We say it all the time – your marketing needs to be audience-centric.  By focusing on delivering information that the audience craves and wants, you’ll build a relationship and draw them in closer. But first, you have to be able to answer the old Jerry Seinfeld question: Who ARE these people?

The reason this matters is that the sales cycle has changed from those glorious cold-calling days of yore. Today, 6o percent of the buying process is complete before the sales department ever hears from the prospect. Prospects spend that time educating themselves, developing ideas and preferences. Smart organizations that want to build a relationship with the audience and ultimately make the sale are feeding this appetite for information

Step one is to figure out who these people are. That means identifying buyer personas. You have to do that as the foundation for your content strategy. In many ways, well-researched and constructed buyer personas can replace the traditional creative brief. Last week outside Philadelphia, Sirius Decisions’ analyst Pat McAnally gave a presentation on B2B Personas and Sales Cycles, delving into the science of building personas that work.

For marketers, there’s a lot to take advantage of. It begins with building in-depth personas of the target audience; once these are established, they become the focal point of marketing.

So, how do you build them? It begins with following a formula, conducting some research, and building the personas of your perfect customers.

Here are some of the persona attributes you should identify in order to make your marketing smarter:

Job Role / Common Titles / Position on the Org Chart

This is pretty self-explanatory. Identifying the target audience’s roles and responsibilities is the heart of the exercise. Importantly, some personas will be higher up in the organization than other targets; they likely will need to information delivered in a different way.

Demographics

Industry, company size and relationship to the marketer’s company.

Buying Center

This means identifying the department or team that holds the budget for the purchase.

Challenges

The specific issues, problems and pain points faced by the specific persona. The goal is to identify universal challenges, but also be  very specific in pinpointing them.

Initiatives

What are the significant projects the target persona is likely to be working on?

Buyer Role Type

Identifying what role the persona plays in their organization’s buying process.

Interaction Preferences

How do they like to receive information? Do they go online and figure it out for themselves, or do they have one of their direct reports do the initial research.

Watering Holes

Where do they gather with peers? Identifying key trade shows and conferences, LinkedIn discussion groups, etc. is important in creating connections with the personas you’re targeting.

Identifying these attributes should not be guesswork; this is a significant project that will take some time. McAnally recommends conducting fifty (50!) interviews per persona if you really want to do this right; this eliminates anecdotal evidence and begins to provide hard statistical data that you can apply to building audience personas. This might not be viable for smaller businesses, but it should not prevent you from going as deep as you realistically can in identifying your buyer personas; at the very least, it demonstrates that this needs to be a serious effort.

Importantly, McAnally suggests validating personas with the sales team once they’re completed to make sure that these are the people they’re encountering.

Building these personas helps to bridge the gap between sales and marketing; when both organizations understand who the prospect is, it becomes far easier for them to work hand-in-hand. Sirius Decisions recently conducted a survey that showed that high-performing sales reps were more attuned to buyer personas, while mediocre reps focused on product details.

You see, being audience-centric really does matter.