Personas based on buying data and research can have a huge impact on both marketing and sales, allowing informed decisions to be made based on the needs of customers.

Jim Kraus, President of the Buyer Persona Institute, shares why building personas based on buying decisions and understanding the needs of prospective buyers is so important. He discusses some of the things to consider when building personas and some tips on how to get started.

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About Buyer Persona Institute

Buyer Persona Institute offers B2B companies’ insight into what their prospective customers need to know and experience before they buy products or services. The institute delivers buying decision insights and persona activation workshops to more than 100 customers across the globe.

 About Jim

With over three decades of experience managing market research teams, Jim has become a highly sought-after expert on the intersection of marketing, sales, and product strategy. As the President of Buyer Persona, Jim is passionate about understanding buyer behaviours and implementing marketing efforts that understand the “voice of the buyer.”

Time Stamps

[00:49.06] – Jim provides an overview of Buyer Persona and how he got involved.

[05:00.9] – How do you build a buyer persona? – Jim offers his advice.

[10:45.0] – How should you leverage buyer personas?

[15:20.3] – Mistakes to avoid when developing buyer personas.

[22:01.7] – What is the best piece of marketing advice you’ve been given?

[23:13.4] – Would you recommend a career in marketing?

[26:21.9] – Ways to get in touch and find out more.


“You’re not guessing, it’s not anecdotal. That is really the foundation of your marketing sales strategy, your messaging, your positioning, campaigns that you do. It’s pretty powerful when you have those insights.” Jim Kraus, President at Buyer Persona

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Transcript: Interview with Jim Kraus – Buyer Persona Institute

Speakers: Mike Maynard, Jim Kraus

Mike: Thanks for listening to marketing B2B Tech, the podcast from Napier, where you can find out what really works in B2B marketing today. Welcome to marketing B2B technology, the podcast from Napier. Today, I’m joined by Jim Kraus. Jim is the president of the Buyer Persona Institute. Welcome to the podcast, Jim.

Jim: Thanks, Mike. Great to be here.

Mike: It’s great to have you on. And so I’m sure a lot of our listeners will be familiar with the buyer persona Institute. But you know, what we always like to do is find out how people got to where they are today. So can you tell us a little bit about your career journey? And what brought you to being the president of the Institute?

Jim: Sure. So I’ve been doing market research for well over two decades and market research has always just been a passion of mine just really trying to understand customers and buyers and markets to help organisations make smarter, smarter business and marketing decisions. So my career has spanned both doing market research on the client side for different organisations, mid very large enterprise companies, as well as on you know, now the supplier side, you know, helping clients with their market research needs. So this Buyer Persona Institute my focus there has really a kind of a natural culmination in my career up until this point.

Mike: And how did you get involved with a buyer persona Institute.

Jim: So Barbara stone Institute was founded about it was about 15 years ago, Adele Rivella founded buyer persona Institute, and some of your listeners, I’m sure have heard and maybe even know Adele, and her and I have known each other for years, just crossing similar circles as far as where our focus has been. And back in was end of 2021, she was really interested in retiring at that point. And her and her I got the talking. And it just made a lot of sense for the firm, the research firm I had been working for, to partner with Buyer Persona Institute and kind of carry on what she had started. So that’s how we’ve been involved within it. And I’ve been leading Buyer Persona Institute for over a year now. So it’s, it’s been fantastic.

Mike: That’s great. I think, you know, what will be interesting is obviously, some of our listeners will know what you do at the institute. Other people won’t know what Buyer Persona Institute is. So do you want to just, you know, unpack what you do?

Jim: Yeah, so you know, traditionally, a lot of folks think about buyer personas, and typically they’ll think of it being a profile of an individual or a role in the buying decision, which is fine. And we can get into a little bit more of that later. But Buyer Persona Institute is really focused on understanding buying decisions, more specifically, understanding everything that prospective buyers want to know and experience to have full confidence in making a particular investment and making that investment with you. So it’s about developing buying insights around a specific buying decision, rather than just understanding profiling characteristics of a role and decision process. And that’s a really key distinction and a pretty important one, in terms of getting value out of buyer personas.

Mike: So that’s really interesting. You’re talking about personas being specific for a particular situation. So can you just explain a little bit more, you know why you can’t create generic personas for individuals in business and then use them across a wide range of different suppliers?

Jim: Yeah, so if your buyer personas are focused on just profiling your particular role, so let’s say let’s just take a technology product randomly. Let’s just take CRM, for example. And if your organisation sells CRM, if you identify the CIO or an IT, buyer is one of the key influencers in that buying decision, certainly not the only one. But let’s say and you have a profile of that, of that it buyer and you know, their average age, their education, maybe even their overall challenges and priorities and information sources they use. Certainly that’s helpful from a marketing and sales standpoint, to know that information. But it really doesn’t tell you anything about what are the things that are really driving the need for that CRM solution. It doesn’t tell you what are the fears and concerns they have about that purchase? It doesn’t tell you how customers are defining success. It doesn’t tell you what are the key decision criteria they’re using. It doesn’t tell you anything about their buyers journey. So it only gives you really limited information. And what ends up happening is you you really have to guess or make educated guesses about what is it that buyers really need that for that particular buying decision. So that that’s why we take this buying decision focus.

Mike: So I mean, who the industry is actually a little bit more than just the persona. It’s really understanding that that process of buying a particular product, or helping people understand how their customers buy their product.

Jim: Correct, yeah. So the approach that that we that we advocate, and you’ll see a lot of information that we put out on social channels and on our website is just to try to educate folks about, you know, the different components of a buyer persona. So mate, let me explain that, because I think that’ll probably crystallise the thought a little bit more. So, for a buyer persona, the way we recommend doing them is to actually go out and talk to recent buyers of the particular product or service that you offer. In other words, you know, go out and find people that have made the exact same buying decision that you’re trying to influence. And these aren’t necessarily your own customers, these are folks you want to talk to that you ideally would want in your sales pipeline, right, that have actually made that decision, have gone through this process, and go out and interview them. The interviews that we typically do are 30 to 40 minutes. They’re like a journalist, really, really a journalistic approach, right? We’re not asking them, we’re not giving them ratings and rankings and ask them to pontificate. We’re actually having discussions with them, where they literally tell us everything that happened from the moment they had a need for a particular product or service, all the way until the point where they make a final decision. And we take a approach where we literally identify how they first come up with an initial consideration list, how do they winnow down their choices?

So we do these interviews. And what we do is we look across the interviews that we do we find patterns in the data. And the buyer persona that that you develop from these is there’s five key areas, we call them the five rings of buying insight. The first one is priority initiatives and priority initiatives are literally what are buyers telling you? Is the trigger to happen so that they are looking for your particular product service at this moment in time. So they may have had a particular challenge for a while what is it that’s getting them going out? The second key characteristic or element of your buyer persona, should be what we call success factors. And these are literally the outcomes or the benefits that buyers need to realise to feel justified in the investment that they’re actually make. The third one is a really important one that can be overlooked. Sometimes we call perceived barriers. And these are the fears and concerns that buyers have. Right. So when you’re talking about a higher consideration buying decision. Typically a lot of B2B buying decisions are there’s going to be some fears and trepidations that buyers are going to have no question about it right? This could be a significant investment for them. There’s going to be impacts on the organisation positive or negative, depending if you make that quote unquote, right choice. They may even be career implications depending on how big of a buying decision it is. You certainly want to know what all those trepidations are ahead of time because it’s going to inform a lot in terms of your marketing and sale. The fourth element is decision criteria and decision criteria is all the questions that buyers are going to be asking of you as they evaluate their alternatives. And again, we’re calling all these insights from actually doing interviews with recent buyers. And they will tell us, you know, here are the all the things that we use to evaluate different providers and solutions and winnowing down our choices and coming up with our final selection. And then the fifth and final one that should be part of your persona is buyers journey. And the key here is understanding what are the steps in the buying process for this specific buying decision? Who are the key influencers? And who’s making the final decisions? What information sources are they using? And we all know buying decision is is that is the exact same we know that.

But by doing a number of these interviews, you can really identify some key moments in the buying and who’s involved in what types of information sources that they use and trust. Now, if you step back for a minute, and you think about those five key areas, imagine if you’re in a marketing and sales role, and you have fact based insights in each one of those areas, you’re not making it up, you’re not guessing it’s not anecdotal. That is really the foundation of your marketing and sales strategy, your messaging your positioning campaigns that you do, it’s pretty powerful when you have that those kinds of insights.

Mike: That’s fascinating. Sounds like you’ve got this really robust process you’ve developed that allows you to get in depth information about the people buying products. I mean, is this something that you need to do and provide as a service or is it something people can learn?

Jim: Either way, so we we do studies for different organisations all the time, but it’s also something you can do do yourself as well. So we actually do offer a masterclass that will teach you kind of the ins and outs and how to do this on your own both identifying who to interview, how to interview them how to do the analysis and put putting together your personas. The biggest challenge is finding recent buyers right so we’re not looking for customer lists. These are typically blind studies like so when we do the studies for organisations we don’t Don’t tell the people that we interview who the sponsor the research is, and vice versa. But it’s really important that you define the buying decision very specifically, you define who your target is very specifically, you know, if it’s a certain industry or enterprise size, or geo or some other criteria, and then working with different recruiters to identify who those recent buyers are. So that’s, that might be the hardest part of the process, just finding them. But it is certainly something that you can, you can do on your own as well.

Mike: So I mean, that gives people flexibility. I mean, I guess, you know, we’ve touched on it earlier about, it’s an involved so it’s quite often a B2B sale, but who should use personas on how can they best use them?

Jim: Yeah, so really, buyer personas as we just defined them, can be used for any moderate to high consideration buying decision, whether it’s consumer, or its business. So as an example, this approach works wonderfully for if you’re trying to do a buyer persona for people that are trying to figure out where do I want to go on vacation, certainly, that’s a high consideration, type of buying decision, right, you may be looking at different places to go, you may be looking at different places you can stay where you go, you may be looking for certain activities, or things that you want to be doing, where you go on vacation. Again, it’s anything that is not just spur of the moment, type buying decision, whether it’s business or consumer, can work really well, in terms of how to use them, right. So once you have your buyer persona, you know, the things that we most often see our clients how they use them is, it’s amazing how, how creative they are really, because it really is the foundation of the house, as far as all decisions are going to be making from a marketing and sales perspective. But the ones that typically get the most use out of them are, they either start with new messaging or refresh the current messaging that they have. This includes, you know, top of the funnel type stuff, where you’re just trying to figure out how to initially attract and, you know, become relevant to buyers. Also, it’s refreshing messaging, middle and bottom of funnel when they’re really starting to get into their buying journey. And they’re really looking at their different options. And the beauty of the buyer, the buyer personas is they will help you in both in both areas. The other place that we see buyer personas used quite often is for different sales plays, like one of the things that you can do with your buyer personas is identify top four or five, six value proposition themes, right things that you know, buyers are going to want need during their buying journey. And by using those and really developing proof points about how you can deliver on some of these things that they want. It’s gold for the salespeople, who a lot of times their biggest challenge when they’re meeting with a new prospective buyer is, you know, what should I talk to them about right? And obviously, you want to talk about their needs, right? But having an idea about what their needs are like the art had a story to tell, works wonderfully in sales loves it, because you’re giving them a real starting point with and really meat meat on the bone to go in and have those conversations.

Mike: Yeah, I love that example of sales. I think sometimes people sort of look at buyer personas and feel that it’s adding complexity to the planning process. But But it sounds like what you’re saying is, you know, when you understand the needs, it can massively simplify the decisions you need to make to create a good either marketing or sales campaign.

Jim: Yeah, no, it’s a great point, one of the most common people that we work with, right, so we have people come to us with in different situations. One of the common situations is somebody will come to us in our organisation with their hands in the air because they have 510 15, we’ve had organisations come to us with 50 personas, because they have a broad portfolio, and they’ve got a persona for every person to decision process. And they just don’t know what to do, it becomes such a matrix and so complex, they also don’t have the resources to market to each one of those individually, oftentimes. And the beauty of those conversations we usually have a smile on our face is because what we’re proposing here simplifies everything because now you’re not trying to be so tailored to every single person in that buying decision. You are now tailoring what you’re doing to the actual buying decision itself. So that the buying committee and as likely a buying committee involved in these decisions, you know, you’re coming with an understanding of what collectively they all really need. And again, remember, like if you think about if you’re a CIO, you may have a whole list of priorities and challenges. But don’t kid yourself when it comes to a specific buying decision using a CRM example below. There’s some very specific things that that CIO and that buying committee are going to need that they’re going to be worried about, that they’re going to be using to evaluate their different options. So it simplifies it simplifies everything and it and it really improves the focus that you can have which is particularly in today’s environment with You know, with scarce resources, a lot of times focus and prioritisation is is gold, right?

Mike: Yeah, definitely. I mean, you know, it sounds like you’re saying one of the big mistakes people make with developing personas as they develop too many. Are there other mistakes you see people making when I tried to do persona work? I wouldn’t say so

Jim: much mistakes, I would say more of just a lot of it’s just kind of knowing about other options that may be available. So that’s one of them. Right? That, you know, we talk a lot about the buying decision versus role based persona. So that’s one one miss out was a mistake. But that’s one thing you can definitely it’s a game changer. You know, I will say that. The other thing I would say is not being afraid to talk to recent buyers. You know, marketing a lot of times is you know, they’re charged with trying to educate and influence buyers around a particular buying decision. But they’re trying to do it with one hand tied behind their back, because a lot of times they don’t have the luxury of talking to recent buyers, right sales folks talk to prospective buyers all the time. Just think about all the knowledge, they’re learning that innate knowledge they’re learning that really influences how they communicate, and speak with prospective buyers. A lot of times marketers don’t have that. So by going out and talking to recent buyers, you know, now you’ve got the answer sheet, right? Like some of our clients call the buyer, buyer personas, cheat sheets, because it’s literally everything that you need to know to be able to use your marketing talents in the best possible way. So that’s the other thing I would really recommend is don’t be shy about talking to recent buyers. I mean, they have they have all the answers for all the things that you’re gonna be doing.

Mike: I mean, I think sometimes talking to recent buyers can be hard, particularly when companies quite often go through a persona, right? So because they’re not being as successful. So you mentioned about recruiting recent buyers, is there any advice or information you can give people to help them, you know, be able to go and find those recent buyers and approach them properly?

Jim: Yeah, so a couple of things. One is if you have an interest in doing it yourself, we’d encourage you to look at the master class, or the book buyer personas that Adele had published a number of years ago, which gets into some of the methodology type stuff. So those are a couple of sources you can definitely go to outside of that. One of the things is, we typically kick off a buyer persona study with a, we call it a study design. It’s an outward meeting, and we get all the key stakeholders in the room from marketing sales product. And we spend a lot of time just defining what the buying decision is that that you’re really trying to understand. So as an example, just going back to that CRM example, to be consistent, it may not just be a CRM for your particular organisation, it may be CRM, but just because of your product and services or your focus, it may be CRM, but it has to include certain components of CRM, because you feel like your ideal customer profile, your ICP, there’s certain things about their needs around CRM, or their requirements, that you really want to make sure those the buyers you go talk to. So you wanted to find that really specifically, any other specifications, like we talked about earlier, like, you know, II size, geo industry, other things. And then you want to develop a screening questionnaire that you qualify people in or out. And then you want to use some, some recruiters to help you. So there are different recruiters that the only thing they do is help find people based on certain specifications. So you can partner with those organisations as well to help you find those people.

Mike: I mean, it certainly sounds like one of the things people need to do as well is to take the time and really spend the time developing a very good and detailed buyer persona. I mean, do you think there’s value in in generating more superficial personas? Or is it you know, really the case that the return on the investment on doing the work is so great, you should be doing all the work.

Jim: It’s really a decision. I mean, if you do, if you do a more of a profile of an individual or role in the buying decision, you know, that’s something that you can probably do for less resource, you’re just not going to get nearly as much value out of it, it’s going to leave, you know, leaving fundamental questions to the marketing and sales team. So, you know, what we have found is using this buying decision based approach, it leads to an increase in not just leads qualified leads, because you’ve got folks that are more likely to find you, because the stuff that you’re putting out there is tailored to the people that you’re really looking to attract. The other thing that we see is conversion rates go up. But the main reason for that is because now you have such a deep understanding about their fears, concerns and decision criteria in particular, that what you’re putting out there and what you’re communicating is really going to influence the buying decision when they’re further along in the process. Right. So, again, it’s a choice. You know, the buying decision, one takes a little bit more resource to do, but the payoff is is you know, we would argue that it’s worth it when we have organised Asians that anytime they have a new product or service, or there’s a significant change in the marketplace, they’ll go refresh their buyer persona to make sure that they’re fully aligned to their prospective buyers.

Mike: Yeah, and certainly, I’m sure a lot of your clients, they’re actually talking about very high price tag sales. So you don’t need to do much on the conversion rate to make a huge difference in terms of return on investment. Yeah, 100%. I mean, this has been great. I’ve loved the overview about the process and how to create really good personas. It just likes to go back in and talk about the ESG for a second, and it’s a question I feel I’ve got to ask is maybe not fair. But the buyer persona process is part of the marketing process, basically, do you think there’s really is a need for a separate Institute or a separate organisation? And if there is, why do you think it’s, you know, it adds so much to be separate and be very focused on what you do?

Jim: Yeah, we do. And the reason for that is because it’s fundamentally it’s about understanding prospective buyers and a buying decision. Right. So one of the things we’re trying to do is not muddy the waters, right? There’s all different types of research that you could do, right? There’s positioning studies, segmentation studies, customer sat studies, Product Development Studies, and on and on and on, one of the things we wanted to make sure of is to be very focused on buyer personas, because it’s a very specific types of in buying insights, that you’re trying to get to overlay very specific types of marketing and sales decisions and motions that you’re putting. So we have it separate for that reason. So there’s no ambiguity about it as far as what the value is. And that’s the main reason that we’ve done that.

Mike: Sounds like a great reason. I mean, obviously, you’ve obviously got a lot of experience, we’d like to ask some more general questions. And one of the questions we really like to ask people is about marketing advice. I’d love to know, what’s the best bit of market advice you’ve ever had? Jim?

Jim: Certainly, I would say the one that is on my mind every single day is how to, I would say twofold. One is understand your buyers and your customers as much as you possibly can. And never, never let that end like continue to refresh your understanding, walk in their shoes, recognise that it’s not about your product or service. It’s about their needs. Right. And the second thing related to that, which is the advice is always be asking yourself, How can you be helpful to the folks that you are marketing and selling to, right, because, quite frankly, they’re not interested, they don’t really care if they’re working with you, and they don’t really care about your potential product or service, what they care about is their own needs, their own problems, their own opportunities and things that they’re trying to achieve. So be helpful to them as that is the main thing and everything else will work out itself, right? Because they’re going to see that you actually care about their results, they’re going to feel confident that when you start giving them advice, or suggestions that it’s credible, because it’s coming from the right place. So that’s something that I literally say to myself every single day still, and that would be the probably the best advice I’ve ever gotten from a marketing standpoint.

Mike: That’s great. And really clear. I mean, you know, if you help your customers by the more later by I mean, that’s, that’s a great approach. The other thing we like to ask people is about advice, career advice for young people maybe thinking of coming into marketing. I mean, would you recommend marketing as a career for young people, but I mean, particularly considering the marketing as a whole has kind of been thrown up in the air with AI, and we’re not quite sure where it’s gonna land?

Jim: I would I mean, you know, I think it’s such a fascinating place to be because at the end of the day, you know, business is all about people and individuals. And one of the things I love about buyer personas is, you know, you talk about B2B, large enterprise technology, for example. And it seems like this big, you know, impersonal type of thing, but the reality is, it’s people that are making these decisions and people that have real, you know, real trepidations, real ambitions, and I’m saying that in a good way, both for themselves in their organisation. So, from a marketing perspective, I just think it’s fascinating because you’re always learning things, markets are always changing. And at the end of the day, there’s always going to be a need for organisations to bond and align themselves with their prospective buyers and develop relationships that’s never going to end. Regardless of what tools are out there. It’s fun to learn about them. I’ve been doing this for a while, and I still, you know, the the AI I think is fascinating. We’re already thinking about how we may potentially be able to use that enhance what we’re doing. So I think it’s it’s a, it’s a field that’s constantly changing, but the fundamentals about what you’re trying to do and connect with buyers doesn’t change. And that kind of mixture is something that I think is pretty attractive and keep keeps things pretty interesting as you go.

Mike: I love that sort of optimistic view of the future of the industry that that’s That’s a great note to end on, I think. I mean, it feels like we’ve we’ve kind of only really scratched the surface. But is there anything major you think I’ve missed? Or you think I should have covered?

Jim: I don’t think so. I mean, I think the two big takeaways for me is I always try to leave people with with, you know, two thoughts, and we’ve covered them, but one is, go talk to buyers there, they’ll be happy to talk to you, they this is something that they’re not pontificating about, it’s something that they went through, that meant a lot to them, and they’ve got some really insightful things to share. So you’ll actually enjoy those conversations. So don’t be afraid of them, actually, you know, look forward to them. And then two is, if you’re, if you’ve been frustrated with buyer personas before, or you don’t know much about them, think about the approaches that we talked about today they are there really are can be a game changers. And the nice thing about them, we have found is using this approach is is very pragmatic and logical. So buying in the organisation tends to once people get it, they’re like, Oh, that makes a lot of that makes a lot of sense. You know, why haven’t we been doing this? So that’s the other thing I would encourage folks to do.

Mike: Perfect. No, I mean, a great thing to leave people with. I mean, I’m sure there’s some listeners who want to find out more either about the Institute has a hold on, maybe ask you questions to follow up. I mean, what’s the best way to learn about the Institute and maybe get hold of you, if somebody’s got a specific question,

Jim: feel free to visit our website, buyer There’s a number of resources there, that’ll just expand on some of the things that we talked about today. Please leverage them to the fullest. And then also feel free to find me on LinkedIn, Jim Kraus. I’d love to connect with you there. And you can contact me there or through our website, there’s a contact field there as well, if you’d like if you’d like to connect with us.

Mike: Fantastic. I mean, Jim, this has been fascinating, you know, I feel really motivated to for our next project really go deeper in terms of understanding what buyers care about during the buying process. So I really appreciate that. It’s been very motivating for me. Great. Thanks, Mike. I really enjoyed the conversation. Thanks for being on the podcast, Jim. Thanks so much for listening to marketing B2B Tech. We hope you enjoyed the episode. And if you did, please make sure you subscribe on iTunes, or on your favourite podcast application. If you’d like to know more, please visit our website at Napier B2B dot com or contact me directly on LinkedIn.