How to Create B2B Personas that Inform Content Marketing Strategy

8 minute read

Upland Admin

While 89% of B2B marketers have embraced content marketing, only 37% have a documented content marketing strategy, and only 22% say they are extremely successful with their overall approach to content marketing.

Successful content marketing requires more than just a commitment to creating content—it requires a developed, planned strategy.

One of the key foundational elements to a content marketing strategy is a buyer persona. Yet merely 57% of B2B marketers say they have a deep understanding of the buyer personas included in their strategy.

It’s time to rectify this limitation.

A Buyer Persona is a Functional Tool—Not a Poster with a Few Platitudes

Anyone who’s ever heard me speak on the subject of personas knows I’m passionate about the usefulness of every bit of information included in a B2B buyer persona. Finding such usefulness requires time and effort. But it’s worth it, considering that 70% of B2B marketers intend to create more content this year than last.

An in-depth buyer persona will:

  • Describe their perspective on your product based on what they want to achieve
  • Demonstrate their relationships to other members of the buying committee
  • Identify obstacles impeding progress at each stage of the buying process
  • Reveal information needed throughout the buying process
  • Clarify their priorities and challenges
  • Inform the tone, style, and voice for content
  • Assist writers to create content that speaks directly to this persona
  • Enable collaboration among marketing, product, sales, and customer service for a consistent experience
  • Contribute to a consensus on what constitutes a qualified lead
  • Align your business objectives to their business objectives

All of these rolled together serve to inform and balance your content marketing strategy to appeal to what buyers want.

4 Steps to Developing a Buyer Persona

Step 1: Internal Interviews

Internal interviews are valuable as a baseline for how your organization perceives and understands your buyers and customers. This is a critical step so that you will know where the gaps are, how much conflict there is in audience perception across the enterprise, and where the push-backs may come from when it’s time to institutionalize the personas.

Select members related to the focus of the project from sales, product marketing, and line of business management. Aim for at least three to five interviews with each department—more if you can get them.

Limit the time commitment to 30 minutes. Everyone is busy. Scheduling interviews (whether internal or external) is the most difficult part of the buyer persona development process. So make it as easy as possible. And, most importantly, structure the interviews as conversations, not inquisitions.

Questions to Ask Salespeople:

  • Who do you usually interact with at prospective companies?
  • Who else do you need to get into these conversations?
  • Who typically makes the final decision to buy?
  • What questions do they tend to ask you?
  • How do they phrase the problem they’re trying to solve?
  • What do they state as their objective?
  • What do they need to build the business case?
  • What kind of push back do you get to moving forward?
  • Why would they choose not to buy from us?
  • What competitors come up most often?
  • What do you think tips buyers in our favor?

Questions to Ask Product Marketers:

  • What have you heard lately from our customer advisory board?
  • What’s on the roadmap for the product and why?
  • What trends do you see driving future product development?
  • Do you see any new uses or users for our products given industry developments?
  • Do you see customers using the product differently than we intended?
  • Where do you think our product is the weakest?
  • Where do you think our product shines?
  • Do we have any new use cases in development? (Can we see them? Can we sit in on the interviews?)

Questions to Ask Business Managers:

  • What are your top objectives for this year?
  • Where do you see the most opportunity for achieving them? (Market or industry trends, competitor weaknesses, etc.)
  • What obstacles do you think could get in the way? (Certifications, regulation changes, delays to new feature development, etc.)
  • What do you think sales needs to win more deals?
  • How do you think we could deliver even more value than we do today to our customers?

Because they also meet with customers, ask business managers a few of the questions from the salesperson list.

Once your internal interviews are complete, compile your findings and agree on the persona(s) to develop. This decision should be based on where you think marketing programs can have the most impact.

Be careful if you’ve arrived at a C-level executive. For a C-level executive persona, make sure what you’re selling is of high strategic value. Even though they make the final decision, if most of the research, evaluation, and building of the business case is done at a lower level, that’s where your focus should be.

Step 2: External Interviews

There’s no way around this. An in-depth buyer persona requires insights gleaned from buyers and customers. Without direct insight, you’re still guessing. Even with buyer research surveys, if those buyers aren’t your buyers then the findings won’t be definitive.

Based on the outcome of Step 1, define a list of contacts at customer companies that will represent the persona(s) you’re building. Don’t be limited by title; also think about the role. For example, in a series of interviews I just completed, there were at least six different titles. But each of these people essentially had the same role within their company—as well as within the buying process.

Keep the size of the customer company in mind. Even the same title will have vastly different perspectives, roles, and responsibilities if they work at an SMB vs. a large, global-enterprise company.

Additionally, if you’re not focusing on a specific vertical, make sure you get a mix of industries. Developing buyer personas is about identifying commonalities across the swath of buyers.

Questions to Ask Customers:

Note that you’ll want to tailor these questions to your specific situation. The following are the key questions I return to in some form or another because they elicit the information needed to build a solid persona.

  • Can you tell me about a day in your life as a [title]?
  • What are your top priorities?
  • What are the biggest challenges you face in achieving them?
  • What happened that motivated you to look for a solution?
  • What issues were caused by that problem?
  • How did you define the outcome you were trying to achieve?
  • What did you need to figure out the best way to solve the problem?
  • Why couldn’t the problem be solved internally?
  • Who else was involved in making the decision?
  • Where did you find the most helpful information?
  • What other solutions did you consider?
  • Did anyone disagree with how you wanted to solve the problem?
  • What was the turning point when everyone got on board?
  • What made you choose our solution?

I like to complete at least 7–10 customer interviews per persona. I’ll take more if I can get them, but usually, by ten interviews I’m not learning anything new—provided we selected the best-matched people to interview for the persona.

Step 3: External Research

There are some things that you won’t learn in interviews, and these will populate the professional attributes of a persona. Luckily, they’re things you can find on your own.

Do a search on LinkedIn for profiles that match your persona’s definition. Look for the following:

  • Time spent in career and time spent in persona’s role
  • Changed jobs a lot vs. climbed the ladder at the same company
  • Type of college degree
  • What’s said about them in recommendations
  • What groups they belong to
  • The level of activity on LinkedIn – shares, posts written, things they’ve liked, etc.

I usually look at 50 or more profiles to root out valuable information and identify patterns.

You’ll also want to search for analyst and industry reports that are relevant to the project. Remember to review industry portals, related thought leader blogs, and job listings.

Don’t overlook competitor websites, blogs, and social media accounts. You may find a gap that presents an opportunity to capitalize on an overlooked channel.

Step 4: The Persona Build

Now that you’ve completed your internal and external interviews and your external research, it’s time to pull all the information together to build your persona. Remember that you want to capture the details. There’s a big difference between something vague, such as “Grow revenues,” and something with the persona’s perspective, such as “Automate processes to eliminate inefficiency and bring products to market faster.” Plus, writing it down solidifies your marketing process.

There are many structures you can use for your buyer persona. I structure the personas I build around nine components that include:

  1. “A Day in the Life” – written in the first person as if the persona is speaking to you (include relationships with others involved in the buying decision)
  2. Objectives – priorities they need to achieve
  3. Problems – why the objectives haven’t been achieved yet
  4. Orientation – professional attributes
  5. Obstacles – what could stall forward momentum
  6. Questions asked during each stage of the buying process
  7. Content and channel preferences
  8. Keywords and phrases
  9. Watering holes and social media

Structure helps you to assign the information you’ve collected in a useful way.

I’ll talk more about this in my next post, “How to Apply a B2B Buyer Persona to Content Marketing Strategy.”

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