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Buyer Persona Backlash: Right Person, Wrong Company

I first heard this term "buyer persona backlash" from Jason Stewart of Demandbase during today's webinar with Craig Rosenberg. And, I didn't like it. They were sharing the results from the 2013 Account-based Marketing Survey.

Before I get going, I want you to know that Jason and I are buddies. He loves a good debate. I'm not picking on him, but on the concept that was discussed during the webinar, much of which is what he's hearing from marketers.

The premise behind the "buyer persona backlash" is that marketers may choose to market to a Director of IT, for example, but if that contact works for a company that will never buy from you, then it's a wasted effort.

Okay - I'm with the logic thus far, but here's where it goes off the rails for me:

Jason went on to talk about the wasted costs from investing in follow-up calls and other personalized contact with this right person at the wrong company. This is where the rubber meets the road for responsibility.

If your inside sales or field salesperson is spending time doing personal follow-up with the contact without taking 3 seconds to check the company they work for and make an assessment about whether or not it's a viable "lead" in that context, then shame on them!

Seriously! And I know they don't bother given the amount of follow-up I get from salespeople when I'm out doing research for client projects. If they took a second to Google me, they'd see the error of their ways. This is not necessarily a backlash on personas, but on lazy workhabits of salespeople. [Of course, Demandbase can help to alleviate this issue, but this isn't a software post, so I'll let it go.]

Here are some additional things to consider:

If you're getting a lot of right people at wrong companies responding to your content, I'd suggest that your personas are off. For example, if your market is enterprise companies and you're getting high engagement from SMB contacts that match a persona, then the problem you're addressing may be phrased in a way that speaks more to SMB than to enterprise.This is a context issue.

The size of companies will often require a different spin on how the problem is addressed due to the complexity of infrastructure or hierarchy, global vs. local, culture, etc. The way content is developed must not only address the role the persona plays, but also the context in which the role is executed given their environment and other contributing factors.

Then again, the culprit could be marketers, themselves. Here is a sneak preview to a couple of other statistics that should serve to take personas off the hot seat:

  • Only 50% of marketers say they have a BASIC understanding of their target markets.

  • Only 36% of marketers consider buyer personas when developing content.

I'm not sure you can truly imagine the depth of my disappointment at the shortsightedness of the above statistics.

In my opinion, the culprit for what is being termed "buiyer persona backlash" is not the persona. It's the humans.

Blaming personas is just an excuse. And I can say this because I create personas, use them and help my clients achieve pipeline objectives by doing so. Personas, done well and used correctly, elevate content strategy and execution.

Personas are not meant to be an exercise that becomes shelfware! But I often hear, "Yeah, they're around here somewhere..." when I ask marketers if they have them.

If you treat them this way then you're doing a disservice to the construct and the value of the tool, as well as to your prospects who expect relevant and helpful content.

There are many other interesting statistics in the Demandbase survey. But I'll leave that thunder to Jason and his team to set lose in the next couple of weeks.

You can view the webinar here. The conversation between Craig and Jason is pretty darned interesting, so give it a listen. Plus, if you register to listen, you'll get the survey via email as soon as it's published.

What do you think? Is the backlash from right person, wrong company due to personas?

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More Stories By Ardath Albee

Ardath Albee, CEO & B2B Marketing Strategist of her firm Marketing Interactions, helps companies with complex sales increase and quantify marketing effectiveness by developing and executing interactive eMarketing strategies driven by compelling content.

Her book, eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale, was published by McGraw-Hill.

Her articles and blog posts have been used for university ezines, published in CRM Today, Selling Power, Rain Today and Enterprise CRM News. Marketing Profs has incorporated her blog posts into a number of their "Get to The Point" newsletters.