The logic is simple: If you want to sell anything, you need buyers—and you need to understand them. Most companies are already aware of the importance of knowing their buyers. After all, buyers are responsible for the only action that ultimately supports your company’s success: purchasing. Understanding exactly who these critical players, the buyers, are allows for better directed action in all realms of your business and markedly more effective results. Although the potential pay off of buyer personas is clear, the best methods to construct effective ones are far less straightforward.
This article discusses six key rules for developing buyer personas, each centered upon the goal of making better directed, more successful decisions in your business.
Rule 1: Interview Real Buyers
Time is valuable, so don’t waste yours speculating about what you think your buyers might like. Commit to using top methods of data collection so that you’ll know exactly who your buyers are. Traditional research methods such as surveys, web analytics, and internal feedback are certainly helpful in the early stages of flushing out your buyer personas. However, the richest information can only be gained via discussions with actual, real-life buyers.
To gain the most insight, reach out to individuals who have recently:
- Purchased or expressed interest in purchasing your product
- Expressed interest in but ultimately decided against purchasing your product (you can learn as much from lost deals as won deals)
- Purchased a product very similar to yours
It takes a little more effort, but the payoff of detailed, comprehensive, ultra-accurate data is well worth it. After all, the more heavily your buyer personas are built from real people, the more representative and therefore useful they will be to you.
Rule 2: Make Every Question Count
Whether you research buyers via interviews, polls, or internal feedback, you are bound to encounter the problem of limited resources. In the case of interviews, perhaps it will be time constraints. In the case of online forms, it will probably be the number of fields potential buyers are willing to complete. In any case, be conscious of the finite nature of resources and use each question wisely. These three questions will help you determine whether or not you’re truly collecting valuable information:
- Can I find the answer myself? If you can, find it, get rid of the question and take advantage of the room you’ve freed up for more insightful questions.
- How will I use this information to improve my success in the market? If you can’t answer this question quickly, it’s probably useless information.
- What would make this question even more valuable? Iterate on the question until you truly cannot find another way to improve upon it.
For guidance on exactly what questions you should be asking, see our article, “21 Questions You Need to Ask When Building Buyer Personas.” Having an extremely strong set of questions means you will be able to optimize the time invested in collecting information and emerge with more usable, quality results.
Rule 3: Listen for Answers to Questions You Never Asked
Perhaps the greatest benefit to building buyer personas based on real life interviews is the wealth of unexpected information you will inevitably gain—that is, if you learn to listen. Upon having the opportunity to speak with a buyer, don’t squander your chance to gain unexpected insights by stubbornly adhering to a set of predetermined questions. Instead, conduct interviews that feel more like guided conversations. Allow the discussion to flow as long as it relates to one of these broader topics: [p]
- Challenges or pain points within the buyer’s company that led them to seek out or notice your product
- What the buyer hopes to or has gained from purchasing your product. And remember, the goal of the purchase is not the same thing as the reason they sought out a product like yours in the first place. The pain and solution are not identical; they complement each other.
- What distinguishes your company or product from competitors (positively or negatively) and how this affected the buyer’s decision
- How the buyer became aware of your company or your product
In short, pay careful attention to any and all productive tangents. There are many questions you may never think to ask, but if you are able to listen effectively, your interviews will nonetheless uncover their answers.
Rule 4: Turn Your Personas Into Characters
Once you’ve collected enough data to develop top notch buyer personas, don’t be shy about the extent to which you build them out. In addition to providing all of the high quality information discussed in the rest of this article, take it one step further and consider the following tactics:
- Assign each buyer persona a face, a name, maybe even a favorite food.
- Some companies take it as far as creating cardboard cutouts of each persona, which provides even more opportunity for team members to familiarize themselves with the buyer personas you worked so hard to develop.
- Engage your employees in getting-to-know-you activities with these representative characters. Use them for sales training purposes. Take them out to lunch. It’s fun, it’s silly, but most importantly it’s a highly effective method of solidifying the buyer personas you worked so hard to develop in the minds of your team members—and the better your team knows your buyers, the more buyers you will attract.
Rule 5: Create Agile Personas
The truth is that even the most carefully constructed buyer personas will never be fully developed. This is because buyer personas aren’t static, but rather can (and should) evolve as your company does. Prepare for the change any successful company will inevitably go through by creating buyer personas that are designed to adapt. These guidelines are a good place to start:
- Implement plans to systematically update your buyer personas, including methods to keep your team up to date on these changes. Everybody needs to know when and how the target market is shifting.
- Create early, middle, and late stage versions of each buyer persona. If you do include content specifically intended for different stages, socialize the fact that such content will change. You may even consider linking to the later-stage assets you’ve created to help facilitate the buying process.
- Understand that real buyers will almost never fit your personas precisely. Train your team to work with buyers as individuals, not archetypes. No interaction should ever feel formulaic.
By including room for change in your buyer personas from the start, you’ll make intelligent plans for a successful, growing company. Even more importantly, you’ll help your team realize that understanding the market is an ongoing, iterative process.
Rule 6: Respond In A Big Way
After exerting all of the effort it takes to develop highly detailed, accurate buyer personas, by all means use them—and use them in every way you can think of. After all, your company’s success presumably revolves around appealing to buyers, so to some degree every member of your team is invested in developing that appeal. Taking your personas seriously means:
- Changing your product
- Adjusting your pricing strategy
- Re-allocating your advertising spend
- Creating new materials
- Challenging team members to get creative with original ways to appeal to buyers
Creating buyer personas isn’t just an intellectual exercise; it’s a way of segmenting and targeting your market. If you take that as seriously as you should, you’ll take significant action throughout your business following the proper development of your personas.
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