The buyer persona is a foundational tool used by inbound marketers. These semi-fictional characters are composites of the individual people your sales team would love to meet more than anyone else.
They’re based on detailed data — demographic, aspirational, professional, and more — and when you get them right, they help everyone on your marketing and sales teams work in better alignment with your goals.
That’s why it’s important to bring your marketing personas to life with as much detail as possible. After all, they represent the people you need to reach with your big-picture and tactical content marketing strategies.
The content you create, the channels you choose, the voice and tone of your approach are all driven by an understanding of your target personas. That’s why it’s worthwhile to invest the time and effort into understanding their problems, questions, challenges, goals, and motivations.
You might wonder how buyer personas apply to B2B industrial marketing, and whether B2B marketers use personas in some special way. The fact is, B2B purchasing decisions are made by people. So yes, buyer personas definitely apply to inbound marketing for industrials, and if you craft them well, your program will be better for it.
What is a buyer persona? Buyer personas are semi-fictional representations of the individual people your sales team would love to meet more than anyone else. The inbound marketing content you create, the channels you choose, the voice and tone of your approach are all driven by an understanding of your target personas.
How to Create a Buyer Persona
In B2B manufacturing marketing, target personas start with identifying your ideal customer — and that starts by identifying someone with a problem, challenge, or pain point you can solve. You can begin to narrow down characteristics of that perfect buyer by looking closely at your existing customers and reflecting on your experiences with them.
What are their roles? How do they evaluate purchasing decisions? What keeps them up at night? Two effective methods you can use to start gathering the information you need are interviews and industry research.
You can learn a lot about your B2B target audience personas just by reaching out to your externally-facing teammates who interact directly with customers and prospects. Gather feedback about which topics commonly recur in conversations:
- Wins and challenges
- Current and future needs
- Regrets about past decisions or mistakes
Along with your colleagues’ perspectives, you can go straight to the source and conduct customer interviews. Choose a mix of new and established customers, and ask questions much like those you asked your teammates.
Don’t shy away from follow-up questions; it’s vital to clearly understand and empathize with your customers’ pain points. It’s just as important to understand what customers see as the advantages they’ve gained from the relationship with you and your product or service. Encourage frank and honest communication and you may be surprised at the value these conversations can bring.
You can look at industry research as a two-stage process. First, learn as much as you can about the industry in general. Then take a look at people as individuals.
A review of top industry publications and websites will get you up to speed on universal needs and challenges, but don’t stop at journals and academic reports. Explore what’s trending on social media within the industry. Who’s chiming in on conversations? The unfiltered insights you can find on social media might do more to inform your content strategy than you think.
Your survey of the social media landscape may help with the second stage of research, when you get a better idea of the individual people who occupy the buyer role in your potential customer organizations.
Expect to do some digging, talk with teammates, and research online to uncover as much human data about the real, live people who serve in the roles of your target personas. For example:
- Educational level and professional experience
- Titles, responsibilities, and accountabilities
- Key motivators
- Short- and long-term goals
- What can make them hesitate to purchase your product or service
- Personality characteristics
As you craft and organize, your approach to categorizing personas depends on the nuances that are most important to your target customers — and to you. It’s important to understand there’s no one “best” way to structure and organize target personas. But the type of buyer persona classification you choose needs to help you speak directly to their specific needs and pain points. Relevance is key to helping them find your content and making them likely to share it with their contacts.
Three Types of B2B Buyer Personas
We typically use three primary ways to classify buyer personas: by vertical market, by functional role, and by decision-making or influencing power.
1. Organize Your Personas by Vertical Market
If your products or services vary by customer industry, organizing your personas by vertical market makes good sense. For example, if you’re a manufacturer of industrial parts, you might group personas by automotive, medical, or consumer verticals, or even the type of facility they work in (i.e., continuous manufacturing, OEM, or machine shops).
From there, you can further refine what matters most to each type of customer. A plant manager in an automotive manufacturing business has different needs from a manager working in consumer goods. You can use tools like the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) System and North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) search tools to get an understanding of each part of an industry’s landscape.
2. Organize Your Personas by Job Title, Function or Role
If your sales team is having conversations with targets in various business functions or roles, you would likely want to organize personas around that structure. This is particularly common practice for engineering or technology firms.
Why? The conversation you have with a marketing director may be very different from one you’d have with a technology director or CEO. Their priorities and goals differ, so speaking their languages means talking about pain points each individual can relate to.
For example, if you’re a SaaS company, you’ll probably find the CEO of a startup cares above all about cash flow and how your services can help the business thrive and grow. Their technology director, on the other hand, will probably want to know more about the ways your services compare with competitors’ in terms of data reliability, support, and user experience.
3. Organize Your Personas by Decision-Making and Influencing Authority
In any marketing or sales conversation, it’s crucial to know if you have the right people in the room (or in the Zoom). More often than not, your primary audience is made up of influencers — the mid-level managers, product development engineers, or vendor relationship people searching for answers to present as solutions to their stakeholders.
If you’re targeting influencers, your content needs to provide the answers they’re looking for so they can, first of all, look smart in front of their bosses. From there, you’ll continue to nurture them down their buyer journey path as they move through your marketing and sales process.
Sometimes we refer to these folks as “gatekeepers.” Especially in technical situations like engineering, they often hold veto power on vendor relationships. If this is a situation you face regularly, organizing your personas around influencers and decision-makers makes sense.
No matter the structure you use to classify your B2B buyer personas, remember that inbound marketing is never just about your product. At the top of the funnel, your job creating marketing content is to address their problems, challenges, and questions to raise awareness.
Once you’ve sparked awareness, your content should offer solutions for targets in the consideration stage. And as they move toward the bottom of your sales funnel toward the decision stage, your content will show them what’s superior about your product or service.
Above all, your inbound marketing content needs to be helpful to those individuals you target, and relevant to where they are on the path of their buyer’s journey.
Crafting Buyer Personas? Show Your Work
A methodical, detailed approach is key to crafting effective target personas, and it starts with understanding and documenting the journeys your customers have taken before and after purchase. We’ve simplified the process with our free Buyer’s Journey Worksheet. This template will take you step-by-step down your best prospects’ path from Awareness to Consideration, toward Decision and Customer Experience. Click the link below to start today.