste.