Buyer personas are a critical component of successful inbound marketing, particularly for your sales and marketing teams.
After all, marketing needs to know to whom they are marketing and sales need to know to whom they are selling!
Creating and using buyer personas is a fundamental part of the inbound process in order to effectively attract and convert prospects into clients. You need to know who you are communicating with in order to say the right thing, at the right time, in the right way and via the right medium!
What is a Buyer Persona?
In its most basic form, a buyer persona is a fictional, generalised representation of your ideal customers.
They help you to understand your customers (and, importantly, your prospective customers) better, making it easier for you to tailor content to specific needs, behaviours and concerns of different groups.
The strongest buyer personas are based on market research, as well as insights that you gather from your actual customer base and internal resources. Depending upon the type of business you run, you may have as few as two personas or as many as ten (on average we find that most companies have around 3-5 personas).
Personas provide you with an enhanced tool to assist in personalising and targeting your marketing activities for different segments of your audience.
For example, instead of sending the same lead nurturing emails to everyone (a blanket approach), you can segment and rationalise by buyer persona and tailor your messaging according to what you know about those specific types.
TIP: Try developing ‘anti-personas’, they represent the customers you don’t want to engage with - those that don’t fit your ethos, ideal buyer characteristics, etc.
The Importance of Buyer Personas
Buyer personas are fundamental to an inbound marketing approach - they allow you to shape your content and its context for each buyer’s journey stage.
They should clarify everything that is “key” to your ideal customer, although this includes demographic and “fluffy” information (interests, hobbies), they offer so much more.
- What are their career goals?
- Who do they report to and who reports to them
- How do they prefer to communicate?
- What do they need to know from you as a partner/supplier?
- All of these questions and more are answered by a well-formed buyer persona profile. By answering these questions you can ensure your content is written in the right tone, positioned on the correct platform and able to generate more, and better quality leads.
Buyer personas are a company-wide tool, of particular use to anyone engaged with marketing and sales efforts, as well as individuals in a customer-facing role. They can also be of great importance to your technical team, as they help to aid product and service development, as well as shaping marketing and sales strategies.
5 Elements of the Perfect Buyer Persona
You are heavily reliant on the quality of the buyer persona creation process to make sure you have high quality, correctly crafted, personas.
The Buyer Persona Institute has determined five key elements to ensure a high-quality buyer persona profile. Aptly named the ‘Five Rings of Buyer Insight™, the Buyer Persona Institute’s process is designed to ensure you have interview subjects, dig deep enough into real-life and “dream” client personalities, needs and careers, as well as enough information to round out the profile with how you will target, engage and delight them.
As outlined in the BPI’s guidance, your buyer persona profiles should consider:
1. Priority Initiatives
What causes certain buyers to invest in solutions like yours, and what is different about those satisfied with the status quo?
2. Success Factors
What operational or personal results does your buyer persona expect to achieve by purchasing this solution?
3. Perceived Barriers
What concerns cause your buyer to believe that your solution or company is not their best option?
4. Buyer’s Journey
This insight reveals details about who and what impacts your buyer as they evaluate their options and select one.
5. Decision Criteria
Which aspects of the competing products, services, solutions or company does your buyer perceive as most critical, and what are their expectations for each?
These five criteria coherently sum up the key data and insights your organisation needs to produce a quality buyer persona.
3 Steps for Creating Buyer Personas
Getting your buyer personas right is vital.
From experience, we know it doesn’t always work the first time, but it also doesn’t mean you need buyer persona experts to help you - if you’ve got the time to research and develop the process, this can be an in-house project.
Or you can hire a team to help you design your profiles once created, or take you through the whole project with a workshop - whatever suits you.
With every time-consuming project, there are a number of things to get right, but the whole process can be broken into three elements:
Yes, it sounds simple, but those first two steps are HUGE. Why? That’s where you draw out all of that insightful data, information, thoughts, that lead to the production of your profiles (the final step of pulling all of your findings together into a concise picture of your ideal customer).
Over the next few pages, we will walk through the three steps of the buyer persona creation process and later on in the guide we will give you a list of ‘starters for ten’ - particularly great whether you’re creating personas for yourself or, perhaps, preparing for your persona workshop with us!
Step 1: Workshop
An internal workshop is different from the buyer personas workshops agencies like ours run.
How? You’re reliant on your own data and motivation to get the best out of the process.
That being said, this is a project everyone should be striving to achieve the best from - ensure everyone is energetic and ready to get creative - break out the arts and crafts supplies (some Sharpies and post-its)!
Create a Diverse Team
Pull in your marketing people, as well as sales representatives and customer service team members, as well as those higher up the chain such as the MD, HoDs - all of these people, will have insight into your customers.
Set The Scene
Make it a positive, creative experience - no firehosing - with no distractions and changes in personnel. This is particularly important when pulling in a diverse range of team members that may not usually meet together. It’s strongly advisable to set aside 2-3 hours as these sessions often lead to fantastic sidebars of conversation (great quick wins for your organisation to implement, but which mean the meeting will run over - plan to let it run on)!
Do Some Prep
Give all members of your 'Personas Team' a questionnaire, asking open-ended questions about the key identifiers of the buyer persona for them. It’s important to stress this should be individual work - clubbing together to complete this only means someone’s golden idea could be missed. Nominate somebody who can collate all of these findings to kickstart the workshop discussion. Check out our Questions Database later in this ebook for top-performing questions to review.
NO FIREHOSING! Firehosing is a term given to extensive and possibly excessive criticism of an idea by presenting an overwhelming number of arguments against it. (Source: Wiktionary)
Step 2: Interviews
To produce accurate and high-quality personas you should engage your actual, real-life customers and prospects too.
Although your team can make various assumptions about your customers’ purchasing behaviour and feelings towards your organisation, as well as some insights and even quotes from them, it’s still not “from the horse’s mouth”.
You need a cross-section of people to interview:
- Current customers - newly-converted clients
- Current customers - long-standing clients
- “Closed - lost” prospects - those that decided not to choose you
- Former customers - those you’ve maintained a neutral/ positive relationship with
This mix of interviewees - although we’re sure you’ll have much more of the first two categories - will give you a balanced view of the reasons people choose you, stay with you and then also why they don’t choose you and decide to move away from you. It will help you balance the qualities, attributes and personality types you should be targeting as ideal customers (as well as anti-personas).
Create a positive, open environment in which your subject is comfortable to share a truthful opinion without judgement. By selecting someone impartial, there’ll be no feelings of resentment (relationship soured when they chose a competitor over you) or guilt (they love their account manager and want to impress). Make sure you also select someone who isn’t shy about digging deeper, they should be inquisitive by nature and comfortable speaking to the person.
The best way is a pre-scheduled 30-60 minute phone call, the subject has already agreed to be interviewed and the purpose has been explained, perhaps with some example questions sent to them so they aren’t “caught off-guard” or falter too much.
Ask broad questions and don’t worry if you go a little off-track, if they offer interesting insight, dig deeper. Have a variety of questions to hand for when the conversation does wander so you can always get back on track. It’s also worthwhile to get someone who can write in shorthand or use an audio recorder otherwise the conversation will be disjointed because of note-taking.
Be thankful, rather than defensive - or worse, critical - for their feedback. You may not like hearing it, but it’s what will shape your organisation for the future.
TIP: Interviews can be conducted with online surveys, but it’s best to have a one-to-one phone call or in-person interview - people will “waffle” more, giving better insights.
Step 3: Profiles
You’ve compiled all the data and findings, so it’s now down to producing a concise profile with the key information.
This is when you need to grab a highlighter or post-its and choose which answers, quotes and descriptions are going to truly define each persona from the next.
Choose the same criteria for all, otherwise it may lead to inconsistencies and result in false information, but take time to ensure you aren’t using irrelevant information and get a smaller internal team to sign off on the profiles - if it seems like you’re making more than minor tweaks, the process may have gone wrong.
The following elements should make up your final persona profiles:
Typically a catchy name like Marketing Mary, Director Dave or Salesperson Sally, they define the person and help your team to remember their full persona. Remember to regularly ask yourself: “What would Marketing Mary say?”, or “How would Marketing Mary feel about this promotion?”
To support your persona’s newfound catchy name, give them an identity by using a photograph - it could be a real person who suits the persona profile well or stock imagery - ensure that the majority of your team recognise Marketing Mary as the female whose photograph you’ve chosen, otherwise you should review it.
Create a bio that sums up Marketing Mary as a person, including typical key demographics, as well as her role, responsibilities, pain points and values.
What key phrases, questions and concerns has Marketing Mary got? Those real-person interviews will now be worth their weight in gold - you’ve spoken to a real-life Marketing Mary - listen to what she had to say and use it, to sum up, the persona’s language, tone and key questions/communications.
These are the things that your sales and customer service teams are likely to pick up on, key traits that help them identify the prospect’s closest persona match. For instance, they prefer engaging with your customer service team by Messenger, they don’t have sign-off abilities, regularly speak in a chatty, warm, informal manner.
BPI’s Five Rings of Buyer Insight™
You absolutely must provide a summary of each of the change drivers, success factors, perceived barriers, buyer’s journey and decision criteria, as discovered in the Five Rings of Buyer Insight™.
We find it best to sum up a persona in 1-3 sentences as a way of helping your wider team, who may not regularly use the personas but still need to identify them, to remember each persona’s key points.
“Marketing Mary is a regular social media user, who prefers Instagram to emails, living in her own home, aged 30-35, with a salary of £28-32k, struggling to manage up and down the ladder and needs a strategic partner to support her with reaching the company’s marketing and sales goals."
Buyer Personas and the Buyer's Journey
Personas aren’t just a marketer’s tool, they should be widely adopted.
They belong in the hands and minds of every member of staff - in particular, those who are making strategic decisions and those who are customer-facing. Personas should provide your company’s strategies with clear intent and purpose - your sales goals, marketing strategy and customer relations process should all benefit.
From a marketing perspective, start with a content plan and distribution strategy that is linked to your personas. What content do they need to help make purchasing decisions and what format do they engage with?
The Buyer’s Journey
Develop a content strategy that is aligned to resonate with your persona’s expectations of your organisation, as well as their goals and pain points.
As you may know, the buyer’s journey is split into awareness, consideration and decision stages. Each stage has different goals - you’re trying to push this prospect down the funnel to purchase, identify the “symptoms” and challenges each persona will have at various stages.
Conclusion and Related Content
The project of creating personas is designed to help you personify your ‘customers’.
It’s one of the first steps in the content creation process as well as an obvious first choice for your marketing strategy.
As previously advised, this is a task you can undertake yourselves as a business or you can opt to get started with our buyer personas workshop. Either way, if you need assistance from Thrive, reach out!
Speak to us today by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 01325 778 786.