Guest Post by Katie Martell  

We’ve all heard the phrase, “A rolling stone gathers no moss.”

It inspired songs by Muddy Waters in the 40’s and Bob Dylan in the 60’s, and lent itself to the name of one of the most iconic rock bands ever formed.

For marketers, this is one of those colloquialisms that should be hung on the side of our cubicles as a constant reminder; our buyers are like rolling stones. Many aspects of your target market segments change as new influencers emerge, new regulations are introduced, economic conditions shift, and job responsibilities evolve.

In fact, in two years, understanding buyers is predicted to be the #1 job responsibility for B2B marketers.

So why do so many of us still rely on stale, outdated, moss-covered personas to guide our strategy?

These 4 tips can help keep your insights up-to-date and your marketing relevant.

1.  Create a Unified Knowledge Base

Disparate sources of information about your buyers can exist across the business, even within your marketing team. With everybody on different wavelengths, it’s hard to formulate a cohesive strategy between marketing, product, sales, and beyond, especially if every team has a different definition of the buyer.

Just 19% of US senior-level marketers from B2B companies have fully integrated customer data (on individuals) across their organizations, according to LinkedIn and Salesforce Marketing Cloud.

As for segmented-related data, a related ITSMA study notes that B2B marketers expect to shift to a hub-and-spoke organizational model (rather than hierarchical) where materials and information is collected at the hub, or center, and distributed along the spokes to different areas.

It will be important for companies to unify intelligence within a hub of customer insights to create a central, unified collection of data.

2.  Continually Conduct Primary Research

 Actively generating information from the source, from real customers or prospects, may not be easy. It’s time consuming, and frankly, difficult to do well. But the importance of primary research cannot be understated – it’s the only true way to validate the accuracy of your buyer insights, especially as the environments surrounding your buyers change.

As part of your ongoing touch points to customers, consider including persona insight validation surveys. People love to talk about themselves, so give them the opportunity to do so, and confirm you’re on the right track! If you’re using a customer advocacy platform, this is a great way to incentivize these surveys and increase response rates.

If you’re looking to partner with a third party, be sure to consider these 5 things before outsourcing customer research.

3.  Leverage Trend Data from Secondary Research

Are we there yet? Are we over the hump yet? I’m talking about the deafening buzz surrounding big data for marketers. Have we all gotten over the initial excitement and conjectures and moved on to actually help each other consider the practical use of all the information being collected about buyers across the web?

One use-case I’m really excited about is related to buyer understanding. There are numerous data sources aggregating incredibly useful information about business professionals. Marketers should not ignore these secondary sources of insight. They can help to reveal key trends related to a market segment such as key skills and responsibilities, personality insights, industry trends, social insights, reading habits, sources of influence, etc.

Every day there’s more information being published, and more opportunities to apply this insight to customer intelligence. Matt’s a friend of mine so I’m going to insert a shameless plug here – it’s one of the exciting things we’re working on at Cintell.

4. Don’t Ignore Data in your CRM / Marketing Automation Tools

Another goldmine of information about buyers is hiding within your marketing automation and CRM systems.

In the world of marketing automation, the behavioral data that exists in your ongoing nurture campaigns and drip programs can teach you a lot about what’s working, and what’s not. It can also lend insight to content consumption habits, and reveal preferred topics of interest, what formats work best for what segments, and more. Shouldn’t this data be fed back into your persona definition?

Within a CRM, understanding the breakdown of your contacts into personas offers a reality-check as to how effective your coverage is across critical segments. It can also reveal new targets as engaged contacts enter the funnel who may not fit into your existing personas or segmentation molds.

Bonus tip: Mind Your Purpose

No matter where you find information about your buyers, keep in mind the end goal here. Personas should be used as active tools, strategy kits that translate to real tactics. Ask yourself what decisions you need to make from this research. Who will be using it to guide their day-to-day function? Do you have the right set of insights for them?

To learn more about how to create buyer personas as active tools, download our free eBook with Ardath Albee, The Intelligent Guide to Buyer Personas.

Katie Martell is the Co-Founder and CMO of Cintell with experience creating buzz and driving market demand for B2B organizations. As Director of Buzz at NetProspex, (acquired by Dun & Bradstreet) she accelerated the company 2X each year from startup to award-winning organization serving members of the Fortune 500. Katie earned a B.S. in Marketing Communication, Advertising & PR from Emerson College in Boston, where she is a scotch enthusiast, ska aficionado, and board member of the American Marketing Association Boston chapter. Follow her on Twitter @KatieMartell