I guess this post goes out to the all the marketers that I advised over the past 2 years and told that creating a person should be straightforward….Check who’s buying, group them, name them and there you go. I’m sorry….
What and Why
Let’s remind ourselves again what a buyer persona is and why we need it. A buyer persona is your ideal buyer, the person you want to attract to your business and is the most likely to become a happy customer. The buyer persona helps us hugely in our marketing. Our messaging, content, which events we attend. Essentially everything we do, needs to be aimed at the type of person who is most likely to buy from us.
How to do it - the theory
In theory, you check out your customer database, examine customer surveys and examine communalities of groups within it. You can group based on company size, job title etc. The key is that the grouping makes them and their pain points distinctly different. If their pain points are different, it means that the problem they are aiming to solve is different, the solution different and therefore how you approach them is different. BUT you may still be selling the same product. What now? Okay, here an example, you sell apples and find that either people use them for baking or as a healthy snack. You dig further and see that there is an age difference in who buys for what reason and that the healthy guys are pretty fit.
Buyer persona 1: Granny who loves baking.
Buyer persona 2: Sporty guy who needs a snack.
You can see from here that your content aimed at Granny can be all about recipes, baking tips etc, while the sporty guy could use info on the nutritional value of an apple, when to have an apple to get the most energy out of it etc.
How to do it - the practice
So far this all makes sense and armed with all this knowledge I set out to create our buyer personas. My gut told me that an initial split on company size would make sense as the decision making is distinctly different. Our after-sales survey and extensive sales notes indicated the same. We sell software, so the audience was going to be software developers, engineers, CTOs. I wrote out the pain points, who else is involved in making decisions, what’s important to them in their role, how they consume content...all this good stuff. I was on a roll!
A couple of weeks later I realised...I know just a fraction of the buyer process. The reasons are simple: I’m new to the business, the technology we sell is complex to me (marketer not techie) and I lacked perspective. I made up our personas with the help of our customer base notes and by sitting down with our engineers here (they are the type of people who we target). But it was not enough, the result was too thin, too simple to work.
Unhappy as I was with this work, I still believe, it was a good starting point. But we needed to think further. Thankfully, our Head of Sales was in the same boat of identifying who we should target so we got together (seems logical that we should have done this from the start, right? d’oh). Our thinking started around company size but then we quickly were in a deeper discussion as to why people buy.
This was a real break-through moment. Why people buy defines how they apply our software to some extent and it certainly changes their pain points drastically. It also informs who makes the decision.
We discovered three distinct reasons why people buy and deploy our software. We also discovered that for the first reason, the decision maker is unlikely to be the software engineer and even the initial idea that our software is needed, comes from the business side of the organisation. The second reason why people buy turned out to be a mix of both developer and business side, whereas the third reason was firmly rooted with the developer side of things.
I was delighted that this gives us a contained matrix. I was in fear we’d end up with 10 personas and as you can imagine, the more you have, the harder it becomes to cater for them. Think of a homepage that contains content speaking to 10 different types of people...it just wouldn’t work.
Wow, what a relief. We are done!
We ended up with a matrix that we presented to our founders who agreed that we really hit on something. Having these personas nailed down now is vital for us as we are redesigning our website. Our UI / UX designer then asked me for detail on the matrix - what are the requirements each person has on the website?
This is the moment I went back over my first persona attempt. The statements there were still valid for the developer side of things but needed to be more detailed and we needed a whole set of info for the business decision maker.
I decided to list characteristics for each persona (reason + business / developer):
- Organisation Type
- Decision Maker
- What motivates them in their role
- What do they value in a supplier
- What is our USP when talking to them
- Use cases that matter to them
- Type of content they use to solve problems
- Where they search
- Where they are likely to find / enter our site
- What type of attract / convert / close content would they need
There is quite a bit of difference between this list and what standard persona lists recommended by others look like. But for us this really works. So don't be afraid to change or move away from the standard questions for your persona too.
What did I learn?
Personas are hard.
Personas take time.
Personas are made for your business and may not fall into a standard layout.
Personas are needed to drive marketing - always.
And they will change. And grow. Just like a person.
I’m aware that we are still at the beginning of our journey as a startup. Three months into marketing and I think we’ve had a real breakthrough on the persona front. I’m also aware that as we grow and sell more, we will also learn more about use cases and the people who buy our software. This will influence our personas hugely.
It was quite a journey to get here and I hope, you find it helpful as you consider your persona. Or, in case you are one of the people whom I told how easy-peasy persona development was, you enjoyed my struggle over a cup of coffee :-)