Personas are a fundamental part of any B2B marketing strategy. Whether you’re launching a new product or feature, revisiting sales assets, or building a product demo, they should be at the forefront of your mind throughout and shape what you create - and how.
Given their importance within the product marketing world, we’ll be focusing on:
- What personas are
- Why personas are important
- How to improve your personas
What are personas?
Personas are fictional characters you create based on research, and they represent segments of your market. They’re fabricated profiles of your target customer(s).
We can’t emphasize enough how important research is when developing your personas - they cannot be built on internal assumptions.
We repeat: personas cannot be built on internal assumptions. 🗣️
You might start with internal assumptions, but they must then be validated by real customers and always updated as you learn more.
If you rely solely on assumptions, you run the risk of attracting negative personas, a representation of who you don’t want to target as a customer.
Why are personas important?
Personas help you create products your customers are crying out for and guide the roadmap in terms of priorities. Product marketers often forget about the role personas play but it’s crucial and should never be overlooked.
If you want to develop the right products and features for the right people, persona work is paramount.
Personas also equip you with the tools you need to effectively market your product to specific audiences in a way that resonates with them, targets their pain points, and increases conversions.
As is the case with any type of marketing, personalization is key, and all this helps to shape how your sales and marketing teams encourage people to buy - and keep buying.
They also help your engineers keep those end users in mind as they’re building out any products or features, and this kind of focus is key in ensuring what’s built is what people want.
And finally, personas are important for your support teams because they help them understand why someone might have bought your product in the first place, and what they’re looking for in a solution. This can enhance communications and create a more refined, tailored customer experience.
How to improve your personas
Mindi Grissom, Director of Product Marketing at Sisense has extensive experience in creating personas from scratch and has also developed existing personas.
We picked her brain on key topics, including:
- The role of analytics when building personas
- How to create effective messaging
- How to avoid critical errors when building personas
- Her top persona tips
How to use analytics when building personas
Q: As a business’ customer base increases, how can PMMs combine analytics and surveys to gather more information, adjust their personas and create new ones?
A: “Analytics are super important. For one, there’s third-party information that can give you a baseline of where to start.
“But then, I think it’s really important to use the internal data you have to truly understand who is involved in the purchasing cycle. Surveys can help you dig a bit deeper, get into some other pain points, and help you understand who those people actually are.
“The personas process is a mix of qualitative and quantitative data, you need both; when you use data, you’ll see that things can change, people can change, how they interact will change, and you’re able to make better decisions when you have the data to back it up.
“It’s difficult to say ‘I think there’s a new persona’ if you don’t have supporting data. You need the time and the resources to craft that new persona.”
Action point #1 - Gather and analyze a mix of qualitative and quantitative data.
How to create effective messaging
Q: When crafting messaging for personas, what best practices can help PMMs 1) identify their target audience, 2) align their content, and 3) create messaging that’ll resonate?
A: “I think it starts with identifying your target audience. It’s good practice to make sure that you’re aligning with the goals of your business.
“Oftentimes when we’re building personas we say ‘I know who the persona is’, but those personas may not reflect where our business is going.
“We need to create a perfect blend of who our personas are today, align that with who it is tomorrow, understand who the segments are, and who we’re going to go after as a business. This is important because you need to be able to segment your target audience appropriately.
“Once you segment your target audience, you have to align your content, but it’s really important to know who those people actually are and what the pieces of content are that will resonate with them.
“In the past, you may have said to yourself ‘we must have a whitepaper at this point’ or ‘we must create a video’, but honestly, people are changing all the time, so one of the best practices about content is making sure you focus on the pain points you’re trying to solve, not so much the piece of content itself.
“Always ask yourself what you’re trying to convey to your audience, think of ways you can reach them through content, and understand how you can communicate with them through the messaging; I think that’s the key piece of personas.
“Sure, you can give them a whitepaper, but if it’s saying something totally different, that isn’t going to help them out. So, in order to create the best messaging, it helps when you understand your persona.
“If possible, go and sit with them to really understand the messaging that resonates and put a feedback loop in place. What may have appealed six months ago may not resonate today. You need to evolve with the market.”
Action point #2 - Understand your target audience, create segmented messaging, and have a feedback loop in place.
How to avoid mistakes when creating personas
Q: The advantages of personas are well documented, but how can PMMs avoid the pitfalls of the perceived disadvantages?
A: “Sometimes when we think about personas we either go really broad, or we go super targeted.
“You need to find a healthy mix of knowing who your personas are without trying to cater for everyone with the same message, that’s where your product messaging is not going to resonate to those personas.
“That said, you also don’t want to be hyper-targeted where you’ve sliced and diced on so many different titles on who these people are that you’ve confused your sales team, that you’ve confused your market because while they might have some slight differences, they just aren’t different enough for people to truly grasp that.
“So, you need to stay away from being too broad or too hyper-targeted. You need to play around and experiment with it. You may feel as though you need to segment your personas more; people act differently and they need different messaging.
“On the other hand, with hyper-targeted personas, you may say ‘we have way too many personas, and our sales team doesn’t know the difference between X, Y, and Z’. In which case, consider grouping some of these together.
“Having a continual feedback loop in place will help you avoid some of those pitfalls.”
Action point #3 - Strike the fine balance when segmenting your personas and avoid broad and/or hyper-targeted groups.
Persona tips and advice
Q: What piece of key advice would you give to product marketers to help them build high-quality personas for their company?
A: “I’d give two key pieces of advice to product marketers who are building personas.
“Firstly, I think it’s really important to complete research. We’re all moving at the speed of light, but we do need to understand who the people we’re targeting are.
“I can’t stress enough how useful listening to sales calls can be, and there’s technology available so you don’t have to be on the call listening in, they do it for you.
“You need to actually understand what your personas are saying, what their pain points are, how they interact with people during sales calls. Conducting that research and being with customers is really important.
“I also think it’s important to remember that we’re people. Whether you’re selling to B2B or B2C, it doesn’t matter, we’re human beings and we evolve. People come in and out of the sales cycle as time goes on.
“You might have consensus decision making, you might not, and so a lot of these things will change. You shouldn’t consider your personas document to be this static document - it needs to evolve because human behavior always changes and you need to keep up with that.”
Action point #4 - Research and demonstrate empathy when creating your personas. Also, be sure to update your personas, it’s not a static document.
Got more questions on how to create marketing personas? Maybe you've got a system that works really well. Share them on the B2B Marketing Alliance Community!