The State Of Buyer Personas 2014

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Tony Zambito

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Attempts to keep up with changing buying behaviors are very much like a car chase scene in an action packed movie.  Just as we are about to catch up with the buyer, new technology accelerates buyer progress.  Creating an ever present need to gain insight into newly forming behaviors on the part of buyers.  Otherwise, the chase ends.

This year marks the twelfth year since the first buyer persona development methodology was created.  We have come very far yet we have far to go.  Understanding buyers in this new century is no easy climb.  One constant has remained during the past twelve years: in order to inform critical marketing and sales strategies, deep insights about buyers are now a requisite for success.

New Developments Are Focused On Buyer Foresight

Last year, I introduced the notion of buyer foresight.  Not only do businesses require foresight on adapting to changing buying behaviors, but also buyers are developing new expectations in understanding how their future can change by a relationship with you.  B2B business success hinges on newfound abilities to turn buyer insights into buyer foresight.  And, be the guiding light for buyers and customers to navigate difficult paths towards accomplishing goals – both organizational and individual.

Impact On State Of Buyer Personas

During the past year, I have been quite fortunate to be able to work with several leaders in marketing and sales as well as participate in numerous buyer interviews.  These efforts help to shed light not only on buying behaviors, but also to ponder the impact on the state of buyer personas in the future.  What follows are reflections on the State of Buyer Personas today and in the future:

The journey ends.  As with all things in B2B buzzword land, a word meaning can take a life on its’ own.  It was hard not to miss the fixation on the “buyer journey” during the past year.  Today and in the future, this journey perspective does not adequately serve the needed insight and translation into foresight about buyers.  Preconceived and generalized process views blind us to what matters – understanding what confronts buyers as they attempt to accomplish their goals.

Situational context counts. Related to the above, is the need to shift to situational or scenario-based understanding of buyers from a process context.  This means embracing the core principles of buyer persona development around goals and multi-persona views. This means shifting from the “leading question” effect, which occurs when focused on buyer initiatives and buying criteria.

Buyer insights research gains traction.  Acknowledgement of changing buying behaviors is leading forward thinking marketing and sales leaders to commit to research-based buyer personas.  With previous efforts based on win/loss analysis telephone calls having little impact on content marketing and lead development, the value of field qualitative research expertise is rising.

Product gives way to brand experience.  Narrow initiatives around a specific product are giving way to a renewed focus on understanding the impact of brand experience.  As competitive advantages wane on the playing field of products, gaining buyer insight into the impact of brand experience on buying behavior is essential.

Omni-presence is the new B2B.  A significant development over the next few years will be the Omni-presence of buyers.  Meaning multiple levels of buyers now being able to interact with capabilities to be everywhere at anytime.  B2B companies who are still wedded to the single buyer in a single channel approach to market strategies will need to adapt  – quickly.

What the above indicates is buyer insights research and buyer persona development are finding their way back to the strategy plateau they were originally intended to serve.  Moving beyond a narrow focus in product marketing or content marketing, buyer insights research is maturing into a critical component of planning for B2B organizations.

Needed More Than Ever

Buyer insights research and buyer personas are needed more than ever as rapid changes in buying behavior continue unabated.  B2B companies who do not invest in some form of insight-based capabilities will see themselves out-smarted by those who do.  Competitive advantage by product is no longer sufficient.  Insight turned into foresight is the new competitive advantage.  And, this is one piece of insight B2B companies must get.

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