Gayathri (G3) Krishnamurthy, AVP, Product Marketing at RingCentral, gave this presentation at the Product Marketing Summit.

The truth about buyer personas

It gets tough to explain product marketing. Is it in product management? Is it in marketing? But if there's one topic we all agree it belongs to, it's personas and segmentation.

When we think about buyer profiles, we geek out in terms of, what’s their profile? What’s their demographic? What’s their role? What does a day in the life look like for them?

A buyer persona is a fundamentally different way of looking at it. It looks at the buying aspects. How are they really making the buying decision? What are the criteria? How’s this being done? What’s their journey of buying? Really focusing on the buying aspect is fundamental.

So think of it as a way of looking at just the buying aspect versus a profile, which could be one dimensional, and just looking at multiple attributes.

And buyer journeys aren’t always linear. You could be researching, you could be selecting vendors, you could be doing all of it.

Don't miss our Go-to-Market buyer persona template. 👇

The Go-to-Market Buyer Persona Template
With the Go-to-Market Buyer Persona Template, we’re taking the stress out of this process and giving you a strong starting point for your GTM process. Save time developing buyer interview questions, brush up your existing processes or get inspiration for your own frameworks.

Lastly, we all know that things are evolving and nothing is static. We're looking at markets and buyers. Things are changing. So personas aren’t static.

I'm going to give you a real example of a buying process with my son and Pokémon cards. His thought process in the buying situation is, is this Pokémon card real or fake?

His cousin is the key influencer in the buying process. He says, “Always buy them from a pack, not online.”

And then there’s me and my husband as the financial, economic buyers in this scenario. We're thinking, Is our son getting scammed? Is trading even okay?

Then you have all these amazing platforms that personalize and hyper-personalize and give you all the ads and offers.

So where I want to go with this concept is that we see it every day. Buying, the buying process, how different stakeholders are involved, and what their needs and wants are from a buying perspective.

Personas and segmentation aren’t overrated. They’re real.

If you look at B2B buying, 17% of the time, sales are getting involved in the buying journey. So there's so much we want to understand about the buyers. It's going to be important for us. So, again, I want to go back to the foundation that yes, it is important. We need to understand the buying process and we need to understand the buyer persona.

Understanding the buying process

So now that we have the basics, when you do your persona research, please make sure that you're looking at the buying aspect. Forget about other aspects; they aren’t critical as you do a buying persona analysis.

Don't make your research a rocket science. I did it when I first did mine. I took a 30-slide template and meticulously filled out every single one of those. But it's really about having a conversation with a buyer who's made a decision and talking about things that really matter.

This is a simple framework that was done by Buyer Persona Institute. They do a really nice job of having the core fundamentals outlined.

So if you want to understand a buying process, I’d recommend focusing on these five:

  1. Priority initiatives: Your buying triggers. Why are they buying?
  2. Success factors: This goes beyond financial success. It could also be personal success.
  3. Perceived barriers: It's not just the competition all the time. I've been in scenarios where people haven’t adopted a particular software because they don't have alignment with the executive team. They’re not able to build a business case. So your barriers need not be on a specific product. It could be multiple dimensions. Just keep an open eye for all of those.
  4. Decision criteria: We all want to reduce costs. So really zoom in on which aspect of cost: fixed, variable, CapEx, OpEx. Getting that sense of decision criteria is going to be really important.
  5. Buyer’s journey: understanding the stakeholders involved and how decisions are being made.

The most important point that I want to leave with you is to not boil the ocean. Let's keep it very precise. And when you have a conversation, have an open mind. You don't start by asking these directly. It’s about having a way to have open conversations, and even looking at the types of people that you’re interviewing.

I made the mistake of saying, “I'm going to interview IT, finance, and operations.” Actually, think about flipping it and saying, “I'm going to talk to people who are involved in a buying decision. I don't have to think of specific profiles. I want to look at a buying committee and the people who are involved.”

Go with an open mind and you might discover that it's not even people that you thought would be involved in this process.

Doing your research right

Research doesn’t need to be expensive. SiriusDecisions recently gave a really good insight: when you buy a persona, don't try to outsource it. And that was important because you have to listen to the buyers as much as you can and unearth all of those insights.

And from an expensive standpoint, what we’ve done at our organization is really think about, if there's an annual conference, can you get 20 minutes or 30 minutes off buyers?

If there’s a certain QBR or a case study being conducted by your teams, is there a way you could carve out another 15 minutes after the case study? The case study is going to focus more on results, but what we want to do is try and understand the buying behavior. So it’s really about finding all of these very intuitive ways of connecting with a buyer.

Especially with this economic downturn, it could be a good way to keep up to date with what's going on from a buying position standpoint.

Research, if not actioned, is a waste of everyone's time. I think it's pretty logical.

The importance of aligning the sales cycle to the buying cycle

Another big thing that I want to leave you with is learning. We tried to do this buyer persona, but the big anxiety was, what if I keep producing these reams of documents, and nobody reads them?

I’d say the most critical part if you were to look at an 80/20 rule, is to do your research for 20 and spend the remaining 80 activating. That's where the value is.

So when you're looking at a buying cycle, you want to think about how to align completely with the sales cycle. That's the whole goal of this.

We've done activation workshops. It's a really great way of bringing about people from sales, marketing, product, and multiple facets of the organization, and really aligning on your core value proposition, “Here's where the need is, here's where our product strengths are. What's that intersection? How can we create that value prop?”

The role of use cases in Go-to-Market
The route a customer takes and their reasons for using a product will differ, depending on individual circumstances, i.e. depending on each use case. But what exactly is a use case, and when are they used by GTM teams?

And in terms of activation, from a marketing standpoint, you want to hit the right buyers with the right campaign strategy. You don't want to target people who aren’t going to be in the buying process. You want to prioritize the primary buyer and spend more energy there.

From a content perspective, you're looking at the top, middle, and bottom of the funnel. You want to have education content resonating with the buyer's needs, all the way to closing your deal.

Sales strategies and playbooks are also extremely critical. What we did was map the buyer journey along with the sales journey, and think about every stage of the sales journey, how you map it to the buyer journey, and what the needs and wants are.

It's a little bit of an elaborate process, but it's worth the time to really make sure that you can spoon-feed sales.

When connecting with sales, really think about having those contents and having those plays in every stage of the sales cycle.

And also, if you have CCS, value selling, or any methodologies, really try to bake that into the methodology that the company’s using so that it's leveraged.

Rethinking a lot of sales assets, even for competitive intelligence, if I’m talking to IT versus operations, how do we really position our competitive strengths? Because each one has a different need.

Enable everyone, including CSMs and the marketing and sales side of the house.

And this one is a really good one where we looked at the data. We were trying to impact a key business strategy for a company where we were trying to focus on a specific buyer. But we really put the case forward to go a platform route and have investments in developers. And all the insights that we gleaned from the buyer persona were so valuable.

So think big and make sure that you're activating every part of the organization when you think about this buyer persona research.

Keep your personas up to date

If there’s an event or you're even going to do a webinar with one of the customers, that's a great opportunity to learn a little bit. Keeping personas up to date on a regular basis is a better strategy than thinking about, Okay, here's another mega project. Next year, we're going to spend 100,000 on persona research.

So really think about those reverse cycles happening automatically versus a conscious effort to reinvent the whole wheel.

Segmentation: It’s all about quality

Choose attributes that matter. I think we've come a long way from looking at the number of employees and revenue.

Really think about your business and look at certain aspects like use cases, number of user seats, and complexity. For some of the banking software companies that I work with, even though they’re smaller, their complexity can be larger.

Looking at multiple attributes is going to be important. It's not just the quantity.

We try to segment the mid-market so much. And the biggest challenge is the middle child syndrome, where mid-market often keeps shifting to either side.

So again, make sure that it's not the quantity, but the quality of attributes, and be continuously assessing.

Why geographic segmentation is a crucial part of your marketing strategy
If a retailer decides to only market their products in a certain area, or if they decide to change their offering based on region, then this is geographic segmentation at play.

Aligning segmentation across your company

Segmentation can’t be siloed.

What I mean by that is good segmentation doesn’t start and end with sales. And the single point of failure for segmentation is if it's not segmented at sales. If there are no sales targets, nobody's going to care. So that, of course, is the first important place where you want to look at segmentation, followed by marketing persona and demand strategies. It has to align with how the segment goes to market.

On the other side of the equation, I think support is extremely critical as you go into segmentation. The packages and models for support for multiple segmentation customers are going to be so different. We can lose sight of it because it's all about signing deals. But specifically in large enterprises with complex B2B products, making sure that the implementation support is seamless is going to be critical.

So having support packages and models aligned with segments is going to be important.

And the best case is when you have products which are distinct by segment. The segment could be vertical or any dimension, but if you have a core distinct product and you have a sales team, those are the most critical pieces when it comes to segmentation.

And make sure that as you evolve, the segmentation has an all in play. I've been in companies where they started thinking about a segment and they did everything on the marketing side: different personas, different messages, AB tests, all of those. But there was nobody in sales to catch that.

It’s a complete failure in the model if you don't start with sales, I think it's obvious, but companies still do that. So sales, marketing, support, products. And of course, if you have a segmented product, that's perfect.

And when you look at segmentation, the flip side is that you have duplicates. So how do you look at a shared service model like a creative or pre-sales campaign or legal? All of those are going to be your shared service model where everything can’t be segmented. From a resourcing standpoint, you can’t scale.

Committing to your segments

Change your segment only if buying patterns change.

I've been in companies where they wanted to promote someone so they said, “Okay, Let's carve this out. Let's make a segment out of it.” It's not a decision made by a chief revenue officer or a decision made internally, it's more of an external decision when buying patterns change, when there's consolidation in the market, and when people are trying to buy adjacent products.

So that's the trigger when you want to look at a change. A real trigger versus more internal stuff that I've personally seen in my corporate life.

Don't get too excited to evolve segments.

We look at segmentation and we go all in on doing the geos and verticals and so on.

I think it's important to look back and see where the company is evolving. Does it even make sense to do a vertical segmentation at this point in the company?

So really looking at all of these from where the market’s going and where the company wants to invest is important, instead of just hyper segmenting.

Understanding the buying process by segment

Here's where the magic happens. If you have the luxury, you go do your buyer persona, your segmentation for each segment, and the buyer persona analysis.

Obviously, it's going to be different with the buying patterns. You especially see that in the example of low market and high market. People go online and buy stuff versus highly sophisticated sales with multiple committees making decisions.

So really, understanding the buying process by segment is going to be that magic. It's going to be complex. But I think that's the way where you bring the two together.

So with that, I'm going to wrap it up and say, let's not overthink it. Just start, keep it real, and make it actionable.