Being old enough to remember when Al Gore invented the Internet and having crafted marketing communications for the original “tech trifecta” of Intel, IBM, and Microsoft, it’s been fun to watch the world of technology marketing become the world of marketing technology.

But be careful what you wish for. We have more ways of reaching more prospects than ever before, but our (B2P Partners) research with B2B marketing directors shows that many are feeling overwhelmed by the plethora of toys they now have.

We’re all MADD with Marketing Attention Deficit Disorder. In a world where marketers are buried by stacks of more and more marketing technology, it is increasingly hard to unearth a clear strategy based on the bedrock of understanding exactly who your prospect is and why they are prospects…which kind of is our job.

Buyer personas to the rescue! A tool which we have been happy to see emerge in the last few years is the buyer persona, the personified picture of exactly who your prospect is and why they might want to buy your product. Our research indicates that 58% of B2B marketers are using them and another 28% expect to use them in the next few years.

Personas are still evolving. But exactly what goes into a buyer persona varies greatly among marketers. The research shows that no particular element is included in more than about half of buyer personas. It also shows that only somewhat more than half (59%) are based on external interviews with real prospects! This is grounds for marketing malpractice!

Accordingly, fully half (49%) of B2B marketers say personas are just “somewhat effective” and only one-third (35%) believe they are “extremely” or “very effective.” The following are seven observations about what is most important to make your buyer personas effective based on our dozen years of experience.

Seven Steps Toward More Effective Buyer Personas

1. They start with your persona. It’s called a “persona” because it’s about a person. Your research has to start with exploring what this person is trying to do on their job and what that means to them as an emotional creature—yes, even if they are logical engineers or finance people who are proud of their apparent lack of emotion. Actually, especially them. We have a few clever ways of getting at this.

2. They are specific. In B2B, the research shows that some 38% of personas are general profiles of titles like “CFOs” or “hospital administrators.” In other words, they not worth the atoms they’re written on. These general title descriptions are not specific enough to tell the story of why this CFO or hospital administrator is a prospect for your specific product.

A persona is the particular side of a person relating to your product, not who they are in general. Whether or not they own a dog or like to ski is interesting but probably doesn’t unlock why they could be a prospect specifically for you. No wonder that lack of respect internally is the #1 disappointment of marketers with personas. The magic is in the details.

3. They are unique to you. Buyer personas must reveal why your offering might be the single best solution to a prospect’s problem. If your personas could equip a marketer to sell any brand in your category, then they have failed to capture the particular magic that your brand brings to the category. They are personas for a training academy and not a competitive vendor with carefully articulated differentiation. If your personas are the same as your competitor’s, you need to push your prospect research to find the real stated and unstated reasons your prospects pick you. From their perspective. In their words.

4. They tell a story. Like any good story, personas start with a hero who is on a quest. However, the hero (your prospect) faces substantial obstacles to accomplishing their worthy goal. That’s where your product comes in. And that story is what you are marketing as your product and your company seek to reenact every day in the lives of your prospects. It’s not a story you invent. It’s a story you discover. And that’s the story your persona tells.

5. They hunt in packs. In the B2B world these days, nothing of substantial value is purchased by one person anymore. The average number of key players in any significant vendor decision has ballooned to over five, and the variety of their backgrounds is more diverse than ever. The hierarchy of the “corner office” making vendor selections on the golf course has faded with the :30 TV spot. Vendor decisions are the result of several personas interacting through the prospect journey to agree on a course of action.

Accordingly, the risk of the team not agreeing on a course of action accounts for the record high proportion of RFPs that yield no vendor selection. Equip your team for superior performance with a pack of personas who represent the people behind the selection teams they face.

6. They come to a point. Only somewhat more than half (58%) of personas include a core insight. In our work we have come to call this the “Key Prospect Insight” or KPI. We define it as “the single most important thing to know about a prospect role that makes them a prospect for your offering.” A dozen years of persona marketing has identified this “other” KPI as the most powerful way of making buyer personas understood, accepted, respected, and acted on.

7, They are precious. In fact, we believe your Key Prospect Insight should be your company’s most valuable corporate secret. It is the distillation of the best your company can offer to solve a significant issue for your most important prospects—the key to the client company’s growth. And yours.

It’s 10 am. Do you know where your Key Prospect Insight is? Go ahead. See if you can write in one sentence who (one of) your prospect is, what they are trying to accomplish, what is stopping them, and how your offering frees them to achieve their goal.

Show the sentence to a few people outside your department or even outside your company to see if there really is a story there. This is hard work but you’re not alone.