Are Buyer Personas Dead?

A few articles have appeared recently touting the death of Buyer Personas, which prompted me to ask Jim Ninivaggi, Sales Enablement service lead from SiriusDecisions about whether this was really true.

According to Jim, applying B2C persona concepts, where you name each buyer - Mike, Zoe, Geoff, and then describe key aspects about their life – their marital status, how many kids they have, the house they own, cars they drive, - this is less than applicable to your B2B sales and marketing efforts.

However, when it comes to tuning your marketing messages and sales engagements to specific buyers – this is an absolute requirement, especially as decisions around whether to buy your solution or not have evolved. One-sized fits all messaging just doesn’t cut it any more. Why?

Over the past three years the number of stakeholders involved in a typical purchase decision has exploded by 40%. An average decision that might have had 5 decision makers involved in 2010, now has 7 people wrangling over the costs, risks and rewards of your proposal.

And not only has the number of stakeholders grown, their diversity has increased:
  • Business groups are prominent, defining the needs and requirements, and determining which solutions can best solve the challenges faced. They are more than ever footing the bill for the solutions, so a positive business case becomes vital.
  • As users expect more consumer-like ease-of-use and customization, B2B user groups are becoming more formally involved throughout the process - a committee of ever more demanding critics.
  • As most solutions involve technology, experts are involved in research and evaluations. With more “as a service” offerings, security and compliance reviews are a must. And as IT and technology enabled services become more mission critical, support is involved more, trying to assure that users have high availability and quick issue recovery.
  • As buyers have become more risk averse and frugal, Finance is now large and in charge of decision-making. More involved not just with back-end reviews and approvals, Finance is now involved much earlier in the process to help establish the buying agenda, assure corporate alignment, establish priorities, and of course assure financial due diligence.
  • Similarly, Procurement is playing a hard-nosed role, consolidating solution providers, pitting one against the other, and finding every way to squeeze, like a boa, every dollar from each contract negotiation.

Each of your decision-making stakeholders has distinctly different goals and challenges. Each has different risks and potential objections. And most of all, each of your prospects has what Jim calls a unique “Point of Value”.

For example, take a typical phone / communications solution purchase. In determining whether such a solution is needed, each stakeholder group sees their challenges and potential value from your proposed solutions quite differently:
  • Sales executives are challenged with sales reps that need to work from anywhere as if they were in the office, customers that demand immediate responsiveness, a CRM system that needs to be better integrated with the phone system, and an ability to track activity for better coaching and forecasting. The value they can derive revolves around increasing selling time, improving customer experiences, reducing sales turnover, reducing ramp-up time, improved coaching and more accurate forecasting.
  • Marketing is challenged to have good leads responded to immediately by sales, currently delayed by days or weeks. Marketing’s point of value revolves around getting the response times down to minutes or hours, dramatically improving contact and conversion rates in the process.
  • The CFO is challenged to open new offices, merge and acquire in a cost effective and timely manner. Reducing the time and costs for expansion is vital to executing on growth goals.
  • IT sees their current legacy system as difficult to manage, requiring IT involvement to perform basic moves, adds and changes. IT sees the value in improving IT productivity, and reallocating valuable technical resources from keeping-the-lights on to more strategic projects.
  • Finance sees high conference call costs, growing mobile roaming charges and increasing support / service costs. Reducing communications costs is paramount.
  • Procurement sees the current system, provided by multiple solution providers, as a challenge. Consolidation and strategic purchase value can help reduce purchase, expansion and on-going support / service costs.

If you market or engage with a generic POV to each of these diverse groups of potential stakeholders, each with their own unique challenges and value proposition, how effective do you think that would be? 

How effective would messaging total cost of ownership (TCO) challenges and savings to the Sales executives be? And what competitive advantage are you losing by not having the ammunition to engage these different stakeholders in driving new opportunities?

The Bottom-Line

As Jim Ninivaggi indicates, because value is in the eye of the beholder, B2B Buyer Personas are definitely not dead. There is almost a guarantee that you now have more buyer personas at the table, each with their own Goals and Challenges, Point of Value, Risks and Objections.

Each persona could potentially initiate the buying journey. Great competitive advantage could be gained by going beyond one size fits all messaging to address each stakeholder’s unique challenges and value. And because any stakeholder can accelerate, or worse stall or torpedo your deal, it is vital that you have the value messaging, engagement tools and business case for each buyer persona.

Intelligently presenting the right value messaging and quantifying value based on each unique buyer personas is a requirement. Role in decision, Point of Value, Industry, location, size of company ... it all matters, and you should pivot / personalize your value messaging and quantification to precisely match each.

My interview with Jim can be found in the later part of our webinar: Are You Leveraging Tablets to Improve Sales Effectiveness. We challenge several proclamations of what’s “dead” in B2B sales & marketing, cutting through the hyperboles to get to the facts.

It should be noted that many articles about the Death of Buyer Personas come from service providers that deliver one-size fits all messaging or training. What is their motivation? One may surmise that the “death” articles are aimed to distract you from the fact that their services do not support a dramatically larger and diverse group of stakeholders now involved in deciding whether to purchase your solution or not. A decoy? You can decide that, but certainly the death of buyer personas is not a conclusion that is based on the research evidence or aligned with trusted independent experts insights.


Adele Revella said…
Thanks for the great post, Tom. You're right, I'm seeing more interest in buyer personas than ever, and for all the reasons you describe.

The problem that a lot of B2B marketers are having with personas is that they've built them around attributes of the "person" that are not the least bit helpful. Or they've built buyer personas from their own insufficient knowledge of their buyers. Plus they've built too many personas -- far more than they need -- because they think that personas are defined by demographics.

To address the needs that you so accurately describe, marketers need to have deep insight into how and why their buyers make decisions to buy the solutions they market. There are just five insights that matter -- we call these the Five Rings of Insight -- and marketers can uncover these on their own by conducting a specialized interview with recent evaluators.

I appreciate your help explaining why buyer personas are indeed far from dead. I have free, ungated ebooks, templates and more at to help marketers learn how to bring incredibly useful buyer personas to life.
Ran Gishri said…
Excellent post. On one hand, the new connected world presents new challenges, with more buyers, more buying prior to contacting vendors, etc. On the other hand it opens up vast new opportunities for segmentation, targeted messaging and persona-based lead scoring. The thing is you can't use any of the "old school" processes and technologies, as the wealth of data now available to marketers is primarily unstructured. The new gen tools that can make sense of this data will be key in taking marketing to the next level.
Tony Zambito said…
Hi Tom,

Very relevant post. I like that you point out that each stakeholder can have different goals. This is one of the foundational principles of buyer personas and for personas in general. They are far from dead due to the increase need for buyer research and insights. Buyer personas are the end means which communicate the findings of your research and provide valuable insights that inform marketing and sales strategies. I pointed out in a recent article other important reasons why buyer personas need to be revisited ( Buyer personas have come a long way since their beginnings but yet need to evolve even further to remain relevant to today's digital world.

Tony Zambito
Executive Consultant
Sales Benchmark Index

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