B2B Buyer Personas: How You Should Be Using Them (But Aren’t)
by Aden Andrus • February 16, 2021
First coined by Alan Cooper in his book, The Inmates are Running the Asylum, “buyer personas” are a marketing staple. If you’re not familiar with the term, a buyer persona is what it sounds like: a detailed profile of a business’s ideal buyer.
For most B2C businesses, the practical applications of buyer personas are pretty obvious. If you know who your ideal customer is, it’s easy to figure out how to target and market to them.
After all, B2C marketing is often pretty straightforward: monkey see, monkey click, monkey buy.
B2B marketing, however, tends to be a lot more complex. You may often have to convince (and reconvince) a series of people to buy what you’re selling. The stakes are higher, the process is longer and the payoff is bigger.
As a result, crafting buyer personas and understanding how each persona progresses through your buyer journey is absolutely critical to B2B marketing success.
The only problem is, most B2B marketers don’t really understand what it takes to either build an effective B2B buyer persona or use that persona in developing their buyer journey.
We cover building effective B2B personas in another article. In this post, we’re going to focus instead on how to use your personas at each stage of your buyer journey. We’ll talk about each stage, what it entails and how to think about each persona’s needs in that stage.
Sound like a plan? Let’s get started!
Mapping Out Your Buyer Journey
If you’ve never mapped out your buyer journey before, it’s an incredibly insightful process. There are a lot of different ways to think about or structure your journey and the right approach will probably be specific to your business and what you’re selling.
Regardless of how they are broken down or presented, however, most buyer journeys have 7 general phases:
If you’re in marketing, some of these phases may be a bit of an unknown to you, but they’re all part of the buyer journey. They all matter, and you may interact with different buyer personas differently at each stage in the journey.
Pam and Phil
To show you how this works, we’re going to pretend that you run a logistics company that manages shipping needs for a variety of other businesses. Two of your key buyer personas are home delivery pharmacies (Pharmacy Phil) and industrial piping supply companies (Piping Pam).
As the COO of a large home delivery pharmacy, Phil is primarily shipping time- and temperature-sensitive products. The drugs his company is sending out are often worth thousands of dollars and could be ruined if they are left at room temperature for more than an hour or so.
As a result, Pharmacy Phil is primarily looking for a delivery solution that can reliably get his shipments to their destination within 24 hours. He also needs insulated shipping containers and ice packs. Finally, he needs to be sure that his shipments won’t be left in a hot van for hours on end.
In contrast, Piping Pam has very different priorities. As the local shipping manager for an industrial piping manufacturer, her products are large, unwieldy and heavy.
Pam is primarily interested in durable shipping containers and keeping her shipping costs down. She needs her products to arrive on time, but her products are designed to handle a lot of abuse and her customers generally order well in advance.
In the following sections, we’ll use Pharmacy Phil and Piping Pam to show how a logistics company might adapt their strategy in each stage of their buyer journey to the needs and expectations of their buyer personas.
In many types of businesses, “awareness” is used to describe the point at which customers become aware of your business and enter your marketing funnel. For B2B businesses, however, awareness occurs when a key player becomes “aware” that they have a problem.
Depending on the problem your business solves, this may be something that your potential customers discover on their own. The key player here could be anyone, from customer service reps who are frustrated with their buggy support software to a CEO looking for a way to revitalize their business. It all depends on what you’re selling and who is affected by the problem it solves.
For example, maybe you get most of your Pharmacy Phil clients as the result of poor results from their current shipping solution. Phil gets a bunch of complaints from patients who received their order late or had product that had gone bad because of improper handling during the shipping process.
As a result, Phil is fed up with his current logistics company and starts actively looking for a new shipping partner. If this is often the case for this buyer persona, most of your Pharmacy Phil marketing efforts should center on buyer-initiated channels like Google Ads and messaging around your business’s delivery window and temperature control guarantees.
Alternative, your business may actually play a key role in this stage. Your customers don’t know they have a problem or are missing out on an opportunity until they see an ad or hear from your sales team.
Piping Pam may actually be happy with her current logistics company…until she sees an eBook from your business promoted post on Facebook talking about ways to save money on shipping large and heavy products. Wondering if there’s a better alternative out there, she clicks, reads the post and fills out a form to download your eBook on cutting shipping costs.
If most of your Piping Pam customers are unaware that there are better options available to them, your strategy for this persona may focus on outreach and education. Email marketing or content marketing will probably be far more effective than Google Ads for this persona.
Regardless of how your customers discover that they have a problem, it’s important to understand why that problem occurs, how it comes up and who is affected by it. The better you understand the pressures that are driving your customers, the easier it will be to show them how your business can meet their needs.
Once your customers are aware that they have a problem, they start to look for solutions. Again, depending on your business, your customers might discover you in this stage…or they might not.
In some cases, it might be a situation where low-level employees bring up the problem with their supervisors. For example, perhaps Pharmacy Phil only became aware of all of the shipping problems because a pharmacist called him up to report that the techs were getting tons of complaints about order delays and ruined medication.
Realizing that this is a big problem that needs solving, Phil jumps into research mode and starts exploring his options. Either way, once you’ve gotten in front of Phil, it’s important to recognize that Phil isn’t ready yet to make a purchase. He’s just trying to figure out how to solve his problem and the more you can help him with that, the more likely he is to choose your business as his ultimate solution.
If awareness starts at a higher level in the company, things might go the opposite direction. Maybe it wasn’t Pam that first read your eBook about cutting shipping costs…it was her boss. Someone on your sales team cold emailed them the eBook and said they could cut their shipping costs by 10% or more.
After reading your eBook, they sent it to Pam and asked her to do some research and see if there was an opportunity here to save money. Either way, if this is a common scenario for Piping Pams, your marketing strategy her should revolve around education, not closing the deal.
Or, alternatively, if you’re the one who created awareness around the problem, your potential customers might decide to look into all of their options. Even if they love your product or service, many businesses prefer to evaluate multiple options before making a decision.
If you understand how your customers acquire information about their options during this phase, you can often find ways to insert yourself into the information-gathering process. Along the way, you become a trusted ally—which is a great first step towards becoming a valued partner.
Most of the time, when businesses are considering how to handle a problem, they’ve got a lot of things to think about.
Is the problem really that big of a deal? What is the scope of the problem? How much are they willing to spend on a solution? Is this something they can solve internally? Can their existing partners solve the problem? Will the benefits of the solution outweigh its direct and/or indirect costs?
It’s a lot to consider.
The good news is, this is another great place for your business to get involved. Share case studies. Show them why investing in your solution is a great idea. Explain why your business is the best, the easiest, the cheapest, the whatever-est option they could choose.
For example, since Pharmacy Phil’s primary driving factor is shipping mistakes, it may be a good idea to focus on your business’s track record. If 99.99% of your shipments arrive on time and in perfect condition, that’s going to be a huge selling point for Phil.
For Piping Pam, on the other hand, an in-depth pricing chart that compares your rates to those of the competition or a shipping rate calculator could be very compelling. By showing off the range of options that you offer and how much money Pam’s business could save, you can make your company the obvious choice.
This stage is your opportunity to really shape and direct the thinking of your potential customers. There are a lot of ways to do this, but if you’re smart about it and focus on providing a great experience, you can do a lot to ensure that you end up on the shortlist of potential solutions.
To do that, though, you really have to understand the priorities and concerns of all the decision-makers who will be involved in this process.
If Pam is giving recommendations, not signing checks, you have to convince her and her boss. This may be a multi-step process and if you don’t understand who you’re selling to and how to get them excited about your business, it’s going to be hard to get them to buy.
Even if you don’t play a significant role in the consideration process, your business must get on a potential customer’s radar by the end of this phase. If you don’t, there’s a very good chance that they’ll move to the decision phase…and your business won’t be in the running.
During the decision phase, your customers weigh the pros and cons of each of their different options. In this phase, your goal is to help them decide that your business is worth a try.
You want to do everything you can to help your customers get through this phase as quickly as possible. After all, the longer they stay in the decision phase, the likelier they are to develop “paralysis by analysis” or decide that change is simply too much work.
For many B2B businesses, the decision phase is where the marketing-sales handoff occurs.
Marketing is typically focused on building awareness and trust, which is how your business gets into and through the decision phase. Once your potential customers have decided that your business is worth a try, though, your sales team takes over and delivers a more personalized experience.
For example, since Phil is still reeling from the recent mistakes made by his current logistics partner, he’s probably going to take his time selecting a new one. If marketing has done its job, he probably feels pretty good about your company, but he will reach out to several other prospective partners before signing anything.
At this point, you’ll want to make sure that the transition from marketing to sales is as smooth as possible. Your marketing up till this point has created a lot of expectations. Now it’s the sales team’s job to make those expectations an exciting new reality for Phil.
Here, your marketing and sales teams should be completely aligned around the messaging Phil is receiving. One of the most important things for Phil is to feel like he can depend on your business to take care of his business. Once his shipments are in his hands, he doesn’t want to worry about them anymore.
Testimonials, referrals, statistics and an honest, upfront sales team will be key to ensuring that Phil has the best possible odds of choosing your business. Remember, Pharmacy Phil is a wary buyer persona, so any mixed messages or dropped balls will send him straight into a more reliable competitor’s arms.
Of course, the decision stage doesn’t always go this way.
If Pam discovered her shipping problem because your sales team sent her boss an eBook, the line between marketing and sales might be very blurry. Pam and her boss may have been communicating with your sales rep throughout their journey and the decision may not be “which partner do we choose?”, but instead, “is it worth it to change logistics companies?”
For Pam and her boss, your business’s job at this phase in the journey is to build on the momentum you’ve already created and make switching logistics companies such an obvious and easy win that they’d be stupid not to jump at the opportunity.
That may or may not be completely feasible, but with the right marketing and sales approach, there’s a lot you can do to make your business the obvious choice.
The key here is to understand the thought process your customers are going through in the decision phase. The better you understand that thought process, the easier it will be to speed it along and snag a spot at the top of their list of solutions to try.
In the trial phase, your potential customers will decide to give one or more of their top options a try. Depending on what you’re selling, that might mean sample orders, a trial period, trying out several competitors simultaneously or just going all-in.
Regardless of how they decide to approach things, every B2B sale starts with a trial period. Your customers are feeling you and your solution out.
This is a critical time for your business, because even customers who are “all-in” aren’t really “all-in”. Yes, Phil may have decided to go with your business, but you’re still a relative unknown. If he feels like your business isn’t living up to the promises made during the first half of his buyer journey, it won’t be long before he jumps ship.
To prevent that from happening, you need the transition from marketing-to-sales-to-fulfillment to be seamless. If you talk all about how reliable your shipping solutions are and then make mistakes on his early shipments, Phil is going to feel like he’s back in the exact situation he was trying to get out of.
From a business perspective, that’s a mistake you can’t afford to make.
Generally speaking, it costs far more to land a new customer than it does to keep an existing customer around. Marketing and sales are a big investment—one that needs to pay off.
To minimize turnover—especially during the early months of a new business relationship—it’s critical to think about things from your customers’ perspective. What sort of expectations does Pam have? What is she looking for out of the relationship? When her boss follows up a few weeks or months after they sign on and asks, “how are things going?”, what can you do to ensure an enthusiastic response?
The better you can answer these types of questions, the more likely you are to make it through this crucial phase and establish a truly profitable long-term partnership.
The settledown phase is fairly straightforward. Once you’ve made it to this phase, your customers are starting to feel good about working with your business. They took a gamble…and it paid off.
During this phase, most businesses lean on their fulfillment team, marketing automation or some combination of the two to manage the customer experience. At this point, the goal is to keep the customer happy and continue to build trust in your brand.
For Phil, this might be a regular report from his contact point with average delivery times and shipping temperatures for his packages. For Pam, this might be a quarterly “you saved X” email comparing her current and previous shipping rates.
The longer you continue to exceed expectations and deliver a great experience, the more calm your customers will feel. This particular problem is solved, so they can focus their attention on other, more pressing issues.
As far as your customer journey goes, you want to feed into that feeling. You want every interaction to fill your customers with peace, confidence and the assurance that this is no longer something they have to worry about.
By the time you’ve made it through the settledown phase, you’ve hopefully wowed your customers to the point that they love your business. You’ve made life better for them and your business, your employees and/or your products have become a valued part of their business.
At this point, you’ve established a real relationship.
Once you have this kind of relationship and history, your customers are invested in helping your business succeed, too. You’ve given them a great experience, and now they’re happy to return the favor.
So, need a case study on how much money your logistics company can save an industrial piping company? Pam would be happy to help. In fact, she (and her boss) may be some of your biggest advocates amongst their peers and associates.
Releasing a new overnight shipping option or bringing in a new partner with a fleet of temperature-controlled trucks? Phil would probably love to hear about it. Or, if you need someone to vouch for how reliable your services are, he’s got your back.
This is where your customer journey pays off big time. Your customers have now gone from a marketing cost to a marketing asset. They’re getting results, you’re making good, sustainable money and everyone is enjoying the relationship.
It can take a lot of time and work to get to this point, but once you do, these customer relationships form the backbone of your business. They’re easy to maintain, highly profitable and just plain fun!
In the end, this sort of relationship is the whole reason why you invest in crafting persona-specific buyer journeys. The better you are at cultivating great customer experiences, the more of these relationships you’ll develop and the better your business will perform.
As a B2B business, your buyer personas and buyer journey are both important. However, they don’t exist in isolation. Some personas may have a fairly similar journey, but depending on your personas, their journeys may be as different as Phil’s and Pam’s.
The important thing is to understand what makes each buyer persona unique and how that uniqueness affects each stage in their buyer journey. Then, based on those differences, you can create a custom experience that will nurture each of your personas from awareness all the way through to a full-fledged relationship.
If this all sounds like a lot of work, it certainly can be. But, in the complex world of B2B marketing, it’s this level of specificity and dedication that will make your business the obvious choice for your future customers.
By the way, if you’d like some help building out your personas and personalizing your buyer journeys to those personas, reach out to us here! We’d love to get to know your business and help you figure out the best way to drive more customers. Talk to you soon!
How do you approach B2B marketing? Anything in this article jump out at you? How have you adapted your marketing strategy to meet the needs of specific buyer personas? Leave your thoughts in the comments.