7 Reasons Your Buyer Persona Research Is Failing

 In Best Practices, Buyer Journey

Do you ever wonder why personas thrive in some organizations, but fail in others? I know I have, and after reading Mark Emond’s first 90 days blog post – I think I have some answer as to why. Personas are a lot like the people they’re based on – some excel in their careers, some plateau, and some just don’t make the cut. Here are seven career-limiting moves that personas can make and how to avoid them:

1. They don’t get to action quick enough:

We’ve all worked for organizations where an over-hyped employee joins and inevitably disappoints. They spend a year talking about a big game and building a PowerPoint that frustrates the team with ideas that never get past the talking stages. It’s essential that your personas don’t fall into the same trap – make sure you have laid the foundation to secure some quick wins. In the longer-term your personas will influence your marketing plan and potentially how you organize your marketing teams. TIP: Try starting smaller in the first three weeks after finalizing your personas: build and launch a small, scalable nurture program tied to the stages of your new buyer journey.

2. They don’t evolve:

Our customers and prospects are always evolving, as new technology, influencers, and ways to buy emerge. It’s essential that your personas evolve as well. Best practice is to validate changes in your persona’s buying processes by conducting annual interviews with your prospects, listening for big changes and conducting a fresh survey on a bi-annual cadence. TIP: If you have multiple personas, alternate the refresh rate so that you are not doing deep refreshes of every persona, every year.   

3. They are frauds:

Ever heard about the employee that lied on his resume and got found out? It never ends well, and it won’t for your personas. Don’t waste your time with partially thought through personas, that are driven based on internal group think and opinions. Make sure that you conduct both quantitative and qualitative research on actual prospects and customers. We recommend for each buyer persona at least 100 survey responses and 25 1:1 interviews. TIP: You should also throw in a few internal stakeholders and well-established sales folks to help ease internal adoption.

4. They don’t build consensus:

One quality that I have always admired in great leaders that I have been privileged to work with is their ability to create a shared vision, and this is essential for your personas too. Personas should have a clear role in your marketing and sales plan, and not just as one marketing function’s guiding principle. TIP: Top performing marketing organizations build marketing plans where their personas take center stage, aligning strategies and tactics to personas and not individual functions.

5. They can only do part of the job:

Long gone are the days when personas could just be a pretty one-pager. Your persona needs to be made up of two parts:  1. A detailed description that shows key firmographics, demographics, technographics and motivations 2. A full buyer journey showing what your prospects are thinking, feeling, and doing at each stage of the buyer journey. TIP: Ensure that you show the different industry pressures (e.g., regulations in Financial Services) and operational pressures (e.g., pressures in their organization such as budget sensitivity, working with procurement etc.) they are under at each stage in their journey. When doing buyer journey work, highlight areas where your organization can positively influence the buying process.

6. They are not part of a team:

Lone wolves only do well for a short period of time, many research studies have shown us that teams rise together, and it’s the same for your personas. CEB have proven that the average B2B buying group is made up of five or more individuals, so it’s essential that you build out your personas for key decision makers and influencers that make up your buying group. Don’t rely on one persona to carry the weight of the entire buying group. TIP: When building your buyer journeys, identify how and when each persona interacts with one another, it will be invaluable when building out marketing and sales plays.

7. They don’t communicate their wins:

Make sure that you periodically share wins associated with campaigns that were influenced by your personas. TIP: Announce persona refreshes to your organization, you don’t want the organizational perception that your personas are stale.

Three additional watch-outs for your persona onboarding:

1. Expectations are too high:

When organizations start to use personas it’s essential that they realize personas don’t solve all their problems. Personas can be used to build highly impactful marketing and sales plans, that are grounded in the reality of how their buyers buy, but solid marketing plans, technology programs, content, and sales and marketing alignment are all necessary for your personas to thrive.   

2. There is emotional baggage:

It’s life – our previous experiences and experiences of others strongly influence our decisions moving forward. If previous team members and leaders have been exposed to generic poor-quality persona work in the past that hasn’t shown value quick enough, they will have a natural emotional reaction to avoid personas as they don’t want this to reflect poorly upon them. If this is the case it’s really important that you spend time educating the teams on the benefits of persona work and the difference between generic personas and true buyer research that drives action and alignment.

3. They are the wrong fit:

As important as we all know persona and buyer journeys are to building a customer-centric marketing and sales plan, they are not a fit for all organizations. Less progressive leaders who do not see the value will reject personas due to lack of understanding. Like any situation it’s always worth pushing the value of persona and buyer journey work. Push three times and if it’s a no-go, then identify other ways to bring buyer insights into your marketing activities. Conduct win/loss analysis and industry research, show the results and then resurface the ideas of personas in a years’ time.

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