Put Your Buyer Personas to the Test

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How to Validate Your Ideal Customer Profile and Buyer Personas

We’ve written before about creating buyer personas that are data-driven, rather than based on anecdotal evidence and assumptions. But sometimes you don’t have sufficient first-party data, or you just don’t have the time or resources for a full-scale market research study. You still want to be data-driven, and you need to understand your customers. In these instances, conducting buyer persona experiments on social media and other digital ad platforms allows you to gain insight from demographic, firmographic, behavioral, and psychographic data, all within a relatively short timeframe and with a modest budget. This approach provides the data you need to make informed go-to-market decisions. Here’s how it works.

Mapping problem-to-persona using paid social and search

Once you’ve come up with your pain point hypotheses, it’s time to test them with your target audience. Here’s where demographics and firmographics come in. Use them to define several likely audiences. Then you’re ready to put the two together by matching pain points to target audiences, and let the chips fall where they may.

You can pick your platform of choice to run your experiments. LinkedIn ads work nicely for B2B products. GoogleAds might be the right choice for your organization. There are also platforms like Wynter or UserTesting.

A quick note on the difference between ideal customer profile and buyer personas: generally, ICP refers to the company, and buyer persona refers to the decision makers within that company. But companies are made up of people, so the two interact closely.

B2B SaaS real world example

We were working with a B2B SaaS client on adjacent market expansion. We wanted to learn how decision makers in the new market differed from those in the already established market. But we didn’t have customers, or even prospects, in the new market to interview and survey. How could we understand the pain points of customers in the new market? We turned to LinkedIn.

We created a learning plan with several hypotheses on key pain points. These became our ad copy. Next, we hypothesized likely buyer personas and ideal customer profiles. These became our audiences. We tested ads (pain points) with audiences (buyer personas and ICPs). We then used the wealth of data social media provides to understand which pain points resonated with whom.

Pain Point Ideal Customer Profile + Buyer Persona Results
Pain Point 1 Audience 1: Detailed firmographics and demographics Click through rate, leads, cost per lead
Pain Point 1 Audience 2: Detailed firmographics and demographics Click through rate, leads, cost per lead
Pain Point 2 Audience 1: Detailed firmographics and demographics Click through rate, leads, cost per lead
Once we had the results from the first round of experiments, we iterated to fine tune the messaging and audience definitions until we hit upon our high-value segment: a buyer persona linked to a unique value proposition that showed high engagement rates at a (reasonably) low cost.

The benefits of behavioral testing

One of the advantages to testing ideas in real time, with a real audience, is that you can gauge actual customer behavior in the market. In even the best-designed survey, there’s often a nuanced gap between what people say they will do and what they actually do. But clicking on a social media ad is straightforward, and offers a clear indication of interest. And since it’s happening in real time, all the various market forces are in effect. Recession? Shrinking marketing budgets? Inflation? It’s all accounted for in your results.

Enrich your results with your own experience

This approach to buyer personas and ICPs is unlikely to work if you start with a blank slate. You need significant market knowledge and experience to form a strong hypothesis that will lead to meaningful results.

And of course, the algorithm of your platform-of-choice is completely outside of your control. There’s something of an art to crafting ads that will uncover pain points, often despite the platform’s algorithm. So we recommend supplementing this approach with qualitative information whenever possible. For example, you can interview the people who respond to your ads, or enter them into an email nurture series. You can also run the same test across different channels.

How validating buyer personas helps GTM strategy

Matching pain points to buyer personas to ideal customer profile allows you to create a data-backed go-to-market plan quickly and cost effectively. In our B2B SaaS example, we uncovered message-market fit: a value proposition that resonated with a target buyer persona within our client’s ICP. Our client was able to use this throughout their go-to-market strategy: demand gen, lead nurturing, and sales. Was this approach as robust as a full, end-to-end customer segmentation study? No. But when speed is of the essence, an agile approach can be the right tool for the job.

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