Man with black mask in studioBuilding personas (profiles of the customers you most want to sell to) is like flossing. You know you should do it, but it always seems to be too much time and trouble. Besides, you’re not sure it’s that it’s worthwhile.

If that sounds like you, take a lunch break to watch this 30-minute video from the MarketingSherpa Internet Marketing Webinar Archive. It describes how IHS, a global provider of B2B market data, got measurable boosts to sales from its use of personas. Just as importantly, it’s full of specific tips for how to perform good persona “hygiene” without staying up half the night.

And it’s one of those well-done presentations that’s actually fun to watch.

First, the challenge. IHS was getting hundreds of thousands of site visitors per month, said Senior Director of Demand Management Byron O’Dell, but relatively few were doing anything but looking at the top-level pages. Like many, if not all, B2B companies IHS needed to convert those visitors into more qualified leads.

Now, the results: From the first half to the second half of 2013, IHS estimates marketing’s contribution to its aerospace and defense business revenue rose 83%. (Note that’s not increases to Web hits, downloads or even sales calls, but revenue.) O’Dell gives credit to a content marketing and lead gen program built around the unique needs of six primary personas, supplemented by about 20 secondary personas.

Getting Granular 

IHS’s marketing and product management teams created six personas, based on their experience with customers as well as data from the company’s CRM system. Only then did it take it to the busy sales teams.

The sales folks, who understand best how deals actually get done, suggested adding more detail to the mix by adding about another 20 “secondary personas.”  For example, under the single primary “Military/government planning and strategy” persona, sales recommended creating one sub-persona of “strategy and planning” professionals and another sub-persona of “research and development” prospects.

PersonasThis is important because each persona is supposed to represent a group with unique content needs. I’d guess, for example, that someone in planning and strategy has a need for shorter-term market predictions than does someone in research and development. Under the “Media/Advertising/PR” persona IHS was smart to create “Reporter/media” and “advertising” sub-personas. For reporters, IHS might want to highlight the free statistics they can provide in return for media exposure. For advertising agencies, it might want to push case studies about the value of their custom, paid research.

Step by Step

Rather than wait until they had the perfect, global persona-based strategy, O’Dell didn’t stop doing “batch and blast” content marketing while he developed his personas. He simply added the more granular, persona-based offers where they made sense and as his team developed them.

IHS also had the patience to map out a sequential approach to what content they would offer each “persona” based on their past behavior. For example, they sent everyone in one persona an email offering a white paper with an overview of its forecasts for the simulation and training market over the next ten years. Only those who downloaded the white paper, though, received a follow-up asking if they’d like to book a demo of their online data analysis service.

“We saw great conversion between those two steps,” said O’Dell, with those scheduling a demo turning out to be “high quality leads.” If someone clicks on a button asking for a demo, he says, there’s “noting ambiguous” about their interest.

IHS also didn’t turn prospects off by asking them to identify their persona and sub-persona through a lengthy qualification “gate” in their first interaction. It was only after the third week of the campaign that IHS asked for detailed answers that identified their sub-persona. By that time, after seeing some of HIS’s more valuable content, about half volunteered the extra information. It also used outside databases to pre-fill some of the prospect’s content info to reduce their workload.

The Angels Are in the Details

The IHS approach makes sense to me because it mirrors how I want to research products. I need the provider to prove their value before I give up too much information or agree to a sales call. And I’ll most likely to respond to a pitch that reflects my specific needs and interests.

Secondary personas help prevent you from spamming prospects with vague or irrelevant content. But for those of you out there using personas, are secondary personas just too much work?

Author: Bob Scheier
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I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

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