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The Problem with Buyer Personas

Posted by Jane Johnson on Jun 24, 2020 1:18:33 PM
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We've had a long love affair with buyer personas. I've created more than I care to count. I've analyzed pain points. I've interviewed buyers. I've made elegant charts to showcase everything you need to know about your target buyers.

But I'm done. I can't look at another stock photo representing Ian IT Director, Fran Facilities Manager or Homer Human Resource VP.

Buyer Personas

I don't argue with the reasoning behind personas. You can't market or sell effectively if you don't understand your customers. You need personas to develop targeted content that will really resonate with decision makers. They are a core tenet of inbound marketing.

But profiling your ideal customers and creating buyer personas takes quite a bit of time and money. When you finish, they are broadly shared and everyone agrees they look great! What do you do with them now?

Ideally, your persona docs include key product/solution message points that your research shows will resonate with that decision maker. This will allow you to create that highly personal experience for your potential customers when you send them email, show them ads, develop blogs or premium content, or when they visit your website.

That's the holy grail right? The email you send Ian IT Director speaks more to his concerns than the version you send Homer HR. When Fran Facilities Manager visits your website, the content is more geared toward her view of projects and processes.

The Dirty Little Secret of Marketing Personalization

Even today, most personalized emails are limited to a %%[FirstName]%% inserted in the greeting. Most web site visitors see the same content—whether they are known or anonymous. Retargeting hits visitors with the same ad, regardless of who they are and what pages they view.

83% of B2B marketers cite creating personalized content as their most significant challenge. That's no surprise because personalization done right is hard.

This is the problem I have with buyer personas—they are expensive and don't get used. They are the treadmill of the marketing world. We were totally going to use it every day and get super fit. Instead, it sits in corner, a very expensive clothes hanger.

It's time to drop the buyer persona—as we know it today—in favor of tactics that are easier to implement, more effective, and deliver a better customer experience.

The Shift to Data-Driven Marketing

Buyer personas are hypothetical. While they are based on actual target customers, they don't include any real personal information. It's that real, contact data that we should base personalization strategies on—not hypothetical.

Marketing automation platforms and intent data services make it possible to collect vast amounts of information about people who engage with your website—even the anonymous ones.

Used judiciously, this data can help you create a better experience for your website visitors. (Yeah, don't be creepy.) Simple personalization such as showing a support number instead of a sales number to a known customer can be helpful and requires little time to implement (with the right marketing automation platform).

Quick tip, you should clean your contact lists every six months to keep your email sending health up. This is a great opportunity to check your first and last name fields and make sure they are properly formatted-- since you'll still use %%[FirstName]%% personalization. We've all received a "personalized" email that made it clear the company didn't know us at all. Zero Bounce is the best list cleaning service we've found.

Data and personalization really shine when you combine them with account based marketing.

Why You're Hearing about Account Based Marketing (ABM)

When I've asked sales reps who their buyers are, I generally hear the same response, "It varies." But if I ask them which companies they want to sell to, I get a very specific list.

Whether it's a formal sales initiative or not, most sales teams engage in some type of account targeting and prioritization. ABM strategies basically get sales and marketing on the same page about what key accounts they should be targeting.

Like data-driven marketing, ABM is focused on the actual, not hypothetical. These are real companies you'd like to have as customers. You can easily measure the success of any ABM campaign.

ABM centers on a well-considered list of high-value accounts that comprise a much smaller section of potential customers. The smaller scope helps keep marketing efforts laser-focused. It's much easier (and less expensive) to market to a sub-set of customers instead of the entire buyer universe.

It's helpful to group your target accounts by region and organization type. You can't personalize for every industry or region. Part of making ABM successful depends on your ability to organize and prioritize.

ABM Personalization

At Pivot, we might group our target accounts by type rather than region since we can work with companies around the world. While we understand their are different concerns by region/county, we have limited resources for our own marketing. That's why grouping accounts by AV integrator, AV manufacturer, and high-tech (non-AV) makes the most sense for us.

What this allows us to do is build dynamic content based on three groups. This is far more reasonable than trying to personalize based on specific personas that we would need to build out for each industry we serve (roughly 12 personas). We can further personalize based on specific company data such as company name, logo, and location.

You've got to know your audience and what level of personalization is appropriate for them. Most of our target account contacts are marketing and sales professionals who think personalization is great. But if we were targeting healthcare professionals, we'd use some discretion.

What's Next?

We're going to discuss our favorite tools and tactics for ABM, personalization and collecting data on known and unknown web site visitors in upcoming blogs. Sign up to get notified when we post.

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Topics: B2B Marketing, Buyer Personas, ABM