When it comes specifically to buyer personas, there have been plenty of questions about how to pull off a successful initiative. This is one question I typically have been asked when engaged in conversations helping people with questions. It can be a painful question for those who have made attempts in the past only to find they produced little results. And, left plenty of angst and frustration along the way amongst various departments.
This concerns me. It makes it easy to discount buyer personas as a useful tool. Easy is the operative word. They have been presented as easy to do when is fact they can be difficult to do very well. When done well, I have seen organizations, both Fortune 100 to SME’s, get tremendous results. Literally changing their course of direction to new opportunities not seen before. Poorly executed, it could actually set back an organization, which I have seen. Several times over the past few years, my work involved rescuing a failed buyer persona initiative.
What Makes Success?
When I reflect back on the success I have seen teams have since creating the buyer persona methodology, there are several elements, which are evident. The following are elements, which should be present for every buyer persona initiative:
Element 1: Research purpose is first and foremost
The successful initiatives I have witnessed had a clear charter. This charter was clear about the purpose of buyer personas, which was to communicate buyer insights. In essence, the initiative foundation rested on the clear understanding of the need for buyer insight research. Not, building a profile or template of a buyer. The created buyer personas themselves were correctly seen as the communications vehicle.
Element 2: Broad and inclusive team participation
Poor results usually can be traced back to a non-inclusive approach. A small team in one department is involved and not many outside the team know about the effort. Successful efforts usually have supportive executive sponsorship. They are inclusive of marketing, sales, service, and operations components of a business. The multiple stakeholders, influencers of strategy planning, and those involved in executing tactics with customers and buyers are all involved.
When a buyer persona initiative is seen as an enterprise endeavor, it helps to prevent a clear sign there are going to be problems. Such as a small team or just one individual does the creation and launches a PR campaign to have the buyer personas adopted. Leading to little adoption and understanding.
Element 3: involves the right level of buyer insight research
To do buyer insight research and buyer persona development well, involves a level of difficulty, which has to be overcome. It is usually in this element where the most difficulties surface. Most times, when initiatives produced little value, they were couched in no research, very little research, or use of conventional business research. Usually involving win/loss interviews, surveys, focus groups, and etc. Those producing the most value involved thinking well beyond the conventional, involving research with an appropriate level of qualitative context and observation to know how buyers behave in their environments.
This is hard work here. Sometimes it is not easy to find buyers to talk to or willing to allow on-site visits. Most failed initiatives took an easy way out by resorting to win/loss interviews or relying on sales only for contacts. Meaning, the buyer interviews could be the wrong set of buyers for the problems trying to be solved and the insight answers needed. This leads to element number 4.
Element 4: The buyer persona initiative is relevant to a problem statement and/or objectives
Initiatives I have seen fail usually are not tied to a specific problem statement and/or a clear objective. They originate from a small team and may just be seen as a “checklist” item for a very tactical effort. This will produce very little value and buyer personas will not garner much support.
Without a clear tie to a problem statement and/or a clear objective, this type of initiative will be like a ship without a compass. Not entirely sure in which direction to concentrate research efforts on, knowing which buyers to talk to, and missing deep insights as a result. Thus, they wind up offering little value towards informing strategy and solving complex problems.
Element 5: Buying scenarios offer rich details
Persona-based buying scenarios can offer rich insights helpful to guiding marketing, sales, service, and operations. These are specific and are only valuable if the right level as well as depth of research has been conducted. Most failed initiatives paid cursory attention to identifying buying processes, the buyer’s journey, and etc. These offer only generic views of buying and offer little value as well as insight into buying behavior.
There is a degree of specificity and richness needed to make buying scenarios be insightful and informative to the enterprise. I often see this element missing entirely from project plans as well as content relevant to buyer personas. Not having this element is like having an initiative without a heartbeat.
The Right Approach
These elements provide guidance into how to organize a buyer persona initiative with a high probability of good results. Ensuring it is successful and it is relevant to the entire organization – not just a small team or one specific department. We can translate ensuring success into five key steps:
- Initiate as a buyer insight research project
- Make it inclusive for the enterprise with executive sponsorship
- Do the right level of contextual research inclusive of field observation
- Make it relevant to a problem statement and/or objective
- Understand and build in-depth buying scenarios for each buyer persona
A Difference Maker
Buyer insight research and buyer personas can be the difference between being included in your buyer’s world – or – be left standing outside the door. In this fast changing world, no B2B organizations can ill-afford failed projects. Following the above elements and steps can help prevent your organization from being thrown into the failed projects heap pile.
(This is another article answering your questions. Answers to related questions, How Many Buyer Personas Do I Need?, Who Should We Interview When Developing Buyer Personas, Who Should Build Buyer Personas? Marketing or Sales?, and How Does B2B Market Segmentation Differ From B2B Buyer Personas? , can be very helpful. I am available for further help and conversation on how to make optimal use of buyer insight research and buyer personas. Please share widely – this will help those trying to prevent a failed project.)
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