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Creating B2B Buyer Personas Requires Conversations Guided by a Proven Methodology

Published: August 19, 2021       Updated: June 16, 2024

6 min read

Ever been to a party where you didn’t know anyone? What was that first conversation like? That one where you walked up to someone—or a group of someones—and just started talking. If it’s anything like my experiences, it was awkward. A lot of get-to-know-you questions that likely led to uncomfortable pauses or more questions asked out of courtesy rather than curiosity.

Compare that to a party where everyone already knows each other. Those parties are fun. The conversations are meaningful. The interactions are memorable.

If, as a brand, you haven’t taken the time to get to know your buyers, you are perpetually at that first party. You’re sending marketing messages out there and hoping for a response. Maybe you’ll find something that resonates. But more likely you’ll get a few smiles. You’ll get a short bit of polite conversation before that potential customer goes to find someone else to talk to.

So, how do you avoid that? By creating buyer personas.

B2B Buyer Personas Are Bedrock to Effective PR and Marketing

Any successful marketing and PR plan is built around a few things.

  • Solid brand messaging that’s consistent.
  • A strategy for getting that message in front of the right people.

But if those things are foundational then accurate buyer personas are bedrock. They are where everything else starts. When you have accurate buyer personas, you’ll know what your buyer is struggling with. You’ll know better how to reach them. And you’ll know the kinds of content they prefer to consume. All of that is critical to developing messaging and strategy.

You’re probably saying that your marketing team and your sales team already know all those things, and I can’t tell you that they don’t. What I can tell you, though, is that you might not have as full a picture as you think you do. 

You don’t know what you don’t know. Buyer personas built without having conversations with actual buyers are based on assumptions and, therefore, incomplete.

Those people who you think are loyal customers, may not be. They’ve just been with you a long time and have too much invested in your software to make a switch now. Or that SEO that you think is dialed in and drawing the right audience to your site isn't really working at all.

If you aren’t spending time talking to your customers (or partnering with a company that can, because it’s sometimes easier for customers to talk to third parties) then you won’t know these things.

Our PROBE Methodology

Come back to that first party with me for a minute and think more about those awkward conversations. What are you asking about? What does the other person do for a living? Do they have any siblings? Are they interested in sports or the arts? You’re looking for similarities, for ways that you two might connect. The same thing happens when we have those conversations with your buyers. We are looking for similarities and places to connect. We are looking to understand your typical customer’s buyer’s journey so we can create interactions that are meaningful and memorable. But because these conversations are time limited—we typically just get a half-hour on someone’s schedule—we have to make sure they are comfortable but focused. That’s why we created our PROBE methodology. It helps us keep in mind the five questions we want to be able to answer once our time has concluded.

What was the PROBLEM your buyer wanted to solve? At the end of the conversations with buyers, we want to be able to identify the problem they were having that made them start looking for a solution. Sometimes it’s something very specific. There’s a single issue that needed a single solution. Most often, though, it’s not that simple. There’s typically some broader issue that’s been plaguing your potential customers for a long time, something they’ve been struggling with that’s been holding them back, and they’ve finally decided to do something about it.

What were the RESULTS they expected to see? Everyone has a problem to solve, and everyone has a vision of what the new future looks like once they’ve found a solution. At the end of our conversations, we want to know what that future looks like for your buyers. That’s for two reasons. The first, if you can’t make that envisioned reality an actual one then you are likely trying to sell to a customer who isn’t ever going to respond to you. Second, and most importantly, this helps us establish the kind of messages you need to be taking to those buyers.

What were the OBSTACLES to selection? Every potential deal faces obstacles. Sometimes it’s capabilities. Often, it’s price. Whatever those obstacles are, once we know them we can then market against them.

What did their BUYER’S JOURNEY look like?—This may be one of the most important takeaways from our conversations. We want to be able to define your customer’s typical buyer's journey. Where did the search for a solution start? How did they become aware of you? Where did they go for information? What were the things they were considering? Who did they talk to? What did their selection process look like when it came time to make a final decision? After our conversations, we should be able to build a model of the journey your buyers go on.

What was their EVALUATION process?—When we say evaluation as part of a buying process, everyone automatically thinks about that final decision—the one that results in you either winning or losing a customer. But the truth is that there are evaluation points in every stage of the buying process. There’s the evaluation process for who will make the initial consideration set. There’s the evaluation process for when it’s time to cut that list down to a final few. And then there’s the actual final decision. We want to know what goes into all those decisions. But we also want to know who made them. Was the decision process something that was left to one person? Was it one person who reported to a committee or final decision maker? Was it a broader process that involved several people from the start? Knowing all of this will inform the marketing decisions we make down the road.

B2B Buyer Personas Help Create More Meaningful Interactions

We started this article by talking about two parties. The reality is that to have that second party, the one with meaningful conversations and meaningful interactions you must have the first one. You have to ask those questions. You have to get to know people. That’s true for individuals, and it’s true for businesses, especially for younger businesses that don’t have a decade or more of sales success behind them.

If you’re a startup or just out of the startup stage, the best thing you can do for your marketing and PR efforts is to talk to your buyers. Ask those questions so you can better understand them, their problems and what they hope to get from a solution like yours. Because the faster you know those things, the faster you can get to those meaningful interactions. The faster you get to having more of those second parties.

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