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B2B Buyer Personas: Why They Are Critical to Marketing Your Software Business

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Do you like Jeopardy? I do. I love answering those trivia questions. In fact, I’ve got a Jeopardy question for you right now!

This marketing tactic drives a 171% increase in market-generated revenue and a 111% increase in email open rates, among other awesome benefits.

Correct answer: What is a buyer persona?

b2b buyer personas

Buyer personas are critical to any and every business. Without knowing who your buyer is and why they would be interested in your product, you can’t accurately market your products. You can’t really make improvements to the products. You can’t even really sell your products.

What is a buyer persona?

A buyer persona is essentially a collection of all the relevant information you need about your buyer in order to reach your buyers effectively. You can write it up like a profile, or create a fictional character based on the information – the format that you present the information in can be creative; it’s the actual facts that are important.(If you’re stumped for format, Hubspot offers a fantastic buyer persona template.) Do make sure to formalize your buyer persona in some type of form that can be easily accessed and shared around your company.

Usually a company doesn’t have just one single persona. Customers are all different, and you will likely find that you can categorize them into several different profiles. For instance, a marketing automation software company could serve small businesses owners and Marketing Directors from mid-size businesses, and discover that these two types of buyers also have a totally different set of pain points. For B2B companies, you should come up with a “persona” for the ideal company you sell to, as well as the individual people who work there and would be involved in the purchase decision .

Additionally, you may even want to create a negative buyer persona, made up of traits that you would never want in a customer (think: no budget, or a type of company that will never be able to use your type of software). A construction software tool that serves commercial construction firms may want to make a negative buyer persona made up of traits exclusive to a residential construction software company.

What do you use a buyer persona for anyway?

Marketers use buyer personas to help inform marketing decisions. The more details you know about your customers, the better you can target them with your ads and the better you can tailor your content and email marketing efforts to them.

For instance, a CRM software company could use their buyer persona to clearly define that their ideal buyer sells $2million+ in residential real estate each year, and a major pain point is losing track of client information in a spreadsheet after hitting 75 active customers. Once they’ve clearly articulated their target buyer persona with that level of detail, they can create content specifically for that customer, like a post about how to use a CRM specifically for real estate, or a spreadsheet template for keeping track of your first 75 active customers.  

How do you create a buyer persona?

The process will vary somewhat depending on your business, but a general outline of steps should look like this:

1. Decide on what you need to know about your customers, and which questions you need answered. It’s very likely as you investigate these questions, you will find new questions or bits of information that you didn’t know you needed, so make sure to keep an open mind. It’s always better to know too much about your customers than too little.

What questions should I ask?

Questions will vary greatly by industry, business model, product abilities, etc., but here are a few examples for B2B software companies in general to get you started:

  • What pain points cause the customer to want/need our software?
  • What brings the customer to our solution instead of our competitors? How do they find us? Why do they choose us over our competitor?
  • What size business is our customer? Where are they located?
  • How many years has our customer been in business?
  • What industry(ies) do they serve?
  • What is the title of the person in charge of purchasing software? Who do they report to?
  • What metrics measure their success? What metrics measure their software’s success?
  • What does this person’s typical work day look like?
  • What devices does this person use most frequently, particularly for work?
  • What does this person do in their free time?
  • Which social media networks do they prefer, if any?
  • How old is this person? (It’s not rude if it’s for a buyer persona.)

Here are some questions that a retail software company might ask, in addition to the above, as an example of how questions can get more specific:

  • What does our customer sell? Clothes? Gardening supplies?
  • What is the business’ busiest time of year? What is their slowest time?
  • What is the current point-of-sale that this business is using? Is it stationary or mobile?
  • Where does the person in charge of software purchases work? Main office? Or in the store?
  • If this person doesn’t work on the floor, have they ever?
  • What does this person’s typical work day look like? Do they spend a lot of time on the floor or do they spend a lot of time at a desk?
  • What are this person’s favorite tasks? Least favorite tasks?

2. Figure out how to get the answers to your questions. More than likely, there are many ways to learn about your customers. A few examples:

  • Talk to your sales and customer service reps. These departments deal with your buyers every day and know them best out of all the people at your company. They’ll be able to tell you common threads they’ve seen, like pain points and even demographics.
  • Talk to your customers directly. You may wish to reach out to buyers who are currently working with you or have worked with you in the past to learn their stories. To do customer outreach most effectively, I recommend allowing the customer to tell you their story the way they want to, rather than treating the conversation like an audible survey. Bring your questions as conversation starters, rather than as an interrogation script.
  • Survey past and present customers. If you do want to have your questions answered survey-style, run an online survey. Surveys are great because you can easily gather a large amount of data and analyze the common threads. Additionally, you can cross-tabulate data to discover information that your customers may not have known or realized. (For instance, you may find that all companies you serve under $10mil in revenue also only have one person in charge of the software buying process, while all companies over $10 mil have three people in charge.) Check out our list of 200+ survey software solutions to conduct customer surveys.
  • Access the data stored in systems such as your web analytics, CRM, or marketing automation software. Even if you can’t get specific demographic information from these systems, they should at least be able to give you answers on some basic things like what your typical customer’s journey looks like. How many pages do they visit? What countries are they from? Where do they make their first contact with you? Etc.

I recommend using multiple methods because each will show you something different. For instance, surveying customers and speaking to individual customers are great tactics to combine because surveying will tell you what your customers do, while speaking with individuals will tell you why they do what they do. Doing both gives you a clearer image of what your ideal buyer looks like.

Keep in mind, surveys can give you the why to some extent. Surveying is simply a more limited tool when it comes to getting to the why. Any multiple choice why questions you ask will automatically limit the answers you receive, leave out context, and potentially put answers in people’s mouths. Additionally, most people hate answering in free-form paragraphs on surveys, so those tend to be more ignored questions.

Additionally, using multiple methods will help widen your net vastly. Finding customers to interview can be like pulling teeth – you’re lucky to find 3-5 who are willing to have a conversation with you. So gather as many “quality” stories as you can to fill out the “quantity” information a survey will give you.

Like pulling teeth? How am I supposed to find people then?

Finding interviews can be like pulling teeth, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are a few things you can do to make people want to talk to you.

  • Incentivize them. Offer your potential interviewees something like a gift card or gift basket in return for talking to you. Also offer something for survey respondents, as most people don’t want to take a survey for free unless they have very strong opinions about something. Keep in mind that the incentive you offer survey respondents can be less valuable than what you offer interviewees, as surveys are generally less work for your customers.
  • Make talking with you super simple. Do everything you can to facilitate the conversation. If they need to be in person, pay their transportation fees and set up their travel. (Or travel to them!) Pay for any applicable phone fees. Work around their schedule, even if that means interviewing them at 6am or 10 pm. When actually talking to them, make the conversation as natural as possible, and be very friendly. Nobody in the world likes awkward phone calls, except maybe Bill Murray. Needless to say, this also goes for your survey respondents – make sure that your survey works on mobile, and desktop. Make sure it loads well, is aesthetically pleasing, and doesn’t take forever. (Seriously, don’t make someone take a 25 minute survey, unless their reward is quite hefty.)

Ok, I’ve done my research. What next?

Now you get to the fun part! The write up! Once you’ve got all the information, all you need to do is put it together in a format that can be easily shared and accessed around your company. Many companies choose to put together a character description (complete with a name), but you may choose to put the pertinent information in bullet form in a Google Doc. Whatever works for you.

More?

So that’s what a buyer persona is, why it’s important, and how to make one. Did I miss anything?

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About the Author

Cara Wood

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Cara Wood is a marketing associate at Capterra and a graduate of Mary Washington! When she's not hard at work at Capterra, she can be found horse-back riding, reading and just generally having a good time at life.

Comments

Great article.
I’d just add one thing for B2B sales in particular – you may find you need multiple personas for even one sale. The business user is the prime buyer who wants to know what the software will actually do and how it’s better than the competition, but you may also need to convince the IT manager who wants to know all about installation, platform requirements and ongoing support, or the financial decision-maker who wants to know that this is competitive and gives a good ROI.
Once you’ve worked out which personas you need to talk to, work out what content and marketing you have for each of them and what you need to add! Some tips here http://nobullmarketing.com.au/using-personas-for-marketing-results/

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