How to identify and leverage your B2B customer personas

We were fortunate enough to sit down with one of our partners, Gary Corcoran – Head of International at HubSpot, to learn more about how B2B tech startups can identify and leverage customer personas to drive sales. This article is the first of two pieces, introducing the concept of how to understand your target audience.

(If you’d rather watch the full session, click here to view the recording via our YouTube channel.)

Personas have a massive impact on the sales process. In fact, companies that leverage personas in the sales process see a 73% increase in conversion versus those that don’t.

Sometimes we think of personas as these intangible things, there’s often a bit of mystique around them. But the data clearly shows that when we know our customers better – and can obviously qualify against that – we can have a more effective sales process as a result.

Who is your target customer?

The advice we give to startups is to start at the company level first, rather than thinking of the individual. This is what is known as the Account Profile. It’s here that we need to understand some key facts about that company:

  • Industry (or industries)
  • Company size
  • Geography / location
  • Ways of working: what are some of their common practices?
  • Common solutions: what problems or needs do they have which you address?
  • Attributes: what else do they have in common / how else can we identify them?
  • Named examples: what are they doing instead of using your product?

A financial institution is going to work differently to a B2B tech startups. The way in which decisions are going to be made at the companies are going to be related to that particular industry. Think about the culture and the way business is done on a day to day basis.

Then, when looking at the individual or the Buyer Persona Canvas, there are some slightly different, but equally important considerations:

  • Name and age
  • Department and role
  • Responsibilities
  • Personality type: which personality aspects are important or common?
  • Needs and goals: which problems or needs do they have that your product addresses?
  • Offline and online places: where do they spend time?
  • Prior behaviours: what are they doing instead of using your product?

Especially when it comes to personality types, think about how that personality will typically respond to the buying process. A Founder or CEO of a tech company could well be different to what a Head of Procurement at a wealth management fund is like. We often find it useful to look at the OCEAN framework, or:

  • Openness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extraversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism

They’ll have different pressures and come from different backgrounds, which is important to remember.

Next, we’ll take a look at the Buyer Journey Map. Now we need to build into more of the problem sets. This is where you often see a lot of persona maps go wrong because they haven’t really understood those problem sets. Think about your Value Proposition Benefits here:

  • Jobs: what are some of the activities that they need to complete?
  • Products and services: what are some of the products you have that match these jobs?
  • Pains: what’s the problem they experience when trying to do their jobs?
  • Pain relievers: how do they make your customer’s life easier?
  • Gains: How do they measure their success?
  • Gain creators: How do they maximise gain or advantage?

We’re really looking at the pain and pleasure side of a persona here, and how your product can help them. You can even think about how you match that to specific parts of your product.

The final step we want to think of, now that we’ve explored pains and gains, is how this is a journey, i.e.:

  • Status quo: what are your prospects doing or using right now instead of you?
  • Staying power: what would cause them to stay?
  • Internal issues and interfaces: what might they face when implementing your solution?
  • External issues and interfaces: what influences contribute to your prospect’s behaviour?
  • Success criteria: how do they measure their success?
  • Change drivers and triggers: what are the moments that indicate now is the time to buy?

One of the biggest forces you’re trying to counteract is the status quo. There’s always resistance to change so you need to know what the alternatives are for them.

Once you’ve done all of the above, in other words…

  • The Account Profile
  • Buyer Persona Canvas
  • Value Proposition Benefits
  • Buyer Journey Map

…now you’re ready to condense all that information and focus it into a concise Summary Use Case.

This is where you see a big difference in the Seed & Series A community versus businesses at the Series B or C stage – you’ve got to qualify that there is a primary use case for your product and ultimate service that backs it first.

A lot of people look into multiple personas, multiple use cases, multiple account profiles – we want to narrow things down and get it down to a T in order to get traction in that segment. Once we’ve proved the value there, that’s when we can look at different personas.

For Part 2 of our session with Gary, who talks us through how HubSpot leverage personas themselves in their early days, click here.

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