Why Buyer Personas are a Potential Obstacle to Demand Generation Success

In my many conversations with B2B marketers about their Demand Generation Strategy, inevitably buyer personas are mentioned early on in the process.  In fact, I am hard pressed to remember the last time I spoke with any marketer who did not have any kind of documented buyer personas.

However, having these documented personas does not necessarily equate with demand generation success.  In fact, I believe the way many organizations are approaching the use of personas in terms of content development is actually an obstacle to what they are hoping to achieve in demand generation and is limiting the development of effective content.

With all of the education and knowledge of buyer persona development, why is there such a disconnect between the documentation of these personas and success in Demand Generation and Content Marketing? (According to Content Marketing Institute less than 10% are truly effective with their Content Marketing.) 

1.  Most Buyer Personas are Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

In much of the work we do with large B2B organizations, the majority of the personas that have been developed are driven out of the Product Marketing team and clearly have a product-first approach.  Company A has a product and they want to know who their ideal buyer is.  The Product Marketing team begins to create this persona and lo and behold, the persona is the exact model of the person who would want to buy their product – not an actual picture of the market.

–          Age 35-44

–          Held a Sr. Manager or Director Role for 5+ years

–          Manages a team of 4-7 people

And the list goes on and this is then sent to the campaigns team to go and find these clearly defined individual.  This is not so much a persona, but an attempt at match making.  Trying to identify an individual that will match your product or solution is an exercise in futility.  Buyers do not view themselves the way Product Marketers do – buyers view their purchases in terms of need, challenges, goals and objectives, not by how many people they manage or how long they have held a title.

2. B2B Buying is a Herd Mentality

According the B2B Buyer Survey from Demand Gen Report, 50% of respondents stated that more than four people were involved in the buying process and only 9% stated they involve fewer.  The days of selling to the decision maker are over, B2B buyers buy in packs and have buying committees – understanding the roles within that committee, the unique views and how they intersect will be key to defining the Demand Generation content that is developed.

3. Go Beyond Knowing the Individual

It is not enough to understand the individual attributes of the target personas as that is a one-dimensional view.  What most organizations fail to do is document the buyers approach to the purchase (this is more than just interest, consensus, evaluation, decision).  This is a detailed view of all of the key milestones of a purchase – unless this is known, it is impossible to determine the content that should be delivered.

Secondly, vendors must understand the market conditions that exist in the world of their buyers.  Key items like global economic conditions, legislation, competitive pressures, etc. all play a role in the approach to buying and this is often overlooked.  It is for this reason that any buyer insights should include secondary research.

4. There Is Not Enough Content to Go Around

According to the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs most recent B2B Content Marketing  Research Study – 55% of respondents state “Producing Enough Content” as their biggest challenge.  This is due in large part to organizations trying to develop content for each and every identified persona.  This becomes unmanageable if you have multiple product lines with 5-7 personas – there is simply not enough headcount or time to develop all the content. The study also reports that only 44% of organizations have a defined content strategy, so trying to develop more content without a defined strategy is not a good idea. Things will derail quickly.

Organizations should stop trying to message to each and every persona and begin focusing on the “talk tracks” they should be having with those involved in the buying decision.   For instance, in a typical large IT purchase (if there is such a thing), you will see a VP of IT, CIO and CFO involved.  At the early stages of the process, the Engagement content will serve to cast a wide net to capture the attention of these individuals.

Buyers Intersection Points

Blog graphic 12.3

However, as the purchase process moves on (See Graphic Above) each of these individuals will be focused on many of the same things – Total Cost of Ownership, Solution ROI, Cost of Implementation, etc.  Three individuals or personas, focused on a very similar set of issues, which converge and can be addressed with a singular content thread.  The issue here is not developing more and more content or even spending more money on content production, it is knowing where the convergence of that content is and what will resonate at the specific step in the buying process.

Having documented personas is just the first small step in achieving Demand Generation success.  There is much work to be done in order for this effort to payoff and for B2B organizations to truly connect with their buyers.

Author: Carlos Hidalgo @cahidalgo CEO and Principal, ANNUITAS