Buyer personas are a must for any business. Knowing your customers is the foundation of building lasting customer relationships, just like getting to know a co-worker or a friend better. The more you know about somebody, the more likely you are to connect with them, and this is the same for businesses with their customers.
How are businesses supposed to get to know hundreds, or thousands, or even millions of customers? The answer is simple: develop buyer personas for your customers and prospective customers.
Although the answer is simple, the process of creating effective buyer personas can be difficult. Building buyer personas is more than making qualitative assumptions on what you think your customers are like. It takes cold, hard data, and we use quantitative methods in order to make necessary qualitative assumptions.
This post is designed to get your company on the right track when building buyer personas! Not only will it help your company develop personas and better understand current customers, but it will also be an effective tool for your sales team to better understand prospective customers.
The Quantitative Process
The quantitative process is the first step of building buyer personas and it only works if a company already has notes or data about their customers. Most companies keep tabs on their clients, but if a not, then it’s time for them to start looking at documenting information.
Simple customer data such as a company size, sales team size and client numbers can even be accessed publicly on company websites or LinkedIn. The trick is to gather all of the data you know about your customer’s company, and put all of the information into one place (a spreadsheet usually works great). With the data, you can create headings or columns where each piece of data will be located.The most important part of data collection is finding out who the main decision makers are, or who the actual person the deal was made with is. This person is the buyer, and they will be the basis of the buyer persona.
Once you’ve collected a lot of quantitative data on the company, it’s time to focus on the person behind the company. Who’s the buyer?
When looking for the decision maker, make sure you find:
- Job Title
- Age Range
- Social Media Accounts
- Followers on Social Media
- Endorsed Skills (LinkedIn)
This information forms the foundation of where your buyer personas are coming from, and how to properly group similar buyers into certain personas. After finding out this information about a customer, you are able to filter or group individuals into categories where the buyers are all alike. By using factual data, numbers and a quantitative process, you can be sure that the information you have is correct, without any perceptual errors.
The Qualitative Process, Use Wisely
We’ve mentioned that it’s hard to get qualitative data from thousands of customers, and it is. However, there are cases in which it’s necessary to ask the customer questions and see the qualitative side of things. Exit interviews can be conducted when customers are lost, or questions can be asked in order to identify problems before a deal is closed. These types of questions provide relevant and necessary answers in order to better understand customers.
Some companies spend a lot of time digging into qualitative data, and asking their customers fluffy questions to get to know them. Although asking your customers questions is a great tactic, make sure you are asking relevant questions that provide you with relevant answers. A qualitative approach to building buyer personas can sometimes be a total waste of time, especially when companies ask questions like the ones below.
CAUTION: Avoid irrelevant generic questions such as:
- “What’s your favorite TV show?”
- “What kind of books do you read?”
- “What does your ideal cup of coffee look like?”
On top of asking useless questions, sometimes companies try and personalize their buyer personas by sticking generalized photos to their names. How exactly does this help? It doesn’t.
When building buyer personas, make sure to not waste your time, or more importantly your customers’ time, with non-relevant questions that provide no useful data. If you are not a coffee franchise, then what does asking your customers’ favorite coffee have to do with anything? Yes it’s useful to get to know the customer, but their time is valuable (and so is yours), so ask the right questions.
The Right (and Wrong) Questions
Appropriate Questions → Identifying Problems or Challenges
Questions about challenges and problems that prospective customers face always need answering. What your company should be aiming to do is alleviate the problems that a prospective customer experiences, and in order to accommodate their needs, you must figure out the problems they face.
In the sales process, it’s best to understand prospective customers’ weaknesses and strengths. What are their major pain points and problems? Ask this question, and take note of the answers. It not only helps better your company’s products/services, but also helps build buyer personas that are tailored to identify common problems.
With current partners, it’s always good to catch up and ask if they are experiencing any issues. Constantly checking on your partners or clients shows you care about them, which is never a bad thing.
When digging into qualitative data, ALWAYS look into customer problems. They help you build out comprehensive buyer personas, and more importantly, allow you to identify your own weaknesses and fix them.
Appropriate Questions → Exit Interviews
Exit interviews are the best way to understand why your customers are leaving, where they are going, and best of all, what your company can do to prevent other customers from leaving for the same reasons. Customer churn is one of the mysteries that most companies have major issues figuring out, especially in the digital media world.
Exit interviews are an effective way to gather information from unsatisfied customers who are choosing to no longer use your company’s products or services. These interviews are not designed to keep the customer, but to resolve issues that prospective customers might experience.
Vendasta is constantly looking for ways to reduce partner churn, and for a while we have aimed to keep tabs on why some partners may be leaving. We introduced exit surveys in order to better our customer journey for prospective customers, and to fix our weak points. Every company can improve somewhere or in some way, and exit surveys are a great way to find where there may be opportunities to improve as a company.
Exit interviews offer a lot of insight to any company about their customer churn rates, and can provide definitive answers as to why customers are leaving. If you have trouble conducting exit surveys that work, check out this article and see how a company grew their exit survey responses by 785%.
Inappropriate Questions → Too Personal
Many companies suggest asking personal questions to get to know your customers, but let’s face it, sometimes people don’t want any more than a business relationship with your company. If questions become too personal, it could potentially hurt your relationship with a customer.
Do NOT ask questions about:
- Marital status
- Personal life
Unless your customer chooses to talk about those things, it’s best to leave them alone. You never want to infringe on a client's personal privacy, and if questions get too personal you may leave your customers feeling uncomfortable.
How We Do It
In order to build a persona properly, you have to target an actual person. This person is usually a key decision maker. Who was the person that made the decision to deal with your company?
Find out key information on the decision maker such as:
- Job Title (ex. Owner or Director of Digital)
- Age Range (20-30, 30-40, 40-50, etc.)
- Gender (Male, Female etc.)
When searching LinkedIn, look for:
- # of Connections/Followers
- Top Endorsed Skills
- Industry Experience & Background
- Common Interests
To really understand your customers, it’s a good idea to check them out on social channels. Our favorite channel to explore is LinkedIn. LinkedIn provides any company with a large database of information about their customers, especially things they may not know. Not only can you better understand a customer from LinkedIn, but you can also look at who they follow and who follows them. This can help you find qualified prospective customers!
You should already have some data necessary for building your buyer personas. If your company doesn’t have this data, it is time to start taking notes and gathering this important information. Company information we look for when building buyer personas is fairly basic, listed below you can see our approach.
B2B companies should look for:
- Customer/Company (Name)
- First Business Transaction (Closed Sale Date)
- Current or Lost Customer (Churned: Yes or No)
- Where they came from (Lead Source)
- Company Size (# of Employees, # of Salespeople, # of Clients)
The buyer is the individual working for the company, but it always helps to understand the company that the buyer works for. Gathering both individual and company information is important when building the perfect persona.
Where We Went Wrong the First Time Around
Something that some companies do wrong, including us (the first time), is let our perceptions of what our buyer personas should be get in the way of creating an accurate persona. What I mean is that sometimes the personas are created before the data is gathered to back them up.
If you are creating the buyer persona before you’ve done your research, then your findings become biased to support the pre-existing personas. By gathering data first, and making buyer personas second, a company is able to eliminate any discrepancies in their results.
→ Takeaway: Research first, and then create buyer personas. Don’t let the perception of what you think a buyer persona should be blind you from the data you collect. Accuracy is the most important part of building out buyer personas. Do your research before making assumptions. Assumptions are not okay (or helpful) until extensive data has been collected.
The Perfect Persona
Ideally your company will have a lot of information before building out the buyer personas. If you constantly ask your customers questions about their issues or problems, and conduct exit interviews when the chance arises, then you will have everything you need.
If any of the areas are unknown, it’s best to research information online, or try to get a hold of your customers to ask questions. Customers don’t always want to talk, so adding incentives such as gift cards or financial rewards can influence their willingness to answer questions.
Building the perfect buyer personas takes time, but it’s worth it to understand your customers. Understanding your prospective customers can also lead to an increase in sales.
The perfect buyer persona will include:
- Job Title
- Age Range
- Social Media Presence
- Followers (Social Reach)
- Top Skills
- Educational Background
- Industry Experience
- Business Interests
With this information, you can link hundreds or even thousands of similar customers into common groups. These groups become buyer personas, and can be labelled in whatever fashion your company decides.