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July 1, 2015

Rethinking Your Buyer Persona: Who is the Real Decision-Maker?

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It’s commonly known that buyer personas are essential to any successful inbound marketing strategy. But, in the B2B industry there have been some interesting (and even seismic) shifts in the last two years, causing the need for the buyer personas you created even just six months ago to be re-evaluated and possibly redone. If your B2B inbound marketing strategy has not been as effective as you like, this could be the reason why.

The fact that 89% of B2B researchers are searching online for solutions is not groundbreaking news. What is newsworthy is who these investigators really are in 2015.

The Real Buyer Persona Is The Online Researcher

A common misconception by many B2B marketers is that they should target the final decision makers, or C-suite executives.

When identifying buyer personas, it is crucial to look not just at the top of the funnel, to the financial decision maker who will be saying yes to or approving the contract; but to the layers of influencers along the lead funnel, all of those involved in the buying or decision making process from the very beginning of the research and prospecting phase. Many companies make the mistake of identifying their buyers as only those at the top of the food chain. But is the CEO or CFO the actual person searching Google for solutions? The CEO may identify the challenge, but the research phase is most often someone else’s responsibility.

The reality is that a many of the oldest Millennials (those born from the early 1980s to early 2000s) are in their early 30s, and are now moving up in their careers, playing a bigger part in purchasing decisions. And, of course, while there are some very well-known C-Level Millennials at some of the biggest tech companies, the majority of top B2B executives are Gen X’ers and Boomers.

Just as the entire marketing industry has dramatically shifted in the last few years, so have those sitting in the decision making seat, and even more important to inbound marketers, the researcher’s seat.

The Millennial B2B Buyer

A study, The Changing Face of B2B Marketing, published in March 2015 by Google and Millward Brown Digital, revealed some interesting insights to which every B2B marketer must pay attention.

New Reality: Almost Half of all B2B Researchers are Millennials

Google noted that even just a few years ago, in 2012, the age demographics of B2B buyers were fairly evenly spread across generations. In 2014, that shifted by 70% with almost half of all B2B researchers falling into the 18-34-year-old category.

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It’s no surprise that this age group automatically turns to digital channels for any information they might need, personally or professionally. Most Millennials hardly remember a world without the internet and technology as we know it, the majority having used email, search engines and cell phones for most of their lives (and certainly all of their professional careers). It’s how they are naturally inclined to think and act.

New Reality: Non C-Suite Researchers Influence B2B Purchase Decisions

Historically, B2B strategies have focused primarily on C-level executives, which is not as impactful today when connecting with B2B influencers and researchers. The Google study revealed, that while 64% of the C-suite have final say, so do 24% of non-C-level B2B professionals, and 81% of the non-C-suite has a say in purchase decisions.

So, if your B2B company is focused on marketing only to the CEOs and CFOs of the world, you’re likely missing a huge opportunity to be found by the most influential researchers who are seeking you out.

In her book Buyer Personas, Adele Revella, Founder of the Buyer Persona Institute, also discusses this very important topic. She reminds us that the top level executives are not likely involved in the details of how solutions were first discovered, evaluated and decided upon, and therefore are not the primary targets for buyer persona interviews in the development phase. Revella says:

The more senior the buyer, the less likely that person will be to be able to provide important details about how the final outcome came to pass. Add this to the difficulty of scheduling any extended time with the senor C-Suite level executives, and you can see why we don’t often recommend that you interview the economic buyer.”

What Does It All Mean?

Businesses must have a deep understanding of their audience to create the right content for them, at the right time. B2B researchers and influencers are now proven to be much younger than previously thought, so you have to make sure you are giving them the content they want, where and when they need it.

Still stuck in the process of creating the right buyer personas? Download SPROUT Content's free guide to developing and using buyer personas to help fill your lead funnel with full, clear and helpful content that’s for the right people. 

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