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Recently, I was asked if I would help review a set of completed buyer personas.  It turned out to be an interesting exercise.  As I usually find when helping people with their questions and challenges.  This particular instance resurfaced one of the major pitfalls of buyer persona developments.  Which is all too common today.

Context

Recently, we are seeing buyer persona development become a concern for content marketing and product marketing.  The focus is narrowly defined to meet campaign needs and short-term objectives.  The needs are pressing and no doubt folks are under the gun to hit targets.  There are discussions on what to do to reach and convert more buyers – quickly.  It is within this context buyer persona development efforts can be seen as a quick panacea to solve a major headache.

The Problem

This context is causing problems for teams attempting buyer persona development.  Led to believe it takes a few short calls or running a couple of data reports to create buyer personas, teams resort to win/loss data interviews.  Yes, some insights are gained.  However, many are lost through this inadequate method.

This approach is leading to widespread self-referential treatment of buyer personas.  A short name for this is – projection.   The short summary of projection is:

Within the context of our existing situation and status quo, we project our own thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, and ideas onto customers.  This results in buyer personas, which are more a reflection of status quo thinking and not revelation of new and profound deep insight.

This problem is more prevalent as companies attempt to move quickly, not invest in adequate qualitative research, and view buyer personas as a checklist for campaigns.

Win-Loss is a Loss

The quick remedy for most companies has been to resort to conventional win-loss interviews.  This approach is prone to self-referential treatment of buyer personas.  Conducted in the context of a recent deal or purchase, it is loaded with biases and projection.  These types of interviews have their place in business.  Buyer persona development is not one of them.

The Real Need

The real need facing B2B organizations today is to understand how buyers are changing their behaviors and attitudes towards buying.  This type of understanding is critical to future aspirations for growth and new innovations.  Companies today, without this understanding, will wind up on a treadmill of recycling campaign after campaign every quarter in the hopes of meeting short-term targets.  As we all know we eventually burn out on a treadmill.  And, so do buyers.

What To Do

B2B companies can take the following steps to avoid self-referential buyer understanding, which makes buyer personas non-useful:

  • Clearly identify your problem.  Companies are jumping into buyer persona development efforts without clearly identifying their problems.  The companies who have benefited from buyer personas have done so by beginning with a clear understanding of a problem statement.  Not perceiving such efforts as a checklist item.
  • Get out of status quo and pressure-filled context.  When pressure builds, it is natural for organizations and people to make attempts for initiatives to fit the situation.  Tying buyer persona development too closely to a short-term objective, such as launching a campaign in one-month, will result in little value.
  • Commit to qualitative buyer research.  B2B companies need to resist the temptation or advice to jump into conventional win-loss interviewing as a substitute for qualitative buyer research.  There are no short cuts when it comes to conducting the adequate amount and techniques needed to gain insights, which changes the future direction of organizations.
  • Create a new language about the buyer.  Current language about the buyer is woefully loaded with jargon and detachment.  Many of you know what I am talking about.  We focus on “buying criteria”, “priorities”, “initiatives”, and other business jargon laced terminologies.  These can get in the way of unraveling the deeper insights we need on buyers today.  They keep us in the status quo.

Companies today must check against their current status quo thinking about buyers. Being careful to not influence with self-referential code and projecting one’s own beliefs on customer views. What matters most is to understand what buyers think, the context in which they think, and why they think as they do.  Only then can a company develop meaningful views of their buyers with the aim of helping them fulfill their goals.