buyer personas for manufacturers

I’ve long been an advocate for documenting profiles of your key buyer personas.

But lately, I’ve heard more and more marketing folks saying, “Personas are fluff. Don’t waste your time. Just start executing your marketing strategy.”

I disagree, strongly.

And especially so in the manufacturing sector.

So below, I’ll make my case.

But really quickly, in case this topic is somewhat unfamiliar to you, here’s the basic idea:

Buyer personas profiles are documented portraits of your ideal customer’s buying-process influencers.

👨🏾‍🔧 🤵 👩🏾‍💻 🧟‍♂️

These profiles outline the characteristics of these key people at an individual human level – so you can craft a focused marketing strategy with them at the center.

I wrote an overview article on the topic a few years ago if you’d prefer to start there.

But this one is a position piece. So on that note…

Buyer personas: fluff or not fluff?

To quote marketing agency consultant David C. Baker in his recent article “Buyer Personas Can Over-Complicate Your Marketing”:

“You don’t need to name this buyer “Larry” and imagine what kind of dog he has or whether she drives an M5 or Highlander. All that extra stuff drags you down a wasteful path of needless complication.”

I’m 100% on board with this statement.

This type of buyer persona profile was born out of B2C (business-to-consumer) marketing from 10 or 20+ years ago. (Think McDonalds trying to sell cheeseburgers to teenagers. Ba da ba ba ba!)

But B2B manufacturers aren’t selling cheeseburgers.

They’re selling CNC rotary transfer machines to OEMs and machine shops.

Or FDA-compliant sterilized packaging for diagnostic companies developing microfluidic-based, near care tests.

Or modified atmosphere food packaging machinery for meat and poultry processors.

Often, the buying process takes weeks or months (not minutes or hours).

The solution is complex and engineering-driven.

The sale is non-linear and extremely consultative.

And as a result, the buyer is not a buyer, but a committee of buying-process influencers – individuals with different roles and requirements:

Engineers

Plant Managers

Operations

Procurement

Finance

C-Suite

And in very few scenarios over my decade plus of consulting B2B manufacturing organizations would I have told my client, “Treat ’em all the same. No need to differentiate the message.”

The problem isn’t that buyer personas aren’t useful in nature.

It’s that most companies fail to write them in way that makes them useful.

So as David Baker suggested, sure, go ahead and scrap your “Leader Larry” and “Buyer Bonnie” personas. Your general health will benefit from losing less sleep over whether they buy their clothes from Banana Republic or Nordstrom Rack.

Instead, for each of the most important buying-process influencers at the companies you’re trying to reach, let’s focus on documenting this stuff…

Common job titles

Just “Engineer”?

Or Plant Engineer, Project Engineer, Process Engineer, Systems Engineer, Controls Engineer or Mechanical Engineer?

Who are we really talking to here? Let’s visualize who this person is.

Responsibilities at the company

What is this person responsible for doing without fail?

What’s the company counting on him/her to deliver?

And as a result, what matters to this person is his or her job?

Decision-making authority

How much pull does he/she have when it comes to making a buying decision?

Whose approval is needed up the chain?

Personal pains / goals

This one’s super important.

What are the biggest struggles this person is facing that your solutions can help address? And/or what goals is this person trying to achieve that your solutions can help with?

Common questions

Maybe even more important.

What are the most common questions your Sales folks (or your Engineers or Account Managers or whoever interfaces with this type of person) get from them?

Your marketing strategy (and in particular, your content strategy), should be born straight out of these things.

Common objections

What objections do you have to overcome from this individual about your company’s ability to solve his/ her problems or help achieve his/her goals?

Type of buying process sought

How does this person seek information? Google? From peers or colleagues?

How does he/she want the buying process to go? Short and sweet? In-depth with long consultations or site visits?

How does he/she prefer to communicate? Email? Phone calls? Zoom? Face to face?

Level of sophistication as a buyer

I personally love this one.

How well does this person understand the issues he/ she is up against?

And how knowledgeable is he/she about potential solutions (both yours and others in the marketplace)?

In other words, what kind of learning curve and education process will be required?

You can’t explain solutions to someone who isn’t even aware of the problems he or she is dealing with.

What he/she values most about you

What is the perceived value proposition you offer in the mind of this person?

Whether or not that value proposition aligns with how you want to be positioned, what does he or she currently value about you and your company’s solutions?

Can see where I’m coming from here?

And why it matters that we differentiate between Process Engineers and Procurement and Maintenance Managers?

From positioning to content strategy to sales outreach, the message you deliver can’t be universal.

Not if you expect it to resonate.

We’re all marketing to people. Not faceless companies.

And thoughtful, focused buyer persona profiles help us talk to human beings as human beings.

Rant over.

Agree or disagree? I’d certainly appreciate your take in the comments below.

How to actually USE your buyer persona profiles

Once you've documented those persona profiles, you need to apply them. And your content strategy is a great place to start. Read this article (and/or watch the video). Then download the associated worksheet.

Read article or watch video