Launching a B2B digital marketing campaign without buyer persona examples is a bit like playing Bingo with your eyes closed.
Sure, there’s a (ridiculously tiny) chance you might hit the mark.
But you’d never put money on that game. So why would you gamble with your digital marketing spend?
Yet this is exactly what many B2B companies end up doing. They invest into blogging, social, and paid media without ever concretely defining who they’re trying to target. (Or at least, not defining them well enough).
And when the data comes in, and the ROI isn’t there, they blame the channels.
“Our industry isn’t a good fit for digital,” they might say.
But that’s almost never the case.
Because nowadays, most B2B buyers – including your ideal customer – make their purchasing decisions online.
So instead of not being a good fit for digital — it’s much more likely that your campaign simply wasn’t a good fit for your target.
A Great Example of A B2B Buyer Persona
You see, a great B2B buyer persona doesn’t just help you set your sights on the ideal customer.
A great example of a B2B buyer persona will show you where to find your ideal customer, how to get their attention, and ultimately, how to persuade them.
A great B2B persona will build the foundation of your digital strategy. It’ll help you identify:
- Effective channels: Should you be targeting LinkedIn, Instagram, Google search, or maybe display advertising in niche communities?
- Engaging content types: Does your persona spend time reading white papers and industry blogs? Or do they prefer to dive into the rabbit-hole of YouTube for hours on end?
- Persuasive messaging: Which motivations, be they professional or personal, drive your persona to make purchasing decisions? Is your persona more worried about saving money, or are they terrified of disappointing their superiors?
- Pinpoint positioning: Out of the dozens of features and benefits of your offerings — which ones appeal most to your persona? Which ones should you target?
By the time you’re done building your persona, you should know him or her as well as you know your significant other.
You should be able to answer questions about your persona’s deepest motivations and their biggest fears. You should be able to see the world from the eyes of your persona, developing a deep intuition about their preferences and biases. You should know how they spend time online and which websites they frequent. You should know what they’re going to do before they do it.
And this is no small task.
There’s no simple guide to building a B2B Persona
And if there is, it’s snake oil.
As a foundational piece of your entire digital strategy — an element that impacts everything from ranking, conversion rates, and, ultimately, ROI — your B2B personas need to be thorough and unique.
No other business should have your exact persona.
So no, it’s not a matter of thinking up a clever persona name like Manager Mary, sticking a stock photo on a pretty PowerPoint slide, and making up some pain points.
Building an effective B2B buyer persona for your business requires knowing:
- Which characteristics to focus on, and which to ignore (humans are complicated, and not every character trait is relevant to your marketing goals)
- Where to gather your research (the internet is a very big place, and everyone has their own favourite corner of it)
- How to envision your persona as a real person (no guide will help you there)
That’s why there’s no simple, step-by-step process that will reliably build you a winning persona.
That’s also why every agency under the sun has their methodology for building a persona (that they ignore just as often as they follow).
So instead of giving you a cookie-cutter b2b buyer persona example, I’m going to equip you with the necessary tools to build your process.
One that makes sense for your business and industry.
Here are the B2B persona building processes of 4 top digital marketing agencies, simplified:
Example #1: Red Fern’s B2B Buyer Persona
Red Fern is a leading UK digital agency that specializes in web design. Because they recommend creating more than one persona at a time, their persona-building process suggests using simple templates to organize your research.
First, let’s take a look at the fundamental elements of their B2B persona.
Red Fern’s Elements of a B2B Persona
As many other digital agencies suggest, Red Fern recommends naming your persona (so you can connect to them on a more emotional, human level)
Define their roles, not only in their company, but also in their family and social circles
Red Fern suggests highlighting the business goals of your persona (e.g. improve customer service, keeping accounting up-to-date, etc.)
What is preventing the persona from achieving these goals?
How old are they? This is typically represented as a range.
How much money do they make in their role?
What level of education have they achieved?
Where do they live?
This section describes the day-to-day professional and personal lives of the persona in the form of a story. This section is also a great “catch-all” for taking note of other important characteristics of the persona.
Red Fern’s Persona Research Process
1. Interview existing and intended customers
This is a common technique that dates back to the advent of marketing – way before the internet subsumed business. And there’s a reason this technique has survived as long as it has.
After all, what easier way is there to learn the motivations of your customer than to simply ask?
But as simple and straightforward as this research method is – it has a few glaring issues.
First and foremost — assuming the information is accurate — interviews are very time-consuming. It would take weeks or even months of concentrated effort to get enough data to create an accurate persona.
And if you don’t invest that time, there’s no way of knowing if your information is accurate.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, there is a reason to believe that information gleaned from interviews is not to be trusted.
As David Ogilvy famously said:
“The trouble with market research is that people don’t think how they feel, they don’t say what they think, and they don’t do what they say.”
And this pervasive issue of never knowing what your consumer thinks is the greatest advantage of going digital.
But I’ll circle back to this later in the article.
2. Send out surveys
Also a tried-and-tested methodology for market research. Surveys have seen a recent renaissance (largely in thanks to the internet), and are still a primary method for companies to gather information about their consumer.
Combine gigantic email lists, the accessibility of pay-per-click advertising, and the potential reach of social media — and you can quickly (and easily) get thousands of data-points to analyze.
This method solves one of the big bottlenecks of individual interviews and allows you to automate the most labor-intensive elements of gathering data.
But remember, people, don’t think what they feel, say what they think, or do what they say.
Surveys can’t address this basic truism.
Example #2: Strategic IC’s B2B Buyer Persona
Another digital marketing agency based out of the UK – Strategic IC specializes in Hubspot’s inbound methodology. Unlike Red Fern, Strategic IC doesn’t offer templates for their buyer persona.
They do, however, suggest focusing on a dozen specific characteristics when drafting your persona.
Strategic IC’s Elements of a B2B Persona
List a general target job title (Marketing Executive, instead of “Director of Digital Growth”)
|Education Level |
What level of education did they complete?
What did their professional trajectory look like?
What are their unique skills and abilities?
Who do they work with? Who are the gatekeepers on their team? Who else weighs in on purchasing decisions?
Similar to Red Fern’s “story,” Strategic IC expands this to also include things like the persona’s preferred social media platforms, news websites, etc.
Age, marital status, income, location, etc.
Industry, company size, organizational goals, etc.
What triggers the persona to begin searching for solutions? What prevents them from achieving their goals?
What benefit would the persona derive from your product? How does their life become easier?
What would prevent the persona from purchasing from you? Pricing, budget, structure, gate-keeping, etc.
What finally pushes the persona over the edge when making a purchasing decision? Is it price, urgency, unique features, etc.?
Strategic IC’s Research Process
1. Review existing data
If you’ve been in business for some time, chances are, you have a wealth of data that you haven’t leveraged yet.
Simply analyzing the data in your CRM can answer most of the questions you have about your ideal customer. You’ll find the most common job titles, contract size, location, company size / type, industry, etc.
2. Do your research online
Availability of data is one of the most beautiful elements of digital marketing. And Strategic IC recommends leveraging it to its fullest when you’re building your persona.
Any assumption – any premise – about your persona’s pain points or challenges can be tested.
Do these issues have search volume? Or did you miss more pertinent problems your target industry is worried about? And what are your ideal customers saying in the comfort of their preferred digital communities?
3. Interview the sales team
Rather than going directly to your customers, sometimes it’s better to have a long conversation with your company’s sales manager.
He or she can cut through the chaff and help you identify the pain points, barriers, and success factors of most of your existing customers — without you having to schedule 50 separate interviews.
4. Interview your customers
As a last resort, you can always turn to interviewing your prospects and existing customers. For reasons I already outlined above — this isn’t ideal. But it’s still infinitely better than guessing.
2. Four Quadrant’s B2B Buyer Persona
Four Quadrant is a California based marketing consulting company that specializes in selling professional go-to-market templates and industry research.
Because Four Quadrant believes that many marketing tasks can be templatized, it’s no surprise that they offer buyer persona templates for sale as part of their GTM plan.
Out of all the templates we discuss in this article — Four Quadrant’s is by far the most comprehensive.
Example #3: Four Quadrant’s Elements of a B2B Persona
Like all the other personas above, Four Quadrant recommends outlining some basic demographic characteristics.
|Role in Buying Process|
Are they a key decision maker, an influencer, or a gatekeeper?
What do they look for when making purchases? Who do they prefer to do business with? Do they prefer dealing in person, on the phone, by email, etc.?
|Hobbies and Interests|
What do they do outside of work that gives their lives meaning?
What professional goals do they have for their company?
What goals do they have in their personal lives?
|Drivers and Motivators|
What are the main triggers and motivations for their decision-making?
|Fears and Challenges|
What is keeping them from achieving their goals?
What level of education did they complete?
How do they act in social settings? Do they value candor or tact? Do they make decisions on their own, or do they require lots of social proof?
|Groups and Associations|
What professional or hobby groups/associations do they belong to? Are they members of LinkedIn or Facebook groups?
|Content Topic Preferences|
What sort of content do they voraciously consume? Do they prefer to watch educational videos, or read dense technical papers?
What metrics do they measure to determine their own/their team’s success?
Are they agreeable or disagreeable? Open or conscientious?
Here’s how they research it
1. Qualitative interviews
As mentioned previously, interviews are a simple (and effective) way of filling out your buyer persona with first-hand data — from your customer’s own words.
And Four Quadrant points out that 80% of companies that “exceeded revenue and lead goals reported conducting qualitative interviews.” While this is a seemingly staggering number — we can’t draw a simple correlation from the stat.
Perhaps companies that are more likely to conduct comprehensive interviews with their customers have bigger budgets or more methodical marketing practices.
Perhaps companies that conduct these sorts of interviews are also much more likely to invest in comprehensive market research to contextualize their interview results.
It isn’t readily apparent that the simple act of conducting interviews causes a spike in lead generation.
It is, however, reasonable to think that the sort of methodical, disciplined marketing that makes extensive interviews possible also leads to a higher chance of hitting your targets.
2. Market studies
In many instances, in-depth market studies for niche B2B companies will not be available.
Where they are, however, it makes sense to take advantage. If a reputable market research company/consultant has already done the work — why invest resources into duplicating it?
3. Independent Research
For a deeper understanding of your persona, Four Quadrant suggests diving into LinkedIn profiles and job postings.
Professionals take pride in their responsibilities and will provide all the information you need to effectively market to them – right on their social media profiles.
Similarly, when companies look to hire internally — they’re usually doing so to solve a specific set of problems. And so, job postings are a rare opportunity to look into the internal issues a company may be facing.
Example #4: Jumpfactor’s B2B Buyer Persona
Okay, now it’s time for a little shameless self-promotion.
Jumpfactor, one of Canada’s fastest growing companies, specializes in inbound marketing and lead generation for B2B companies. Building a B2B persona is one of the first things we do when taking on a new client — because it informs the rest of our marketing strategy.
Here’s what we look for
Because we built our B2B persona process having researched all of our competitors, we take into account every characteristic mentioned above (assuming it’s relevant to our marketing efforts).
There are, however, a few additional elements that we include in our B2B persona that few other agencies mention.
|Where is the persona in the adoption curve?|
Different professionals within the same organization can find themselves on different parts of the adoption curve. And defining their placement in this continuum allows us to make quick, and accurate judgements about their relationship with your product or service. Are they quick to implement new tech and solutions given proof? Or are they skeptical and conservative, waiting for respected members of their community to take the first step?
|Where is the persona’s watering hole?|
Similar to Four Quadrant’s “Groups and Associations,” we take this concept a little bit further. We define all of the professional and personal “watering holes” of our persona, online and off. This includes Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups, forums, subreddits, and online communities that the persona may frequent.
|What are the persona’s identifiable keywords?|
On-top of defining all of the industry jargon and buzzwords that the persona uses, we also define all of the relevant search queries (with demand data) that the persona may be using to find your solution. This allows us to effectively benchmark specific features, pain-points, etc.
Here’s how we research it
Beyond all of the suggested research methodology above, we also incorporate behavioural data into our persona-building process.
1. Psychometric Research on Social Media
Social media platforms like Facebook gather a wealth of data about its users. When you target a specific segment of users, you can discover everything from content preferences, to brand loyalty, political leaning, etc. We leverage this data to build a more complete and accurate model of your target buyer.
2. Keyword research
As mentioned above, keyword research is a vital part of our persona-building process. It allows us to compare our assumptions about a persona’s pain points with their digital behaviour. Are lots of people searching for a diagnosis of a particular problem, or actively looking for a solution? What words do they use when they’re looking for that solution?
3. Watering-hole expeditions
Because we’re keenly aware of the limitations of qualitative interviews, we need a way to cross-reference what customers say amongst marketers, with what they say amongst their peers.
And the best way to do this is to ingratiate yourself within their communities.
That’s why defining the persona’s digital homes (forums, communities, social media groups) is vital. We can monitor and analyze how persona’s talk about their problems when they’re amongst like-minded people.
As you can see — even looking at a small number of digital marketing agencies — building a B2B persona is not a simple process.
There are a million ways to skin a cat (or a less abrasive idiom).
Ultimately, your buyer persona should be informed by your resources, availability of first-hand data, and your marketing goals. Further — if you are building your persona for a digital marketing strategy, it’s important to analyze their digital behavior.