Virtually all B2B marketers agree that it’s essential to develop buyer personas and apply them in all aspects of their marketing efforts. But despite this recognition, there is a great deal of variance and inconsistency in how buyer personas are developed and applied.

Before we get into the steps for developing personas for your organization, let’s get aligned on some of the basics and explore a few foundational questions surrounding B2B Buyer Personas.

What are Buyer Personas?

Buyer personas are composite, semi-fictional, general representations of your ideal customers. They’re composite in that they show or convey a range of important characteristics of these individuals. They’re semi-fictional because while real customer names should not be used, real customer data should be analyzed and applied in developing your buyer personas. And lastly, they’re general in that they are not an exact reflection of any one customer.

How many Buyer Personas do we need?

There isn’t a single magic number of personas that organizations should have. What is important is that your respective personas reflect your primary ideal customer types and that key secondary customer profiles are also considered.

For some, identifying and articulating “negative” personas – types of individuals that you don’t want as customers, may also be helpful. Negative personas might include those in certain industries or those with attributes that suggest a high likelihood of churn or poor fit.

How are Buyer Personas used in B2B marketing?

Fundamentally, buyer personas help us to personalize and refine our marketing outreach and messaging in a way that best fits the needs of the respective customer types. In other words, they provide a framework for delivering the right messages and offers… to the right customers and prospects… at the right time… and in the way each one wants to receive them.

As an example, different buyer personas may have different pain points that need to be reflected in your messaging. Some may have information intake preferences that suggest different approaches to your marketing mix to accommodate them. Other characteristics may help to inform the offer types that a specific persona is most likely to respond to.

Steps for Developing Great B2B Buyer Personas

With an understanding of the key questions above as a backdrop, let’s move into the steps for developing your B2B Buyer Personas.

Below we’ll explore the main steps you’ll want to cover in developing out the right buyer personas for your organization. Make sure you set aside as much time as is needed to get each step right and be sure to seek alignment and feedback from relevant stakeholders along the way. With that principle in mind, let’s get to the steps:

Gather the right data

Even though they’re fictional, buyer personas should always be based on a foundation of accurate and relevant quantitative and qualitative data. Get quantitative data from internal data sources (e.g. marketing database) and supplement it as needed with secondary data from external sources such as customer trends and state of the industry reports. Glean qualitative insights through conversations with key internal stakeholders, interviews with current or prospective customers or industry relationships. Here are a few examples of the types of data to consider:

  • Demographic (e.g. age, education, location, etc.)
  • Firmographic (e.g. revenue, # employees, sector, growth stage, etc.)
  • Anecdotal / Behavioral (e.g. known interests, information sources, communication preferences)

Identify and articulate common characteristics, pain points and goals

If data serves as the foundation for developing buyer personas, think of this stage as building the framework of your different buyer personas. Here, you’ll begin mapping out and documenting the various features and attributes that define your respective personas. Questions to consider at this stage should include:

  • What are the clusters of each persona’s age, background, role?
  • In what sectors and geographies are the respective personas concentrated in?
  • What are the recurring pain points, objectives and goals of each persona?

Add behavioral detail to bring your personas to life

Now that we have a foundation and framework for our personas, it’s time to really bring them to life. Get beyond the bullets and overarching characteristics here by adding in behavioral details that spell out their unique preferences and depict what a “day in the life” looks like for each. The best buyer personas instill mental models into the minds of your marketing team and other stakeholder groups. Consider:

  • What meetings do they attend and what stakeholders do they most often interact with?
  • What mediums does each prefer for consuming data?
  • What are their favorite go-to sources for gathering information?
  • How do their work and personal lives intersect with their work lives?

Integrate your personas into your marketing efforts

This may seem like an obvious point, but organizations sometimes develop personas without ever effectively incorporating them into their overall marketing strategy and the marketing plans that support it. Others do a good job of incorporating personas early on, but don’t stick with it long enough to instill personas into their marketing culture for the long term. Questions to weigh include:

  • Has tailored messaging been developed for each persona type?
  • Have legacy assets been reviewed for alignment with your respective personas?
  • Has each stage of the buyer’s journey been addressed for each persona type?
  • Do you and your team regularly reference your buyer personas in marketing and business development conversations?

And there you have it, a model for developing buyer personas that you can apply throughout your B2B marketing efforts. Don’t forget, organizations change over time and people do too. Be sure to critically review and validate your personas from time to time (at least annually) to reflect any important shifts.