How B2B CMOs Can Achieve Customer-Centric Marketing With Buyer Personas

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by Matt Brooks

A recent survey by B2B Marketing, in conjunction with the UK-based agency Tomorrow People, indicated only 38% of marketers considered their content to be “very customer-centric.”  This mirrors findings of other surveys related to content marketing and customer-centric marketing, which consistently hovers in the 35- 40% range of “very customer-centric” or “very effective content marketing.”

In this same survey mentioned above, it was found 50% or more of marketers surveyed have not engaged in researching and creating buyer personas for their marketing efforts.  Although the concept of buyer personas were founded nearly 14 years ago, the maturity of buyer persona development as a means to achieve customer-centric B2B marketing has some ways to go.

The underlying challenge for B2B CMOs, however, is these types of results are indicative of an overarching challenge associated with making customer-centricity a living and breathing aspect of B2B marketing.

Strengthening The Common View Of Customers

One of the key premises of user personas and buyer personas, since their origins, are they can foster a common view of customers within organizations.  They are archetypal representations of behavioral groups (based on qualitative research with real people) and the goals that drive their usage and choices.  Personas can be insightful and informative towards decisions on designing user experiences, customer experiences, formulating marketing strategies, developing sales enablement programs, and devising content strategies.

B2B CMOs can be caught in a maze of an organization faced with marketing complex solutions for complex problems.  Making it difficult to move beyond market and role-based segmentation.  Thus, making it even more difficult to foster customer-centric marketing.  The goal for a B2B CMO, in today’s digital economy, is to strengthen the common view of customers by which their organization can make informed decisions on how best to be relevant.

10 Essentials Of Becoming Customer-Centric With Buyer Personas

In companies that have historically been a sales-driven culture, communicating the need to attain a deeper understanding of buyers via buyer persona development can be an arduous task.  Today, many are realizing to succeed in being relevant to buyers, this level of understanding is crucial.

What are some of the essentials then for B2B CMOs to ensure customer-centric marketing becomes interwoven into the DNA of their organizations – and how can buyer personas help?  Let us look at a ten essentials:

  1. Set an agenda to research buyers: This is usually a big hurdle to climb.  Particularly in strong sales-driven cultures.  The B2B CMO leader needs to set an agenda that the organization needs deep insights into buyers. I believe there is a host of evidence as to why. And, B2B CMOs need to get the buy-in on all levels.
  2. Make use of in-depth qualitative research: First and foremost, buyer persona development is qualitative buyer research.  In order to achieve the depth of insights required, a commitment needs to be given to conducting in-depth buyer research.
  3. Make certain buyer research and buyer personas are goal-directed: Personas were founded on the principle of understanding the goals and the goal-directed behaviors of users and buyers.  Business and academic research throughout the past few decades indicate that goals and goal-directed behaviors are the greatest influences on choices and decisions.  Buyer research and buyer personas not built on this foundation will be no better than conventional buyer profiling and run the high risk of being simply meaningless.  This is truer in B2B sales-driven cultures than in any other business-type cultures.
  4. Create goal-based and behavior-based personas, not role-based profiles: The heavy segmentation and profiling orientation within B2B has led to the narrow targeting of roles and titles.  Oftentimes, we see B2B businesses confuse buyer personas for profiling the roles they are targeting within segments.  Setting up a very cumbersome matrix of desiring upwards of fifty or sixty buyer personas – or more appropriately stated, buyer profiles.  This will ensure they never get used.  When buyer personas are truly goal-directed, the emphasis is on helping buyers, within multiple segments, who share common goals, behaviors, attitudes, and aptitudes.
  5. Buyer’s journey are goal-directed: Understanding the key path to buying decisions today requires more than creating a buyer’s journey map.  Many of which are inside-out versus outside-in.  B2B CMOs can ensure that a buyer’s journey perspective incorporates how to help buyers achieve their goals throughout the buying cycle as well as the entire customer lifecycle.
  6. Buyer persona development is scenario based: An essential aspect of buyer personas is that they are scenario-driven.  This alone can radically change how an organization can view its customers and also allow for scenario-based segmentation.  Scenario-driven buyer persona development is especially effective for B2B complex marketing and sales.
  7. Incorporate data analysis: Quantitative data analysis can help to size opportunities based on the informed insights achieved in the qualitative buyer research.   A word of caution is being overzealous with your buyer personas by adding a host of “profiling data” to buyer personas.    Thus, rendering them too “data-filled” to be used effectively.
  8. Do not box-in buyer persona development to specific campaigns: This is a common mistake I see often.  Buyer personas are thought of as a tool specific only to new endeavors in content marketing, campaigns, and product launches.  As opposed to within the context of qualitative buyer research.  The much-needed holistic and goal-directed emphasis is lost.   The buyer personas developed are done quickly, are in reality buyer profiles, and cause irreparable damage to being a recognized means of achieving customer centricity.
  9. Share commonly amongst marketing, sale, and operations: To build a customer-centric approach to B2B marketing, buyer personas must be shared commonly amongst marketing, sales, and important operational functions such as customer support.  They should be integrated into a shared lifecycle approach to customers.
  10. Leverage as a decision-making practice: Some of the bigger success stories I have personally witnessed are those where the B2B CMO became adept at making their buyer personas an integral part of C-Suite interactions, meetings, and planning.  Causing transformative shifts in how decisions were made and how all eyes were on the customer.  In sales-driven cultures, it has enabled B2B CMOs to elevate their influence and abilities to effect change towards a more customer-centric organizations.

Customer-Centric Marketing Is Not Easy

As many B2B CMOs are finding, achieving customer-centricity is a lot easier said than done.  The same goes for buyer personas.  Buyer personas are not as easy as putting a picture on paper, requires in-depth research, knowledge of goal-directed behaviors, and require investments.

We are reaching a point in time, however, where users, buyers, and customers desire B2B companies to be relevant to their goals and future.  If relevancy cannot be achieved through deep buyer insights then all the customer-centric slogans, banners, programs, and promotions will be seen by customers for what they are – rhetoric with little substance.

(What follows is an insightful interview with Ranjay Gulati, Harvard Business School professor and author of “Reorganize for Resilience: Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business.”  Although the interview is from five years ago, it still offers insightful and instructive perspectives on how hard customer-centricity can be yet how enterprises can also achieve.)

Tony
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