The problem with personas in B2B, and what we need to do differently

We see an awful lot of personas in B2B these days. The rise of content marketing has led to a renewed emphasis on audience insight. Recognise this?

 

 

Of course, this isn’t totally wrong, but it’s been dangerously oversimplified.

 

The hunger for B2B personas and audience insight is producing a lot of very mediocre output and wasting a lot of effort and budget. Michael Brenner makes this point nicely, with some very funny (and accurate) spoof examples of ‘what sucks’.

 

Michael also makes the very sensible point that a persona should be actionable. We come across a lot of personas that aren’t actionable. Especially when you get down to activity that is supposed to be generating demand, producing meetings for big, complex propositions.

 

Of course, the people working on these personas want to make them actionable. So what’s going wrong?

 

 

A view from the sharp end of demand generation

Up at the ‘brand’ level of activity, which is where most of these personas crop up, you can be a long way from the end audience. And a long way from sales. These are the people who actually understand the challenges and propositions in detail and know what a sales conversation really feels like.

 

People who get into marketing are rarely attracted to things like enterprise IT architecture, cloud orchestration or finance & accounting optimisation. But our end audience is – they’ve made a career of it!

 

So we’ve got to a situation where many B2B marketers have adopted a B2C tool for audience insight, without being able to engage with the detail. We’re not selling hair care products here – we’re addressing some pretty complex problems and buying behaviours.

 

This comprehension gap is laid bare in some of these personas. It’s why salespeople often laugh if you show them one. It’s not doing wonders for bridging the sales and marketing divide, is it?

 

 

What we should do differently

Personas aren’t the wrong thing to do in principle.

 

But the really interesting pain points are often being missed. What may seem new and insightful to a marketing team can be pretty facile and obvious to a specialist B2B audience. It looks a bit like this:

 

 

Here are just a couple of thoughts on how to stop this happening.

 

1. Make understanding of the proposition sacre

It’s not enough to talk about something like ‘productivity’ or ‘efficiency’ – there needs to be an original angle. And that should be easily tracked right back to the proposition. Not just because it’s the sales end game, but because if you understand the problem it’s solving in detail, you’ll understand your audience better. Then it’s just a question of rooting that particular pain point in their broader context.

 

2. Marketers need to move in different circles – or be different people

B2B marketers (and especially those who work in campaign planning) should be much closer to the sales teams, the solutions designers and the audience’s general environment. It requires a certain amount of specialisation. It may even require some original thinking about recruitment for these roles. I for one have benefited hugely as a planner from close proximity (and brutally frank feedback) from the following kinds of people:

 

  • Client-side senior sales people
  • The people who design or implement solutions and services
  • Friendly insiders drawn from the target audience – senior Finance, IT, Ops style people
  • Former enterprise sales people who work in my agency
  • Desk-based ‘Inside Sales’ agents in my agency who take the messaging right into the lion’s den

 

These people will tell me pretty quickly if the messaging and any personas are relevant and actionable. They will also be very good at testing my team’s understanding of the proposition.

 

So next time someone says ‘Let’s do some personas!,’ have a really good think about just who’s going to work on them, where that insight will come from and what kind of quality (or bullshit) controls are in place.

 

By Tom Upfold | October 22, 2015

Privacy Preference Center

Functional cookies

These cookies allow the site to remember choices in response to actions made by users, such as setting your cookie preferences. We use a mixture of first and third-party cookies. They are not used to track visitors. Please be aware that restricting these cookies may impact on some areas of the website’s functionality.

PHPSeSSID, __cfduid, gdpr

Website Experience cookies

Enabling these first-party cookies is not strictly necessary for the website to work but it will provide you with a better browsing experience. You can delete or block these cookies, but if you do that some features of this site may not work as intended.

VISITOR_INFO1_LIVE,

Reporting/Performance cookies

Reporting/performance cookies collect information on how users interact with the site. These third-party cookies allow us to measure site usage by collecting and reporting information anonymously. This helps us to continually improve site performance and the user experience.

This site uses Google Analytics which is one of the most widespread and trusted analytics solution on the web for helping us to understand how you use the site and ways that we can improve your experience. These cookies may track things such as how long you spend on the site and the pages that you visit so we can continue to produce engaging content.

_ga, _gat, _gid, __utma, __utmb, __utmc, __utmz

Advertising cookies

These third-party cookies are used by advertising companies to serve ads that are relevant to your interests and/or based on your previous interactions with the ads or website (e.g. remarketing).

Cookies may be set by these third parties and used by them to track your online activity and for the purpose of such activity. We have no direct control over the information that is collected by these cookies.

lang, BizoID, UserMatchHistory, r/collect, collect, YSC, PREF, bcookie, bscookie, lidc, NID, IDE

Other 3rd party cookies

These third-party cookies are used to provide you with increased on-site functionality. Here, we are specifically referring to the use of social media buttons and/or plugins on this site that allow you to connect with your social network in various ways. For these to work social media sites including; Twitter, Facebook & LinkedIn will set cookies through our site which may be used to enhance your profile on their site or contribute to the data they hold for various purposes outlined in their respective privacy policies

uvc

Close your account?

Your account will be closed and all data will be permanently deleted and cannot be recovered. Are you sure?

Are you sure?

By disagreeing you will no longer have access to our site and will be logged out.