Buyer personas are an essential aid for inbound marketing. But much of the general advice out there leads people to worry more about the personas themselves than the value they bring. It's not about creating a profile for every potential buyer, it's about knowing your core audience and generating revenue.
When we create content, we need to do more than write something that massages our CEO's ego or is focused only on our offerings. A persona is a device for helping you look outside your company and talk to the person that matters most — your buyer.
The general perception of B2B personas is that they need to be incredibly rich personifications full of demographic information, personal details, fears, aspirations etc. This view is largely drawn from B2C marketing, where that kind of information is valuable. But, it's less relevant in B2B marketing.
The most important outcome of creating a B2B persona is understanding the challenges your buyers face. This allows you to create content that addresses and empathises with those challenges.
When we talk about "the buyer" we're talking about the one person your salespeople most like to talk to and the person your company offering is specifically suited to. But we know that in B2B, purchase decisions are typically not down to one person. There's usually a decision-maker, a few influencers, champions, and objectors all pitching into the process. This has led to the idea that you must have more than one persona...
Depending on your business, you could have as few as one or two personas, or as many as 10 or 20.
It is generally recognized that 3-8 personas are sufficient in most cases.
We’ve never encountered the need for more than seven personas or fewer than two for each business segment or product line, if they’re diverse. Most projects have four or five.
Here's the logic trap we see people fall into:
Marketers who follow this line of thought end up dividing their budget and the impact of their activities. Inbound marketing takes time to scale and it's the scale that leads to success.
Wherever possible, start by targeting one persona. If you split your focus and your budget, it takes longer to see real returns on your marketing investment. First, focus on proving marketing ROI by creating content that addresses the challenges of the people who can bring you the most revenue the quickest.
One of the biggest challenges marketers face is staying the course. Content marketing takes time to build momentum and it's important to stay consistent throughout. To get the best results from your messaging, you only need to be thinking about two things:
But we understand the challenges. Internal stakeholders get bored with the messaging on the website. New people join the company and want to “shake things up”. Internal politics, rather than data, drive the conversation around positioning.
By committing to one persona, your positioning and messaging become consistent, reliable, and trusted. In our experience, you get very little value in updating your website to target a new persona every time you launch a new campaign.
When most brands start with inbound marketing, they can only generate one or two blog posts a week. That’s 52 or 104 pieces of content a year. Attempts to target numerous verticals and personas means you end up with 30-40 different niches that you’re trying to address across those 50-100 posts. You’ll never get the impact you are looking for when your efforts are that diluted.
When you have one persona for inbound marketing, all your content efforts are channelled into addressing the pain points and challenges of the people you’re most likely to turn into a sales opportunity.
More resources and budget, combined with a tight focus are the key ingredients to creating high-quality content. With one persona, you can create evergreen long-form content on big topics that are hyper-relevant.
Allow yourself to put consistent effort into key pieces of content and you'll have more impact over time and stay competitive for important search terms.
To some extent, inbound marketing is a volume game. You need to build up authority through content and organic traffic through SEO. You get better results faster if you allow momentum to build with one persona than by spreading your budgets and efforts across several personas.
There’s more than one person involved in the buying decision.
This is very common in B2B sales and there's nothing wrong with capturing and segmenting those other personas for future campaigns. The thing to remember is to keep your content generation and other marketing activity focused on your primary persona at least initially.
In situations where there is a CIO, an IT manager and a business owner discussing the buying decision, we often find that many of their pain points overlap. They all want to improve efficiency and scale their business. They're concerned about privacy and data.
Naturally, there are different perspectives that you can explore later down the line, but by focusing on your primary persona, you'll naturally create content that relates to other stakeholders in some way.
Our new product/feature tackles new challenges for new segments.
We refer you back to consistency. In the majority of cases, a new product or service isn’t going to transform the values and core messaging of your company. And if that product or service is targeting existing customers there’s even less incentive to change things up because those people already bought into your existing messaging.
We have the resources to target more than one persona.
That’s great! But just because you can doesn't mean you should. If you need to prove marketing success, stay focused on one persona. But there are two scenarios where targeting additional personas makes sense:
Don't let conventional wisdom or your marketing software dictate your marketing strategy. We understand that you still want to capture data, let people feel seen and understood, and segment them for future marketing activity. But this activity needs to be distinct from your inbound and content marketing strategy. The number of personas that appear in a dropdown form on your website doesn't correlate with the number of personas you need at the centre of your marketing strategy.
Inbound marketing isn’t about hedging bets. Lots of companies are scared to focus directly on their buyer but we find that it often leads to better success. Work harder on your core audience than your competitors – own your space – and more people will come to your door.