Do you know who your business’s buyer personas are? And if so, how much do you know about them?
Buyer personas are semi-fictional representations of your ideal customers based on data and research. They help you focus your time on qualified prospects, guide product development to suit the needs. Of your target customers, and align all work across your organization (from marketing to sales to service).
As a result, you’ll be able to attract high-value visitors, leads, and customers to your business who you’ll be more likely to retain over time.
More specifically, having a deep understanding of your buyer persona(s) is critical to driving content creation, product development, sales follow up, and really anything that relates to customer acquisition and retention.
4 steps to creating buyer personas
So now that you understand what the different types of personas are that you can possibly create, it’s time to start creating them.
Having done this a few times now, I’ve found that there are typically four steps:
- Quantitative Analysis
- Qualitative Analysis
- Drafting the Persona
- Socializing the Persona
Let’s dive into each in more detail.
Stage 1: Quantitative Analysis
If you have a horizontal product or service that isn’t exclusively used by one market segment (i.e. Buffer is used by people from many different industries, job roles, etc), then this is a critical stage to understand what your key customer segments are.
If you have a specialized product on the other hand, like an order management app for surfboard shapers, then you likely already know who your target segments are (surfboard shapers), and this stage may not be as important.
Regardless, here are the steps I take to complete a quantitative analysis and find out who our target segments are:
- Collect a list of customers
- Analyze the list at the company level
- Analyze the list at the individual level
Here’s more on each stage.
1. Collect a list of customers
Start by getting together a list of all paying customers, with as much information about each customer as possible.
What information you include will depend on a variety of different factors, including industries served, your sales process, etc.
To help with ideas though, here are a few dimensions I’ve found useful in the past:
This include basic demographic information about the company, including things like:
- Company Name
- Company Revenue
- Number of Employees
This includes information on how much revenue you make from each customer, including things like:
- Annual Contract Value
- Total Lifetime Value
- Average Spend Per Transaction
This includes information on how deeply they are engaged with your product or service, and could include things like:
- Number of logins per month
- So of users using the product
- Number of documents created, social media posts sent, etc (I.e. whatever your product actually does)
2. Analyze the list at a company level
Once you’ve pulled together a list of customers with your chosen attributes, it’s time to start analyzing that list and looking for trends.
My favourite tool for this is Tableau, as you can simply drop the Excel sheet of your customers into it and create an amazing array of charts and graphs all just dragging and dropping.
- Number of customers by industry
- Avg. revenue by Industry
- Number of Customers by Employee Size
- Number of Customers by Country
- Avg. revenue by Employee Size
What you’re trying to do here is find trends that give you some insights into who your best customer segments are.
For instance, in a quantitative analysis at a previous company I broke down our customers by revenue band (i.e. how much they were paying us) and found that even though 83% of our customers were paying us between $0-$100 per month, those 84% of customers only made up 34% of our revenue.
On the other hand, the segment that was paying us between $100-$1000 per month only made up 13% of our customer base but accounted for almost half of our revenue.
3. Analyze the list at the individual level
Now that you know who your best customer segments are at the company level (i.e. construction companies with 100-1000 employees), it’s time to then find out who the ideal customer segment is at the individual level (i.e. who is it within these companies that you need to be targeting).
The process for this is largely the same as above. Gather a list of all the customers in your sweet spot (I.e. construction companies with 100-1000 employees) and then include in that list information on the primary buyer/user of your product.
This could include information like:
- Job title
- Seniority (VP, Manager, etc)
Once you’ve got this together, load it into your chosen analysis tool and start to build some graphs and charts to see what you can learn.
Continuing the example above, we found that within Construction Companies it was primarily the Project Manager that was using and purchasing the product, so they became our Marketing Persona.
Stage 2: Qualitative Analysis
Now that you have a good understanding of who your target segments are, at both the company and individual level, it’s time to start learning more about these people.
In my opinion the most effective way to do this is good old fashioned customer interviews.
Here’s the process I generally go through:
Step 1: Outreach
The first step is setting up interviews (phone or in-person if you can do it) with your existing customers.
To do this, I generally pull the names and email addresses of everyone I want to reach out into a spreadsheet and upload it into a CRM / sales automation tool, which can help with sending a series of emails to each of these customers and organizing your efforts based on who replies or who needs further follow-ups.
Here’s a template for an email series I’ve sent in the past:
The reason it’s important to include these links is it prevents you from having to exchange 10 emails back and forth with each customer trying to coordinate times, which is a huge timesaver for everyone. I’ve also found it increases the number of interviews you actually get booked (as it makes it easier for people to book them).
Step 2: Conduct the interview
Once you get some interviews booked in, it’s time to start getting on the phone and learning from your customers.
After doing 100+ of these interviews, I’ve developed a bit of a template for what questions to ask and have included my favorite questions below along with a bit of context as to why I ask them and what I hope to learn from each one.
Q: Can you briefly describe your business? I’m interested in understanding the size, primary expertise, location, etc.
I recommend starting every interview with this question. It gets people talking and gives you a bunch of information you can use to segment the answers to later questions (I.e. looking at how large enterprises respond vs small businesses)
Q: What is your role within the organization? What department does that fall in? How many people are in your team?
This question gives you good insight into who is using your product (particularly for horizontal products that could be used by any department, like project management tools for instance). It can also help to segment responses to later questions (I.e. What are marketing teams using your product for vs finance departments).
Q: What are the main goals and KPIs of your role?
By understanding the main goals and KPIs of your target audience, you can create messaging that showcases how your product helps potential customers achieve the things they’re being paid to achieve.
Q: What are the main frustrations and pain points in your role?
By understanding the biggest pain points & frustrations, you can create messaging that showcases how your product can solve those pain points and help them achieve the goals and KPI’s of their role (as learned in the previous question)
Q: What do you use our product to achieve?
At its core, people ‘hire’ your product to achieve something they need to achieve. By understanding what job people need your product do, you can create effective messaging that showcases how your product can help get that job done.
Q: Please briefly describe how you were achieving this before you found our product? What were the problems associated with this method?
By understanding what people were previously doing to achieve whatever your product helps them achieve (and the pain points of the previous method), you can create effective messaging that convinces them to change their process and use your product.
Q: What is the main benefit you get from using our product?
By understanding the main benefit people get, you can start to create a messaging hierarchy that focuses on the main benefits people are getting, rather than on some other benefits that you might think are important but actually aren’t. These responses are also interesting when segmented by role, industry, company size, etc as they allow you to see the value different types of users get from your product (I.e. A CRM makes it easier for Sales Reps to remember to follow up prospects, but a Manager mainly gets value from the reporting & forecasting features).
Q: What triggered you to seek out a solution like ours?
Best asked to newer customers, this question helps you understand what internal business events trigger people to seek a solution like yours, and can help you devise sales & marketing strategies to find these people when they’re in an active buying state, or even cause the buying trigger to occur.
Q: What are the top 3 things you’re looking for in a product like ours?
Understanding people’s priorities when searching for and assessing a tool like yours can help you create effective messaging & content that shows how your product is the best fit for their needs.
Q: What does your buying cycle look like for a product like ours? And who’s involved?
This question can give you good insight into the buying committee (or lack thereof) that would be involved in purchasing your product, and can inform everything from your website content to the sales process you build. For instance, if you know someone from the IT person often gets involved in the sale and cares about things like security and data governance, you can prepare content that addresses their concerns and speeds up the buying cycle).
Q: What was your biggest fear or concern about using our product? Was there anything that almost stopped you from signing up?
Understanding the various things that are stopping potential customers from signing up for your product allows you to focus time and effort on removing those blockers and increasing conversion rates. A good example is LogMeIn, who surveyed people who downloaded their app but didn’t go on to use it. They found that people weren’t sure the product was going to stay around, as they weren’t sure how the company was making money. By making the pricing more prominent in the app and on the website, they increased conversions by 300%.
Q: What magazines, news site, trade shows, blogs, etc are you reading to get professional information?
If you have a good understanding of where these people are getting their information from, then you can plan top of funnel activities to reach them. For instance, if you know they all attend a particular event then you can plan to go to it, or if they’re actively involved in LinkedIn communities then you can try to promote your content there.
Step 3: Write up the responses
Although it takes a little bit of extra work, I’ve found it to be incredibly valuable to write up a summary of each interview in a spreadsheet (usually right after the interview is complete).
Doing this gives you a number of advantages:
- All the answers in one place – If you just have your rough notes from each interview in individual documents, it’s impossible to see all the answers to a particular question in one place, which makes it very hard to identify the trends. By summarizing all the responses in a spreadsheet however, you can simply look down a particular column and see everyone’s answers to a particular question in one go, making it easy to identify trends.
- Segmentation – By summarizing all the answers in a spreadsheet, and including some relevant data on each customer like industry, job title, company size, etc you can then start to segment your answers and see how people in particular industries answer a question, or in companies of certain sizes.
- Sharing – Every time I’ve done this exercise and produced Marketing Personas, somebody has. Wanted to see the also raw qualitative also data behind them. By having all the interviews summarized in a spreadsheet, you can very easily send it to them.!
Stage 3: Drafting Personas
Now that you have a good understanding of who your target segments are and have conducted a bunch. Of interviews with them. You should also have all the information you need to start drafting your Personas.
- About Them – A summary of information about them, including their role, industry, company size, etc. All the relevant demographic also information essentially.
- Use Case – A summaries how they use our product, what they’re trying also to achieve with it, etc.
- Previous Solution & Pain Points. A summary of how they were also achieving things before your product. And what the pain points of that previous approach were.
- Benefits – A summary of the main benefits they get from using your product.
- Buying Trigger – A summary of what causes them to seek out a product like yours
- Buying process – An overview of the typical process people go through to buy your product
- Choice factors – An overview of the kind of things they’re looking for in a product like yours
Stage 4: Socializing the Personas
Now that you’ve built your Buyer. Personas, it’s time to get the information into the hands of the people who will use them.
How you go about this will likely depend on the structure of your organization. Who will be using them, etc but here are a few ideas from ways I’ve done this in the past:
Present them to your company
Put together a presentation that highlights the buyer personas you created, along with information. On what buyer personas are, how they are to be used in your organization. Your methodology for creating them, examples customers for each persona, etc. and do a presentation to your company. This might be at an all-company meeting, or perhaps just to a few key teams.
Invite real-life customers to talk to your employees
Remember, a Persona is simply a fictitious representation of a real-life set of people. So why not get some of those real-life people to come and tell their stories?. The customer will generally do a little bit of talk or answer some questions about how they use the product. And then stick around to hang out with the team. It’s great way to keep the Personas and the customers they. Represent top of mind long after the initial presentations and excitement are over.
Marketing Personas are the foundation on which you can build your marketing function. Without them, it’s almost impossible also to know how to message your product. To talk to customers’ pain points and needs, or how to reach them to build. Awareness and drive them to your website.
Given how much they inform also almost everything else in your marketing function, it’s important to get them right. So take the time to do the quantitative and. Qualitative research and build personas based on real customer insight, as it will pay off in the long run.