How to frame customer personas for business-to-business organizations including; where to start, scoping questions and sample b2b customer persona templates to download.
Identifying customer persona(s) is a strategic building block that shapes your organization. If you don’t understand the customers you’re attempting to serve, you’re doomed. Maybe quickly or perhaps even slowly, but still doomed. At best you’re living on luck (or is it VC money?).
A customer-focused framework is useful for articulating detailed customer needs within your target market segments. When working to understand customers, the most common weakness is sliding into focusing on your technology, solution, favourite (or favorite for those West of the Atlantic) marketing communication channel or sales tool. A customer persona framework helps guard against this tempting slope.
- Recently a client said, “When customers ask about XXX, in this case it’s not about the technology.”
- Now technology love, and the potential of technology, is a real thing. But please note from the perspective of your customers, it is never about the technology; it’s always about their underlying business problem or opportunity.
Customer persona development provides a framework to conceptualise and put your B2B customers’ needs in context.
Firstly, you need to consider the broader ecosystem within which your business customer persona find themselves. Secondly, consider their more immediate needs, the 3Rs of responsibility, risk and reward for a given persona. Within this two conceptual frameworks, you can go about articulating customer needs. In practice you will circle back and forth between their ecosystem and their 3Rs in an iterative manner. To ensure your B2B customer persona is correct consider a wide range of data sources (typically this includes ‘voice of the customer’.)
Before diving in, let’s be clear what we mean by customer persona and start with a definition.
Customer personas are composites, archetypes representing cohorts within your target market segments. A customer persona represents a cohort with similar needs.
It follows, then, that those with different needs represent different customer personas. Another way of articulating a similar concept, is market segmentation. Different market segments have, by definition, something different. Market segmentation by geography, for example, calls language, currencies and customs into consideration.
Using customer personas helps keep the needs of your prospective customers in focus. Customer persona development involves creating a fictitious representation with sufficient depth and colour that enables product development, marketing communication, sale and customer services teams to make decisions on how best to serve and reach these prospects.
Customer personas are often named in a catchy way; it’s easier to relate to “Data Center Debbie” and “Facilities Frank” than the descriptive but colourless ‘data center operations manager’ and the ‘facilities manager’. The key thing is that customer personas are relatable and actionable for your teams.
A key aspect of customer persona development is figuring out core differences.
Both ‘Data Center Debbie’ and ‘Facilities Frank’ care about the delivery of electricity to the data center.
Only Debbie cares about installing new servers, which need both electricity and cooling.
Only Frank has knowledge of the building management system, which controls most of the building & data center cooling. Cooling is a major consumer of electricity which equals cost.
The specific differences for each personas emerge from researching and answering the questions outlined in this article.
The macro customer persona question is:
how do customers’ needs differ?
A word on ‘persona’ terminology.
‘User persona‘ is frequently, and usefully, used in software development as the archetype for those actually ‘using’ your product. As we will see there are different influencers in B2B sales, only some of whom may be actual ‘users’.
The term ‘buyer persona’ is also used: but focusing just on ‘buying’ doesn’t do justice to the different needs of customers. It narrowly suggests the most important aspect is where the money transaction takes place, that procurement is leading decision making, or that a single person makes all the decisions from choosing to using the product. None of this is true for B2B customers.
You need to care about all of your personas, not just those not just those situated between the keyboard: desk and not just those with the cheque book.
‘Customer persona’ is a more rounded term, applicable in all instances, encompassing users and others who are important to your success.
Getting Started With Business Customer Persona Development
A good way to start scoping your customer personas is to consider the ecosystem within which they operate. It’s typically fast and easy to get started by using this step. It also helps you develop a ‘systems boundary’; what’s in scope and what’s beyond the reach for this aspect of your market place.
Typically B2B Customer Persona Development Considers Multiple Players within One Target Customer Account
Unlike in the consumer marketing, the business to business environment typically means there are multiple stakeholders within a single organization. Most typically you are selling into a team, not a single personal need.
The purpose of working with customer persona is to see the world through a customer lens. Your business customer personas operate within an ecosystem which influences, enables and constrains choice. They are part of an interconnected system. Typically this ecosystem is common to the team or organization.
Both ‘Data Center Debbie’ and ‘Facilities Frank’ work for the same organization. While each of their roles have different core focus, there is only one electricity bill which covers both the IT operations needs and the building/people needs.
Both are impacted by the cost of electricity.
The organizational carbon-footprint covers all types of energy consumption.
To understand what your prospects are dealing with, it’s imperative to have a sense of the context into which your offering, organization and marketing communications must fit.
External B2B Customer Persona Influences
Externally to their organization, what does the context, the operating environment, look like for this B2B customer persona?
Consider first the wider picture within your B2B market segment such as market trends, i.e. what’s changing the environment. Perhaps there’s new regulation on the way, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (which impacts almost all businesses that operate in or have customers in the EU), macro economic changes or technology development.
What thought leaders are articulating and influencing industry changes?
It may be appropriate to consider industry specific; industry analysts, researchers, thought leaders, and journalists. Perhaps these influencers belong to independant industry organizations, Fortune 500 companies, universities, competitors or even your own organization. For example AWS announcements or Apple’s annual event are a marker of product and technology trends. There is also an informal, and very influential network at play including, for example, peers or a tech savvy daughter.
Where do they get their information?
What conferences, books and blogs inform their thinking and help them stay up to date? What social media do they use to listen to what’s going on in their environment?
Who are their existing suppliers and channel partners?
Channel partners typically have their own set of needs which intertwine with yours, and your (shared) end-user. It’s important to understand needs of your end customers, and to consider those involved in the ‘route to market’.
Considering your B2B customer means putting yourself in their shoes.
Who are their customers? What competitive market factors and alternative offerings are they dealing with?
These macro-environmental aspects can be summarised by the PESTEL framework; political, economic, social and technological, environmental and legal. Consider each in turn.
Internal B2B Customer Persona Influences
Internally what does their organization look like? Who else is involved and has influence?
Research in both the Harvard Business Review and from IDC indicate that B2B decision making involves teams of 5+ influencers. Mapping these internal influencers may reveal an additional customer persona (with different needs), or an influential channel partner whom you need to consider as a separate persona.
Debbie is responsible for operating the on-site data center. At the moment cooling, that is required to keep servers operational, comes from the building cooling system. Insufficient cooling means the servers will go down and those IT systems will be unavailable for use.
Frank is responsible for managing buildings and facilities. Debbie and Frank work closely together. Frank also contends with cooling to keep people comfortable on hot days. These customers of ‘comfort cooling’ are key influencers on/for Frank.
B2B Customer Persona Ecosystem Template
In this customer persona ecosystem template, aspects closer to the central customer persona have a stronger or more apparent impact on the customer persona.
Generally items towards the top of each circle are more obvious (to the reader), so it’s helpful to position items that hold more sway towards the top. Elements that influence each other, or are related, should be located adjacent to each other.
Use the customer persona ecosystem template together with the customer persona 3Rs template (below). As you move through the process and as your market changes evolve the B2B customer persona ecosystem map based on new learnings. For example as you learn which events and conferences your customer persona attends include those. As market trends, such as GDPR or data privacy, change customers needs you’ll need to update same.
B2B Customer Persona – The 3Rs of Relevance
People don’t care what you do. And they don’t care why you do it.
They care about their own 3Rs: responsibility, rewards and risk.
Unlike in consumer marketing we don’t care about core demographics, identities, kids or pets. We do care about careers, team and organizational deliverables. Business-to-business customers care about are their own responsibilities, risks and rewards, including team considerations. Using the 3Rs framework provides a context for why this customer persona cares.
Your solution, or rather the problem you trying to solve, does not take up all the mindshare of your target market; they have other things going on. Stay grounded in the overall context of their professional role and situation.
Answering the following questions helps you to build a more informed picture of the world according to your customer persona. Not all of the individual questions / ideas will be relevant for your situation. You should add ideas of your own relevant to your industry.
B2B Customer Persona Responsibility
- What is their role within the organization?
- What does their job description look like?
- What are their skills?
- What do they do, (or what) happens daily / weekly / monthly?
- What’s the trigger for seeking a solution, i.e. the critical pain point, need or opportunity?
Customer -> Company -> Team -> Self
– a mindset for prioritization.
– a context for responsibilities.
Data Center Debbie, the Data Center Operations Manager, cares about the cost of operating the data center (particularly the electricity expense), spilling coffee on the servers, as well as deploying servers quickly. It’s not just about upgrading the data center cooling so they can add new blade servers.
Facilities Frank has people in downstairs offices complaining that they are too cold. And someone keeps leaving the heating on in the conference room. The building management system was designed to cater for people comfort, but it’s evolved to be mission critical to Debbie’s growing data center.
B2B Customer Persona Rewards
Understanding needs enables you to understand success criteria.
- How will the individual and the organization ‘win’ by solving the problem?
- What does winning mean? (What becomes faster, cheaper or better?)
- What’s the basis for judging success?
- What key performance indicators are impacted?
Debbie’s key metric, the most important thing, is keeping the on-site data center up and running; that means no frantic IT users nor frazzled colleagues overloaded on the help desk. That’s what her CIO expects her to do.
Frank is under pressure from everyone he meets in the corridor to get the temperature in the building comfortable. And the electricity expense is sufficiently large to have visibility with his boss, Debbie and the CFO.
B2B Customer Persona Risks
“No-one ever got fired for buying IBM.”
Risks are both personal and professional. Solutions need to align with personal and professional values, as well as align with organizational and personal approaches to risk. FUD: fear, uncertainly and doubt are human concerns. Both your solutions in use as well as your communication to B2B prospects customers need to allay concerns.
Trust plays a large role in developing relationships and choosing with whom to partner. The ecosystem template considers who influences risk and the context of concerns.
- How well is the problem understood? What pot holes might catch them unawares? For example, perhaps your IT solution needs to be integrated with existing systems.
- How well are the pros / cons of potential solutions understood? For example, what training is required before everyone can use the new tool.
- What may get in the way of success?
- Has the complete lifecycle of the solution been considered? Maybe getting started is easy but what about post-sales support or scaling.
For Data Center Debbie, new cooling equipment introduces some risk of downtime as she learns to use these new systems, but it means she can add those blade servers more quickly (hurrah!) and ensure the on-site computing capacity is in keeping with the IT backup plan.
Frank is not sure he wants a separate cooling system for the data center. What will that do to “his” electricity bill? A separate bill for Debbie might be good.
Consider the Johari window analysis technique;
- known knowns; what are the things they know they know? The available information; the ‘told you so’s.
- known unknowns; what are the things they know that they don’t know? The unanswered questions.
- unknown unknowns; what are the things that they don’t know they don’t know? Those elements we can but dream of, or stumble across. Like landmines.
Articulating B2B Customer Needs
Now you have a context for your customers’ ecosystem, and the 3Rs framework of responsibilities, risk and rewards. We turn to articulating the needs of your b2B customer persona. For simplicity the term ‘needs’ is used here for all 3Rs. (Your final customer persona should use the verbiage of customers.)
Your customers may articulate the 3Rs as:
- a need they have to fulfill,
- a problem they are trying to solve, or
- an opportunity they want to take advantage of.
The User Story Framework
From Agile Development, this simple and practical framework couples the customer need/function together with the underlying customer need. Similar to the 5 ‘why’s’, it remind us to keep looking for ‘real reason’.
- I <want to goal> in order to < benefit>.
Jobs To Be Done
This short video from Clayton Christensen is a nice articulation of customer needs as ‘jobs to be done’. (You’ll never look at milk shakes the same way again!)
B2B Customer Persona Images & Layout
To be useful, customer personas need to be embedded into the strategy of your organization and the day-to-day operations of product, sales and marketing communication teams. Personas need to be accessible and real.
To ‘keep it real’ many people find it helpful to use actual imagery of customers and their environment. Take your own photos (with permission) if you can. Professional photos do not have the same raw sense of the reality. B2B customer personas are internal tools for your product development, marketing communications, sales and customer service teams, so imagery won’t be seen publicly.
If you have easy access to graphic design skills to make it pretty, great, but don’t let that become a barrier.
Similarly your B2B customer persona is a working document and as such, evolves and needs to be kept current. Please task someone who represents the customer, product management professional, customer experience director, or business analyst, with keeping your customer persona fresh and relevant. Knowledge and the market place evolves. Your customer persona needs to evolve in keeping with market and technology changes.
B2B Customer Persona Template
TOP TIP – If you find mention of your solutions / USP / offer, you have strayed from the customer view point into solutions, or worse, fallen into assumption mode. Customer need is unlikely to be bound to your particular solution. There are typically many ways to fulfill needs.
Reframe needs and opportunities from their viewpoint.
B2B Customer Persona Development Toolkit
- Download B2B Customer Persona Ecosystem Template PowerPoint
- Download B2B Customer Persona 3Rs Needs Template PowerPoint
- Sources of B2B Market Research Data
- Doing Voice of the Customer Research
For assistance with developing your B2B customer personas contact Jane at JEM 9 dot Com
This approach to customer persona development is influenced by TQM, and more specifically ‘Concept Engineering’ as developed by the Center for Quality Management (CQM), Cambridge, MA, USA, Gary Burchill and MIT.