All great buyer personas are alike; each bad buyer persona is bad in its own way.
Sound familiar? Well, it’s not exactly how Leo Tolstoy began his classic novel, Anna Karenina, but if he’d been a marketer, we’d bet at least a dollar that he would have.
And what is that common ingredient that makes all great buyer personas alike?
With robust, accurate data, your buyer personas go from guesswork and suppositions to precise tools that will guide your marketing strategy and sales enablement process.
One of the main reasons people take shortcuts on buyer personas is because the data is often too difficult to get in a timely or cost-effective way, requiring tons of hands-on research and countless customer interviews. Get this: Only 42 percent of B2B content marketers actually research their audience by talking to their customers.
Without this solid research, these “buyer personas” can end up being some fancy guesswork about what people might think or what their pain-points might be. While easier, this won’t get you that precise decision-guiding tool we’re going for.
Maybe you’re in the other camp, and you’re doing your due diligence on your buyer personas, but you want to get as much data as you can and refine your personas. Either way, you’ve come to the right place.
“A community reveals more information around customers’ actual behaviors, which you normally can’t get. Understanding what customers’ day-to-day looks like, why they need help, what they need help with, and what they’re actually saying to each other is extremely valuable for a marketing team who is looking to understand their prospects and customers. Often, this generates insight around their needs, but also drives collaboration and generates new ideas that helps everyone.” – Jessica Leitsch, Community Manager, Higher Logic
Before we get to the 7 ways you can optimize the community data you collect, let’s get more in depth into what kind of data your community creates.
Bring the Data to You
With a customer engagement platform like online community, you can easily collect the data you need to build out or refine your buyer personas.
Because engagement is the goal, community runs by inviting people to share their thoughts and data, from filling out a member profile, to participating in expert AMA (Ask Me Anything) sessions. The platform is sitting there, generating data, and waiting for you to harvest it.
Also, your community is a prime place to gather behavioral data. Customers and prospects who’ve joined your community create both behavioral and offered data that you can use to make your user personas more substantial.
For example, if your fast food retail customers consistently engage on a thread about how to make cheeseburgers a healthier option, you have a clue this might be a pain point prospects are facing, too.
Pro tip: Open some, or all, of your community up to prospects. If your community allows prospects to join, you’ll gain another valuable source of data. What discussion threads are your prospects participating in? Are there topics of interest that you wouldn’t have expected? Plus, it can give them a taste of your commitment to customer success.
Am I making this sound too easy? It is easy, but not instantaneous: you do have to do a little bit of work in order to get the data you want.
1. Talk to Your Community Manager
If you have a community manager, they can be an invaluable resource. They’ve got their ear to the ground all the time, keeping up with what’s going on in the community. That’s their job. Invite them to your persona planning party. Their insight will give you initial ideas about where to focus your community research.
2. Ask for Data Strategically
Members joining your community can fill out a member profile. When you create the profile format, you should mirror the demographics you ask for with the points you need in your buyer persona. For example, if you’re a software company, you know which software your customers are using. However, you might not know what software customers want to learn more about. When customers provide this information, you can sync it back to your database and use it, not only to refine your buyer personas, but for lead scoring.
3. Send Automated Email Campaigns
Encourage your members to fill out specific profile demographics through an automated campaign. Instead of sending an email asking members to fill out 100 percent of their profile, we want to get specific. Target the exact information that will help you with your buyer personas. Phrase your campaign copy to be specific, asking something like “What role do you play at your organization?” or “What is the top challenge you face in your day-to-day work?”
Pro tip: “Weight the various profile elements with points (based on which ones you need the most for your personas), so that users have an incentive to complete their profile in the way you want them to.” – Will Machin, Senior Community Manager, Higher Logic
4. Integrate Your Database with Your Community
Not only will integration with your CRM make your community manager’s job much easier, but it will also help you in your pursuit to refine your buyer personas. Bring in the information you have about your users to their profiles, and allow them to edit it, so they’re updating information for you.
5. Incentivize Participation
Give your customers a set list of tasks, spread out over a specific time period, and offer incentives or prizes when they complete them. Rewards for completing their profile could include awarding them a badge or ribbon, entering their name into a raffle for a bigger prize, or even publicly recognizing them on the community dashboard.
Pro tip: “Provide examples and explicit instructions on how/where to add their information. Sometimes users just don’t know where to input the information, and a guide will help the process move smoothly.” Emily Stamm, Community Manager, Higher Logic
6. Look at Your Community Data Reports
Depending on what software you use for your online community platform, your reports will vary. But generally, a great community platform should include an analytics feature that allows you to find stats like most popular tags, members who have replied to specific threads or joined any open communities, common search terms, resource library downloads, and top discussions. These pieces of data fit right into your buyer persona puzzle to help you refine prospect pain points and create content that addresses those.
Pro tip: “When creating member personas, behavioral data is almost always more illuminating and accurate than user-reported data.” – Jenny Taylor, Senior Manager of Managed Services, Higher Logic
7. Run a Community Survey
Are you looking for a more hands-on method? You may want to try running a community survey. The key: Make it concise and focused to increase your participation rates. Once you’ve got it up and running, promote it on multiple channels, like sharing it as a community post or announcement.
When asking your members to participate, let them know that their participation will be used both for marketing efforts and to improve the community as a valuable professional tool.
Pro tip: “Use an automation rule to target less-active users, letting them know the survey is available and how to access it.” – Allison Able, Community Manager, Higher Logic
Take Your Buyer Personas to the Next Level with Community Data
What will you find when you start on your community data journey? You’ll be able to use the community data to help you refine and specialize your current personas, and you may even find that an unexpected new buyer persona surfaces from your research.
With research-backed, extensive buyer personas, your marketing team will be able to precisely target its campaigns and content, and create stronger sales enablement materials that will resonate with prospects, improving your return on marketing investment (ROMI) and your company’s revenue growth.