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The opportunity personas present

The overwhelming majority of people working on any given b2b marketing campaign have never seen, met or spoken to a customer, and certainly not a prospect. They work from reports and results. They are separated, a gap to a chasm, from the often-conflicted humanity of the people that make the decisions. This separates your campaign from its potential.

We are not fishing on the shores of Lake Abundant – it’s harder than ever to differentiate ourselves, to find, nurture and motivate the prospect as the world become increasing atomized.

The b2b prospect is the most elusive, with a long consideration journey that takes place, for the most part, prior to any direct engagement. So, who are those guys? What do they want? Perhaps we should ask them.

Many companies utilize personas – archetypes or synthesized summaries which are based on qualitative research with real people in this position about their characteristics, specific information behaviors, attitudes, motivations, and goals. Personas have generated great success in b2c (e.g., Best Buy’s customer centricity campaign generated double-digit improvement in sales per store), we think persona’s next greatest potential is in b2b prospecting.

Personas have one thing that data and research reports do not. Personality. And, as a very wise friend once said to me, the b2b sale is all about personalities. This can put the personality on the planning table, and can serve as a point of reference, if not agreement, between marketing and sales.

We recently conducted proprietary research among marketing professionals to begin to understand, and benchmark, how companies are using personas, where and how they have been effective. The full results are detailed elsewhere (I’d be happy to send them to you), but as we examine the potential of personas in b2b prospecting, three points jump out at me:

  • About one half (58%) of respondents said they are currently using personas
  • About a third (35%) report that personas are very or extremely effective
  • About one half (47%) discovered important new insights or corrected faulty assumptions.

The potential is there – just being able to avoid mistakes half of the time would justify the effort to me, but let’s look at the other side of the coin:

  • About a third (32%) say personas are not respected or appreciated within the organization
  • A quarter (26%) say the personas have not yet revealed many new insights
  • Less than a fifth (17%) say that personas are not very or not at all effective

There’s one verbatim that seems to sum up what’s underneath these stats:

“In the main, personas tend not to drive any new learning, but rather skin existing learning with a newer, somewhat obvious conclusion.”

The results are that 41% of the personas were created from existing data, which iis a self-fulfilling prophesy. Said differently, it’s hard to find new insights when you are relying on the same old information and biases. To be effective, we must engage the prospect in purposeful conversation designed to uncover the what, how and why of their goals, consideration and decision behavior.

As our b2b prospects get harder to influence, lets understand them better through personas. Remember the third that said that personas are very or extremely effective? Here’s their input:

  • “Personas are drivers of our segmentation strategy.”
  • “Better copy and image selection. Leads to better targeting, media usage and prioritization of budget”
  • “A contributor to product development”

Is this the silver bullet we’ve been waiting for, Godot?   Sorry. While we’re waiting it sure seems like an effective way to leverage success.


b2p_image_-58International author, lecturer and consultant, Scott has worked with clients in all phases of marketing strategy, research and implementation. Read More

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