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Building Buyer Personas: A Checklist For High-Tech Marketers

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by Robert M. Wright
Managing Director
Firebrick Consulting

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All too often, technology companies define their markets in meaningless terms that fail to connect marketing and sales with the real buyer at the point of revenue. The problem with vague target audience definitions and flimsy buyer personas is that they don’t describe real people.

Here is a persona checklist for senior marketers that will give you a clear picture of your buyer and what guides their buying decisions. Use it as discussion guide to steer customer interviews and ask the important questions.The answers will help you create marketing content that engages your buyers in a way that gets their attention, addresses top-of-mind concerns, and creates an urgent reason to do business with your company.

Background:

  • How much experience does your buyer have and who does he report to?
  • What is your buyer’s professional background?  
  • What type of organization does he work for? Innovative? Risk-averse? Multinational? Growth? Cost-cutting? Innovator? Transformation? Category leader, fast follower, laggard?
  • What is his organization’s segment focus? Price, quality, service?
  • What technology has your buyer purchased before?

Market Dynamics And Challenges:

  • How has your buyer’s role changed in the past few years?
  • What market forces are influencing your buyer?
  • What are her most urgent problems? What issues does she have to address? What is her obstacles for success?

Motivation:

  • What funded initiatives does your buyer have?
  • What is your buyer motivated to do?  How does he win? How is he goaled?
  • What are his needs?
  • What is your buyer looking to do? 

Decision-Making Process:

  • Who does your buyer report to? What is her budget? Who has to be involved in the decision?
  • What is the attitude of the company’s business leaders toward IT? Do they believe in outcome-driven IT? Does the business see IT as a cost center or a competitive advantage?

Using a checklist like this will result in clear profiles of the different personas in your target audience. For example, many tech companies say they want to market and sell to the CIO, but that label describes everyone from the guy who buys a server for a nonprofit to Sergey Brin. There are at least four different CIO buyer types, and you can’t tell one from another unless you dig a little deeper than their job title. Look at the distinction between each of these CIO buyer types that was gleaned from successful buyer persona interviews. 

>> Maintainer: The Maintainer is the most risk averse among CIO personas. The Maintainer views IT as a cost center and is motivated to support business needs at the lowest cost possible. He values cost control and IT operational excellence. The Maintainer places trust in legacy technology providers and looks for references among large companies before adopting new technologies or vendors. The Maintainer typically reports to the CFO.

>> Change Agent: This persona is typically found in large, complex organizations experiencing rapid growth. He values IT agility and sharing technology risk with vendors. The Change Agent’s challenge is to support revenue growth and increase productivity while lowering cost. He is motivated to transform the IT organization using better systems, people, and processes into a better functioning organization within a short span of time. The Change Agent typically reports to the CEO.

>> Early Adopter: The Early Adopter persona can be found in organizations with a culture of risk-taking or innovation. She values technical superiority, has an appetite for risk, and likes to be the first to experiment or sand-box new technologies. She actively seeks out new “bleeding-edge” technologies that could enable the company to obtain new competitive advantages in the market. The Early Adopter is motivated to modernize IT operations.

>> Strategist: The Strategist is typically found in large, multinational organizations. He views IT as part of the business and has an outcome-based IT orientation. The Strategist is motivated to use technology investments as a means of competitive differentiation and to move the needle on key business drivers. He seeks alignment with business, cultivates partnerships with line-of-business owners, and drives business innovation. He values IT as a service, business performance, and business-owner service levels. The Strategist typically comes from a business background and speaks the language of the CEO and board members. He usually reports to the CEO or CSO.

Armed with the right buyer persona insight, senior marketers can successfully match positioning strategy, messaging, and marketing content for specific buyer types rather than broad or vague audiences. In turn, they will help their sales teams get to the point of revenue faster.

About Robert M. Wright

Author Robert M. Wright is founder and managing director of Firebrick, a strategy consulting firm that has helped Microsoft, IBM, VMWare, Citrix Online, Riverbed, Autonomy, and dozens of other companies with positioning and changes in strategy.

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