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We have seen a tremendous rise in the interest and use of buyer personas since 2002.  The year I first introduced the methodology for creating buyer personas specifically for marketing and sales.  It will serve no purpose to rehash how much buyers have changed since then.  You know this already. 

 

The new reality is buyers will keep changing – at an accelerated pace.  Just when we thought, we have caught up, out comes new technology and processes destined to change buyers forever.  This means the buyer personas you have already developed can be potentially obsolete.

 

In recent and past engagements, I have witnessed buyer personas used which have very little resemblance to the buyers of today.  The new reality of buyer personas is that they can be obsolete for a number of reasons.  Let us look at just a few:

 

Your Business Model Has Changed

I doubt your business has stood unchanged in the past few years.  Have you made acquisitions?  Have you introduced new pricing structures?  Have you centralized or decentralized?  There are number of ways a business can change. 

 

You Have Launched New Products

The launching of new products is usually fraught with risks.  Buyer personas can be a big help in aligning marketing and sales around a launch.  Are you using buyer personas developed before the launch of new products? 

 

You Have Entered New Markets

Global expansion has become the norm.  The desire to expand into new verticals and new frontiers beckons every business.  Have you expanded into new geographic or vertical markets?  Are you still using the same buyer personas before expansion?

 

Your Buyer’s Behaviors Have Changed

I know.  I mentioned above you already know this.  However, let me ask.  Do you know how they have changed specifically for your business?  For example, you know buyers today are more social savvy.  Nevertheless, do you know how their buying behavior towards your business has changed because of this? 

 

You Developed Buyer Personas Without Buyer Research

If you developed buyer personas independent of conducting any qualitative buyer research, do not think you can count these.  (True story:  I was invited to look at buyer personas developed by a marketing team; I asked how were they developed?  They responded they had a beer and pizza night and crafted them that night.  I am hundred percent sure these do not count as buyer personas.)

 

You Did Not Get An Unfiltered View

We already know that buyers today spend up to 70% of the buying process without the help of a sales representative.  Thus, I have an important question for you to ponder.    What makes us think buyers will be more forthcoming if an assigned company individual from marketing or sales conducts the buyer interviews?  My experience in conducting qualitative buyer research tells me they will be less so.  To get true unfiltered buyer insights takes more qualitative research expertise today than ever before.  This is due to less relational interaction and more digital interaction.  The biggest difference in quality versus poor buyer personas is the amount of investment made in third party qualitative buyer research. 

 

Your Buyer Personas Do Not Tell The Whole Story

Are you buyer personas limited to a picture and a description that reads like a job posting?  If so, you are missing the critical story about your buyers.  What are their goals?  What trigger events cause them to act?  What does their buyer’s journey look like?  Lacking answers to these questions means your buyer personas are pretty pictures at best.

 

What To Do If Your Buyer Personas Are Obsolete

After an honest assessment, you have determined your buyer personas are obsolete.  (To help you get started, I am providing a buyer persona assessment tool here based on the factors mentioned above.)  What should you do?  Here are a few steps you can take:

 

Identify The Right Targets

Take a hard look at how any of the factors above may have changed ideal segment and buyer understanding. 

 

Do The Right Level Of Research

I have a strong point of view on this.  Buyer personas are only valuable if based on qualitative buyer research.  Given the complexity of an evolving digital world affecting buyer behavior, third party QR expertise is the path towards deeper buyer understanding. 

 

Make Your Buyer Personas Relevant To Strategy

Buyer personas are designed to inform customer, buyer, marketing and sales strategy.  I have seen many buyer personas created at the tactical level, for example in lead generation or content marketing, but not strategically.   Although we have seen a rise in the use of buyer personas, an unintended consequence is they have disappeared from the boardroom where they once lived.  For CMO’s reading this article, you can bring them back to life in the boardroom.

 

Design To Meet Needs Of Intended Users

Build and customize your buyer personas to meet the needs of different audiences.  They will be of a big help to those using buyer personas tactically for demand generation, content marketing, lead nurturing, and sales. 

 

Rewards Can Be Great

I have worked with organizations over the past couple of years whereby buyer personas were refreshed with a new deeper round of qualitative buyer research.  The rewards can be magnificent.  Defined strategies, informed lead nurturing programs, higher conversion ratios, and improved revenue performance. 

 

The quote from Burton Richter is meaningful.  It is easy to starve the future when we have pressing needs in the present – like hitting next quarter’s target.  Conducting qualitative buyer research, understood through buyer personas, is an investment into the future.  Not doing so can lead to what Burton Richter states – obsolescence and stagnation.