Sophia Brooke
Sophia Brooke 26 April 2018

How to Build an Ideal Buyer’s Persona

You may have been exposed to the concept of the persona, from either a design or a marketing perspective. Personas are also making inroads into HR and recruitment, although the concept is still new in the human capital arena.

Effectively used, they are very powerful agents in achieving successful outcomes, guaranteeing that the company focuses on the real needs of their customers. Here is a simple outline of where to start and what information you will need.

What is a Buyer’s Persona?

A buyer’s persona is a composite figure of your typical buyer, focusing on his or her goals, concerns and challenges. This is not a profile. While knowing demographics about this fictional customer does help, you are trying to understand why he or she buys from you or prefers your competitors. Are they focused on price, or quality, or an equal measure of both? For a B2B customer, how much does the company’s impending financial year-end affect the purchasing decision? By the time you have successfully crafted your buyer’s persona, you will understand when it is a good time to approach them and when it is better to hold back. The buyer persona is sometimes also described as a “brand” persona, because the characteristics of this persona align it to your brand. So, let’s get started.

Define Your Strategy and Communicate It

  • It it critical to inform everyone in the exercise and explain why you are doing it. This should be a team effort and there will be learning along the way.

  • Do not create personas for the sake of it - define the goals and objectives that you expect to achieve.

  • Define how you will you measure success and along what timeline.

  • Start early with giving a “human” aspect to the persona. Give your buyer persona a name and find suitable pictures so that your team will start thinking about him or her and their family and colleagues as real people. “What would Dave Wilson feel about this product feature?” “Dave’s wife, Melinda, loves dogs, they have 2 spaniels that go everywhere with them, fabric car seats pick up dog hair.”

  • Identify how you are going to obtain the information you need. You need a mix of fieldwork and related data. Who is going to interview customers and who is going to collect and analyse the data? The data focus is different for B2C and B2B personas.

Is this a B2B or a B2C Persona?

A B2C persona is relatively easy to craft, I’ll focus on B2B personas, which are more complex. For a start, personal demographics have a lot less influence on the B2B buyer persona. It is not relevant where they live or what car they drive. This does not mean that there is no demographic data that could influence their buying decision. Where they were educated and what qualifications they achieved could create affinities or barriers when interacting with your company.

Another very important distinction is that, in a B2B context, there is normally more than one participant in the buying decision. Your salespeople are very aware of this: they deal with gatekeepers, like the receptionist and personal assistant, with subject matter experts who evaluate your product or service, and with actual decision-makers. For this reason, in a B2B context, you will probably need to map 4 or 5 personas that participate in the purchase. Contrast this with the consumer, who may only need to confer with his wife on a big-ticket item, but generally decides and acts on his own.

Collect as much Relevant Data as Possible.

Although demographics are not that important in a B2B context, company demographics are useful (sometimes called “firmographics”). Personal demographics can also be useful in a B2B situation if they are to assist in lead nurturing.

Gathering demographics is easy these days; you have your CRM holding lots of customer data. You can extract and analyse buying patterns and behavior going back years. But how do you unearth the real pain-points and challenges your buyer faces on a regular basis? You cannot get these answers by sitting in a meeting room with your Marketing and Sales team, although they can bring you useful insights that you should add to the mix. The best way to get real data for your persona is by talking to real people: interview your customers.

Conducting Interviews: Who should Do It?

There is an art to a good interview, the interviewer must remain neutral and must not lead the interviewee into giving the answers the interviewer expects. It may be wise to use market researchers to conduct the interviews; this frees the interviewee up to answer the questions more openly than when he or she is speaking to a representative of your company. A trained interviewer knows how to ask open-ended questions and delve deeper where required.

The best feedback from an interview is a recorded dialogue. Apart from the extra dimension gained by hearing the subject speaking, you can uplift specific phrases that add flavor, such as ”My employees’ wellbeing is very important to me, I cannot get the best out of an unhappy workforce,” or “We don’t have much leeway in making purchasing decisions, most major purchases need board approval.”

Aim for 10-15 interviews for a persona and ensure that you have people who are not fans of your company, as well as loyal customers, you want both sides of the coin.

Variety is the Spice of Life

Interviewing is the most important method of obtaining data. In a survey conducted by Cintell, they found that 70% of companies who missed their revenue and leads goals did not perform these qualitative interviews (“Understanding B2B Buyers,” p.13). However, they also reported that the best-performing companies used a wide variety of methods to gather data.

Use as much demographic and social data as you can find. Your final persona will be a balanced blend of feedback and data from sources such as LinkedIn, customer service and purchasing history, and past marketing campaigns. Leveraging big data to create personas, you can achieve the result faster and make it way more accurate.

Knowing how to find the hidden gold in the data avalanche may require some extra help from specialists who are expert in slicing, dicing and interpreting big data. They can assist you in finding the patterns you are searching for to add extra life to your personas. They can also help you in resegmenting your customer base to fit various personas.

Negative Personas can Work Well too

Some companies find it useful to craft personas that are negative, that is, they do not fit the brand and form a market segment that is out of scope for a variety of reasons. This could be useful when there is a base of dormant clients, where you want to identify who should be nurtured and who should be let go.

People Change, So Do Personas

Once you get to a point where your personas make sense, you will find that it radically improves your marketing and sales. There are plenty of statistics in the Benchmark Study mentioned above that can confirm this. You can congratulate yourself and relax for a while, knowing that you have done a good job. But don’t relax too long, you need to review your personas and tweak them, based on new data and market forces, such as a new competitor or a digital disruptor. You might even find that you will have to retire a persona now and then and replace them with a new persona that is better aligned to the brand.

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