Buyer Personas — Why They Are Critical to Your Success

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You have a great idea for a product, and you may have an initial product specification as well. So far, so good.

But believe it or not, that is the easy part. Why’s that? It’s because your idea will compete for your potential customer’s attention, together with about a million other things. The tough part of your business is convincing folks to try your product and then plunk down cash to buy it.

Why is that? It comes down to simple psychology. Behavioral psychologists have shown that consumers exhibit biases when they make buying decisions. Specifically, people generally overvalue what they already have, while they undervalue alternatives. These collection of consumer biases is what economist John Gourville has called the 9X problem. According to this theory, your product has to be perceived to be at least 9 times better than what your customer already has. And that is just to overcome inertia to consider something new. In addition, you are competing with a host of competitive alternatives as well. When you consider it, the prospect of getting someone to consider your product is quite daunting.

Even an invention as obvious as the telephone took years to be adopted by businesses, because most business people at the time felt the telegraph was a pretty good solution. Can you imagine? And if this is true for the telephone, think about how great your product needs to be, to be considered by customers.

If you are a young company on a budget, you can’t afford to waste time. The trick to doing it right the first time is focusing the product on very specific customer pains or opportunities. For B2B products, the process is a bit more complicated because there are usually multiple people involved in a buying process; and each stakeholder has unique pains and preferences. Enter the buyer persona.

The Buyer Persona

The buyer persona is an idealized profile of each stakeholder. Personas represent a practical methodology for many product and marketing purposes, so it’s important to understand what they are and how to use them effectively.

A simple example will make this point clear. Assume you are building a business application to help salespeople with their daily activities. In this case, your buyer personas might include at least the following stakeholders:

  • salespeople (users)
  • head of sales (approver)
  • IT folks who need to interface with, and support the product (stakeholder)
  • finance and procurement people who need to approve and purchase (stakeholder).

Each one of these folks would be a different persona.

For each persona, you need to capture characteristics that describe the persona’s role in your product’s purchase. Typical characteristics are things like:

  • primary job focus
  • level of seniority (junior, director, VP, etc.)
  • sources of information — where does the persona learn about new things?
  • type of technology adopter — are they early adopters, mainstream users, or laggards?
  • Who do they influence in the organization?
  • Who influences them?

There are usually more characteristics, but you get the idea.

It is customary to give each persona a name and assign them a portrait photo, to make this person real for everyone on your team. For example:

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Alfred Jones — Sales Director
  • Name: Alfred Jones
  • Job Title: Sales director
  • Source of information: Google searches, seminars, webinars
  • Type of adopter: mainstream user
  • Influencers: Wall Street Journal, CNN
  • Influences: Sales team, local CRM meetup group

The Importance of Personas

I can’t overemphasize the importance of getting the personas right, because personas are the building blocks for many of your product and marketing decisions going forward. Personas are the focal points of decisions to prioritize product features, to generate marketing messages, and to build your ‘go to market’ programs. In essence, personas define the language that your team uses to discuss and prioritize work, so it is critical that your entire team is on board with the personas you built.

Once you complete your persona definitions, you are ready to work on the pain sheet, which maps the product features and values to customer pains. We’ll cover the pain sheet in a future article.

Accomplished technology product and marketing expert, information overload researcher, award-winning technology and business writer.

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