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I am reviewing some buyer personas with a client later this week and so I thought it would be a good opportunity for a persona blog post.

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Is this the image that comes to mind when you think of your customers?

What is a buyer persona and why would I need one?

A buyer persona is a profile of a fictional buyer, based on real-life data and characteristics that helps you to understand who a prospect is but also what keeps them up at night, how do they spend their time and how they like to buy. The best reason for developing buyer personas is that it gives you a target for all prospect/customer facing activities. When you speak the customer’s language (both figuratively and literally) and address their needs it positions your products as relevant and worthy of consideration.  

What are the benefits and criticisms of developing buyer personas?

The benefits of good buyer personas are more effective lead generation and customer retention. Knowing your customer makes all the difference in the world when it comes to creating compelling content and offers. The most common criticism of personas is that they aren’t worth the effort. This criticism is a double edged sword though as poorly developed anything (buyer personas being no exception) will not generate results. The other edge being if you want to develop personas that actually inform your lead gen, marketing or retention efforts you need to invest the time and energy in getting them right.  

What is the most important part of developing good buyer personas?

The most important thing to remember with developing buyer personas is that you need actionable insight. To simply state the obvious or connect a customer to an idea that is interesting but ultimately hard to leverage doesn’t help. For instance the fact that an owner/manager is time starved is not a terribly useful piece of information. As well it may be interesting to determine your most valuable customers enjoy home renovation but if you can’t use that insight to inform your marketing activities than it is isn’t of any use. I am not suggesting you discount any information but keep in mind not everything is useful.

What are the most common mistakes made when developing buyer personas?

The most common mistake made when developing a buyer persona is to make it up. By make it up I mean to develop a persona that is not rooted in some form of research, and validation. To this end you have to actually go out and talk to people. Not just existing customers but also some prospects and your sales and marketing folks. Once you have drafted a persona you also must validate with people in the know. A single person’s version of the buyer, no matter how informed they may be, is unlikely to give you an accurate view of your target audience.

Ok this is all very interesting but can you just tell me how to do it.

I could write several pages (and probably get several pages more of comments telling me what I got wrong) about how to develop buyer personas. With that in mind here are some high level steps to follow.

  1. Determine the buyers.
  2. Determine what you want to learn.
  3. Interview or survey buyers, prospective buyers and your sales and marketing teams.
  4. Sift through your findings and find patterns. If you have transactional or other useful data – look at it too.
  5. Construct 1 to 3 personas for your most valuable prospects/customers. Resist the urge to do more.
  6. Validate the personas with people who ‘know’ the personas. Make revisions as necessary.
  7. Use the personas.
  8. Update them on a regular basis. People change. Your business changes. So should your buyer personas.

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Photo by Keo 101. Available under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.

Topics: b2b, content, marketing, buyer persona, customer engagement