Beyond Buyer Personas: Connecting with Today's B2B Buyers

Beyond Buyer Personas: Connecting with Today's B2B Buyers
Stephanie Tilton - Thu Feb 23, 2012 @ 05:00AM
Comments: 80

Two years ago, I interviewed Tony Zambito -- who originated the development of buyer personas in 2002 -- about the concept of and misperceptions about buyer personas, and what it takes to buyerology.pngextract full value from them. Here he explains why buyer personas are no longer enough, and a new model for understanding your target buyer.

1.  You say that buyer personas are no longer enough when it comes to understanding and motivating your target audience? Why?

One reason is that buyer personas have been oversimplified and have lost touch with their original intention. The original intent was to paint the entire picture of the buyer experience to help inform an organization's future strategy for business, sales, and marketing.

The static snapshot of a single buyer is a key problem with buyer personas today. Organizations need to watch the continuous film of their buyers – instead of just looking at a snapshot in time – so they can see how the full story unfolds.

We began to see this become a reality, especially in the last three years, working with forward-thinking companies. Many senior executives see the buyer persona today as a narrow tactical tool, focused on messaging; it doesn’t represent strategic thinking at the highest level.

For years, marketing and sales have looked through the “funnel/single-buyer lens.” But in the B2B world in particular, we’re seeing lots of buyers with growing dependencies on ecosystems and networks. Because the buyer persona view is tethered to the point of view of a single buyer, it doesn’t accurately capture this new reality. And in interviews we conducted last year, we heard lots of senior-level folks in marketing and sales say that buyer personas alone are not enough. This is a key reason for the formation of Buyerology and a deeper context we call buyer modeling.

2. What do organizations need to know to connect with buyers and move the revenue needle?

We know buyers aren’t operating in a cocoon when making a decision, but today, organizations often aren’t interacting with prospective buyers until quite late in the buying cycle. Organizations need more knowledge about how to better anticipate and predict buyer activities and behaviors so they can respond appropriately and mitigate the guessing game.

3.  Why has the buyer experience become critical to engaging and winning prospective buyers?

When buyers are seeking to make a purchase, they’re not doing so in a funnel. Instead, they’re looking at the entire experience, including what happens before and after the sale. They increasingly consider their network of colleagues and peers and their ecosystem of suppliers, partners, and customers in their decisions. And they are looking for relationships with vendors that cause the least amount of disruption to these interdependencies.

For example, if a supplier is considering bringing on a new order management application, it might consult with its OEMs (who are essentially its customers) to get their take on how the purchase will impact them. The supplier will want to understand how the new software will impact the ordering process from the OEMs’ perspective.

We’re seeing more of this interaction during purchase decisions because companies want to minimize risk. Plus technology such as social media has opened up channels that better enable this interaction.

4.  In your recent webinar, you covered the seven ways to get inside the mind of your buyers. Please outline those seven ways.

We developed these seven ways based on insights we gathered from clients, many of whom are industry leaders pushing the envelope in terms of engaging their market. The seven ways are considered elements of predictive buyer modeling:

1)   Buyer persona modeling: Modeling archetypes of buyers and buyer networks for insight into their goals.

2)   Buyer scenario modeling: Modeling potential buying scenarios for insight into buyer challenges and situational issues.

3)   Buyer decision modeling: Modeling decision processes and rules for insight into the buyer decision journey and the decision-making process.

4)   Buyer mental models: Collective modeling of attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions for insight into the unspoken thinking of buyers.

5)   Buyer content models: Modeling the information needs and goals of buyers for insight into how they find, use, and share content.

6)   Buyer experience modeling: Models the interactions and relational desires of buyers for insight into the Buyer Moment of Truth™.

7)   Buyer value modeling: Identifies how buyers perceive and weigh values for insight into shared values that drive purchase decisions.

5. Explain what buyer modeling is and why it's valuable.

Buyer modeling combines the seven descriptive buyer models above (what we call Business Buyergraphics) to reflect the realities of today’s buyer, while providing foresight into potential situations that buyers might be in and how they might play out. The seven models above combine into descriptive buyergraphics, showing buyer realities in visual and graphical forms that help organizations strategize and take action to best connect with potential buyers.

This helps get a better grasp of buying committees, as well as ecosystems, networks, interactions, goals, challenges, etc. It also helps inform critical decision-making in marketing, sales, and strategy, giving organizations a chance to model as well as zero in on scenarios where they can best play. In other words, it helps them find the intersection between the scenarios, opportunities, and their expertise.

6. What are signs that organizations are on the right track with their target buyer modeling?

When potential scenarios begin to unfold in reality/in the marketplace. Buyers today are being more discriminating about which firms become part of their story, ecosystems, and networks. Being included tells you that your company is on the right track.

7. What's a real-world example of how target buyer models have helped a B2B company better connect with its target audience?

We worked with HP, a company that finds itself in many complex situations because it’s heavily reliant on partners, systems integrators, and other third parties. Plus, it finds itself in different scenarios depending on the industry it’s selling into. Based on the predictive buyer modeling we did, HP’s sales team, with the help of descriptive buyergraphics, now asks ecosystem questions of potential buyers and has been able to set up more 3-way calls between itself, the buyer and a key ecosystem player such as a partner or supplier. As a result of better understanding the buyer’s reality, HP saw a 15% increase in revenues in one year in the vertical markets where it focused this effort.

8. Who should care about buyer modeling?

CMOs, in partnership with sales, are being held increasingly accountable to a revenue number, and that means they need to avoid big mistakes, and put an end to activities and programs that aren’t working. With buyer modeling, they can determine the best probability of connecting with buyers.

Executive teams in general should also be interested in buyer modeling because they need this insight and predictive modeling to make important decisions about the short and long term.

9. What’s next when it comes to understanding buyers?

We’re seeing the rise of predictive analytics because of “big data.” But we also need qualitative predictive buyer modeling data to understand as well as illuminate buying behaviors. In fact, I predict that organizations will begin to bring on buyer behavior analysts whose job is to analyze, monitor, and provide foresight into how buyers are behaving and the impact these behaviors have on their organization. I also see organizations working with third-party firms to integrate predictive analytics and qualitative predictive buyer modeling to get a 360-degree view of their buyer segments. 


About the author: Stephanie Tilton is a content marketing consultant who helps B2B companies craft content that nurtures leads and advances the buying cycle. You can follow her on Twitter or read more of her posts on Savvy B2B.

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Comments: 80


1. Tony Zambito  |  my website   |   Thu Feb 23, 2012 @ 12:48PM

Many thanks Stephanie for a thoughtful and engaging interview that helps to articulate how and why business can reorient their thinking on understanding buyers today in our very complex and hyper-competitive world.


2. Billy Mitchell  |  my website   |   Fri Feb 24, 2012 @ 10:59AM


This is one of the best articles I've ever read on buyer personas - specifically B2B buyer personas. Your questions frame so much helpful information from Tony, I will definitely be bookmarking and retweeting this. This is certainly well beyond surface level information and the idea of "buyerology" and multiple models is brilliant.

Is there a link to the webinar you mention?

Thanks Stephanie and Tony!

3. Stephanie Tilton  |  my website   |   Sat Feb 25, 2012 @ 07:28AM

Wow, Billy -- most flattering! I'm thrilled you found the interview so insightful. Like you, I'm fascinated by how Tony is evolving the concept of buyer personas to keep pace with the changing B2B buying environment.

Here's a link to his webinar,
Discover 7 Ways To Get Inside The Mind of Your Buyers: And What Peter Drucker Would Say:

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

4. Tony Zambito  |  my website   |   Sat Feb 25, 2012 @ 09:14AM

Billy, thank you for your kind comment. As many executives I interviewed last year attested to - it is time to move well beyond buyer personas into buyer modeling - to do as Stephanie stated - keep pace with the changing B2B buying environment. Happy that you see Buyerology and the concept of buyer modeling moving in that direction. I appreciate you sharing this interview and the message! Many thanks, Tony

5. Aaron  |  my website   |   Fri Dec 28, 2012 @ 09:12AM

Great article. The most valuable information marketing can deliver to sales is related to a prospect or customers' propensity to buy specific products. B2B Purchase Behavior Data--what companies buy and how their behavior changes over time--is the most reliable indicator of a propects' intent and/or capacity to buy. Fortunately, B2B purchase behavior data is now available and is rapidly becoming a highly-valuable corporate asset.

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Discover 7 Ways To Get Inside The Mind of Your Buyers: And What Peter Drucker Would Say

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