“Hi, I’m not sure we’ve met. I’m your buyer persona.”
Updated: Jun 7, 2021
When you’re selling a product or service, who is the most important person for you to know? Here’s a hint, its not your engineers, executives, product managers, or salespeople. It’s your buyer.
Who’s the most important person to talk to to find out what your buyer’s challenges and goals are? How they make buying decisions? And who influences those decisions? Same hint, it’s not your engineers, executives, product managers, or salespeople Again, it’s your target customers.
When a company develops buyer personas by only consulting with people in their sales, product and customer support teams, this certainly streamlines the process, but it can miss the mark and by a long shot. Why? Because only through conversations with the people you currently sell to, or you’re trying to sell, can you discover their real motivations, nuances that impact their decisions, and how your product stacks up relative to their needs.
Sadly, that’s what many companies do when it comes to creating buyer personas: they opt for the streamlined process and they leave out substantive conversations with customers and prospects. The results are gaps in buyer personas and missed marketing and sales opportunities.
Consider this sad statistic: According to the 2020 State of Product Marketing Report published by the Product Marketing Alliance, 21% of product marketers - or one our of five - never talk to customers; instead they rely on feedback from other team members. About 34% speak with customers only a few times a month.
It’s a very good first step to gather buyer persona feedback from sales, product and customer support teams, but that feedback is often communicated through narrow lenses, depending on each person’s role in your organization. When you leave actual customers and prospects out of the discussion, you’re assuming the assessments are spot on.
Use a multi-source process to begin building your personas
Here’s a process to build personas using a range of resources to gather better customer insights, the most important of which is – THE TARGET CUSTOMER.
Start with your colleagues in sales, customer support and product management, but recognize they will most likely provide feedback from a lens filtered by their specific role. Nevertheless, with feedback from people in different customer-facing roles, you can build skeletons of your buyer personas.
Drill into your CRM, which should provide access to customer data including customer meeting notes and communication, average sales cycles, and marketing touchpoints such as web pages visited, blog posts consumed, social media interactions, content downloaded, and more.
Review any published reports, surveys and articles that cover the trending topics, issues and forecasts in your industry to discover potentially new pain points and opportunities that your customers may face. However, don’t rely only on third party research – it lacks important nuances that only customer conversations will reveal.
And the most important step: Validate!
Identify customers as well as prospects to interview and be sure to include a variety of decision makers, such as economic buyers, influencers, and end users if possible. Which existing customers should you reach out to for interviews? Both the ideal and the not-so-ideal.
Choose your best customers based on these criteria:
They love your products and services (to state the obvious) and can articulate why
They are profitable for your company (not all customers are profitable)
They are willing and able to give you permission to use the case study in different formats and channels
And then select a few not-so-ideal customers. Why?
You’ll gain a deeper understanding of why their needs may be different from those of your best customers
You’ll identify why your products and services may not be the best fit
You'll find ways to improve your product, messaging, content and customer support
Preparing for and conducting interviews
Craft well thought-out, open-ended questions, and make sure the answers to these questions will not only validate your assumptions but provide new insights into what’s important to your target buyers and influencers. You can’t ask every question, so ask the ones that matter most to help you achieve your objective.
Ask for 30 minutes when requesting a meeting – you will probably get more time. In person is great, but that’s not always possible. Video conferencing is next best, or a phone call if that’s all that is available to you.
Get permission – in advance – to record the conversation. If your customer or prospect is not comfortable with that, you can ask a colleague to join you on the call to take notes while you ask questions. Many marketers feel that it’s distracting for one person to both conduct the interview and take notes. Personally, I’ve not had issues with this when I’ve had to do it all alone. In fact, when on a video conference conducting an interview, I share my notes on the screen so the interviewee can see what I’m writing. My experience is that they provide additional details and clarification when they see their own words on a page.
Manage the conversation, but don’t limit where the conversation goes. Often, people will open up about topics important to your product marketing which you may not have considered. For example, one of the
Be sure to update your buyer personas on a regular basis. Personas represent real people, and people are dynamic. Market conditions change (think of how Covid-19 changed so many things in a very short period of time), new technologies evolve, and new competitors emerge, all impacting the buyers and their journey.
So if you haven’t yet done so, take the time today to reach out to customers and prospects, get to know them, and understand how your solutions can lead them to the outcomes they need to be successful.