For many B2B organizations, there is renewed energy towards growth. Hesitant during the long crawl of the recession, companies are once again setting more ambitious growth goals. What makes this point in time different is buyers are no longer as they were just five years ago. Understanding buyers in the new digital age takes on new meaning for how companies must adapt and achieve growth.
Leaving Dark Age
Best practices for buyer persona development are making significant advances. Losing the constraints brought on by narrow functional contexts found in product marketing, content marketing, and campaign management. Leading the way are firms integrating buyer insights and buyer personas into enterprise-wide customer-centric capabilities. This represents, from my point of view as a creator, a return back to the roots of buyer persona development. Providing the pillars on which new advancements can rest upon.
Balancing Art and Process
Both the process and the art of buyer persona development are becoming more advanced. The most particular is the recognition buyer personas hold the most value when they are research-based. Several of the notable best practices evolving can be summarized as follows:
- Cross-functional stakeholders involved. In a return to the roots of buyer persona development, B2B firms focused on best practices are taking a participatory approach. As digital touchpoints expand, needs for cross-functional participation is growing. Executive leaders are sponsoring initiatives with an explicit call for enterprise-wide understanding.
- Investing in true standardized qualitative research techniques. The best practicing firms are realizing the value of using techniques, which help to reveal deep and profound buyer insights. Many redo buyer persona efforts are a result of precious time and dollars wasted in win/loss interview approaches not ideally suited for insight gathering. Seeing the value of field-based observations, on-site interviewing, contextual inquiry, digital ethnography, and field ethnographic techniques.
- Expanding beyond the buyer’s journey. Firms, who have been successful with buyer personas, have moved beyond simplistic and generic views related to the buyer’s journey. Realizing expanded views related to buying scenarios, decision flows, and narratives provide the insights needed to understand buyer challenges and goals.
- Going deeper than intelligence. Best practicing firms have begun to distinguish traditional product marketing and sales intelligence from deep buyer insights. Using creative means of story building, resulting from the qualitative research techniques mentioned above, to tell the story of buyers to the enterprise. More importantly, learning to do so beyond status quo intelligence related to buying, such as buying criteria, to a focus on empathetic relations with buyers.
- Focused on attributes of buyer goals. Core to buyer persona development is the understanding of goals. Best practicing firms are focusing efforts on filling the gap, which exist in buyers fulfilling goals. Moving beyond limited insights offered from traditional product marketing and sales views on features, benefits, initiatives, and priorities.
- Placed buyer personas within insights research and decision context. Executives, seeking guidance on important decisions to propel growth, are adopting buyer insights research as a means to help them make choices. Refocusing buyer insights research and buyer persona initiatives away from functional and tactical specific focus to decision-guidance specific initiatives.
Best practices for buyer persona development have become more advanced as the above indicate. As I have engaged in conversations helping people regarding how to gain buyer insights, I have noticed a significant shift. This shift has to do with the unsettling realization the hype about buyer personas, found most often in the content marketing buzz, is not producing the expected results. The reasons are many but can be traced to inadequate research as well as placement in a product-focused or campaign only context.
Getting The Most Value
To get the most value, best-practicing B2B companies are committing to research-based buyer personas with a purpose towards gaining deep insights about their customers and prospects. Expanding well beyond product status quo understanding to focusing on the story and narratives of buyers. Doing so by adopting qualitative research techniques, which enable deep insights and informed decision-making.