3 B2B Buyer Behavior Principles: Segmentation, Personas, and Profiling

Business-to-business marketers have long struggled to reach decision makers and measure marketing results. Over 50% of the almost 570 respondents to my 2006 Forrester survey put these two issues at the top of their list of marketing challenges. It’s not branding, it’s not budget, it’s not competitive threats.  Finding the right prospects to engage, and demonstrating that marketing had an impact on this process, is what keeps B2B marketers awake at night.

I think B2B marketers, especially those in high tech firms, struggle because they don’t spend enough time understanding who their best customers are and what distinguishes those customers from the rest. Knowing your customers takes discipline – it’s simply not about conducting satisfaction surveys or publishing customer success stories.  B2B marketers need to analyze business buyer behavior and using the findings to inform their go-to-market approach. It’s about knowing and managing your Buyer’s Journey.

Tonight, I had the wonderful opportunity to share my insights and perspective with Professor Ravi Shanmugam’s Marketing 551: Marketing Analysis and Decision Making class at Santa Clara University’s Leavey School of Business. We talked about the fundamentals of business buyer behavior and how to “get to know” your audience. If you would like to see the slides, I put them on Slideshare.

At Xerox Services, we believe in customer segmentation, profiling, and analytics. We deliver professional managed print services as multi-year contracts worth several millions of dollars.  Not your typical corporate purchase: there are a select number of organizations who need (and can afford) what we offer. But the business value is clear: we save our clients more than they spend.  This means that account identification and profiling is very important since we orient around a sales-centric go-to-market model.

From an industry marketing perspective, we also know that “knowing” who your buyer is — what are the key issues that concern him/her and how Xerox Services can help — is also crucial to making those sales interactions meaningful and to building a lasting relationship. Drawing from this experience, I shared with the Marketing 551 class, the following principles behind B2B buyer behavior and analytics:

1) Segmentation.  Critical to helping marketing to focus on “who” in the market you want to engage with your messaging and offers. Based on your market definition, segmentation shows you where the best market opportunity for your products and services will be.

2) Personas. Once you know “who” to target, personas help you understand “what to say” to them. As a representation of a real market group (i.e. segment), personas help marketers crystallize their message and speak in the voice of the customer, not market-speak. The best marketers create personas based on attributes that are relevant to purchase decision-making — not on generalities like industry, buying role (decision maker, influencer, etc.), or functional area.

3) Profiling. While most marketers are very familiar with firmographic information, and how to use it, many have yet to understand the importance of profiling behavior. One example of behaviorial analytics is Forrester’s Social Technographics, which describes a buyer’s propensity to engage in online, social behavior.  In this always-connected world, business buyers are becoming more willing to take purchase cues from peers and “knowledgeable experts” than traditional, company-lead media and messages.

I’ve asked the class to share their reactions to what I presented by commenting on this blog post.  By and large, these students are employed full-time at top Silicon Valley firms. They also tend to have technical/engineering backgrounds or current responsibilities. Take a look at the comments to see whether my views resonated with these future MBA graduates from my alma mater.

42 Responses to “3 B2B Buyer Behavior Principles: Segmentation, Personas, and Profiling”

  1. To Choose Where You Play in the Market: Know Your Buyers Well « B2B Marketing POSTs by Laura Ramos Says:

    [...] Segmentation, personas, and behavior profiling continue to be the tools that good marketers use to understand how and communicate why buyers purchase from technology suppliers. Increasingly, these tools also help marketing executives determine where to head in a strategic direction (e.g.  grow current solutions versus invest in new ones), define how an organization uniquely creates value and plan how – through market execution – to deliver that value to customers. [...]

  2. Carl F Zachrisson Says:

    Thank you for the presentation the other night. How is technology used to aide B2B?

  3. Chris Kim Says:

    Hi, Laura.

    I was surprised to see your background. You got B.S. degree of Mechanical Engineering and then got into MBA program which is exactly same pattern that I am taking right now. I learned so much from your lectures. I wish you can talk more about what is actually going on marketing strategies that you are doing right now. Not the concept or background knowledge. I would like to know more about what happened to yesterday meeting at the company. That would give me or people, who do not have any marketing experience, some idea or feeling what people in marketing department go through. Sum it up, you gave us very insightful knowledge of marketing. Thank you so much for your time. ^^

  4. Exploring Buyer Behavior With Santa Clara University MBA Students « B2B Marketing POSTs by Laura Ramos Says:

    [...] As I did in October, I asked the class to share their reactions to what I presented by commenting on this blog post.  (Professor Shanmugam offered extra credit if they complied with this request!) Compared to the last cohort, these students appeared to me to have more experience with sales and marketing. A couple mentioned that they currently work in sales. They asked great questions about whether segmentation applies in account-based sales management (it does!) and what I see as the key differences between the role of the CMO and the CSO (Chief Sales Officer) in revenue generation.  Please read the comments to see whether my views resonated with these future MBA graduates and how my talk reflected their own experiences. [...]

  5. The Internet, Social Media, and the Santa Clara University MBA Program « B2B Marketing POSTs by Laura Ramos Says:

    [...] Forecast in 1993. I also guest lecture on occasion for both the undergraduate Communications and graduate B2B Marketing classes. Yet, I seem to have failed to make my connection with this great institution of higher [...]

  6. Sarbjeet Singh Sokhi Says:

    Hi Laura
    Thank you for taking the time to speak to us about B2B methods and using personal selling for marketing the product. Your class provided us with good insight.
    Thanks Sokhi

  7. Jennifer Sheehan Says:

    Thanks for taking the time to speak to our class. I really appreciated your insights on B2B marketing. I enjoyed the class discussion and learned a lot from your lecture.

  8. Rupesh Says:

    Hi Laura,
    it was a very informative session and I get to know some new aspects of B2B marketing. Especially about the “Persona”. You are very much correct about the importance and challenges we face.

    As I have asked during the session, I want to know more about the competition analysis. How Xerox manage to get the data and use the same to promote their product line?
    I know that it is hard to get the details about what competition exactly doing In terms of development, launching and understanding the buyer’s behavior to place the product in a given segment, but it would be interesting to know how Xerox manages to capture the TAM.

    The other question I have is, “how to close the gap between the decision maker and the actual user?” I am in the hardware sales and marketing industry. My company is designing and manufacturing high ended environmental stress printed circuit boards. We are dealing with almost all big semiconductor companies like, Freescale, Texas Instruments, Xilinx etc. The actual user or the originator may be a project manager or product engineer or a group. Most of the interaction happens there. But the decision makers are completely different when budgeting comes in to play. Our product is highly customized and we are in the niche market, but again, it is very difficult to communicate and influence the buyers’ group with all good stuff we have done for the product group.

    In my opinion, the buyers fall in to the B2B group, while the individuals are B2C. What is a good way to have a solid complimentary action, between these two internal groups to capture maximum share of the available market with in a company or in that segment?

  9. Mike Hovsepian Says:

    Thanks for taking time out to present to us an overview of B2B marketing, never would have imagined that the CMO has a shorter tenure than a CEO. I would be curious to know how the sales executives (VP) turnover would be. simply put, if the CMO is turning over at a high rate could one assume the Sales leadership will turn as well since it was pointed out that the marketing success endpoint is increased sales, retention of clients etc….

  10. Navin Dhiman Says:

    Hi Laura, Thanks for spending time with our class and for your valuable insights on B2B marketing.
    I particularly found the discussion around Personas very interesting. In my experience I have seen some of the successful sales people already doing this to some extent where they modify their value proposition and discussions depending upon the profile of the person/decision maker they are interacting with. And with experience they actually build and create these personas in their mind making themselves more efficient however making the process highly person dependent. The fact that the entire process of designing and using personas can be done at the org level helps in providing valuable tools for the Sales and Marketing teams as well as for the company.

  11. B2B marketers struggle to reach decision makers and measure marketing results | The Top Line Says:

    [...] a recent post, Laura Ramos observed that business-to-business marketers have long struggled to reach decision [...]

  12. Laura Ramos Says:

    We haven’t been through a cycle AND realized it was the wrong approach. We realize that parts of the approach may be “off target”– and we use the review process to change strategy and tune our approach in those areas. There are points where we measure every month and every quarter informally. The annual planning is the only part that is formalized. Does that help?

  13. Laura Ramos Says:

    Doreen, thanks for the comment. I think Financial Services is an interesting industry. This industry will absolutely need to tap into social media to meet the needs of consumer. But when it comes to financial markets, investment, and equity work with large corporations — because of the great degree of regulation here — I think it will take much longer before “trusted communites” form online that attract the B2B banking audience.

  14. Laura Ramos Says:

    Haley, non-profit marketing is not an area with which I have any experience. I would say that non-profit has the unique challenge of needing to build brand like a consumer product but without the money to spend on the advertising and awareness. However, you have the power of your volunteers. I would look for ways, online, to get that community involved in spreading the word and demonstrating the unique work your non-profit does.

  15. Laura Ramos Says:

    Steve, thanks for the questions. Two quick replies:

    1) At Forrester, I helped advise marketers from the CMO of very large firms on down about B2B marketing best practices. I talked and wrote about trends in the marketing mix and budgets, how to integrate different marketing tactics (online and physical) successfully, how to generate demand, manage and develop it, measure marketing results, and social media. However, I didn’t “do” any marketing for Forrester. My desire to get back into the practice, and not just advising, is what lead me to Xerox.

    2) Yes, you would treat them differently mainly because the number of people — and interests — involved in low-involvement purchasing is many fewer. Brand and impulse purchase decisions are much more important in B2C/low involvement purchases.

  16. Steve Napier Says:

    Hi Laura,

    Thanks so much for coming to speak to our class. It was a very interesting and informative presentation.

    I have a few thoughts I would appreciate your comment on:

    1. What is the biggest difference in your marketing approach from your previous work at Forrester to your current work with Xerox?

    2. Our conversations have focused more on high involvement purchases. Would low involvement purchases be treated differently when marketing these products to businesses?

    Thanks!
    Steve

  17. Christine Corkran Says:

    Hi Laura -

    Thanks for taking the time to come a visit us. I must reiterate others comments in saying that the persona development process and the cost associated with it was incredible interesting. In addition, I quite enjoyed the slide that looked at different levels of comfort in managing money. It was an interesting piece to pick out and examine.

  18. Vinima Aggarwal Says:

    Hi Laura, Thank you for sharing the B2B marketing techniques. It was very valuable to hear what you had to say from your vast experience. I never knew that you could apply social-media in B2B marketing situations. To me, social-media was applicable to B2C situations. I also liked the concept of personas and profiling. Overall a very interesting class. Vinima

  19. Haley Gallant Says:

    Hi Laura,
    Thanks for taking the time to present to our class. It was nice to know that all these processes we are learning are used directly in the work force.
    I was wondering if the B2B or B2C marketing differs any for non-profits? I work for a small company that is basically run by volunteers, so we don’t have the time or money to do this in depth research you say is important. Are there some simple steps that a non-profit could take to improve their SEO and customer base without spending too much time or money?

  20. Ravi Shanmugam Says:

    I would also like to add to Laura’s comments on how it will become easier to centralize health care records electronically – we’re actually already seeing this in other countries. I just finished reading a really interesting book (“The Healing of America” by T. R. Reid) that compares the U.S. health care system to others. The author points out that some European patients carry electronic cards with an encrypted chip containing their entire medical histories and insurance information – it’s known as the “carte vitale” (card of life) in France and the “Gesundheitskarte” (digital health card) in Germany. Apparently this greatly simplifies the billing process and reduces inefficiency in the system.

    It’s interesting stuff, and would greatly change buyer behavior in the health care industry if it were adopted here.

  21. Ravi Shanmugam Says:

    In response to Amreen’s comment, it’s not necessarily true that B2C companies don’t use the “persona” and “profiling” method…in fact, what a lot of these companies do might be similar in varying degrees to what Laura described. It’s just that these personas will contain different information, not including info such as the buyer’s role in an organization, how that organization makes decisions, and who it competes with. A B2C persona might also contain some info not found in a B2B persona, such as how the consumer engages with aspects of a product like its image, trendiness, etc. – beyond just its functionality.

    In general, though, B2B decision-making is usually more complex than its B2C counterpart. Thanks again to Laura for helping us navigate through it!

  22. Doreen Oteng Says:

    Thanks Laura for the insightful presentation. It seems most industries are utilizing social media as their mode of communication. Do you think bankers or the financial industry will tap into this new age and if so, what are the trend analyses? Thanks Laura.

  23. Horia Says:

    Laura,

    I apologize for not re-rereading my post, but here are the revised questions:

    How was this process defined and how does Xerox manage the entire Analytics to Action cycle? You did mention it takes about a year for the cycle to complete, am I correct? If so, has there been any situation where you have gone through the whole cycle and realized it was not the right approach for the product or service? I am trying to understand the effectiveness of such process/cycle because I have seen it done at other companies as well.

    Best Regards,

    -Horia

  24. Ashwini Patil Says:

    Hi Laura,
    Thank you for sharing your insights. I can now better appreciate the reality of the complex process, time and costs involved in the segmentation and profiling steps. I also got a closer look at the possible issues a b2b marketer grapples with on a daily basis – proving their business value within their organization, given the challenges of measuring marketing results.

    On the very interesting paper debate – I agree paper will continue to be important. Personally, I prefer writing my journal and to-do lists, and could not really move to an e-journal ! But, recently when we had to submit over 1000 pages of company tax documents to INS, it is obvious there is a better, less wasteful way! It would be great if companies like Xerox lead the way in shortening the time to minimize paper use (profitably of course :) towards a sustainable planet.
    Thanks again!

  25. Laura Ramos Says:

    Al, thanks for the comment. Unlike engineering or IT projects, there really is no beginning or end to marketing strategy. You put strategy in place, you execute, you measure how you are doing (are you reaching the right audience? are you influencing/growing the pipeline?) and you make adjustments. The important aspects are whether the activities you choose to pursue can have a measureable impact on the business. What you need to track/measure depends highly on the nature of your business, so there isn’t one answer that fits all.

  26. Laura Ramos Says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment Barbara. Drop me a note at laura.ramos@xerox.com when your revisions are complete.

  27. Laura Ramos Says:

    Amreen, the main difference is that B2B purchase decision making always involves a team of stakeholders – typically with the IT and Line of Business executive leading it. B2C decisions are made by individuals or couples. You see very little group decision making in B2C. This is what makes it so difficult to target “the right buyer” in B2B — there is always more than one and those involved all have different agendas.

  28. Laura Ramos Says:

    Horia, we have a team of people within the Xerox Services group who work on this exclusively. My direct manager, Julie Meyers, VP of Strategy, Marketing and Client Experience, started the concept over 3 years ago and we are still in the process of refining it. We use a combination of Web and standard Microsoft tools as the interface. Nothing fancy, but we are moving along.

  29. Laura Ramos Says:

    Gabriella, thank you commenting. I think the Healthcare industry will only benefit from going electronic. With Internet/cloud computing, it will become easier, and more accepted, to centralize records virtually, rather than deal with multiple histories. The sharing of diagnostic information — xrays, test results, etc. — will be another key area. Taken all together, I see this as a primary way to modernize medical care and stop the spiraling costs. The main barriers will be patient/provider/payer adoption and security/privacy.

  30. Gabriela Tchaga Says:

    Laura,

    Thank you very much for taking time out of your busy day to give us some insight on B2B marketing. The lecture was very interesting and informative. I always enjoy seeing the link between what we learn in class and how it relates to what marketing professionals are doing in their companies. It was very interesting to hear that referrals/word of mouth is still a primary way to market. I work in the medical/dental private practice world and one thing I tell my doctors that works best to generate patients in the office is to market through referrals. I help them create referral programs that reward their patients for promoting the practice to their friends and co-workers.

    I do agree with Peter’s comment on the question I asked you during your lecture about many companies going paperless. Paperless options are starting to become more popular in the medical/dental field. Many of my offices are going “digital” with xrays and practice management software that does it all (even electronic signatures). Many insurance companies even prefer/recommend that claims should be sent electronically. It would be intersting to do some research on paperless vs. paper preferences in the medical field.

    Thank you,

    Gabriela Tchaga

  31. Horia Grosu Says:

    Laura,

    Great lecture and thank you for taking the time to come in! One slide in particular that captured my interest was the Analytics to Action at Xerox. How was it define this process and how does Xerox manage the entire analytics to action cycle?

    Thanks again.

  32. Amreen Gill Says:

    Hi Laura! It was great having someone with a huge amount of experience in B2B marketing tell us about the whole process of how companies reach their target customer. However, I have one question to ask. How does B2B marketing differ from B2C marketing in case of high-involvement products?Because it looked like the buyer-decision process is pretty much the same. I am thinking that if they do not differ much, why do companies not use similar strategies to target customers? Like the concept of personas and profiling etc…May be I am missing something here. Please enlighten me :)

  33. Alejandro García Says:

    I liked listening how the concepts we are learning in class are applied to B2B marketing scenarios. Also, the Social Technographics seems interesting and I am convinced it will become even more relevant as decision-makers (and people in general) engage more with the online and social media world. Laura, thanks for being a guess speaker for our class, and I hope you come back soon. :-)

  34. Barbara Bix Says:

    Hi Laura,
    Your post is so timely. I’ve been struggling with articulating the concepts that you’ve relayed so fluently as I revise my website.

    Like you, I’ve found that much of what B2B marketers struggle with is pinpointing their most promising prospects, and then understanding what’s most important to them. Another challenge is understanding who all is involved in the buying decision and what each needs to recommend the purchase.

    All of these deep market insights are prerequisites to giving prospects what they need–the way they need it–to keep the buying process moving. Yet, so few companies do it well.

    I think one reason is that B2B marketers haven’t had access to a lot of behavioral data from which they can draw inferences (until recently).

    I think the other reason is that, at least in many high tech companies, no one has time to get the deep insights into prospects’ needs that it takes to drive sales. This is changing some with the advent of web analytics as it provides some behavioral data–but there’s still a need for customer research to get at the who and why.

    The product managers are pressured to get a product to market. The product marketing managers are also responsible for product-related communications and sales support, and the marketing research is often outsourced.

    Consequently, strategy gives way to tactics–because, as you note, marketers seek to meet colleagues’ needs for tangible lead generation programs. Too often, companies feel they know enough to “just get something out” and miss the mark.

    I’m continuing to crystallize the articulation of the missing pieces. Nevertheless, I’ll be posting revised text soon, and would appreciate any insights you care to offer for sharpening the message.

    All the best,

    Barbara

  35. Al Muthuraman Says:

    Hi Laura! Thanks for the very informative lecture, as it gave real-world examples of what we had been studying. I did have a question about the overall process.

    You mentioned that it can take up to one year to plan and then implement the marketing strategy. At what point do you calculate your return on investment? Is it possible to do this? If so, what are some of the important aspects that should be considered?

  36. Jane O. Says:

    I enjoyed the detail that you went in to about personas. I had seen them used, but had not realized how much work went in to creating useful ones!

  37. Melody Han Says:

    Hi Laura! I thought your lecture on B2B marketing was very interesting and eye-opening. I never thought about creating “personas” when trying to determine who your buyer will be in B2B marketing, but now it makes sense and I understand why it’s useful. You touched on a lot of the material the professor has been teaching us, which is great because I was able to relate it to what we’ve been learning in class. Thank you and I hope you visit us again!

  38. Laura Ramos Says:

    Peter, thank you so much for the thoughtful comment. You bring up an excellent point about paper. Regardless of my Xerox bias, I do think it will take a few generations before we see the tipping point from paper as the preferred business medium to electronic. Email certainly started us down this path — but while it significantly increased the amount of information flowing through businesses, email did little to impact the volume of paper produced. Even as younger, more tech savvy, generations enter the workforce and climb the corporate ladder, their preference for electronic interfaces does not mean that the mountains of paper-based documentation will disappear overnight. For example, a few select industries must maintain paper records for 30 to 100 years due to regulatory reasons (for the life of the product — which for heavy industrials, construction, etc. can be a loooong time). Bottomline, I think we agree on the outcome, just not the timeline. But I love the debate! Would be interested in other perspectives from the class.

  39. Heather Link Says:

    It was great having you come to our class yesterday! I’m glad I got to hear about your first-hand experience with B2B marketing, which is something I did not previously know much about. The one thing I found most interesting about your lecture was that the number one worry of B2B marketers is that they are not reaching decision-makers. Then, directly following that you said many marketers have lost sight of who their consumers actually are and the impact marketing has on buyers. It seems like a huge disconnect between what marketers know they need to do (reach decision makers) and what they actually do (get caught on execution treadmill). It was very interesting to me, but I can also understand how this happens.

  40. Amy Schweng Says:

    Thanks for taking the time to speak to our class. It was very informative to hear your thoughts and stories from your work experience. It helps me to see how the theory actually plays out in developing strategies for the real word. I found the discussion on medical providers especially interesting as it revealed that what appears to be a large market may not be when you actually look at the needs/profile of the buyer. Thanks again!

  41. Peter Felton Says:

    I thought that the lecture was great! I thought that it really tied in concepts from the class and really showed how a company puts those concepts to use.

    I do disagree though with the comment that was made about ‘paper never becoming obsolete.’ I know a major part of business for Xerox deals with paper, but I do believe that paper will one day become, for the most part, obsolete. I base this on the fact that in a lot of classes people are switching to taking notes on their laptops and email is now a lot of times preferred over mail because of the quickness of it. I also believe there is an element of environmentalism (saving trees specifically) that has many people deciding to use their computer as opposed to paper. It is also the cheaper option in most cases.
    I do understand the statement that a computer screen is not like paper, and I actually prefer reading something on paper than on a computer screen. That being said this blog is shows the advantages of reading and writing on the computer: it’s quick (in that it allows me to read what has been written immediately) and it allows people to interact. And, I find myself reading more material online instead of taking the time to print it out.
    I believe that for the above reasons and more that paper, as a practical use, will become more obsolete in the years.

    Again, the lecture was great, and I thought that it was thought provoking especially for a young MBA student about to enter the workforce. I just thought that I would write my thoughts on the “paper” topic as it really stood out for me in the lecture.

  42. Dave Whittum Says:

    Hi Laura! Very educational to hear about B2B, first-hand perspectives particularly. The slides providing the vignette on persona development and the post-its were intriguing.


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