Is It Time for a Buyer Persona Update?

Are you considering updating your buyer personas? Before you dive in and start spending valuable time and resources, ask yourself the following five questions to make sure you are focusing on a high impact initiative.

5 Questions to Answer Before You Update Your Buyer Personas

1. Why do you want to make these updates?

Have you seen changes in conversion rates for specific buyer personas at one or more key conversion points that indicate your current understanding of the buying process and/or buyers may be out-dated? If not, buyer research may not be a top priority for your organization and your resources may be better utilized somewhere else.

2. What are the gaps in the current buyer personas?

And why do you believe updating these gaps will positively impact the marketing and/or sales process? You should be able to point at specific conversion points in a buying process that will be impacted. High-impact initiatives will have measurable impact goals. If you can’t figure out potential impact and measurable goals, then this likely is not the highest initiative to focus your resources on.
Note: We review a list of five of the most common buyer persona gaps later in this article.

3. Do you feel like your buyer personas are not specific enough?

This could be the result of buyer personas that are too broadly focused (one set of buyer personas for all segments), or of trying to utilize a single buyer persona framework to encompass buyer needs for a) too diverse a set of products, or b) too uniquely different sales processes.
If you feel like either of those is the case that may indicate that there is an opportunity for high impact via creating segment or product-specific buyer personas. However, your hunch needs to be validated by data demonstrating that the messaging to a specific buyer is not specific enough. If that is truly an urgent issue, then it will be very clear in the data.
By looking at the data, you should also be able to identify where the high priority gaps exist. Maybe you can re-use part of your existing buyer personas across the segments, and really just have one very different role you need to create a new persona to account for. Knowing this can significantly reduce the scope and resource commitment of this type of project and position it better for high impact.

4. Are the business development and sales teams utilizing your sales assets?

If not, maybe you just need a quick revamp of these sales assets or a different delivery model. The best way to figure this out is by asking them! Do they not use these assets? Why not? The answers will help you uncover the real issue at hand.
It could be something as simple as re-focusing the assets to speak to the current sales model or re-packaging the assets to fit the needs and work flow of the business development and sales teams. Remember, sales assets and buyer personas are only as helpful as they are utilized.
This is a critical area to explore. Sometimes the solution could be as easy as re-working the buyer persona profile to be more visual and less wordy, or making the buyer persona more lifelike, or emphasizing key customer impact statements that highlight interests of a given buyer. Other times, this process will identify potential substantive gaps and/or issues with the sales assets that you can later test through experimental campaigns or a retrospective analysis of recent campaigns into your target segment.

5. Is there enough of an opportunity left in that target segment to justify the resources necessary to do a buyer persona refresh?

This is an important question to ask to make sure the impact of your efforts will be significant from a cost versus benefit perspective.
By asking yourself these questions, you will develop more clarity around what the true gaps and problems are that you should be trying to address. That way, you can prioritize making the changes that will have the biggest impact on the effectiveness and/or efficiency of your marketing and sales process.

How to Update Your Buyer Personas: 5 Common Gaps to Watch Out For

Once you’ve decided that an update is indeed the right way to go, here are five typical problem-areas to start with:

1. Missing buyer personas

Sometimes new buyer personas are identified after selling into a specific segment and they need to be added to the framework to provide more clarity to the overall marketing and sales strategy. The difficulty here is that you need to focus on the key buyer personas, not the fringe buyers that you are not as relevant to the success of your Go-to-Market Strategy.

2. Not segment specific

This typically results in generalized needs that do not resonate with the buyers. This is only a relevant concern if the buyer personas, buyer roles, buying journeys and/or needs are different enough across segments to justify unique buyer personas. If not, then the impact of getting more specific from this perspective is probably not worth the effort and will only further complicate marketing and sales process. In this case, the solution is probably combining the segments and starting to treat them as a single segment.

3. Not product specific

This typically is the result of the company introducing new products that target different buyers and/or different needs they have. Consequently, the old buyer personas and buyer journey documentation does not explain how the buyers act in the different sales processes. An indicator that this could be a problem is the reception to the new product is non-existent or lower than expected with a specific buyer or set of buyers. This is a red flag that the team should think about planning a separate go-to-market strategy for this other product or set of products. This will include re-thinking the target segment and buyer personas.

4. Overly focused on corporate objectives rather than career objectives

This is especially important with middle managers and more junior buyer personas that may see championing a movement or purchase as a career changing move.

5. Don’t take into account the bigger picture

Perhaps the most common is a lack an understanding of the relationships between buyer personas and who they report to, influence, and collaborate with at different stages of the buying process.
This can be important knowledge for helping the business development or sales teams better navigate the prospect organizations and ensuring they focus on the right target buyers during each phase of a sales process. To aid this understanding, the team should consider building a buyer persona hierarchy or reporting structure map. This will identify how the individuals interact, collaborate and how they report. This will help establish key lines of influence for sales team to understand.

Next Steps and One Final Warning: Make Sure You’re Focused & Buttoned-Up Before You Launch a Research Initiative

Ask yourself one last time — is the problem you are trying to address truly a buyer persona problem? If it is, make sure that you prioritize research to address it. Keep in mind, however, that these types of projects have a tendency to get major scope-creep and staying focused can help maximize impact and minimize resource waste.
If you do decide to launch a buyer persona research initiative, keep these four quick tips in mind:

  • Think about the research as a natural experiment. You test after each alteration so that you can fine tune your marketing and sales engine to help it become a smooth moving machine.
  • Don’t try to fix too much all at once. This will make it impossible to trace the impact of changes. Again, make your approach iterative.
  • Leverage the company’s business development resources. Doing so will allow you to get quick verification from the market that the changes are working or not.
  • Make sure you have an implementation plan for the research findings. After all, research is only useful if it is utilized. A big part of this falls in corner of asset structure and delivery. Spend the time to think about this because it can have a huge impact on adoption and ultimately the impact the research can have on your organization.

Following these tips will help ensure you are focusing on high impact research that can really change the performance of your sales and marketing organization.

Ready to Take the Next Step? Download our Free eBook

Buyer Insights Research: How to Understand Your Buyers So You can Eliminate the Guesswork outlines a step-by-step approach to conducting the kind of research your company needs to:

  • Introduce a more customer-centric way of thinking across the organizationbuyer insights research
  • Improve customer acquisition effectiveness
  • Focus on the decision-makers within a target company and their key influencers
  • Understand the subtle distinctions between different roles in the buying process
  • Build a pipeline with more targeted and effective messaging
  • Create compelling product packaging and pricing schemes
  • Enhance customer success and retention with improved product and service delivery
Download the Guide
Brandon Hickie
Brandon Hickie
Marketing Manager, Pricing Strategy

Brandon Hickie is Marketing Manager, Pricing Strategy at LinkedIn. He previously worked at OpenView as Marketing Insights Manager. Prior to OpenView Brandon was an Associate in the competition practice at Charles River Associates where he focused on merger strategy, merger regulatory review, and antitrust litigation.
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