In this article, Ian Truscott shares a model for creating personas, the essential insight you need to create your campaigns and content, differentiate and help your audience buy your products and services.

Over the years, I’ve been through many persona development processes, either buyer personas for sales and marketing or user personas for product development (and yes, these are different). And I have spent quite a bit of my career advising, selling, marketing and meeting these actual folks, not just creating their personas.

Feel the need

I favour starting with needs and clustering those into personas with common needs.

So, ignore job titles, focus on the buying journey, what the people on that journey need and how to address those needs. Doing this means that you don’t spend time on persona attributes that are not important, like gender, or that might be irrelevant to your relationship with your audience. Plus, you keep the number of personas tight and easy to remember and address.

5 F’in’ Steps

There is actually a pre-step, which is to understand your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP), as this will give you the context of organisational needs that will feed the needs of your personas.

So, once we have that, let’s start looking at the personas.

#1 Understand the journey

No surprise here, as in almost everything we talk about here, we start with goals and understanding the needs and motivations of customers throughout the buying process or customer journey. If I stick to our editorial guidelines, it’s a f’in’ fundamental.

It doesn’t matter what customer journey model you choose, but probably the simpler, the better. The important bit is to understand who the sponsors, gatekeepers and influencers are along that journey, which will help the organization move to the next step.

#2 Define the needs

After the first step, we understand who’s involved, so what do these folks need?

And I don’t necessarily mean they need a feature, function or service, but going beyond surface-level needs and delving into what customers truly want to achieve and the risks they may perceive.

Even in cases where the product or service seems straightforward, it’s like the old adage often attributed to Clayton M. Christensen or Theodore Levitt,

No One Wants a Drill. What They Want Is the Hole”

In fact, they don’t want a hole, they want a shelf, something to put books on and to feel good about their house. This is the emotional need.

This is important, as the biggest competitor in many cases is not a specific competitor but rather the customer’s decision to do nothing at all.

Understanding why customers might choose inaction is key—whether it is due to perceived risks or a fear of making a mistake (that I’ve referred to as FOFU, or Fear of Fucking Up). It’s emotional.

By identifying common needs across different roles, we can create very focused personas to address.

#3 Detail how you can help them

Once the personas and their needs have been defined, the next step is to map onto each need how you can help them, beyond simply explaining the product or service features and pricing.

For example your sponsor may never have created a business case or worked with procurement before, it’s their first time ever, whereas it might be your organizations first one today.

Often sales methodologies will say that we need to create pain at this point, but I believe being useful and helpful has a better outcome, paticularily if you are dealing with someone with FOFU, and let’s face it we all have a little bit of that.

As an aside, I learned a really simple model recently from Robert Rose on the podcast (also shared on his Content Marketing Institute column); consider these three ways you can help: inspiration, implication, and initiation.

  • Inspiration involves determining how to inspire people to take action and move forward in the customer journey.
  • Implication focuses on educating customers about what they need to understand in order to make the change or decision.
  • Initiation refers to facilitating the actual change or transition.

#4 Understand the job titles

I recommend doing this pretty much last, as you want to keep your personas down to just a handful, if you start with job titles, the temptation is to create very fractured personas, not clustered around need, and you end up with 25, not 5 and you lose focus. But, you need to make your campaigns addressable and you need job titles to find these folks in an organisation.

So, only once you have your needs clustered and high-level personas, tag each one with the job titles.

The warning there is that these need to be real, not aspirational. Do you really sell to the CMO or CTO? Or are you actually selling to a sponsor further down the food chain? To keep them real, use the data in your customer database (CRM) and chat to sales and find out the job titles these personas really have.

#5 Make it real

Some people will argue calling the persona by a fictional name. And, in doing this, everyone uses alliteration, like “Esther the Executive Decision Maker”, personally I like to make them real. Find a real person in your community and name them after them.

Finding real people that fit the persona also makes us do the work of testing our persona hypothesis.

How often do things developed over pizza, the heady smell of whiteboard pens and flip charts diverge from what’s really happening on the coal face of sales? (Be honest!)

And, if they are friendly, you can close the loop and ask them – were these your needs?

Plus, having a real person in mind, calling them by their name, helps crystallise them in your team’s mind as they create campaigns and content. “Oh, that’s Jane, the IT manager at ACME corp” for example.

However, the risk is that the person might be too specific and not represent the persona’s needs, depending on your industry. If that’s the case, stick with the persona name.

Final matrix

The result is a table for each persona:

  • Persona name
  • Description
  • Job titles
  • Role in the buying process
  • Needs
  • How we help with those needs
  • Real example; name, job title and company

It’s a big topic, broader than a blog post, and there are many different approaches, but this gives a great start and a simple, practical model that is easy to follow.

Please let us know what you think.

Photo used above and in the promotion is by Marten Newhall on Unsplash

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