It’s no longer about your product; it’s all about the problems experienced by key stakeholders. It takes a strong understanding of one's market to carefully position your organization to keenly understand not only what those problems are, but what key stakeholders are trying to achieve. For those just getting started identifying and creating buyer personas, it can be an intimidating and overwhelming process. Here are some actionable steps for getting started with confidence.
I like to focus on four key areas of information:
Problems/challenges: What are the key pain points that these stakeholders experience. Going deeper, why is this a problem? What exactly are these stakeholders trying to achieve and why is it important to them?
Roles/titles: Titles can say something about the experience level and organizational structure. Also, you can learn key things about a typical day for that role, what success metrics that role is being held accountable for, etc.
Information seekers: Where are these stakeholders going for information? You can learn a great deal about what types of information the stakeholder is looking for and consuming; what platforms, publications, internal resources and associations they trust for key information; and so much more that can give key insights for where you should be focusing your efforts on reaching them and what types of information are relevant to them.
Beyond work: Who is this person outside of work hours? What do they like to do, where do they like to go and who do they like to hang out with? There are some great ideas that you can come away with for fun content, event giveaways, etc.
A lot of places will give you information on what to ask and examples of the end result of a finalized buyer persona. But what about the steps in between? Provided below are two key areas of focus with specified steps on how to tackling them to get started on your persona creation journey. Ultimately, taking the time to have dedicated research efforts are the difference between only knowing a silhouette of your buyers and being able to bring them to life with names, faces and personalities — that can only be crafted through deep understanding.
Action One — Get Your Buyers In Buckets
Lets face it, in B2B, the buying cycle is often long and complex. For a single deal, you don’t just have to know one person, but an entire committee of folks with different objectives and departmental requirements to satisfy. Think carefully — who do you often run into that you feel have disparate roles and challenges that you’d have to uniquely position your brand’s messaging to resonate with? Try to see what commonalities exist regarding motives, behaviors, challenges, as well as how and where they are getting information.
Here are some places to start:
- Business cards from recent tradeshows and conferences: Whom are you already running into at events where it’s common for businesses to be looking for solutions you offer.
- Your internal teams fighting it out in the trenches: Regardless of whether you have or haven’t done this type of market research before, you’ve had someone in your company interacting with these important stakeholders. Talk to your internal team members.
- Database of current customers and prospects: It’s not uncommon for organizations to maintain extensive records of key contacts for every account, as well as any persons that are currently being engaged.
Here’s what you should try to do after completing this round of steps: Try to come up with three to five buckets. This isn’t to say there aren’t more, but I’d suggest you don’t do too much segmenting at this point. I’ll give you more reasons at to why later. Remember, it’s better to have one well-conceived buyer persona than four poorly done ones. Some examples: technical decision-maker who is focused on the nuts and bolts of implementations, resources needed to execute a technical project, etc.; compliance decision-maker who is focused on ensuring a solution meets industry standards — and federal and state regulations.
Action 2 — Start Asking Questions For Each Bucket You’ve Created
Up until this point, you’ve just been getting some simple categorizations together. It’s a critical first step, because it allows you to now dig deeper within each bucket. Fasten your seatbelts, because this is where it gets interesting! I liken persona research to looking for job candidates, you’ve identified what you’re looking for, now you’re actually sitting down to see if anyone fits the bill.
I’m not going to focus this post on what questions you should ask, but if you are still looking for some ideas, both Pragmatic Marketing and HubSpot have some nice lists that will give you places to start.
Be strategic about the order in which you perform interviews:
- Interview an internal team member who has high interactions with the identified persona: This is a person who is in the weeds and can really speak in-detail about what they’ve seen and experienced. The first thing you should say is that you are looking for their perceptions on the majority of buyers who fit one of the specific buckets you’ve identified. Proceed to interview them, asking the same questions you’ll eventually ask actual buyers. One of the best things you can do here is ask for common titles and role descriptions for whom your internal team members think are representative of this bucket.
- Interview the head of that department: Repeat what you’ve done above. Remember, you are still working within your organization at this point. But, it’s a great opportunity to quickly test what you’ve learned from a trusted member of your team by getting at least a second opinion. Make sure to note any discrepancies. Did the first person you spoke with say that your buyers do the research themselves and now you’re hearing consulting firms are being used? Who is right? Well, maybe both – you’re going to have to dig deeper in actual research calls to shake out what’s real and what’s assumption.
- Social media is your friend: Take what you’ve learned and see if that’s reflected in the social media profiles of persons who fit the identified bucket. What are the titles you are seeing? How are they recommending the work of others (How do these buyers perceive value and quality)? What key skills do they have identified in their profiles? What organizations are they a part of? Can you connect with any to dig deeper? Without even connecting with someone, you can often a lot by just checking out these areas in a Linkedin profile.
- Go be one with the market: Now it’s up to you to actually start talking with the buyers. You can get some recommendations from your internal sources above to get you started comfortably. Just make sure you’re mixing it up between customers and prospects. Believe me, customers have a way of speaking to with a lens focused on the current business relationship. To get a holistic view of any potential bucket, make sure to mix it up as you evolve your research efforts — interview non-customers, customers of competitors, do interviews on-site, at tradeshows, over the phone, over coffee — however you can make it happen!
Here’s what you should try to do after completing this round of steps: Tell the story of that buyer through a persona — a fictional archetype that is representative of commonalities in the key areas of information you’ve obtained. Try to bring your persona to life with a picture that you think represents him or her (stock photo or drawing). Call out key areas that will be important to your team, such as where this persona is getting his or her information and what key challenges were uncovered. Don’t write more than a page. This will force you to focus only on the most critical of details and commonalities.
I personally like to have a section that points out discrepancies in interviews to show where a particular persona might break down and need to become two, as well as bringing awareness to what we as an organization thought about a buyer and what was learnt through objective research.
Don’t Be Afraid To Test And Learn
You could easily spend years obtaining and collecting data in an attempt to feel comfortable in the baseline you’re trying to establish. Don’t do this. Identify what you feel is necessary to establish a trend. For me, I needed to speak with 15 individuals that fit the bill for a particular bucket before I moved on to writing a story for Terry The Technical Buyer. Remember, this research never stops. Keep testing, learning and adjusting. Report your findings often.
Remember how I said don’t do too much segmenting too early? It’s so easy to say, but isn’t Terry different if he’s at a large, medium or small organization? Perhaps that’s true, but don’t let your organization dictate that – let your research. For many product managers that I’ve spoken to, they are always surprised how the challenges and motivations for a particular persona can surprisingly align across different business sizes. It might not be necessary to create a whole different persona based on business size. Maybe a footnote saying that for this size of business we might need to focus on a different platform for communication would suffice.
Basically, keep an ear to the floor for any and all opportunities to research. The companies that are the best at getting to know their buyers are always on. I attended a demo recently where I was asked: What made you want to attend this demo; what challenge were you hoping this would solve? It’s research, baby!
Don’t expect a flushed out persona to tell you everything. Often, an initial reaction to a finalized persona is: Okay, what can I do with that? It’s up to you and others in the organization to show how much direction you can obtain for features, content and clearly positioning. Sometimes, this research will point to an area of interest that you’ll want a dedicated research effort for.
Keep your head up, because getting started isn’t easy. You’re going to send a lot of emails and make a mountain of phone calls you’ll never get a response to. For every contact you make, be clear and transparent about what you’re doing and how you plan on using the information. Make sure to be respectful of the precious time you get with these key stakeholders and don’t go over. After you've started, never stop this most important research.
Yes, this post is all about buyer personas. If your buyer is different than your end users, you’re only addressing half of the story. You can and should be able to use everything mentioned above for your end users. Meeting the needs of your buyers might get you in the door, but if you create a product that users can neither use nor love, you won’t have a deal for long.