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Buyer persona: How it might be sabotaging your business

Buyer persona

What’s the single most important thing in marketing?

It’s getting your buyer persona accurate.

Granted, elements like mapping your customer’s journey, creating content for each stage of that journey and all that good stuff is crucial. But none of the other aspects would be relevant if you’re not clear about who your customer is. That’s the starting point.

There are several generic buyer persona templates, which give only surface-level information and doesn’t give any insight into why your customer makes the decisions you want to influence.

An inaccurate buyer persona can steer you in the wrong direction and ultimately lead to the wrong decision. So let’s take a new approach to buyer personas and hopefully you will be pleasantly surprised by the results.

What is a buyer persona?

According to HubSpot’s persona definition: “A buyer persona (also referred to as marketing persona) is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers. When creating your buyer persona(s), consider including customer demographics, behavior patterns, motivations, and goals.”

Like all the other legendary definitions floating around the world, it gives us very little actionable insight.

How do you create a persona that gives you actionable insight?

Now, this is where I disagree with much of the content out there. You can find out the age, sex, gender and such details by looking at past data and analytics, but this information doesn’t provide you with any insight. If you’re using a persona template, which gives you only surface-level information, then you are still stuck on square one.

Another point where I don’t agree is the means of getting the information needed to create the buyer persona. Many people advocate depending on your analytics, your salespeople and your customer service to gain insights. I think this is the wrong way to go about it because it can completely throw you off.

Depending on your own your knowledge and guesswork to create a buyer persona is a surefire way to fail.
Vivek, imeanmarketing.com
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If you want real insights, you need to get it straight from the horse’s mouth. Your potential customer (or existing customer) is the only one who can give you actual insight into their psychology.

How do I create a buyer persona?

Your buyer persona should give insights about how, when and why a buyer makes the decision you want to influence.`

In my opinion, your primary source of information and foundation for building persona should be one-on-one interviews. In fact, you can break down the research into two sources.

Primary research sources:

Lost prospective customer

The potential customer who chose your competitor over you is a gold mine for building your customer persona. If you can get them to agree for an interview, they will not hold back about their opinions. Although it might not be music to your ears, you can understand what put them off from selecting your company.

Pro tip: Your marketing department (not sales) or a third party should be conducting the interview. Volunteers should be reassured that the interview outcomes will be shared only as an aggregate and not on an individual basis.

Customers: the good, bad and the ugly

Set up interviews with your happy customers and they will be able to give you some information about what you’re doing right. But unhappy customers can shed light where your product or service is lacking.

Pro tip: You can incentivize your own product or service – especially SAAS products- to reduce the cost.

Questions that matter (aka burning questions)

These are the questions that will give you insight into why your customer makes the buying decision. Asking these questions the right way is where you need to bring in the artistic side of marketing. Dig a little deeper if your candidate is not opening up, but ensure you’re not leading them to the answer you want to hear.

Reason to enter the market

  • What caused you to start looking for a new solution?
  • What was the main frustration with the product/service that you were using
  • Who initiated the search for a new product or service?

Pro tip: Responses from these questions can help you understand your ideal customer and their pain points. This will shed light on who your next messaging should be targeted at and how to craft your message.

Success factors

  • What do you expect to achieve by using our product or service
  • What is your success/acceptance criteria

Pro tip: Make sure to highlight these points and position your product/ service as a solution for your ideal customer.

Perceived barrier

  • What are the objections, hesitation you had when deciding on a product/service
  • Why didn’t you choose us?

Pro tip: Your content marketing should aim to overcome these objections

Make or break features

  • What are the good to have features
  • What are the nice to have features
  • What are the must-have features
  • Why did you choose us?

Pro tip: Your content marketing should highlight the features your target audience is looking for. See the possibility of adding the missing features or explaining why these features are not as important as they seem to be.

Customer journey

  • Who were the people involved in making the final decision
  • How did they weigh the options
  • Who decided on the budget
  • Who made the final decision  

Pro tip: Create content that will help the searcher to convince the decision-maker. If the searcher is the decision-maker, then create content to persuade them.

You will get only very high-level answers initially. Keep probing for insights.

For example, for a question: take me back to the day when you first started looking for a solution.

Usually, they would say they searched on google. Not exactly a groundbreaking revelation, right?

 We have to keep probing to get specifics. What caused you to start looking for a new solution? Who decided it’s time for a new solution? What did you find useful?

Why? Why? Why?

If your client says, they could not find anything beyond general information that everyone in the market provides, then figure out what kind of information they were looking for and why.

Secondary questions: 

The answer to these questions might not directly influence the buying decision, but they will help you to profile your potential customers.

Professional life

  • What is your designation?
  • What are you responsible for?
  • What does your job involve?
  • Can you describe a day in your life?
  • What would you describe as a win in your role
  • What are the most critical success factors in your role?
  • What do you aspire to achieve in your role?
  • What are the essential skills to be good at your job?
  • What are the tools that you use commonly?
  • What is your organization hierarchy like?
  • What industry or sector does your company cater to?
  • How big is your company (revenue, employees)?

Personal Background

  • Tell me a little about yourself.
  • What is your educational background?
  • Can you give me a quick tour of your career
  • Do you identify yourself with any hobbies or activities (like cycling)?
  • Who are your favorite celebrities/music band/movies?
  • What do you do for fun outside of work?
  • How do you prefer to do your research?
  • What is your preferred mode of communication (email, phone, in-person)?
  • What are your favorite blogs/magazines/publications?
  • Are you part of any groups like CrossFit?

Secondary research:

Salespeople and customer service representatives

Sales and customer service representatives are usually considered good sources of information. Still, I prefer to think of them as a secondary source because there is a chance for their input to be biased.

For example, a customer might not always tell the salesperson that their product is terrible even if that’s the truth.

In most cases, salespeople say they are not able to sell the product because of the cost or lack of features. This happens because these are the main points customers use to negotiate with your salespeople.

Google analytics

Your google analytics data can tell you a lot about the demographics of your visitor. You can check if this matches up with the information sourced through other channels of research.

Buyer persona research by using google analytics

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In google analytics, navigate to audience>demographics to see the demographic for your site visitors.

Buyer persona research by using google analytics interests

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You can also see their related interests, which is more useful than just seeing the age and gender. You can even breakdown the interest metrics further, if needed. This gives you an idea about your buyer persona’s interests.

Buyer persona research by using google analytics affinity category and in market segments

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Facebook insights

Facebook insights is another useful tool you can use for persona creation.

Buyer persona from Facebook insights

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Quora

You can use sites like Quora for your audience research. Search for your business and see what kind of questions your target audience is asking. Spend enough time and soon you will start recognizing a pattern and the main problems and concerns your customers have. ​​​​​​​

Buyer persona research on Quora

Forum

There are several other forums like Quora. Google “Your keyword+forum” if you’re not sure which forums your potential customers prefer. Reddit is another forum, which has threads for most subtopics.

Here are the results I got when I searched for ATV+forum, which is literally the first thing that came to my mind for some reason.

Forums for buyer persona research

Social media

Social media research might not be a great option to find out the kind of questions your customer is asking, but it’s great to understand their culture a bit more. For example, go to Instagram and search for your keyword. This will give you suggestions for influencers and celebrities in your niche. See my results when I searched for “content marketing.”

Instagram search with keyword for buyer persona research

You will get even more suggestions once you follow one of them. For example, I got Gary Vee as a suggestion when I followed content marketing institute and then Grand Cardone when I followed Gary Vee.

Instagram search for buyer persona research

Look at the type of content they are putting out. People (or brands) in the same field could be using a different tone and type of content based on the kind of audience they are targeting. Take a closer look at the content Gary Vee is producing and the type of content Seth Godin in creating. Even though they’re in the marketing field, they are appealing to a completely different set of people; Gary Vee is talking to a younger, more hungry persona with an entrepreneurial vibe in them, while Seth Godin is appealing to a more mature, settled audience.

Buyer persona research on Instagram Gary Vee

Even though these personalities use a tone and content that is polar opposites, they are both masters at their craft.

Buyer persona research on Instagram Seth Godin

You can do the same with Twitter and Facebook. Probably not LinkedIn because it’s a professional network and people are not their full true self there. Even I’m wearing a tie in my LinkedIn profile picture.

Survey

Surveys are also good to get insights into your customer behavior, but you have to be careful when crafting the questions. You need to ensure that you’re not putting your customers in a position where they have to choose one answer because you’re not giving them any other option. Surveys can be used to reinforce your findings from the interviews and when you can’t ask your customers for a commitment as big as a one-on-one interview. 

Now that you know how to create an actionable buyer persona. Let’s look at some of the common FAQs regarding buyer personas.

Do small businesses need buyer personas?

Absolutely. Small businesses must create buyer personas, so they can create targeted communications and campaigns. It will also help to reduce ad cost by improving message relevance.

How do you use buyer personas?

Buyer personas should be considered before making any business decision that will affect your user. It can be used to make better decisions regarding design, copywriting and pricing, to name a few applications.

Why is buyer persona important?

Buyer personas will be your guide in making any decision that will affect the customer, which includes design, marketing, pricing and product development, to name a few. Lack of buyer personas (or having an inaccurate one) will increase the risk of wrong decisions that could sabotage your business in the long run. It can also help you understand the pain points that your customers feel and craft your service and strategy accordingly.

What is a buyer persona?

A buyer persona, also known as customer persona, is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer created by assessing quantitative and qualitative data from existing customers and through market research.
Your buyer persona should consider customer demographics, behavior patterns, motivations, and goals.