10 Tips for Better B2B Buyer Personas

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Developing better B2B buyer personas will only help improve the focus, quality, and results of your marketing programs. Each of the following tips could easily be full-length articles. I have instead provided short common-sense tips to help your job just a little easier.

#1 – Consider if you should hire an expert

If you have concerns about bias by your internal staff, that customers may not be forthright with your employees, or just need to make sure that you “nail it,” you should consider hiring an expert to help you. Two well-known experts are Adele Revella of Buyer Persona Instituteand Lynn Hunsaker of ClearAction.

#2 – The buyer persona is not the same as the ideal customer profile

Buyer personas are sometimes confused with ideal customer profiles. These are complementary documents that should be developed together. The difference is in the scope of the information. The ideal customer profile is at the business level: company size, location, vertical industry, industry drivers like regulations, or have a minimum of x number of employees who perform x function. The buyer persona focuses on the people within the ideal customer profile: sample titles, scope of responsibilities, and perceived barriers.

#3 – Have a plan

You may have read the title to this tip and thought “that’s obvious.” Sometimes these projects are “urgent” in support of an internal event or campaign. When this happens, the buyer persona project plan is little more than (1) talk to 5 employees, (2) talk with 3 customers, (3) and get the first draft out by Friday. Often a solid project plan can be created in a single meeting with a few key stakeholders. Answers to simple questions can save future headaches. For example, how will you ensure the personas are used beyond the initial delivery? Is there a clear internal approval process?

#4 – Obtain agreement on the profile structure

Preferably before you craft the interview questions, and absolutely before you start to put together the first drafts of your personas, create your persona template and obtain approval from the stakeholders. Yes, things may still change later, but getting approval early on will help you to prevent scope creep or worse yet, miss a vital piece of information.

And what will that structure look like? I recommend the 5 Rings of InsightTM by Adele Revella of Buyer Persona Institute.

  • Priority Initiatives
  • Success Factors
  • Perceived Barriers
  • Buyer’s Journey
  • Decision Criteria

#5 – Define criteria for targeting interviews

When targeting customers to interview, what will be your criteria? Your criteria should be more than “XYZ Corp. has been a customer for a long time” or “Gary at XYZ Corp. is a huge champion of our services.” One of the most important questions you need internal agreement is to determine if your target customers who will be interviewed represent the traditional buyer, the new type of buyer that aligns to your company’s new strategy, or both?

#6 – Limit your number of interviews

Rarely have I seen too many customers interviewed for buyer persona projects though it does happen. Typically only 5 to 8 customers need to be interviewed. A common mistake is with the number of internal interviews. These also need to be kept to only 5 to 6 interviews. Because it is much easier to get time with a peer, I’ve seen up to 20 sales and marketing professionals interviewed during buyer persona projects.

#7 – Write your interview questions, but don’t use them in your interviews

To create a great buyer persona, you absolutely must design your interview questions that will validate your existing data and provide new insights. We all know that Oprah is an amazing interviewer. One of her many world-class techniques is to truly listen so she can follow a tidbit of information with an unscripted question that provides unique insight. Additionally, don’t send your interview questions to a large group of customers as an online survey. You will get too much irrelevant information to be useful.

#8 – Know each situation before you interview

NEVER go into a customer interview without knowing the current situation at the account. By current, I mean in the past 24 hours or less. You will have an unproductive interview if your company’s product failed yesterday and caused a business interruption. Additionally, check the news that day. Maybe your customer acquired a new company which could impact their answers.

#9 – Ask for permission to record your interviews

Ask for permission to record your interview and explain how the recording will be used. If permission is granted, always let your interviewee know when you start recording and that you can stop the recording at any time if they want to share something “of the record.” The advantage is that you record the interview accurately, without having to worry about taking notes and can concentrate on what the person is saying.

There is another HUGE benefit to recording interviews. When you present your buyer personas to your internal stakeholders, having a few videos, audio soundbites, and accurate quotes provide credibility to your findings.

#10 – Have an extra person join the interviews to take notes

So why have two interviewers when you are recording? Even if there is prior agreement, your customer may change her mind and not want to be recorded. Your interview partner can act as your “recorder.” A partner could be invaluable after the interview. You are looking for insights. You might misinterpret an answer or miss an off-hand remark that could be key to discovering a new insight.

Alan Brooks

I use my senior executive marketing, product marketing, and product management experience to help our clients implement and build highly successful process-oriented, metrics-driven, and revenue-focused marketing teams.
Alan Brooks
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