February 27, 2020
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Buyer personas are an essential building block for any marketing strategy. Coupled with strong messaging, they help the team focus on a user profile that will yield the most success across sales, marketing, and product initiatives. But personas are can be hard to nail down. Once drafted, they’re all-too-easily hidden away in Google Drive folder and never referenced again.
Let’s take a look at what you can do to develop, use, and maintain buyer personas to ensure that your team gets value from them.
Personas are a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem; great personas help you find and convert customers, but in order to build your personas, you’ll need happy customers to model them after. So, what comes first?
During a session with Heavybit founders, Mitch Morando advises that you start building personas once you have a few signed contracts. “Use closed contracts as data points for persona development,” says Mitch, “once you’ve gotten about five, you should start seeing patterns.”
So now that you have a few very happy, paying customers, and you’re ready to start creating buyer personas — or at least, the first version of them.
Personas should reflect your real users. Early-stage user research is a critical part of finding product-market fit and will help you develop personas that are useful and grounded in actual feedback. Interview successful customers to get fuller picture of their roles, their goals, and how they think about purchasing decisions.
“You should be able to point to your personas within your user base, and be able to identify people who represent that persona in a very clear and immediate way,” said Okta’s Sr. Director of Demand Gen Claire Hunsaker.
In her talk on personas, Claire Hunsaker said that the number one mistake that marketers make when crafting personas is avoiding sales calls. If you can’t get on calls in real-time, tools like Gong can be extremely useful for catching up on sales conversations and discovering trends in your audience.
Your sales team is on the front line, talking to would-be users constantly, and your best performers probably already have a good mental model of what a buyer looks like. Talk to the sales team and get those mental models on paper. They can help confirm or recalibrate your findings about your buyer.
LinkedIn can take you beyond your current user base and fill in the gaps in your data set. Examining LinkedIn profiles can tell you what topics and groups people are interested in. Look for markers like:
For technical audiences especially, taking your social research further and digging into Twitter can also be helpful — who are the most-followed figures in the space? What are the most contentious topics and questions?
You’ve done your research and you probably have a rough idea in your head (or in your notes) of who your buyer is. Now it’s time to distill that into a clear, succinct description that will paint a very clear picture for everyone on your team about who this person is.
There are many persona templates out there, some are flashier and more complex than others. Start simple and focused. The goal is to define who your buyer is and how you can help them.
We like this buyer persona framework, which is based on Claire’s talk (grab the persona template here):
Check out this persona template in action in Claire’s example of a developer persona from her talk:
The problem with looking at persona templates is that personas aren’t just a framework that exists in a vacuum; they’re only useful insofar as the team uses them. Don’t throw personas over the wall and expect them to be used.
It’s helpful to think of personas as something to be launched internally, just as you would a new piece of software for the team. Not every member of your team will be familiar with personas or how to use them, so taking the time to help them understand how they’re helpful (and ask for feedback) can go a long way. A few ways to frame how the team can use your personas:
Here’s the real secret to great personas: they aren’t ever done. As your product and market evolves, so should your personas. Review your personas quarterly to evaluate whether they’re still an accurate representation of your buyers.
Another common mistake that marketers make is not taking feedback from the team. Customer-facing team members will quickly see changes to the buyer persona, and can help calibrate your personas over time. Provide channels for persona feedback to help your team surface ideas and concerns to you as they see them.
Creating personas is hard work, but going through the exercise of creating them will have big impact on your team as you scale. To dive deeper into the process of developing high-impact buyer personas, watch Claire Hunsaker’s Heavybit Speaker Series talk Personas, You’re Doing It Wrong in the Heavybit Library.