A lot can change in a few years. Maybe your company rolled out new products. Maybe it shifted its focus on particular services — or finds itself serving different customers. No matter what’s changed, your marketing strategy needs to evolve accordingly. An important part of that evolution may be updating your buyer personas.
Refining your buyer personas every few months or years can help ensure you’re targeting your highest-value prospects with messages that speak to their current needs.
Here, we identify some signs that you might need to refine or update your buyer personas, offer some advice on how to create more effective personas, and run through some practical uses for personas in the B2B world.
Let’s get on the same page: what is a buyer persona?
Let’s quickly clear up some potentially confusing terminology.
Marketers often discuss “target audiences” and “segmentation” when talking about buyer personas. Sometimes, these terms are used interchangeably. They shouldn’t be.
Let’s be clear:
- Your target audience is the group of people you most want to reach with your message, because they have a need for your products or services and are a good fit for your company.
- Segmentation is the process by which you organize sections of your audience into different groups based on shared traits. A segment, then, is a collection of potential customers that share specific characteristics.
- A buyer persona, on the other hand, is a fictional character that represents a segment of your audience.
Buyer personas don’t represent a single audience member, nor do they include every trait of every member of the group. Instead, they summarize key, shared characteristics of individuals in that segment, like:
- Relevant demographics (such as “income level” or “education”)
- Industry (such as “retail”)
- Needs (such as “commercial sanitation services”)
- Motivations/objectives (such as “providing customers with a clean, safe environment”)
- Buying habits (such as “conducts extensive online research before approaching a vendor”)
- Fears (such as “uneven execution, communication issues, lack of punctuality”)
- Pain points (such as “price”)
If you’re new to the concept of buyer personas, or could use a more in-depth refresher, check out our other post about buyer personas. We offer a functional definition of buyer personas and lay out some steps for creating them.
Buyer personas vs. ideal customer profiles
If your company engages in account-based marketing (ABM), you may wonder about the difference between buyer personas and ideal customer profiles—a concept that’s often a part of ABM programs.
There are three major differences:
- Buyer personas represent ideal customers rather than ideal companies to serve.
- Buyer personas are tools for both acquiring and sustaining long-term client relationships while ideal customer profiles are designed to help businesses acquire clients in tactical applications, such as a specific ABM campaign.
- Buyer personas are generally more detailed.
To read an in-depth comparison between buyer personas and ideal customer profiles, check out this HubSpot article.
When to update or refine your buyer personas
Advice on how often to revisit your buyer personas varies, but in general, it’s a good idea to update your personas when significant changes have occurred in your business, or when existing personas are too vague or impractical to be helpful. A 6-month or one-year check-in is a reasonable timeline to open your personas up and see if changes are needed.
6 reasons to update your personas
Look for the following signals when deciding whether it’s time to update and refine your personas:
- Vague personas: If your personas do not help your marketing team identify generally what motivates your target audience, their likes and dislikes, their pain points and fears, and their general demographics, then you will want to do some market research and add these details.
- Too many personas: If you have personas for every possible customer you serve, or every variation of a set of target customers, you risk spreading yourself too thin. In this case, you may need to condense similar, hyper-specific personas into a few more general ones, or weed out low value personas.
- Your business or customers have changed: Ashley Hill points out that if your business is offering different products, services, or has shifted its focus to lean more heavily into a particular market, you will want to create new personas that reflect new target audiences and business goals
Likewise, if you are serving different types of customers than you were before, you will need to create new personas that represent them
- Unrealistic personas: Your personas represent the types of clients you would like to serve, rather than the types of clients you actually serve. In this case, you will want to do some qualitative and quantitative research to find out more about your existing customers and create new personas.
- Robotic personas: While great personas have a lot of data informing them, it’s also important to think of your persona as a human being. If your buyer persona profile reads like a report ($100,000K per year, skews female, bachelor’s degree . . .) refresh it with human details.
For example, what does their average day look like, and how do they feel about the challenges they face? Empathy is key to creating advertising and content that speaks to your target audience.
- You haven’t made negative personas: Negative personas are helpful for identifying the types of customers that aren’t a good fit for your business. For example, this includes customers in an industry that you don’t serve, who don’t have enough money to afford your services, or who are too expensive to retain.
HubSpot outlines several of these situations in detail in this post.
Consider reviewing your buyer personas if:
- You haven’t looked at your persona in a few months, or years: Depending on the nature of your market and business, a significant change might have occurred within the last quarter. As a result, Conor Wilcock suggests a casual check-in with your buyer persona(s). Think about how they might be feeling or changes in the way they do things as a result of these changes.
If it’s been years since you edited your personas, it’s definitely time to refresh them. You can use this opportunity to pull from fresh engagement and behavioral data to make your persona even more accurate.
- Your marketing team isn’t using your personas: If your team doesn’t find your personas useful, then you might want to check for one of the issues outlined in the previous section.
It’s also possible that your team might not be sure how to use them to best effect. Skip ahead to “Tips for using buyer personas” to clarify this issue.
- Your personas don’t account for your sales cycle: The longer your sales cycle and more complex your customers’ buyer’s journey, the more detailed your buyer persona should be. More on this in the next section.
3 strategies for refining your buyer personas
1. Match your buyer persona to the needs of your business
This one sounds obvious. Wouldn’t your persona already match your business’s needs? Here’s what I mean: if your business or industry has particular quirks that affect your sales cycle or customers’ buyer’s journeys, make sure that these are accounted for in your buyer persona(s).
For example, consulting firms always have at least two, very different target audiences: potential clients, and potential consultants they would like to hire. As a result, consulting firms should always create buyer personas for each audience.
Another example is a manufacturing or tech company launching a new and largely unknown piece of machinery or software.
This sort of company would need to spend a lot of time building awareness for its products and educating potential customers. As a result, their buyer personas should emphasize awareness-stage concerns, such as FAQs about the product that will need to be addressed in ads and content.
2. Match the complexity of your buyer persona to the length of your sales cycle
According to Sam Swiech, the longer your sales cycle and more complex your customers’ buyer’s journey (or sales funnel stages, if you prefer), the more detailed your buyer persona will likely be.
The reason for this is practical. Buyer personas are meant to help marketers, salespeople, and customer service personnel appeal to and serve specific types of customers throughout your business relationship.
If their needs, objections, and common obstacles to purchasing aren’t detailed in the buyer persona, you risk reinventing the wheel every time you communicate with a client.
Source: Propeller CRM
If your sales cycle is long and complicated, like many B2Bs, your buyer persona should include details such as
- common objections to the product
- where they like to get information about products or services like yours
- how they learn that your product exists (google ads, news stories, articles, traditional advertising)
- what kind of content they like to consume (podcasts, white papers, product descriptions, reviews, webinars)
Let’s say you’re a SaaS company trying to sell software to CEO’s like this one.
Source: B2B Lead Blog
Here’s a person who’s open to adopting new technology, but only if the science is airtight and you can demonstrate how your product improves his bottom line with concrete numbers.
He’s going to have a lot of specific questions about your product, and you will need to be prepared to answer them quickly, since he doesn’t have a lot of time.
- Read about your company in one of his favorite publications
- Read some of the case studies on your website
- Asked around to his colleagues and peers to see if anyone has experience with your company.
A buyer persona like the one pictured above covers all of this crucial information, including motivating factors, objections, pain points, personality, and content consumption habits. It captures a snapshot of this persona’s buyer’s journey.
And what if your sales cycle is short? Let’s say your business provides branded name tags, pens, and other supplies to companies, and the biggest concerns your client may have are cost and quality.
In this case, you will still want to include many of the same details, such as the persona’s needs, motivations, fears, pain points, and objections.
Since the transaction is simpler, you probably don’t need to go into as much detail about the persona at each stage of their buyer's journey, such as outlining long lists of potential objections or FAQs.
Tip: your buyer personas are cheat sheets for what makes your clients tick. Conor Wilcock recommends that you ask yourself why you’re adding information to the profile, and what concrete purpose it serves.
3. Create negative buyer personas
If your salespeople have wasted time on bad leads or your business has gotten burned by clients who were too costly to serve, consider creating negative buyer personas. They can help you spot and avoid bad leads early.
A negative buyer persona represents a segment of your audience that you want to avoid.
For example, a negative buyer persona could represent a competitor scoping out your content or a business that cannot afford your services. To create a negative buyer persona, follow all the normal steps of creating a regular buyer persona, but instead focus on identifying audiences you don’t want to target.
For a refresher on putting together buyer personas, check out this article.
Tips for using buyer personas
So, how can you put buyer personas to practical use? Here are some tips.
Use them to help you understand your audience: Buyer personas are tools designed to help marketers understand who their customers are and what makes them tick. They help copy and content writers remember who they’re speaking to so they can craft messaging that addresses customers' concerns and needs.
As a reference for writing surveys: Up-to-date challenges and pain points in buyer personas can help survey creators write more specific, relevant questions.
As a tool for client meetings: Buyer personas can act as cheat sheets to help marketers remember common daily challenges, fears, and objectives of people like their clients. This can help improve communication.
As a tool to humanize audience segments: Your buyer persona represents a segment of your audience. As a result, it can help put a human face to the data you’ve gathered.
Plus, keeping track of how similar your actual customers are to your personas can help you identify which segments are most important to your business.
As references for customer service: Personas that list common problems and FAQ could help customer service provide preemptive service to answer potential questions and solve problems before they occur
As a training tool: Personas can help new hires better understand who your company serves
Final thoughts and next steps
Whether you’re freshening up old personas or creating new ones, well-researched, human, up-to-date buyer personas tailored to your business’ needs are powerful tools for writing compelling messaging and communicating better with clients.