When products or services look similar, are called by similar names, or represented to be the same as, this can lead to confusion. When it comes to buyer personas, this is more common than it should be. In helping several B2B organizations directly or in advising recently, I have noticed the confusion become more prominent.
The problem with confusion is it can lead to bad assumptions. When this happens, organizations can find themselves heading in the wrong direction. Operating by assumptions can become the Achilles’ heel of organizations. Causing severe set backs and loss time to market. Making erroneous assumptions about customers and buyers or not taking a deep dive into understanding buyers’ results in loss opportunities.
Four Mistakes To Avoid
One way to help mitigate the confusion about buyer personas is to make it clear what buyer personas are not. Let us a review four areas where knowing what they are not can help guide you towards truly insightful and helpful buyer personas:
(1) Buyer Personas Are Not Role Profiles
This is one of the most common sources of confusion when it comes to B2B buyer personas. Typically, what is assumed is a buyer persona is needed for each role usually encountered in a buying process. Or some roles require a buyer persona while others do not. Where this could turn into a fruitless exercise is when a profiling approach sets in. I have seen organizations wind up with as many as 50 plus buyer personas for multiple vertical markets as a result of a profiling approach to roles. While profiling roles can be helpful for sales, the aim for buyer personas is to understand the range of behaviors, goals, scenarios, and specific mental models exhibited among people who are attempting to accomplish specific goals.
(2) Buyer Personas Are Not Substitutes For Basic Sales Intelligence Gathering
This is another very common source of confusion. And, it often results in redundancy between sales intelligence gatherings and misinformed marketing efforts in buyer persona development. From a B2B standpoint, sales and marketing should be working together towards understanding basic sales intelligence related to strategic initiatives, common triggers, typical desired outcomes, buying process challenges, purchase decision criteria, and buying team influences common to specific industries. This level of target intelligence profiling has existed for decades through various sales or product-marketing methodologies – with some organizations excelling while others may lack. The aim of buyer persona development is to understand the range of contextual scenarios and buying behaviors. Which, can augment and provide contextual understanding of fact-based intelligence. Buyer persona development, for organizations lacking basic sales intelligence, can help to fill in gaps, which requires working closely with sales.
(3) Buyer Personas Are Not Market Segmentation
Segmentation has always been a tricky dilemma for B2B organizations. Now made more so as the lines blur between B2B and B2C. Market segmentation, for the sake of simplicity here, usually has a focus on broad descriptions related to size of market, vertical industries, value of customers or accounts, demographics, and perhaps some level of psychographics. Buyer personas can be helpful in gaining deep understanding of goals, attitudes, perceptions, behaviors, contextual scenarios, and mental models associated with people within segments.
(4) Buyer Personas Are Not The Buyer’s Journey
During the past couple of years, there has been confusion on the term buyer’s journey. The confusion is apparent when the terms buyer personas and buyer’s journey are being used interchangeably. The buyer’s journey has become another name for mapping out buying stages. The buyer’s journey perspective is far too generic and assumptive in nature in order for use with buyer personas to be effective. What we seek with buyer persona development is deep-rooted insights into contextual situations and scenarios – which are qualitatively researched and observed. These offer the contextual narratives and stories of importance in making content development and sales conversations effective. And, extend far beyond just a mapping by stage perspective.
Buyer Personas Represent Goal-Based Buying Behaviors
Buyer personas help us to understand customers and buyers in a very human-centered way. At the heart of buyer persona development is discovering how goals affect behaviors and choices. We seek, not to profile with buyer personas, but to uncover unique behaviors as well as goals affecting how buyers make choices. The emphasis placed on understanding the story of our buyers and being able to ultimately help buyers to accomplish their goals.