You only need one buyer persona (for now)

by Michael Bernstein on May 09, 2018

How we think differently about buyer personas for B2B software companies

Our goal at Reify is simple: to help software companies sell more software. The most consistently impactful way that we’ve been able to achieve this is by helping companies define and articulate their messaging — in other words, they need to get really good at explaining to a potential user how they’re going to make them awesome. Our thesis is simple: at the heart of selling more software is messaging, and at the heart of messaging is a user persona — so that’s always where we start.

When we’re pitching a client on a messaging engagement which includes helping them define their buyer persona, though, we notice something comes up a lot — they’ve already done some work defining a persona, usually with another marketing consultant, a branding agency, or sometimes at the behest of someone internally. This is always a good sign, because they’ve already begun to think about the user being central to successful marketing.

Sometimes, though, it causes a conflict, because our pitch makes it sound like the work that they’ve already done isn’t useful, and that we want them to duplicate that effort. This has happened enough that we wanted to take the time to document our persona discovery process and why we think it’s sufficiently different from the typical process to warrant going through ours to augment the work a company has already done.

What do you need to care about? What do you leave out?What do you need to care about? What do you leave out?

There can be only one

The first thing we’ve told every company that we’ve worked with that has developed several personas has been the most contentious each time: you only need one. It can be Patrick Project Manager or Emily Engineer or Victoria VP of Engineering, but there can be only one. It’s time to choose between SMB Stephanie and Enterprise Erica, now — and the reason is really simple: most organizations can’t learn how to market to multiple personas at the same time because they don’t have the bandwidth, expertise, or both. Since our clients tend to be smaller operations that are still learning to develop their marketing muscle, typically having anywhere from zero to two or three people involved in marketing (and maybe none full-time), this is doubly true.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t eventually market to SMB and Enterprise at the same time, or develop campaigns for developers and whitepapers for CIOs, somewhere down the road. But now, while we’re working together, trying to find the very essence of the essence of your product and the value it brings to your customers, it just ain’t happening. There can be only one.

Drop the wrong details and keep the right ones

Once we settle on the general persona we’ll pursue, our discovery process begins with the questions in this Google Doc (which is based on this great Geckoboard post). Instead of noticing what we ask in this questionnaire, we want you to focus on what we don’t ask about: things like educational background, where they live, where they work, what kind of coffee they drink, etc. Instead of focusing on more surface-level questions (which are very helpful for branding and general marketing purposes, but fall down when looking for targeted messaging), we focus on the domain specific aspects of the user — what tools do they use to do their jobs? How large is the company? What other technology do they already use?

Remember, we already know quite a bit about this individual by virtue of the fact that they work at a software company. We’re not trying to sell a soft drink or a fashion line that is meant to have broad appeal. We’re working in a niche within a niche — software developers in the market for B2B software. The fact that we’re marketing to a niche can seem limiting — and it is! But don’t fret — this is a very, very good thing!

Because we know that we’re marketing to tens of thousands of potential customer instead of millions and millions, we know that there’s a whole lot that we don’t need to care about, and it lets us focus on what we should. Because our niche is so niche, you could get away with only asking three small sets of questions:

  • Company details: What size is the company? What kind of revenue stream do they have? What challenges do they face?

  • Success criteria: What does this individual need to be successful in their role? How can your product help them achieve this?

  • Potential objections: What reasons might this individual have to not use your product? How can you overcome these objections?

Rounding out these lines of questioning with a few more details is more than enough to get you going down the road of developing messaging for the persona you’re trying to target. But first, one more trick.

Make up a fake title and call it a day

One of our favorite aspects of doing domain specific persona work for companies is making up fake titles. Since it’s not usually good enough to say that we’re marketing to Senior Engineers or VPs of Marketing or even CIOs, we often push companies further to think about the person that they’re trying to reach.

For a payments related company, it might be “The Payments Master.” For anything related to monitoring, you might want to call them the “Chief Monitoring Officer.” The person who always gets tapped when how to deal with sensitive data comes up might become the “VP Of Sensitive Data.”

While this may seem like a trivial component of persona definition, it’s actually anything but. The fake title is a tacit understanding that no two software companies are created equal, and that you can’t rely on titles alone to find the person you need to be marketing to within any given company. You’ve got to dig deeper.

So start with your one, right now

Make a copy of this Google doc. Pass it out to a few stakeholders at your company. Focus on one path, and answer the questions to the best of your ability. Combine everyone’s answers, and have a conversation about them. Give them a fake title, compile them into the headings in the second part of the doc, and when you’re done, you’re ready to start working on your messaging. Curious how to get started there? We’ve got you covered.

If your software company is looking for its story, we can help — get in touch!



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