Tutorial: create your first buyer persona

Do you really know who your customers are? If you want to grow your business, you’ve got to be able to answer this question with a confident yes. Whether you’re a startup eager to jump into growth, or a seasoned company struggling to connect with a changing target audience, creating buyer personas will help you market and sell more effectively. Here’s how it works.

What are personas?

Personas are are semi-fictional representations of who you consider to be your ideal customers. By diving deeper than superficial target audiences, you’ll really be able to empathize with those that you want to connect with your business. This is essential if you’re serious about positively impacting your customers’ lives in one way or another.

Why would you use personas?

If you want real sustainable growth with your business, you’re going to have to realize that leads are more than mere data points – they are people. They are people that bring more complexity to the table than just their job, gender identity, age, or preferred device. By adding more dimensions, you’ll get a more complete picture of your ideal customer and attract more of them – leading to better growth and higher customer satisfaction.

Personas are useful for marketing, for example by aiding them to produce relevant content that generates qualified leads.

They are important for sales in helping them understand pain points, challenges & goals and using these to properly follow up with their leads.

Customer service representatives will find them useful as well, for example by proactively recognizing and helping customers with a lower product knowledge level based on their assigned persona.

In short, using personas will help everyone in a growth or people-facing role do a better job.

How to create a persona

To create a persona that truly represents your ideal customer, you need to do research. Get as much data as you can. Do you already have a client base? Then you surely have some customers that stand out and that you consider favorites. It might be that they generate a lot of revenue from you, they might truly understand the value that you bring to the table for them and therefore don’t require a lot of support, or they might give you lots of feedback to improve your product – all of these are markers of an ideal customer. That’s why you need to model your personas after these customers.

You might also have customers you’re not as excited about. Often that is the case if the reverse applies to them: low revenue, lots of support headaches, low ratings – all of these are markers of the type of customer you’d be happy to get rid of. These customers still contain a treasure worth of data, though. Talk to them and you might discover a trend, a red line that runs through all of them that enables you to make a decision: you can make changes to your product to address a common complaint and thereby increase your share of happy customers. You can also go the other way use what you find to develop a negative persona – a profile of the type of customer that represents a bad fit with your offer, to avoid attracting more of them and focus more on good fit leads.

Whether you base your persona on data from existing customers, conversations with leads or a combination of the two (this is deal) – if you manage to answer the questions below, you’ll get very far. Some of these questions will be more or less relevant to your business depending on your industry, so apply common sense.

1. Describe their personal demographics.

Collecting demographic data is a great place to start when creating your personas. You likely have this information readily available somewhere in your customer database and it helps to create a clear image of who you are trying to describe. Examples of information you could include here are marital status, household annual income, place of residence, gender identity, age, parental status, et cetera.

2. Describe their educational background.

Education is a great piece of information which you can usually obtain from LinkedIn. That allows you to get really specific and uncover the level of education (some college, bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, PhD, et cetera). If you’re a local business, you can even include a specific educational institution such as “University of Amsterdam”, instead of just “public university”.

3. Describe their career path.

Again this something you can obtain via LinkedIn – and it gives you an idea of the professional experience your persona has gone through to end up where they are now. See if you can uncover whether their career track is more traditional, moving up a corporate ladder so to speak, or whether they’ve switched industries or professions.

4. In which industry does their business operate?

This is mostly relevant for B2B business, and one you could skip if your business is primarily B2C. This refers to the business that they are working for, not their specific profession within that organization. Try to get specific here as well, which should be easy to do if their employer has a website. See what they do and who they do it for.

For example, a web hosting company might find that their persona works in a digital agency targeting legal professionals.

5. What is their company size (revenue, employees)?

These details are helful to know for marketing, when writing copy or providing options in landing page forms. For sales it’s helpful to get an idea of the ecosystem their lead operates in. Large organizations tend to require multiple people for a buy-in, while smaller ones might have only one decision maker. Being aware of these variables makes it easier to sell by driving the right action.

For example, a large organization persona might be just the information collector whose boss needs to sign the contract. This means you need to focus on making them an evangelist for your product with their higher-ups. A small organization persona might have the decision-making authority themselves, so you can focus on actually signing the contract directly with them.

6. What is their job role and title?

Another one easily discovered with LinkedIn, including the duration of the role and whether they are an individual contributor or a manager.

7. Whom do they report to? Who reports to them?

Basically this is about the level of seniority your persona has. We already discussed some of this in question 5 for B2B leads.

For B2C leads, you can try to apply this in a more personal setting. Perhaps your persona needs to discuss a purchase with their spouse prior to buying from you.

8. How is their job performance measured?

You’re essentially trying to figure out what numbers matter to them. What KPI’s do they need to hit to perform well in their job?

9. What does a typical day look like for them?

This is a tough one since it can be highly personal, but super valuable if you nail it. Try to create a playbook for what their average day looks like, as detailed as you can. Include job related activities of course, but also what happens before and after, such as the restaurant they might go to every Tuesday night, the brand of car they drive or their sense of fashion – pick whatever is most relevant to your industry!

10. What skillset is required to do their job?

When answering this question you need to take into account not just a general description of their job, but contextualize it to how they experience it. So if their job is ‘sales manager at company X’, don’t just take a generic sales manager skillset, but try to figure out from them what a sales manager needs to master at company X specifically.

11. What type of knowledge and tools do they use in their job?

What does their tool stack look like? This can be physical or digital and can be highly relevant if you’re trying to market a product that can be added to their stack. Figure out what they love, but also what they hate, and adjust your marketing and sales communications accordingly.

12. What are their biggest challenges?

This is a super important one to understand. It’s why you do what you do – to help your target audience overcome a challenge they face. Hence, it’s important to get detailed here, by not just simply describing the challenge, but also the emotional implications of it. Understanding the emotions a challenge brings about helps tremendously in your sales efforts since it enables you to empathize and connect on an emotional level deeper than factoids or pricing.

It really helps here to gather a quote from your interview, that accurately describes the challenge. You might hear something like: “I’m losing a lot of time and energy by collecting all my data into separate spreadsheets”, or “I can’t connect with my coworkers as well since working remotely and that makes me feel lonely”.

13. What are they responsible for?

Contrary to question number 8, here’s where you look beyond the numbers and look at overall goals they need to achieve or challenges they need to overcome within their area of responsibility.

14. What does it mean to be successful in their role?

The better of a vision you get of your persona’s perception of success, the closer you can align your marketing and sales communications with this vision and position your product as the road to get there.

15. How do they learn about new information for their job?

This is crucial information for your marketing efforts. Find out what blogs they read, YouTube channels they watch, magazines and newspapers they subscribe or social media groups they participate in to stay informed.

16. How do they prefer to interact with vendors?

What’s the buying experience your personas go through when purchasing your product? It should be in line with their expectations. Do they expect a quick in-and-out type of sale, or do they prefer a long, more consultative interaction? Do they prefer calling, writing, or meeting in-person? All of this you need to take into account.

17. Have them describe a recent purchase.

Pay close attention to what your interviewee says here. When and how did they become aware of a problem that needed solving? What solutions did they consider? What made them decide to go with their vendor of choice? Why didn’t competitors make the cut?

By asking these questions in a 1-to-1 interview conversation with at least 5 (people you consider potential) customers, you’ll get a solid first picture of their characteristics and needs. Important: it should be crystal clear that these conversations are not sales conversations – this is essential for you to get honest answers. As soon as you can start to accurately predict answers that come up in these interviews, you can safely assume that you’ve gathered all relevant data from the specific type of customer, and you can start to interpret the answers to create your first persona.

What does a persona look like? (example)

Once you’ve gathered and interpreted your data, you can start creating your first persona. How many personas you’ll need for your business depends on a couple of factors. Big companies with a wide range of products or services often have multiple personas (up to several dozens!) – for a small, specialized business, only one persona could suffice.

Let’s have a look at a (fictional) business and a summary of their persona. GrannyExperts is specialized in training and offering retired virtual assistants, who still want to work part-time purely out of a passion for their area of expertise. They don’t do it for the money, enabling clients to benefit from decades of experience for a low rate.

GrannyExperts grabbed data from their existing client base as well as interviewing leads and customers, and came up with their first persona named Eddie Example. He’s a married father of two. He lives with his family in the suburbs of a large city. Eddie is a 51-year-old CFO with a Fortune 500 company with an annual salary of $250K. He’s ambitious and driven, but also wants to spend more time with his family, which he’s unable to do due to frequently working overtime. This stresses him out. However, he also has difficulties outsourcing some of his workloads, because he tends to believe that only someone with his level of experience can produce the required quality level of output.

By keeping the Eddie Example persona top of mind in all of their their marketing and sales efforts, ExpertGrannies have managed to communicate better with their leads and customers, address objections, and sell more effectively.

So what are you waiting for? Start developing your first persona and transform your marketing and sales efforts with my Persona Starter Kit, an easy-to-use spreadsheet that’ll help you create and organize your buyer personas.

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