B2B Customer Personas

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B2B Customer Personas

Understanding customer personas is not only necessary for generating sales but also for helping generate innovation.

When certain B2B purchasing decisions are to be made, it becomes a group effort incorporating different corporate personas. For example, a company looking for a solution to a problem will normally require input from several different levels within a company. Normally, the users define operational needs and requirements. Treasury and accounting assess the financial implications of user preferences and the CFO or a C level officer will need to signoff before a purchase order can be authorized.

Sales and marketing departments need to develop a clear understanding of not only who these different “personas” are within their customer base but also what their needs are. Indeed, the needs of each persona may be very different. User personas need functionality, reliability and product support. Treasury and accounting personas need financial information to determine ROI and other financial requirements. C-level or Advocates will need a good story that is in line with company goals and core values. Vendors need to understand the multiple personas involved in the procurement process of each client to be able to effectively create buyers.

It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway), never take it for granted that you fully understand the personas and their needs. Not only do markets force change on companies but also organizational structures can change a decision making process, which can change personas. As a result, vendors need to develop a dynamic relationship and dialogue with customers.

What vendors want to know is what factors make up a loyal customer and how to convert other categories of customers to loyal customers.

Most companies categorize their customers according to various metrics such as sales generation, profit margin, frequency, average sale, etc. However, companies should also categorize companies according to a scale of loyalty. This additional differentiation can help identify the needs of loyal as well as marginal customers. Indeed, the needs of frequent loyal buyers may be different from that of an occasional customer who also buys from other vendors. What vendors want to know is what factors make up a loyal customer and how to convert other categories of customers to loyal customers.

While many articles suggest the focus should be on loyal customers, this article proposes that it is just as important to understand the needs of the “lesser loyal” customers to try to determine the opportunity gap that may convert them to greater loyalty. But this does not pertain only to sales but also to development of new products and services.

Customer input should be introduced as soon as possible into new product or service initiatives. Only arrogance or ignorance would promote the idea that vendors fully understand the customer personas and their future needs.  One of the first steps in innovation should always include a cross section of the customer base across the ranges of loyalties-from reluctant customers to the loyal. Indeed, an agile vendor can help facilitate the cross-pollination of new ideas gained through interaction with a range of customers and their personas. Asking questions and being sensitive to what problems or concerns customers have is the key to opportunities and innovation.

There are some companies who have the power to drive markets and subscribe to the “build it and they will come” philosophy. Apple does it…for now. But for most companies, the market dictates the demand and the constant search for differentiation, which some call innovation.

Companies need to champion the idea that collaboration with customers to define current and future needs is a win-win objective. Management needs to include customer input from the very start of new initiatives rather than wait until testing. Think of the time and money wasted if management perceptions about customer preferences are wrong!

Discovering customer personas

  1. Understand the customer’s procurement and decision making process

Some companies have very specific procurement requirements while others are very decentralized and poorly defined. Moreover, each company has certain operational and political dynamics that can be paramount in the purchasing decision. For example, some companies require a specific ROI while other are stuck in relationship buying and have little concern for other requirements. Your product or service may be superior but how and to whom to present those benefits needs an accurate understanding of what the real decision maker(s) consider important.

  1. Understand the customer’s business goals

Of course, profitability and efficiencies are always forefront but not necessarily. Some companies want to create the impression that they are on the leading edge of new technologies or best practices. They may have a rapid growth strategy that is open to volume discounting. Or, a customer may be more focused on cost controls. Never take it for granted that you have a full understanding of what drives your customers.

  1. Understand the Buyer’s personal goals.

In many cases, the procurement process may consist of one person and understanding their personal goals is important. Indeed, that can be said for group decisions as well.

  1. Know the customer’s strategy

A customer may have a specific short term or long term strategy that can affect a buying decision. Perhaps a customer (B2B) has a new market initiative or wants to enter a new market that could require the added value of vendor knowledge. Making customers aware of all the value your company can provide can become a major factor in obtaining a favorable outcome.

  1. Understand the timing requirements

Understanding the timing of the decision making process can allow the vendor to add value for short or long term purchasing. For example, is it more appropriate to lease or buy and negotiating terms and conditions.

  1. Understand the customer purchasing thought process

Vendors have more experience in the purchasing process than any individual customers. Helping customers to make the best decision-even if it doesn’t include the vendor’s proposition-builds trust and confidence for future business.

  1. Know why customers make the decision to purchase

Just as important as objections to purchasing are the reasons for buying. Sometimes the obvious reasons are not the real ones. Never take anything for granted and learn to read between the lines and test for the real reasons for buying. For example, a customer’s competitor may have purchased the newest and most advanced widget and you know your customer doesn’t want to appear as being a slow adopter. Even though the occasion may not be consistent with the customer’s normal purchasing process or thinking by understanding how your customer thinks and what will promote a buying situation can be a real advantage.

Understanding customer personas is not only necessary for generating sales but also for helping generate innovation. If relationships are properly developed to the point where information can be freely shared, loyal as well as marginally loyal customers should be included as soon as possible in the innovation process. Imagine the risks of developing new products and services without deep consultation with the customers? It’s not uncommon for new initiatives to get shot down at the prototype or rollout stage when it gets rejected in customer testing.

While customers are not the enemy, keep them close and develop a constant dialogue on the ways to meet their needs and preferences. Oh, and don’t take it for granted management fully understands what customers really want and need.


Additional Reading

B2B Digital Marketing Best Practices-CRM

The 12 Most Common Direct Marketing Mistakes (B2C, B2B)


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