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4 Dangerous Marketing Persona Misconceptions That B2B Companies Believe

marketing persona mythsNot all myths are dangerous, but believing all the wrong things about marketing personas can keep you from reaching your Inbound potential.

These misconceptions are contagious. Inoculate yourself and start getting more from your marketing personas

Do You Recognize Persona Folklore?

Some of the most common objections to using personas center around their usefulness. Fundamentally, if something isn’t practical, it won’t fly within the B2B marketing world. It’s true, however, that personas actually have a lot going for them. They help you get into the minds of customers and really empathize with their needs. 

So, don’t be afraid to permanently ban these misconceptions.

Persona Myth #1: “Personas don’t work for my industry.”

Believing that personas are great for other industries—just not yours—is missing the point. If you’re effectively selling, you’re probably already thinking about how to make your customers happy by anticipating their needs. Personas give you a practical way to do this, regardless of your industry or how many buyers are actually involved.

What if your customer has multiple actual buyers, rather than a single person responsible for the purchase? Maybe that seems too complicated for persona models. Personas, though, can help you detangle your customer’s journey through the sales funnel. You will probably need several personas for that scenario, but starting with one and moving forward can help bring much-needed clarity to even the most complicated sales experiences.

The insights shaping your sales strategy enable you to develop personas to target. By showing you what you already know, these models help you ask the right questions about customers.

Content marketing (or any marketing, really) without a focused target audience creates scattered, confused messages. Personas can help you unravel it all.

Persona Myth #2: “You can’t really use personas to represent real customers.”

After working in an industry for a while, it’s tempting to believe you already know everything about your customers. You may even feel a little insulted by the idea that there could be even more to learn. Plus, real customers aren’t characters. They’re beyond the stereotyping we sometimes fall back on.

One of the big benefits of personas is actually the sense of uncertainty they create as you start trying to answer more questions about your customer. You may know a lot about your prospects and buyers already, but pushing yourself to discover more about them can deliver unexpected insights.

New challenges, sources of frustration or facts about customers’ jobs can lead you to unexpectedly good places. 

Persona Myth #3: “Personas are too narrow/broad.”

Yes, your persona isn’t a real person. But short of actually becoming your own customer, you’ll never really get inside their minds. Personas can be narrow or have broad strokes because they’re models. By their very nature, they’re incomplete and exist as works in progress. They’re flexible enough that they won’t tie you down, too. 

One answer—data and analytics. Breathing specificity into your personas provides them with direction and force. You don’t even necessarily have to invest more in surveys or customer research if you’re already collecting great data in your sales department (as long as you’re asking the right questions and really know your customers).

Personas do require some investment to get it right. This could be time, financial, educational or something else. Your team will need solid communication with other departments to get the right information together—no silos permitted here. Make sure the right people are there with the right information and have everyone leave their egos and agendas outside the room.  

Persona Myth #4: “Personas just distract from real sales challenges.”

If your persona is just an irrelevant distraction, this probably means you have more work to do. Mismatched personas that are really just missing something can become a distraction, which is why persona writing is never truly finished.

You can never meet every real customer, so personas exist to help you see where the real sales challenges are. You can anticipate how you’ll respond that way. In a real sense, the sales challenges you do know about will also shape your personas. This is another reason to have front-line sales warriors in the room while you create personas—they’ll correct you. Let them interrupt you if you’re making wild departures from the real sales challenges they experience. Hash it out until you get it right, then field test it. There’ll be some back-and-forth, but that’s what continuous improvement is all about. This is an ongoing sales experiment your entire company participates in.

A Quick Intro for People Who Hate(d) Marketing Personas

If you’re slowly changing your mind about personas, you’ll need some benchmarks to get you started. It’s not a complicated process. That said, it IS a process that can be done badly and that’s part of why some people are anti-persona at marketing meetings.

You’ll be following, roughly speaking, these steps to create your persona:

  1. Brainstorming (Who’s Our Customer?)
  2. Sketching (What Do We Know? Let’s Write it.)
  3. Research (Is There Data to Support #2?)
  4. Revise, Apply and Repeat (Because You’re Never Done.)

Before you do anything else, find people on your team who work directly in sales. (Maybe this is obvious, but if you’re not a salesperson you’ll need to find of few of them and ask for their help.)

Now, get together and collectively think about your customers. Ask everyone to think about customers they’ve interacted with. Just start asking questions. If you were playing a game and trying to piece together who the customer is, could you identify their motives, needs, background and daily life? Creating personas is a little like solving a whodunnit. Finding a motive helps you shape your marketing. At this point, you should start thinking about what your typical (or target) customer is like in real life.

Personas are meant to be just like real people, so you’ll be choosing a name, job title and other characteristics. Avoid stereotyping, but recognize that you may find a lot of qualities, needs and challenges in common across multiple customers. If it isn’t an individual you’re working with, you can create more then one persona and consider the team dynamic that way.

Remember, you’re never done with this process. Unless mind reading is part of your skillset, you’ll always be asking yourself if you understand your customers enough. Using personas, you can get much closer and stop aiming blind.

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