New ideas are fragile, and personas are a very new concept for most B2B companies. That’s why I ask marketers to think about timing and context when they introduce the need for personas to internal stakeholders.
I’ve had the best luck when there is an initiative that internal stakeholders believe is strategic and new, such as entering a new market segment, repositioning a current solution, or launching a new product. I’m looking for a project where key stakeholders are likely to admit that “business as usual” won’t get the job done. This gives me an opening to ask questions about each of the different types of people who will influence buying decisions. I’m looking to see if anyone inside the company can confidently and succinctly identify the most critical three-to-five business problems confronting each of these types of buyers. When every problem can be answered by the new product, I challenge the information. It is extremely rare to find an exact match between any solution and each of the most urgent problems confronting the target audience. Plus exact matches usually occur with users of the product, and users can rarely make unilateral buying decisions in B2B markets. So I ask who else will be involved, and what are their problems?
I’m also on the lookout for internal stakeholders who avoid my questions and want to talk about what the product does and what problems it could address. I keep bringing the conversation back to the tough questions. How will each of the targeted buyers investigate solutions to their problems, and what criteria will they use to make a decision? Which other products and services are competing to solve this persona’s problems?
I never get answers to everything I want to know, but I’ve found that the process of asking good questions opens people’s minds to the importance of thinking like the customer. When the internal stakeholders can’t agree on the answers or admit that they don’t know, it’s easier to gain approval for the additional time and resources to gather the information externally.
No persona is ever complete, and I never have enough data. My goal is to expose internal stakeholders to the data they don’t have, and to generate interest in business processes that continually measure and improve personas. So watch that you don’t linger too long in the development phase of a persona project. Take the best data you can capture given the time allotted and get on with making something happen. If your go-to-market project includes sound measurement practices you will inevitably grow both persona quality and internal support for your new idea.