Quick, name the most hyped marketing practice or process of the last three years. For my money it’s probably ABM. A close second might be buyer persona research. At this point, any marketer worth their three-letter acronym vocabulary has thrown some persona research on the grill. The bigger question is are they overcooked? Should we move past them?
Our answer is a resounding NO! Primary research into what buyers are thinking, feeling, and doing in each stage of the buyer journey is essential. How else can you create a marketing plan grounded in reality? I shudder thinking about marketers sitting around the old Global HQ marketing table building campaigns based on instinct alone.
Product Life Cycle of Buyer Persona Research
This graph illustrates the product life cycle of buyer persona research. Since being introduced in the early 2000s, persona research was a hot trend being picked up by many organizations. Marketing departments were conducting the research and ticking it off their to-do list once the research had been completed. Today, we are in the maturity stage of persona research, and decline will set in depending on organization’s ability to execute their persona research and put it into action.
Here are some important caveats to continuing with buyer persona research this year and delaying the stage of decline. Let’s explore them.
Buyer Journey Mapping is Essential
B2B vendors sell solutions to business problems (or at least many do). Business problems in most organizations are addressed by teams of individuals. These teams are usually involved in the buying process (business evaluators, technical evaluators, influencers, decision-makers, economic sponsors, etc.).
Organizations who use buyer persona research effectively understand that their buyer persona research needs to actually be a series of buyer persona maps across the buyer journey. They identify the key players in the buyer journey and get a view into the role and engagement of each persona in each stage.
They then use these insights to build and implement (with technology such as Marketing Automation and ABM platforms) engagement plans that reflect this complex buying process.
Organizing for Success
Many organizations struggle with who should be responsible for owning buyer persona and buyer journey mapping. While the answer varies depending on organization structure and roles, we believe the best fit in most organizations is segment marketing. Whether organized by industry or by function, they should have a view of the big picture. They should also be accountable for directing the various marketing teams in operationalizing the research into campaigns.
Keeping Buyer Personas Fresh
Like the leftovers buried in the back of your fridge, buyer personas are perishable. Setting and forgetting your buyer persona research is a sure-fire way to declining results.
The way that we educate ourselves in a buying process is constantly changing. New websites, new social media preferences, and new content formats make for short best- before dates. We recommend a refresh every 18-24 months at the latest.
Sales Can Help. But Only to a Limited Extent.
Some organizations try to save money by doing internal research with sales only. The problem with that if the buyer journey was an iceberg, sales increasingly is only seeing the 1/3rd of it that is above the water.
As you are aware, today’s B2B buyer engages with marketing content through digital channels for much of their buyer journey. We often see buyer journey insights from sales reps differ quite remarkably from those provided by actual buyers.
A New Buyer Persona Recipe for 2020
As grilling season approaches, hopefully we have given you some food for thought. Like ABM, it’s not time to scrap the buyer persona recipe. Just change it up with a more strategic approach. The MQL-devouring carnivores in sales will enjoy your cooking!