Let’s talk about “buyer persona“: As a marketer, it’s easy to get bogged down in data. Conversion rates, bounce rates, open rates, MQLs, SQLs, CPLs, CPVs…monitoring and tracking these KPIs become our daily routine.
Unfortunately, while a data-backed approach to marketing is certainly not something to shy away from, it often leads us to lose sight of what really matters.
Without them, the business would not exist, and diluting them down into a series of numbers and data points can seriously harm a business.
This is where a buyer persona comes in.
It helps us remember to put customers front and center where they belong, and put a name and face in front of those figures.
Table of Content
What is a Buyer Persona?
“A buyer persona is a fictional representation, or composite picture, of your ideal customer.”
It’s an avatar created by gathering information from both internal (sales, marketing, customer success team feedback) and external (social media, forums, conferences, direct customer interviews) sources.
When done correctly, the person emerging from your research will be as real as any customer met in real life. They’ll walk, talk, and act (in your mind, at least) the same, and even earn themselves a real name.
It’s also not uncommon to have several buyer personas for the same product.
This is particularly common in B2B industries, where several people are involved in lengthy, complex sales processes.
Each person involved throughout that process is a separate persona. Their wants and needs might differ from their colleagues, meaning tailored strategies need to be put in place to address that fact.
Why is it Considered Important to Focus on the Buyer Persona?
How does that phrase go again?
“Assumption is the mother of all f*** ups…”
Building out and defining your buyer persona (also commonly referred to as a customer persona, or marketing persona) helps you remove the guesswork completely.
Instead, “gut feeling” is replaced by a real-life composite of your ideal customer, meaning each new marketing campaign can be viewed through their eyes.
This is game-changing for businesses.
You’ll be able to understand and empathize with customers’ needs and essentially, learn how to serve them better.
It’s particularly helpful in copywriting, as it will help you craft and direct your message to a specific person. But also it has implications for product development, digital content strategy, new services, and overall brand messaging.
What Information do You Want to Know?
Before you can head off and start gathering information on your buyer persona, it’s important to understand exactly what you wish to ask customers.
What information do you wish to gather, and more importantly, why?
To answer that question, we need to look at the 5 Rings of Buying Insight.
The 5 Rings of Buying Insight
This fantastic framework is the result of the hard work of the folks at the Buyer Persona Insitute and its founder, Adele Revella.
What they’ve done is tackle one of the biggest issues facing marketers when attempting to profile their customers – merely describing their buyers.
While demographic data is still important, it’s not enough on its own to guide key strategic business making decisions.
This 5-part framework keeps your information gathering and recording process-focused and on-point.
#1 Priority Initiative
The first segment of the framework looks to answer the following question:
“What are the main objectives your buyer persona dedicates time and money to achieving?”
And to accompany that, when they decide to make an investment or commit to change, what are those triggers?
#2 Success Factors
The second part of the framework looks to answer the following:
“How would your buyer persona define success?”
In other words, what is their expected outcome after investing? After they’ve completed the objectives stated in their priority initiative, what do they expect to happen?
When gathering information related to success factors try to include both hard, tangible outcomes (increase annual revenue by “X” amount) as well as softer, aspirational goals (be considered a leader in digital transformation).
#3 Perceived Barriers
The third part of the framework looks to answer:
“Why might your buyer persona question your ability (or suitability) at providing the right solution?”
This is extremely useful as it analyzes where, during their buying experience, your customers are encountering reasons to not proceed.
In long, complex B2B sales processes such as a wholesale change in IT software, these barriers could be internal. Different stakeholders may have their reasons for resisting change.
Alternatively, it could be uncovering why they believe your competitors are better positioned to facilitate their needs.
Whatever the case, a thorough analysis and collection of customer data can highlight how to overcome these objections in the marketing, sales, and product development process.
#4 Buying Journey
This part of the framework is about finding out:
“What is the process your buyer persona follows to find a solution for achieving their objectives?”
Avella splits this into two sections:
Buying Influencers – Which people are involved in this decision-making process? At what stage are they entering? And what is their impact?
Buying Resources – Which are the 4-5 most influential resources people are consuming at each stage of the journey? Again, try and be as specific as possible about the exact resources (blog posts, ebooks, webinars, microsites, brochures, etc.) people use to evaluate your solution.
Understanding this allows you to bridge the gap between what buyers want to hear at specific moments throughout the journey, and what you are telling them.
#5 Decision Criteria
The final section of the framework aims to answer the following question:
“What aspects of your product or service does your buyer persona consider most important?”
Ideally, you want to Identify the top 4-5 factors your buyer persona uses to evaluate your product and compare you to the competition.
Try to dig a little deeper for more than just “increase efficiency” or “save time”. Find out exactly where they want to save time, why, and how they plan on measuring it, for example.
Also, who will be the primary benefactors of change?
How to Create a Buyer Persona
So now we understand what information we are after (and why), it’s time to look at how to go about gathering it.
Now, the most effective buyer personas are based on a combination garnered from market research and most importantly, feedback from your actual customers.
Remember, we are going to use the framework from the 5 Rings of Buying Insight to structure our research gathering. This ensures any insights obtained can guide our key strategic business-making decisions.
But first, let’s start by putting a “cover” on our buyer persona playbook.
As I discussed earlier, basing your buyer personas on real data as opposed to “gut instinct” is always preferred.
Essential demographic data can be pulled from a variety of internal business and marketing tools such as your CRM, Google Analytics, Social Media Analytics, etc.
This includes gathering data such as:
Additional data can also be pulled from secondary market research.
Starting with basic demographic data is a great way to get an idea of who your customers are.
Although, this is just the cover page remember! Now the real research begins… 😉
Speaking to Customers
The only way to gather clear insight into how your buyers make decisions is to speak to them.
Ask them to take you through their decision process, from when they recognized they needed had a problem that needed solving, to eventually purchasing your product.
Now, while customer surveys can be extremely useful (and more comfortable) in gathering this information, it’s far better to get your costumes on the phone for an interview.
The detail you’ll get is far richer, and you can also get cues from how they react to questions (if face-to-face).
How to Select Customers for an Interview
So, which customers should you contact for an interview?
Your best results come from those to recently purchase your product, around 1-2 months post-purchase. Their experience of the “buyer’s journey” will be fresh and give you an accurate portrayal of what they were thinking at each stage.
However, the most valuable insight comes from people who DIDN’T choose you.
This will tell you why you are losing customers, and what you can do to engage people who don’t love your product.
Coordinate with your sales team for who best to contact, and gain access to your CRM.
p.s. it should not be members of the sales team conducting these interviews. Yes, they might have built rapport with the interviewee, but experience has told me they’re not always honest with their answers as a result.
How many interviews should you do?
Well, as the saying goes, the more the merrier!
The more data you can gather and the more insight you can glean, the more accurate your portrayal of the buyer persona will be.
In terms of how to conduct an interview, I find it best to have one person interviewing, and another taking notes. This enables the interviewer to actually LISTEN to what’s being said, and respond accordingly.
If you have the customer’s permission it’s also best to record your interview. That way you can comb through the conversation afterward to make sure nothing’s been missed.
p.s. if there’s a member of your marketing team with journalistic experience, try to include them in the project. They’ll have the skillset and experience of keeping interviewees engaged while asking thought-provoking questions.
Buyer Persona Interview Questions
Here’s a list of suggested questions to ask interviewees segmented by the 5 Rings of Buying Insight.
Priority Initiative Questions
- What are your primary goals?
- If you had to list 2-3 objectives of your role, what would they be?
- What would you say you dedicate the most time to in your role?
- What are the triggers for change?
- What are you responsible for at the company?
- What does a typical workday look like for you?
- What are your responsibilities?
Success Factors Questions
- How would you define success in your role?
- What are the tangible factors your performance is measured against?
- Are there any intangible factors you consider important?
- What does it mean to be successful in your role?
Perceived Barriers Questions
- What did the decision ultimately hinge upon?
- Were there internal barriers?
- Was rapidly changing the status quo a concern?
- Did you perceive a competitor’s product to be superior?
Buying Journey Questions
- Which resources did you use to help you in your decision?
- Who did you speak to internally?
- Who did you speak to externally?
- How many people are involved in the entire process?
- What is their role?
Decision Criteria Questions
- What aspects of our product did you consider most important?
- Who will gain the most from implementing our product?
- What did it ultimately come down to?
- Who had the last say?
- What criteria were we being evaluated against?
Buyer Persona Template
Now that you’ve collated all your research your market research and interviews with customers, it’s time to add it to a buyer persona template.
The one we’ve created below is based on the 5 Rings of Buying Insight with an additional section for demographic data.
Feel free to download our buyer persona template for a trial run on your own business.
Remember, it’s not uncommon to have several different buyer persona’s – particularly if there are multiple people involved within a complex sales process. If that’s the case, a separate template will need to be created for each buyer persona.
Buyer Persona Canvas
Alternatively, you could use a buyer persona canvas (similar to the framework used for the business model canvas) to draw up your buyer persona.
The idea is the same, however, we have found that many of our students prefer the information layout in a canvas format.
I recommend you try out both to see which option works best for you.
How to Use Your Buyer Persona
Creating a buyer persona is more than simply hanging a composite printout on the company noticeboard.
Here’s how we, as a company, can act upon what we’ve learned about our buyer persona.
Take insights and convert them into message strategies for marketing, content strategies for content, and sales playbooks for sales.
Buyer Personas by Adele Rivella
As mentioned earlier in the article, Rivella is the mastermind behind the 5 Rings of Buying Insight – the key insights businesses need to truly understand their customers.
And, it just so happens she’s written a fantastic book on the subject. Endorsed by the likes of Joe Pulizzi, Geoffrey Moore, (and of course myself!) Buyer Personas provides a step-by-step guide to implementing this unique, systematic approach.
If you want to take buyer personas seriously, then I highly recommend you grab yourself a copy.
Buyer Persona Round-up
Well, congrats if you made it down this far!
I sincerely hope that after reading you feel confident enough to:
- Create a buyer persona for your business.
- Interview customers (and those who ended up not buying).
- Use your persona to affect change in strategy.
- Understand the importance of the 5 Rings of Buying Insight.
However, If there’s one key takeaway I’d like you to go away with, it’s this:
“Developing a buyer persona truly gives your customers a voice within your business strategy.”
This ensures all insights gained throughout this process positively guide your key strategic business-making decisions.