There are so many ways to define potential customers…
If you want to take control of your ineffective sales and marketing efforts, understanding your buyers is an important first step. But when you research the topic online, you’ll find dozens of different ways of defining potential customers and doing customer analysis.
Target audience… customer profile… ideal client… customer persona… buyer persona… what does it all mean?
Every marketing expert has their own definitions and explanations for the differences between these terms (and lots of others that all sound the same). It’s no wonder you’re confused.
The truth is, it doesn’t matter what you call it. In this article, we’ll tell you exactly what you need to do to understand who you’re selling to and how to engage them.
But first, let’s take a moment to look at why it’s so important to have a deep level of knowledge about your customers and potential customers.
Why is it so important to understand your buyers?
You probably already know that old-school sales and marketing methods just aren’t effective anymore. Buyers are doing their own research and are far into the purchase process before they want to speak to a sales rep.
To engage buyers, you need to be where they are: on the Internet and social media. And you need to publish content that answers their questions and helps solve their problems.
That’s why you need a deep understanding of your buyers. Otherwise, you don’t know what questions and problems they have at each stage of their purchase process. You don’t know what the purchase process looks like, or who is involved, or what resources your buyers trust to help them make decisions.
If you think you already know your buyers, try asking your sales reps to describe the buyer’s journey. You’ll probably be surprised to find that they have little insight into the buying and decision-making process.
Without this information, it’s impossible to create content that engages buyers and attracts them to your website.
So, how should you begin getting to know your buyers?
Defining B2B target market segments
Who wants & needs what you sell?
The logical place to start is by defining the main “buckets” that categorize your current customers. For B2B sales, this is a way to start nailing down the types of organizations that want and need what you sell.
We’re talking big picture here. For example, one of our clients is a NYC office technology dealer. Their segments include:
- SMBs with offices
- Print shop businesses
- Organizations with internal print departments and mailrooms
How can you categorize your customer base at a high level? These are your target market segments. (Again, if you want to use a different label, feel free.)
Building a B2B ideal customer profile
Who do you want to sell to?
Next, you want to build a customer profile based on your IDEAL customer.
For most B2B sellers, this is the type of business that brings in the most revenue and profit. However, you may also want to include other factors in your ideal customer profile, such as the level of ongoing support they require, or if they tend to become evangelists for your brand.
Looking again at our office technology dealer as an example, their ideal customers include:
- Law firms
- Non profit organizations
- Financial services companies
- Healthcare providers
Why are they ideal clients? In this case, because these customers do a lot of printing, which generates more ongoing equipment sales and service revenue for the dealer.
There may be customers who want what you sell, but for some reason they aren’t the customers you want. They may be looking for a rock bottom price, or they cost too much to support, or whatever makes them a not-so-ideal customer.
The point is, make sure you consider all the aspects of the sale and your relationship that matter to you when you define your ideal customer.
That’s why trying to use an ideal customer profile template probably won’t be useful. Because what is important to somebody else may not be what is important to you.
How you define your ideal customer profile comes down to: what types of customers do you want most? And why?
Developing buyer personas
Who are the PEOPLE who buy from you?
Now that you have defined the types of businesses that are most important to you, it’s time to dig in and learn important information about the people at those companies who want and need what you sell.
They are people with problems you can solve and questions you can answer. Your goal is to engage them with your sales and marketing efforts. So, you need to find out what those questions and pain points are. And, how your prospects go about finding answers, evaluating solutions, and making purchase decisions.
That’s what buyer persona research is all about.
What is a buyer persona?
I hate to confuse you with more terms, but it’s so important that you understand this one.
A buyer persona is a fictional representation of your buyer that helps you understand their wants, needs, concerns, motivations, habits, and processes related to what you sell. (This last part is essential… and missing from the way many “experts” define the term. We’ll get to that in a minute.)
You should know that most B2B marketers end up with more than one buyer persona.
Just as you grouped your target market into “buckets,” you do the same with the people who evaluate and purchase your products. You’ll group them based on similar needs, concerns, etc.
As you do buyer persona research, those buckets become clear from the data you collect.
Once again, we’ll look at our office technology dealer as an example. Their buyer research revealed personas that happened to be grouped by their job or role:
- SMB office managers
- IT managers
- Mailroom managers
What does buyer persona research involve?
Buyer persona research involves interviewing your real customers and prospects. You need to conduct in-depth conversations with both:
- People who have bought from you (recently, so they clearly remember the details)
- People who evaluated your products or services and ultimately chose a competitor
These interviews provide a wealth of data that you’ll extract and aggregate to profile your most important buyers.
To get started, you have to figure out what questions to ask in your customer interviews. If you’ve never done this, you might look for an example or template.
How a “buyer persona” or “customer profile” template may mislead you
You can easily find a buyer persona template (or customer profile template or whatever names people choose to call them), but those templates are often missing some very important items.
Many of the templates you find on the Internet focus heavily on demographic and psychographic information (gender, age, family status, income level, hobbies and interests, that sort of thing). Those facts are important for B2C companies, but you need much more for B2B sales and marketing.
Here are just a few critical pieces that are often missing:
- What are the buyer’s pain points, opinions, concerns related to what you sell.
- Information about triggers that motivate people to take action toward purchasing a product or service like yours.
- Information about the buyer’s journey… what does their purchase process look like?
- What resources do they trust and what digital channels do they use?
B2B marketers often overlook the fact that even though you’re targeting companies, you are still selling to people. However, it’s important to focus on gathering information about those people that relates to their interest in you and your business.
A real B2B buyer persona example
Want to see what a useful buyer persona or customer profile looks like? Here’s an actual B2B buyer persona we developed for one of our clients. When you read it, notice how it gets to the essence of what you need to know about your buyer to develop effective marketing and sales strategies… all in an easy to consume format.
What should you do with all this customer intelligence?
There’s no question that developing all this information… market segments, ideal customer profiles, and buyer personas (or whatever you choose to call them!) … takes time and expertise.
But you really can’t succeed at marketing without it.
In the end, you’ll have the intelligence needed to develop an effective digital marketing strategy that attracts and engages the right people. The prospects that really want and need what you sell. The people who are out there on the Internet looking for the solutions you provide.
You’ll be well on your way to implementing an inbound marketing program that helps you meet your revenue goals.