Research + Strategy

Why Most B2B Customer Personas Fall Short

By Abby O'Connor

A customer persona, sometimes called a buyer or user persona, should feel like a real individual who represents your target audience. But too often, B2B customer personas only cover the bare minimum and look more like a broad customer segment — enterprise CTO, financial service decision maker, or small business owner.

A limited understanding of your customer diminishes the impact of your marketing campaigns. You might notice your content isn’t performing well or leads aren’t converting to sales. If your marketing efforts keep falling flat, it’s time to take a deeper look at the buyers you’re targeting.

Take a second to think about how you and your marketing team would describe your customers. Are you checking off the basics: job title, company size, and industry? Maybe you’re making an educated guess on demographics and their buyer journey.

Now, think about how your customer service or sales teams would describe your customers. These teams are constantly interacting with them, so they’d probably picture some of the people they spoke to within the past week. Like the customer who was excited about how your product would keep her teams organized because she recently hired five managers and is downright overwhelmed.

Finally, think about how your customers would describe themselves. Sure, they’d cover the basics first. But they’d also reveal more about their personality and their motivation for becoming a customer in the first place.

As the Buyer Persona Institute teaches: an effective B2B customer persona requires a deep understanding of the customer and their buying behaviors. You can’t have one without another. And to do that, you must get closer to the source — your customer.

Consider this: 93% of companies who exceed lead and revenue goals use buyer personas. But about 60% of B2B marketers admit they don’t truly know their customers.

Quantitative customer data — from a CRM system, Google Analytics, social media analytics, or surveys — is where many B2B personas start and end. This information is important to use as a jumping off point, but doesn’t provide the full picture. For example, Google Analytics may show that you had an increase in page views during a recent campaign, but it can’t tell you why those visitors clicked on your page or if they resonated with your brand values upon arrival. To get your personas to a human level, you need to dig deeper and uncover what your audience cares about.

Here are three qualitative methods for gathering the insights you need to create more personal and effective B2B customer personas at the intersection of buyer profile and buyer experience.


In marketing, our close proximity to customer data allows us to learn about what our customers do, where they work, what content they prefer, and some of the steps in their buying process. But there are some insights you can only glean through qualitative research. And no, not surveys where customers only answer the questions you think are important. Schedule 30- to 45-minute interviews with a range of buyers — not just existing customers, but those who considered you and didn’t buy, and people in your target audience that have never considered you. Conversations are the best way to understand who your customer is and, more importantly, how your customer makes buying decisions. Namely how, when, and why buyers choose you or your competitors.

Skip the questions that data can answer and aim to learn about what factors into each buyer’s decisions. The pleasantries that make their profile — their personality, reputation, time — shouldn’t be ignored, but don’t commit all your time there. The essence of a B2B customer persona is, well, the buying.

Try asking questions like:

  • Think back to when you decided to look for a product or service like ours. What spurred your decision? What was happening at work, or even personally, that prompted you to explore your options?
  • What were your non-negotiables when making this decision? What were some of the product features you wanted?
  • Walk through the process of your purchase with me. At what points did you feel unsure? When did you know you’d made the right decision?
  • What challenges did you face when getting final buy in? How did you navigate that process?
  • Tell me about you then versus you now. What’s changed? In terms of your work, your career, or even life in general.

After you’ve conducted interviews, transcribe the conversations and identify quotes that clue you into customer buying behaviors. The puzzle pieces will fall together when you start finding the intersection between who the customer is, what their behaviors are, and how you can influence their buying decisions with marketing.


Sometimes interviews with key customers or would-be customers are challenging to come by, whether due to a lack of time or resources. If interviewing customers isn’t an option, the next best strategy for building stronger B2B customer personas is to talk to your customer service and sales teams. Your customer service and sales teams are on the front lines, working with customers every day and gaining important insights into their pain points, preferences, and personalities.

First, use your quantitative customer data and any existing audience research to create the framework of more lightweight proto-personas. Then tap into your teams to bring them to life.

Ask them to be as specific as possible and to reference their experiences with real customers. If you start hearing phrases like, “most of our customers” or “people usually,” ask for an example or anecdote that illustrates their point. This level of specificity will help you uncover personal and contextual details about your audience.

With this approach, you’ll still be making some assumptions about your customer and their buying behaviors. Keep pushing for those buyer interviews so you’re able to back up any assumptions with evidence.


So you can’t round up your customer service and sales team. Don’t worry. There’s still an opportunity to make your B2B customer personas more informed and personal. Put an hour on your marketing team’s calendar. If you can swing it, invite a couple of sales folks, or anyone else who might have valuable knowledge of your customers.

With the combined insight of everyone in the room at your disposal, run a brainstorming session dedicated to deeper customer understanding. During the process, encourage attendees to think of someone specific they know who embodies your envisioned persona in both personality and buying behaviors. By stepping into the shoes of your audience, your team will begin to paint a more comprehensive picture that builds on your customer data.

Here’s an exercise to guide your team through: Draw a makeshift persona on a whiteboard or large piece of paper and write out the questions you’ll answer in the session. Let your team draw features to visualize what this persona might look like. Then, go question by question, devoting enough time to each for complete exploration. As people think of an idea, have them write it on a post-it and stick it up on the board. Let the group take things in any direction they’d like – the more ideas, the better. You can distill and analyze later.

  • Describe the person.
  • What do they value?
  • What do they want? What are their goals for themselves and their business?
  • Who’s influencing their buying decisions?
  • What do they expect to change once they buy into your company?
  • What resources do they trust as they weigh their options?
  • What are their fears and frustrations?
  • What are we doing to mitigate those pain points?


By building a more human and informed representation of your target audience, you give your customers a voice in the decision-making process around how best to influence them with your marketing program. During planning meetings, bring every marketing strategy back to your priority customer personas to ensure your B2B marketing efforts will resonate with customers and drive conversions. By aligning your campaigns and messaging with your customers’ values, you’ll forge longer-term connections, foster brand loyalty, and attract the right kind of business.