customer personas

Developing Customer Personas

80% of your business comes from 20% of your audience.

Have you identified that 20%?

With that in mind, we want to focus the majority (not all) of our efforts on that 20% of the audience that is most likely to convert. Personas allow us to focus that.

Customer personas allow us to develop a picture of a 3 dimensional person to create our materials, messages, interactions in mind. They allow us to specifically target the language, pain points, and challenges that they face, enabling us to connect with them on a more authentic, personal, targeted level.

There are many ways of doing this, ranging from back-of-the-napkin type approaches, to full fledged, psychological and analytical data modeling. Whether you are creating a single customer persons (rarely ever appropriate) or multiple persona for each organization (used in ABM – Account Based Marketing) the purpose is always the same: identify WHO your customer is, WHAT your audience responds to, and WHAT your customer needs that you can help with.

TIP: Customers outside of this definitely exist and are further identified by the use of personas to find customers even in less obvious target.

There are many ways of doing this, ranging from back-of-the-napkin type approaches, to full fledged, psychological and analytical data modeling. Whether you are creating a single customer persons (rarely ever appropriate) or multiple persona for each organization (used in ABM – Account Based Marketing) the purpose is always the same: identify WHO your customer is, WHAT your audience responds to, and WHAT your customer needs that you can help with.

Account Based Marketing (ABM)

In a nutshell, ABM is networking. It is targeting a specific organization and developing a multi-touch approach across the organization, coordinated with sales and marketing, to gain acceptance within the organization at a core level, to become the default provider for your services.

TIP: NEVER target just a single organization. As the old adage says, don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

ABM is used most frequently in growing accounts, targeting organizations where you already have a foothold in the door and want to either upsell your services, or expand your offerings across the organization.

Regardless of whether you are already in an organization, or are trying to get in, personas of the key “gatekeepers” or contacts at each targeted level is critical.

NOTE: ABM is more than just getting on a vendor list. In many instances, that is required, and should be addressed during your initial engagement strategy.

Personas for ABM

Think of Personas as characters, so the process of creating a persona is akin to character development.

The main difference in developing personas in ABM initiatives versus traditional ones is that there are more specific details to the organization, and there will be incrementally more personas overall, depending on the number of organizations you are targeting. In similar industries, there will likely be significant overlap in the general personas, but it is important to remember that you are NOT developing profiles of the actual individuals, these are still personas.

Identifying the Target Organization TYPES

Before building the personas of the customers within the organizations, you need to first understand who the targets ARE. To do that, you need to identify the objective.

  • Objective: The Path to Conversion
  • The targets:
    • Lookalike Companies/Organizations or Partners with your existing customers
    • Existing customers who can be targeted for Upselling
  • Identify the versions of each of the targets:
    • Large companies
    • Small companies
    • Regulated companies
    • Ready and prime for new product/service

Work with your regional director to determine their targets/goals for the year as a starting point, and work from that.

Identifying the Personas

Start with a Basic persona for each “type” of customer within the different types of organizations. Remember, these are not individual details of the different specific people, these are profiles of the TYPES of people in the roles who influence the decision-making process. They may include:

  • Managers
  • End Users
  • Decision makers
  • C-suite

In most instances, narrowing your target will mean you begin with only a few personas, and several will overlap, at least initially. The purpose of identifying the target audience types is to NARROW the audience!

Your initial panic is, however, productive, because it demonstrates you now realize how many possible iterations of your client audience there are!

Don't Panic

Intro to Personas

As previously noted, personas can range in size, scope, and investment, from the quick snapshot to the larger, more detailed profile. In the practical world, all three are used. Since you should never market to a customer without more than a cursory idea of who it is (a teacher, an administrator), you should always develop a useable persona to begin, and continue to develop the personas through independent research or through use. Personas are living profiles, which means they are continually updated and fine tuned based on new information, research, feedback, and behaviors. 

The challenge in developing personas for the first time is remembering that this is not a specific customer, this is a customer TYPE. Yes, you will be creating a profile of an individual, but that will REPRESENT the overall audience.

In many marketing and sales organizations, the focus on message development and engagements comes from the desire and need to TOUCH the audience, and we do that by forumulating our key messages, as defined internally by our own perspective. But we are NOT our customers. Our interest in the specific messaging is almost always different than the interest our customers have in hearing it. To be effective, we have to deliver the message the customer WANTS to hear, in a way that aligns with the information we have to give.

The developing of personas is crucial in ensuring that we are marketing and talking TO customers, with THEIR needs and interests in mind, and not just talking AT them.

There are essentially three ranges of Personas:

  • Basic (Back-of-the-Napkin)
  • General
  • Detailed

Each of these serve the same purpose, to understand the customer, but each offers a different level of detail and understanding, and each requires a different level of resource dedication, time, and effort to develop.

Back-of-the-Napkin Persona

Because you have to start somewhere ….

In the absence of a persona, instead of working with a broad ranging label, one of the quickest ways to create a preliminary persona is to work with the sales team to identify a “similar” personality. A good approach to use is to identify what celebrity (real or fictional) best matches this targeted customer. The benefits to this is it should be a character or personality that is known, so you can instantly consider the nuances in their personality, needs, interests, etc. It’s a rough idea, but it offers a place to start to tailor your messages to this individual.

General Functional Persona

Typically the general functional persona begins with your own assumptions of the audience group. Once you have your initial ideas, the next step is to discuss with others, most notably your account/sales teams, at different levels, to get their input. Third you will need to research the information and overall data about the character. General functional personas also include informal and anecdotal interviews, surveys of the actual audience.

Detailed Analytical Persona

The detailed personas are the ones that are often outsourced to consultants and specialists and involve far more time and effort to develop. These are created based on extensive profile research, demographic data, interviews, surveys, and more. They include modeling and analytics, and often third-party programs and dedicated teams. These personas are suited for businesses with very large audiences, typically direct to consumer or larger B2B service providers (financial, tech, etc.). These personas typically include customer journey decision moments, and tie directly to full marketing strategies and tactics through the entire sales process.

EXAMPLE: (Note, this is just one screen of a segment type, the same group can exist in other segment types with different details)

Detailed Persona

Fine tuning targets

Eventually you will have more details for each individual customer, as you continue to get notes and feedback. It is important to remember that the specifics to the individual should NOT be added to the persona, unless it’s generalized and repeated that would apply in overall to others in this position. (Ie, favorite color is NOT part of a persona.)

Negative Personas

Negative personas are those groups that are specifically NOT our customers. Ensuring we have those groups identified and built out helps us to focus more on those who ARE our customers. Negative Personas extend not only to the school and districts that we typically do not target, but also help us to understand when we find an individual who is not part of our target audience, within a target organization.

Next steps

Your marketing team should work as a group to identify the general TARGETS and a rough outline of the target personas. These should be based on the different goals of the regional teams that they’ve identified, and align with the company objective and overall sales goals.

For example (fine tune these with input from the Account Managers to determine who, specifically, they are speaking to, who the decision makers/influencers are):

  • User
  • Advocate
  • Manager
  • Decision Maker

Together we can brainstorm the initial Basic persona, including the anecdotal information and research we already have on them, then work with senior AM/SALES folks to fine tune that. As we continue to get feedback and input from the senior sales team, we can begin to develop the General personas.

After they are identified, each marketer should start with the region leadership for their confirmation of the targets/persona types. Dedicated meetings to discuss and brainstorm the audience, to further detail the attributes of the typical customer each persona represents.

The continued development of the personas will involve working closely with your sales team/_regions, but, and this is important, should remain a marketing-wide group project.

NOTE: General personas will be similar across all marketing teams,  but there WILL be specific regional differences in some of the details.

Keep the personas as general as possible to apply to the overall messaging and engagement, but be diligent in noting the differences.

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