Why B2B buyer personas are a massive waste of money (and what to do instead)


If you're in marketing, it's likely that you've created buyer personas. If you're in B2B, then the number of those personas are probably proliferating due to all the variations like role/title, vertical, size of company, relevance to various products or business units, etc. 

Buyer personas are based on the enormous fallacy of something called the purchase funnel. Spend a lot of resources generating awareness and consideration among the greatest number of prospects, and then convert them to purchase. Job done, right? 


It's time to start thinking quality over quantity. When you think with the end in mind --  what are the right products, services and experiences required to keep and grow our most valuable types of customers -- then everything changes. 

See, your product teams can't build as many variations of product to match the variety of customers you're pulling in the door. Nor can your organization build an infinite number of experiences. This is why the trend of data-driven personalization is a band-aid. Sure, it can drive top-line revenue... but how in hell is the rest of the organization going to deliver on 100 different promises? Ending your funnel at purchase is taking care of you, but alas, not helping the rest of the organization. 

Reframing your job

Marketing is the tip of the spear. You're the group who is best poised to understand your customers and prioritize them for the entire organization. You're the only group who can do it. And when you start helping the entire organization attract, keep and grow your most valuable customer types -- which boosts brand reputation, accelerates business growth and decreases inefficiencies -- you win major credibility points with other departments and in the board room. 

Instead of a purchase funnel, start thinking conversion lifecycle: a combination of 'conversion funnel' (ie. from awareness to purchase to loyalty and advocacy) with the major lifecycle stages including, for example, installation and getting support. It doesn't make sense to have two different models for different reasons. 

When you think about who is moving through that entire lifecycle, it's a single human (or group of humans.) There's not a set of buyers who suddenly turn into a different set of customers... which is an artificial distinction created by internal silos, represented by different metrics, goals and funnels. You likely have different personas proliferating around the organization that are built by different departments for their own ends.

With this in mind, your job should be focused on understanding how many and which customers are moving (or should move) past the purchase stage. Your ideal customers may be pouring out the holes in the bottom of the bucket faster than you can keep it topped off -- which happens when your organization isn't aligned on the same customer priorities and takes an all-things-to-all-people approach in a helpless response to customer complexity.  

Throw away your buyer personas

... which are no good to anyone in your organization except for sales and marketing. Instead, build a limited set of priority customer personas, linked together by a differentiated psychographic and mindset, that guides the actions and priorities of the entire organization. Show how each priority role moves through the entire lifecycle, and what experience is required to attract and keep them. NOW you've got the right information to inform your "marketing module" -- how to get these people in the door in the first place. 

"Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do." - Steve Jobs

I've seen too many buyer personas with a laundry list of possible mindsets, needs and motivations. They were built in a bottoms-up fashion without a top-down strategy to guide all employees on the single most important customer outcome that everyone should be aiming to create.  

How to fast-track the right answer

You may be thinking, "Of course, Jen, I know that we need to do this. But I don't have the time or resources to dedicate to a big strategy project." 

Yep, exactly. I know the feeling. I'll let you in on a little secret that consulting firms and agencies don't want you to know (or maybe they don't know it themselves): This process is way simpler than it looks. Why? Because human nature is... well, human nature. It doesn't change. And there are only so many customer variables with which you can build a successful brand. 

After nearly 30 years in the business, I've packaged up all the repeatable shortcuts and frameworks that I built for my own use as a consultant, and I'm making them available to you. It's time to take the know-how and short-cuts out of the minds of consultants and put it where it belongs: in YOUR teams. 

Join us for our upcoming webinar: The Shortcut to Defining Prioritized, Impactful B2B Personas. I'll share my 3-part recipe for getting to the right answer fast. 

Click to register. 

Like this article? Might your teams and peers benefit? Please share! 


What's a B2B Persona Platform, and why do I need one?

Does your business deal with a Rubik's cube of enterprise customer complexity? Verticals, titles, sizes, geos, channels, psychographics and mindsets.

Layer on all the various departments and business units that might be building use-case-specific personas for marketing, sales, products, services and experiences, and you've got an explosion of complexity on your hands. 

While marketers can create an infinite number of personalized messages for an infinite number of customer segments, that's taking the easy way out. You're not helping the rest of the organization, since your product, service, and experience groups don't have that luxury. 

It's essential to prioritize and focus on your best-fit customer... then create a very small number of personas that every department can build on. 

Think of this "master set" of personas as a platform. They are linked together by a mindset, and provide high-level information on the messages and experiences that will drive repurchase and loyalty. Then each department builds on this foundation over time. How does Role A move through the lifecycle? What digital experience is the right one? How does it vary from Role B? 

Apple is a great example of focus. Their target? People who think different. How many unique personas do they need? Not many. Basically a couple variations on a single theme -- Apple consumers are also an enterprise's employees who demand that the IT department allow them to BYOD (bring your own device). That's what has fueled Apple's growth in the enterprise (40% YOY growth as of the last reported statistic in 2016). 

Apple's best-fit customer might be someone who buys Apple for themselves, and is also an employee of a large company, ideally one that has a design focus. They are both a user and an advocate. There's Role A. Role B would be the IT department who's responsible for either enterprise-wide technology purchases, or passing the rule that employees can use their own devices. 

From here, you can define each role's lifecycle -- the consumer who buys either online or in store, gets support at the Genius bar, etc. OR the enterprise IT customer who moves through a different, more personalized experience. And yes, there will be a lot of added detail and perhaps some variations... but Apple's laser focus on a mindset links it all together. 

But wait! (you might say)... Apple sells to a lot more types of people than these two! Yes, you're right. My 75-year old mother loves her iPhone. But we're talking "center of the bullseye" here. Against what type of customer will you design your end-to-end customer experience? If you get that right, others will follow. 

There you go. The first company to hit $1T in value and (I may be wrong, but) I'd bet they don't have more than 4 priority personas. 

Join our upcoming webinar

If you need to solve for an explosion of customer complexity, join us for our upcoming webinar. We'll go through our 3-part recipe for simplifying and focusing your efforts on your best fit customer. Click here to register.