When you read about inbound marketing, you’re bound to see references to the prospect persona (sometimes called the target persona or buyer persona), a tool for understanding your company’s most attractive prospects (the decision-makers/influencers within the companies that are most attractive to you). We've reviewed and worked with a number of templates over the years, but found that none uncovered deep insights into the prospect's personal motivations. So, we came up with our own, and we're happy to share what's in it.
The key to finding what motivates B2B prospects to purchase certain products, whether you’re in equipment manufacturing or risk mitigation, is in an exercise called Laddering. But first, let's discuss personas a little more.
To develop an actionable prospect persona, you first must get internal consensus on who constitutes your best target. If you were an injection molder, for example, your best target might be the manufacturer of critical-use medical equipment; but another injection molder’s best target might be the manufacturer of car parts looking to reduce the weight of their parts by having an injection molder do metal-to-plastic conversions. It all depends on what you’re best at (where your experience is most robust), where you make money (projects with the best margin), who can afford your product, and where the best chances of penetrating target organizations are.
Once you've determined who it is you want to focus your sales and marketing efforts on, you need to get to know that target. It’s not enough to understand basic demographics (“OEMs that need a parts manufacturer partner”); to effectively market your product to your best target, you need to understand these people in greater detail. That’s the purpose of developing a persona template.
Some marketers have fewer or more persona characteristics, but these are the most common:
These are all important characteristics, but most persona templates fail to identify how the product enriches the target himself or herself. Yet, we’d argue that what a product does for someone's sense of self and how it fulfills or reinforces their self esteem is the very essence of what motivates humans to action. You might be tempted to think this is only true of consumer applications, but that’d be a mistake. After all, industrial buyers are just as human as retail consumers.
To find how our clients’ prospects are personally motivated, Weidert Group uses a process called laddering. Laddering helps us avoid focusing on a product feature and works toward understanding — and leveraging — how that feature and its benefits help the user feel better about himself or herself.
Here’s an example of laddering we use often (with thanks to Bruce Bendinger, author of The Copy Workshop Workbook) and the steps involved:
Say you’re the manufacturer of injection molded parts we mentioned above and you’re trying to better understand what your service offers buyers. Perhaps the feature that’s most valuable to buyers is your actual parts manufacturing process — yours is performed using a DfM (Design for Manufacturability) step that involves a design and performance analysis done by your engineering team.
Next, you need to understand what this DfM step can do for the buyer — in other words, its benefit. The DfM step reveals opportunities to reduce the overall cost of the product and/or improve its performance within larger end-product.
Now, many manufacturers will focus their marketing on this feature and its benefit alone. But there’s much more to it.
The next rung on the ladder is to look at what that benefit does for the buyer — how it affects him or her personally. Your DfM step identifies opportunities to save production time and allows your target to improve the performance of the part being produced. Consequently, your target persona (the man or woman who will make the decision to buy your injection molding service) has confidence that the parts being produced will perform — meaning reduced stress, no cost overruns, and no deviations from the project timeline.
At the top of the ladder is how the personal benefit makes your target persona feel about himself. The ability to ensure optimum product cost and performance makes him proud — he’s gratified, and his superiors view him as capable and valuable.
This is how laddering looks on paper:
Based on this persona, you may still want to communicate about your on-time delivery rate, your cost-in-use or other things you believe can and will influence the target to make a purchase. But now that you understand what makes him personally fulfilled, you'll need to show him how your product helps him to be (and be seen as) an asset to his own company.
“I’m respected and valued...” is the place you’d need to get with every one of your personas. Tapping into emotions that help your target self-actualize — become even more of the person they want to be — is the key to the most powerful connection you can make, and the most meaningful in terms of your value to them.
Before you reach out to prospects, learn as much as you can about them by considering some of their most relevant characteristics. Download our Ultimate Content Creation Guide: Templates & Checklists (complete with a persona development worksheet) to make it simple — just click the button below for your free copy!
This blog was originally published in 2013 and has since been updated for comprehensiveness and current best practices.