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B2B  •  Database  •  Digital Marketing Campaign  •  Sales

Personas: The Basis for Data-based Customer Segmentation

Whether it’s a global consultancy or a local small business, everyone seems to be talking about the trending topics of digitisation and automation. Future visions and possibilities are numerous and seem unlimited. Data streams already determine and optimise our behaviour in many areas – at least that’s how it seems at first glance – and it is making our lives easier. The influence of data has also become a central topic in the B2B environment, especially in order to better understand different types of customers and their needs.

  • Should B2B companies implement data collection and analysis solutions as soon as possible to get on the bandwagon?

That depends on what the current level of digitisation is and what solutions are already being used in the company. A new system is not always needed to meet the needs of digitisation. Many B2B companies rather lack the understanding of which data points should be the focus of marketing and sales activities. 

To create clarity about which data should really be actively used in campaigns and use cases, companies often conduct a persona analysis. The analysis can be used as a qualitative basis for further, quantitative investigations. This article explains what such a project can look like and what is important in the process.

Data Collection for Customer Analysis

Data is relevant in many areas of a company, but this article will focus mainly on those areas that are in direct contact with customers: Sales and Marketing. Both departments need a good understanding of the customer and their needs.

Collecting new data for customer analysis should not be the first step. Instead, it is advisable to first compile existing information and understand its relevance. A time-limited, cross-functional and cross-competence discovery phase at the beginning of a project is recommended to bring together all key stakeholders, gather information, define goals, and plan the necessary next steps.

A major challenge here is that much of the insight and experience about the customer base is considered tacit knowledge, meaning that it exists only in the minds of employees and in most cases has not yet been written down. In order to expose these experiences, the format that helps is the personal conversation or the discussion in the group. Relevant discussion partners are all those who are in daily contact with customers – sales and customer service – or in the best case even the customers themselves. 

The goal of these conversations is to collect information that makes the customer “tangible” and ultimately allows the information to be summarised into general personas. Then, the personas can be translated into data points. In the process, each persona has some critical characteristics that allow us to assign customers to a specific persona category. Only when the persona analysis is completed and critical data categories are defined, the collection of new data becomes relevant. 

What is a Buyer Persona?

A (buyer) persona is a fictitious person profile that attempts to make typical target customer segments more understandable and tangible through a detailed description. Instead of talking about a “very digital” customer segment, for example, this segment is represented by a fictitious person and given a name. The persona is almost like the main character from a novel, as it is endowed with characteristics and criteria. Depending on the product or service, the profile can include demographic, personal, as well as professional aspects. The goals and needs of this “main character” are a central component.

In the future, we will no longer be talking about “digital customers” but, for example, about Darwin, 25-30 years old, single, living in a shared apartment in a big city, his cell phone always at hand and therefore “digital-first. He works as a buyer and obtains quotes from service providers. He prefers fast decision-making processes with clearly structured data and can be reached by e-mail at any time. Face-to-face meetings are a waste of time for him. 

This is what, in a nutshell, – a buyer persona profile might look like. This knowledge helps to align communication for the customer and his interests and preferences.

Can every single customer actually be assigned to such a profile? Probably not, because we humans are too individual for that. However, personas can map a large percentage of customers relatively accurately and at least highlight the significant differences. Creating a persona is comparable to formulating a research hypothesis that must be substantiated by data and analyses.

B2B Buying Persona

Since customers differ in their behaviour, there is a different number of buyer personas depending on the product or service, which can be distinguished on the one hand by demographics (e.g., age, marital status), and on the other hand by their needs, goals, areas of interest, and challenges. In the B2B sector, another important criterion comes into play with the role or position in the company and the associated decision-making responsibility. This is usually highly relevant, as persona profiles differ along the buying process and can usually be broken down into six to seven types.

A common misconception in sales teams is that they think they already know the customer and all decisions and buying processes in full from experience, but this is rarely the case in practice. However, if the core personas along the buying process are known and understood, they can be addressed individually and the buying cycle can be accelerated significantly.

For example, information relevant to purchasing (price list) may be of secondary interest to the technical decision-maker. Targeted communication is crucial here.

So When Does Data Come Into Play?

After the qualitative findings from interviews and workshops have been translated into buyer personas, the personas as such already offer added value. The next step is to convert the personas into data points. From the persona description “25-30 years old” we could accordingly derive the data point “Age group by year of birth” or “Generation Y”. Behavioural data points such as preferred communication channels or online behaviour are also interesting.

Real customer data can validate personas, enrich them, and approximate the customer data sets from the databases to persona profiles. The personas are therefore not necessarily finalised after the qualitative interviews but can be further verified and adapted. Technical solutions offer the possibility for tracking and analysis of the data points and pave the way to a data-driven business model. 

For the earlier example persona “Darwin”, we can now define the critical data points to track customers similar to him. So a customer who is young lives in a big city, and uses digital media (e.g., app, social media) with above-average frequency could likewise be assigned to the persona “Darwin.” If we also know that he is a buyer, we can adapt to his needs and limit communication to topics relevant to buyers.

Personas and Data Go Hand in Hand

In summary, digital solutions make sense to understand customers and better meet their needs. For this purpose, customer data should be reviewed qualitatively as well as quantitatively to promote a customer-centric focus. Persona profiling can be an optimal first step to (re)align digital solutions or identify missing data points. This analysis can bring to mind which customer types are currently being served and how they can be identified in the company’s own databases. Such preliminary work can already have a direct impact on the efficiency of the marketing budget by creating the basis for quantitative optimisations such as A/B tests, progressive profiling, or click tests.


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Petra Gruber

Senior Transformation Consultant