How to Develop B2B Marketing Personas – A Data Driven Approach


Persona building basics

The concept of persona building was made famous by early pioneers in the space such as Hitwise. I realize I’m dating myself here, but those of you old enough to remember working with such a novel, revolutionary software also remember its benefits. Prior to Hitwise, segmenting your website visitors was virtually unheard of. Much less identifying where they go before and after they visit your site and marketing to them based on that information. Since Hitwise first pioneered persona-building, it also spun off an entirely new sector of marketing.  With the cultivation of persona building as a concept in marketing, we saw the emergence of a new marketing field: The User Experience, or UX for short.

Let’s pretend for a minute that you run a B2B desktop software company. Logically, your target market is someone in IT with decision making authority. You run a series of campaigns targeting IT decision-makers and get very few leads. What went wrong in the above scenario? Let’s explore this scenario further. While your initial presumption may have made logical sense, you were missing a key element: Data. Using your own data is the best place to start. Your customer database can speak volumes about who your customers are and why they buy your product or service. So defining your persona is actually easier than you would think.

Data enrichment

The first thing you should do is use a service (such as Metadata’s) to enrich your existing customer list. Enriching your leads will give you all the information about your customer database on one screen. You will get access to all of your customers’ social profiles, age, their title, team size, and their decision making authority in the company. Metadata actually gives you access to over 100 data signals. Based on this data, you will be able to build what’s called a “customer persona”.

Let’s go back to our imaginary IT company. Using Metadata’s enrichment you are able to learn that IT Tim is a helpdesk manager, with a team of 10 helpdesk support engineers, Tim recently joined IT&Co. From your conversation notes, IT Tim was tasked with exploring a new solution for desktop software. 3 demos later with IT Tim’s team and his boss, you made a sale. After further investigation you found that 9 out of 10 new accounts had a similar pattern. Your key learnings from the above scenario are as follows:

  1. Tim was hired to solve a specific problem for the company
  2. While Tim was the main point of contact, there were other decision makers in the process. Some were more technical and others were less involved in the day to day. (for example Tim’s boss, director of IT, who oversaw the entire global IT team and process)

Connecting the dots on targeting

You had just learned some very valuable information. Now let’s put it to work. Let’s begin with targeting. If most of your customers were new hires at the time of the sale, it would be wise to prospect companies that are hiring for IT Helpdesk Managers and get ahead of the curve. Not to toot my own horn, but once again companies such as Metadata can help flip your funnel and target only the types of companies and titles you specify.

We also found out that while Tim was driving the project, he wasn’t the sole decision maker. Therefore, communication needs to  speak to each persona in their own language. While Tim is interested in learning everything about your solution, his boss just cares about one thing: How your solution will benefit his organization’s bottom line. And to make things more complicated for you, Tim’s team is interested in how much time and resources this implementation will take. They also want to know how much support they will get during the implementation process.

Having all this valuable information allows your product and marketing teams to create the right materials such as technical wiki’s for Tim’s IT team and pdf’s that concisely describe your company’s benefit for Tim’s boss. It also allows them to make the right targeting decisions in their customer acquisition efforts.

Conducting customer focus groups

You have some information, but it’s not enough to create a comprehensive marketing persona. Your next step should be leading a customer focus group. These are great for getting insight into your customer experience and improving processes. But the hidden potential benefit here is two-fold: the opportunity for upsell and of course to find out more insights about how your customers evaluate purchases such as yours. This is invaluable insight.

Let’s start by assembling your focus group. It is imperative that you choose no more than seven participants. When choosing your focus group members, make sure they are not from competing businesses and they represent your top successful verticals. Choose customers who are willing participants and who rally for the success of your business. Once selected, think about the types of answers that will help you market better. For example, you may want to start your discussion with a white board format.  Write down answers as they are being discussed and take a picture of the board as soon as the session ends.  Have your participants describe what they were looking for when they are in the market for your product. Then, ask them what about your product/ad compelled them to act. Find common denominators in the answers. If 5 out of 7 participants see your company as customer service centric and that was key to the decision making process, play that up in your next campaign.

Assembling the components

Persona building is a combination of who, why and where. Who are your customers, why they choose your product and where can you reach more like them. Always look for the common denominator and use those factors in your marketing. Once you know the demographic information and understand their buyer behavior, you can use a third party to find more customers.