B2B Marketing

3 Common Problems with B2B Marketing Personas

Funhouse MirrorDeveloping personas is one of the first steps recommended by many B2B marketers. Understanding your audience is critical, and personas are one of the most effective solutions, right?

I recently had the privilege (cough) of reviewing personas created for a client by a large, respected agency. It was a stark reminder of how common bad personas are today.

Unfortunately, many B2B marketers are working with personas that do more harm than good.

Here are some of the most common problems I see. The faint silver lining: at least all of these issues are avoidable.

1. The Funhouse Mirror Persona

Prospects don’t spend most of their day thinking about you or the problems you solve. And prospects that work with your competitors don’t go through their day terrified, while your customers sit on cloud nine popping bonbons all day.

All too often marketers marketers end up with these funhouse mirror personas: grossly distorted and misleading views of the audience that focus attention on irrelevant features while obscuring the most important ones.

Instead, personas should be like a caricature: immediately recognizable while focusing on the defining characteristics of each segment.

The solution:

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  • Don’t rely on salespeople and executives for insight, or even on customers. Talk to potential prospects that have not engaged with sales in order to understand prospects your marketing needs to reach.
  • Don’t just focus the discussion on views of your category or company. Instead, learn about each individual’s overarching priorities, concerns and activities.

2. The Title Persona

Titles do not define people and personas should help you connect with people!

You do not need to create a profile for an accounting manager, a director of finance and a CFO. Depending on your market, you might only need two. Or you might need five, in order to capture the relevant differences in their motivations and perspectives.

Whatever you do, defaulting to creating a persona for each target title almost ensures you will lose the insight you need into what will motivate or hold back your prospect. Instead of unique and useful insights, you will be capturing information that could be had far more cost effectively by just reading 20 job descriptions on Craigslist.

The solution:

  • Identify underlying motivators or perspectives that push individuals and organizations to change or stay where they are. These are your potential personas.
  • Examples to consider: the change agent, the reluctant manager, the old timer, the early adopter.

3. The Personal Persona

Yes, personal and professional lives are inextricably linked. But if a persona tells you more about a person’s family, pets and free time activity than their professional career and motivations, you are missing an absolutely critical part of the picture.

The solution (this one is easier):

  • Get to know them professionally: how do they spend their time, what are their priorities or concerns and what are their aspirations and fears.
  • Explore their role, experience and emotions around purchasing decisions that ended up being very successful and around those that failed.


B2B personas should illuminate your audience and provide a clear roadmap to relevance in your marketing. Instead, far too many perpetuate myths and misconcpetions about your audience or, even worse, just tell you what you want to hear.

Your Turn

What problems do you see with the personas B2B marketers are creating or using today? Share your view in the comments below or with me on Twitter (@wittlake).

Photo Credit: dearoot via Flickr cc

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