USER PERSONAS, BUYER PERSONAS, AND THE MISSING LINK IN B2B

John Mansour
8 min readDec 6, 2022

If you’re in product marketing or product management, you’re likely familiar with the concept of user personas and buyer personas. These terms might even be used interchangeably in your organization to describe a product’s customers. However, user personas and buyer personas are distinctly different. Both represent different needs of the same organization.

If you’re a B2B or B2B2C organization, there’s a persona that’s largely ignored but critical to understanding the customer organization from the top down as well as the bottom up.

It’s the department persona. Think about how most organizations are structured. There are senior executives in the C-suite (buyer personas) that have VPs and directors reporting to them, the department heads. Then the department heads have managers and staff reporting to them (user personas)

Department personas are the VPs and directors that bridge the gap between user and buyer personas in the B2B space. Connecting user and buyer personas is difficult because it’s typically to big a leap to connect what users do in the trenches to the goals and priorities in the C-suite. The department persona is the missing layer that bridges the gap and provides proper context to your value chain.

Understanding how user personas, department personas, and buyer personas impact each other will help you develop a better product and a better marketing strategy for your products.

In this article, we’ll break down what each persona looks like, how they influence the buying process, and why you need to understand them to see your product succeed.

Understanding B2B Personas and the Link Between Them

Personas tell you how your target customers define their own success, i.e., the ultimate goal of their role, why it’s critical to the organization’s success, and how that success is measured.

You need to develop and understand all personas–both user and buyer personas as well as department personas–when building, marketing, and selling your product to ensure it delivers strategic value to your customers.

From the Bottom Up

  • Your product should be designed to meet the specific needs of individuals within an organization with the goal of making them quantifiably better at their job (user persona).
  • If your product makes individuals quantifiably better at their job, then it measurably improves the performance of the departments where they reside (department persona).
  • Improving the performance of one or more departments then has a measurable impact on the customer organization’s strategic goals (buyer persona).

So let’s dive in. It all starts in product management with a ripple effect to product marketing, sales, and customer success.

First, we’ll cover B2B user personas and their role in designing and building the product. Next, we’ll uncover the mystery that is the department persona–the missing link between user and buyer personas. And finally, we’ll look and B2B buyer personas and the role they play in product development.

What is a User Persona?

A user persona is a fictional character, created from a compilation of characteristics, behaviors, needs, goals and pain points common to your end users. User personas typically encompass one or more distinct types of users your product was designed for. Organizations compile data via surveys and other methods to build out these personas. User personas help you focus on the overarching needs of people doing the work in the trenches so you can create a more valuable product.

Types of User Personas

There are four main types of user personas used in the product development world.

Goal-Directed Personas

Goal-directed personas are quite straightforward and utilitarian. This persona focuses on what the user wants to achieve with your product or software. It also focuses on how the user will achieve their goals.

Role-Based Personas

Role-based personas concentrate on the role your users play within their organization as well as their goals. Role-based personas focus on the typical job description of these users and common behaviors within the role.

Engaging Personas

Engaging personas are a more well-rounded persona, taking into account a user’s goals, role within their organization, and other characteristics like their emotional state, background, thinking pattern, and more. Engaging personas often have frustrations and obstacles that product managers must consider as well as their goals.

Fictional Personas

Fictional personas are users imagined by the development team; these personas are based on assumptions and inferences during the development process. Fictional personas aren’t used as frequently as the others, but can be helpful to fill in gaps and accommodate for anything product development might have missed.

Examples of User Personas in the B2B Space

The Employee (The End User)

The end user is the individual who will be primarily using your product. This user will likely interact with your product every day. They need to know how it works and how it will benefit their job. The finer details and functionality of the product should be based on this persona.

The Manager (The End User’s Supervisor)

Your end users will likely have a direct supervisor whom they receive directives from. This manager will be the go-to person when end users have questions about how to use the product or frustrations about the product. You’ll want to make sure these managers have the resources they need to troubleshoot and answer questions from their team. These managers will also want to accumulate data on productivity for each user as well as any other metrics relevant to the task at hand.

The IT Department (Responsible for Deploying the Product)

If your product requires integration on any level, your customer’s software engineers will be responsible for installing and deploying the product for the end user. Your product must be simple enough to install and pose no threat to an organization’s security or internal networks.

Department Personas: The Missing Layer

Understanding user personas and buyer personas is imperative. However, the problem with focusing only on user and buyer personas is that it leaves a huge gap between the two that’s difficult to connect. In other words, it’s hard to tie the success of your users to the success of your buyers (senior executives) in a credible way. It’s too big of a leap. That’s why department personas are incredibly important.

What is a Department Persona?

Just like user and buyer personas, the department persona tells you how each customer department defines its success. You can take the same user persona types and apply them to department personas–it all depends on the role the department plays in the organization as a whole. A department persona could be the sales team, the marketing department, the IT department, or another team within a larger organization. The success of a sales team, for example, might be defined as growing revenue, market share (new accounts) and wallet share (add-on products to existing customers).

The Importance of Department Personas

Whether your product contributes to the success of users within a department or multiple users across departments, it is still making a positive impact on departments within an organization. Some might say that department personas are more critical than user personas because they cover all users within a department, plus they are focused on department goals that are directly connected to the strategic priorities of the company as a whole.

User personas, on the other hand, are indirectly connected to the motivations of buyer personas. Though not necessarily a bad thing, it fails to represent the overarching company strategy. That’s why the department personas are critical to tying your value to buyer personas and doing it credibly.

What is a B2B Buyer Persona?

A buyer persona in the B2B space represents the type of person who will be buying your product, sometimes referred to as the economic buyer. Buyer personas tend to be more varied than user personas. Buyer personas represent the decision-makers and influencers within the organizations you want to target.

In B2B, the most important takeaway is that your buyers are rarely your end users. Buyers typically carry CXX titles. Users are typically the employees and team members who report indirectly to the buyers via the department heads. While your product is designed for your user personas, you’ll need to market and pitch it to your buyer personas. To effectively do that, the department persona is critical.

Types of B2B Buyer Personas

There are four main types of buyer personas in the B2B space.

Competitive Persona

The competitive buyer persona is looking for your product or business’s competitive advantages. What can your product do for them that your competitors can’t? This persona will have many questions about your product and will readily compare it with others.

Spontaneous Persona

Spontaneous buyer personas make quick decisions; if they like you and your product, they’ll make a purchase. Spontaneous buyers may not even be looking for a product like yours at the time but can be emotionally influenced by its effectiveness.

Humanistic Persona

Humanistic buyer personas are looking for a personal connection with your organization. Their purchases tend to be more emotional in nature. They may not be wholly convinced about your product, but if they are moved by your company, that will influence their buying decision.

Methodical Persona

Methodical buyer personas want to examine all the features of your product. They need evidence that your product can do what it claims and will conduct near-exhaustive research about your product. Methodical personas often take time to make buying decisions.

Examples of B2B Buyer Personas

Executive Leadership (The Ultimate Buyer)

The leader or leaders of the organization are the ultimate buyer personas. Think CEOs, CFOs, CROs, CIOs and in smaller organizations, owners/founders. Though they may not be the ones pressing the “purchase” button, they’re the ones whose names are on the checks. Executive leadership buyer personas need to know your product can impact the organization’s overall strategic goals.

The IT Director or CTO (Influential Decision Maker)

While the IT team might be the hands that deploy your product, the CTO is the one who ultimately needs convincing. Since the CTO is responsible for the organization’s cyber security as well as the delegation of all other technical needs within the company, this buyer persona needs to know your product won’t put the organization at risk and won’t be a drain on their team’s resources.

The Procurement Specialist (Influential Decision Maker)

In large enough businesses, the procurement team or procurement specialist is the chief negotiator. The procurement specialist must find the purchasing process simple enough and the price competitive enough, or they might suggest purchasing an alternative product to yours.

Understanding Personas Makes Better Products

Holding a holistic view of these personas gives you a better insight into your target markets and helps you develop a higher value product. The best positioning addresses each persona’s specific needs and connects the dots between them. The same goes for the best sales pitches.

Train your team members to understand and recognize each persona so they can build an entire experience around meeting the needs of the organization from the top down or bottom up.

And don’t neglect the department persona–without it, the connection between buyer and user personas will be far too tenuous.

Want to learn more? Check out our product management courses, product marketing courses, and product demo courses for more on personas.

You might also like:

--

--

John Mansour

Eliminate inconsistencies in how customer value is defined with personalized hands-on training courses for B2B/B2B2C product management & product marketing.