Creating buyer personas: ABM vs inbound

Creating buyer personas: ABM vs inbound

A persona is another word for typical contact. That is, the person who buys stuff from you at some point or is involved in the buying process. Personas commonly describe the typical characteristics of typical people involved in buying things from you. It’s traditional demographics blended with more interesting stuff like their goals, challenges and where they go to consume media.

When you start looking at creating buyer personas in the context of Inbound Marketing and Account Based Marketing (ABM) there are some pretty stark differences. Many organisations often use the combination of Inbound and ABM as an integrated lead generation and business development strategy, so it’s important to understand these differences. It can be all too easy to apply a one size fits all approach to persona development. This can significantly affect the outcomes that come from your marketing. And let’s face it, there’s nothing worse than marketing that doesn’t deliver results!


Creating buyer personas for Inbound

Creating buyer personas for Inbound Marketing is natively generalised. It can be tempting to think about specific contacts that you know, but this is a common pitfall of many going down this route. The trick is to try and think how to make your persona fit as many of the contacts in the market as possible. So naming your persona after Bob who wrote a case study for you last year may end up taking you down the path of speaking directly to Bob’s needs, but not the other thousands of people in the market that might want to buy what you sell.

They can be put together using a variety of different techniques, including:

  • Form captures on your website – by putting fields on your website, you can bring in some of the persona information directly into your CRM system (just make sure you do the right amount of fields – too many and people will be put off).
  • Researching a small selection of customers on Google – yes it means some manual searching on Google, but you can get a pretty good picture about people with a healthy dose of online detective work.
  • Interviewing customers on the phone or using a simple online form (we like Typeform as it looks really cool). The phone is great as it enables you to get a much deeper insight into what makes these people tick in a way that’s very difficult without the very human experience of an actual conversation. On the flipside, it can be time consuming. One way to reduce the burden is to run an online version at the same time. You can deduce down the themes from the online survey then augment that with the conversations you had during the phone interviews. A nice balanced way of getting the job done.
  • Ask other departments – good sales and delivery people will know more than anyone else in the organisation. They spend their entire day chatting to and visiting customer!


Then what?

With Inbound it’s all about using those personas to then guide everything that you do. It usually follows this sort of process:

  1. Keyword research: What are the questions these personas may have regarding their goals, challenges, company or interests?
  2. Content planning: What content could we plan that speaks to these questions and provides enough value to the personas to make them want to visit our website?
  3. Calls to Action: What would be something we could give of value to these personas to encourage them to become a contact on our database? How do we help them consider the range of solutions available that may help answer their problem (e.g.  webinar, white paper, report etc)?
  4. Nurture: How can we help the persona to understand the value behind my company’s offer vs the competition.

As you can see, there is an overwhelming benefit to being as broad as possible. That;s where the scale will come from and ultimately that’s what Inbound Marketing is all about.


ABM is a different kettle of fish

Really different. Instead of being generic like Inbound personas, ABM personas are much more specific. The more you can identify about the specific nature of the contacts within an account, the better your chance of selling to that particular account. Because the number of organisation’s you’re managing is small by design, it makes it completely manageable.

Within ABM, because people get hung up with the phrase Account Based Marketing, persona development is often an under appreciated stage of the process. This is a huge mistake! Behind every account is people. Yes the organisation provides the vision, the culture and the platform but the day to day humanity of lived existence means that decisions are made by people. They have their own specific traits, quirks and passions. The more you can understand the dynamics behind the people within an organisation the richer the picture you get of the organisations that employ them. With ABM, you only target organisations that you think should be a good fit for you. Hence, it only follows you need to make it your business to ensure there’s a good fit between your organisation and these ABM personas too.

They are often constructed using a combination of the following tactics:

  • Business and lead intelligence – many ABM vendors offer technology to enable a rich picture of the key contacts within the organisation to be developed. This removes the need for so much desk-based research on Google, which is an often cited criticism of historic ABM practice that operated without a technology platform underneath it.
  • Existing CRM data – this will hugely depend on how well your organisation manages its data and what insights you know already. If you’re an organisation that already does Inbound and you’ve recently introduced ABM to your lead gen and biz dev efforts, then this will be a great way to build a full picture. If you’re one of the large percentage of organisations that treats CRM like a dumping ground from the 90s then – best of luck
  • Sales resource – Sales needs to be very hands on in helping to develop a target list for ABM. But if you’ve got sales resource sitting round the table helping to define the account list, you might as well get as much out of them regarding the contacts that they know about within the organisation while you’re at it.


Then what?

With ABM, it’s all about then using this to shape:

  1. Ad campaigns – the individual messages that you believe each the personas within this account will respond to.
  2. Social – the channels used to target to reach the right personas and the tone of voice used by the persona.
  3. Calls to Actions – the specific call to action of personas within target accounts.
  4. Events – the events that they hold or will be attending. This can lead to a very defined and measurable events strategy that is a key part of many organisation’s offline ABM efforts.
  5. Closing – the things that can be done to help the persona and consequently the account to understand the value behind my company’s offer vs the competition.

With ABM, it’s critical to remember that the personas within each account should deliberately be treated very differently. Time should be taken to carefully think through how to attract, convert and delight each account.


Different strokes

As you can see, the process for creating buyer personas is strikingly different across both of these lead gen and business development approaches. Keeping in mind the alternative ways to go about getting the information you need to develop your personas, and the varying ways in which this information is used, is fundamental to making the marketing you do matter.