Buyer Personas – Getting “Personal” with clients.
How well do you know your customers? If you’re like many companies there may be no single answer except that you know some better than others. Longtime clients you may know by name, while new clients might just be the guy you do xxxx for. Some may have become personal friends, while others you might not recognize in the grocery store. But what if there was a way to “know” your customer without having to meet them?
One To Represent Many
It may sound silly, but that’s exactly what many leading marketing firms recommend… that you should try to “know” your customer in a meaningful way by understanding what drives your customers as a group. But thinking about how groups behave is notoriously difficult. So instead of thinking of your customers as groups, they recommend creating a character that represents your customer as a single person. The tool you can use is called a “Buyer Persona”, and it’s been a big deal in the Business-to-business marketing world for a while now. Can it be applied to your business? Sure, why not?
What the Marketing Industry Says
Hubspot (A leading maker of marketing automation software) says “A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers.” Said another way, Marketo (Another leading marketing software firm) says “A persona is a research-based profile of an archetypal customer that represents needs of many.”
What Other Experts Say
We think the definitive definition is what Tony Zambito (Who Oracle calls “the creator and today’s leading authority on buyer personas.”) said in 2013:
Buyer personas are research-based archetypal (modeled) representations of who buyers are, what they are trying to accomplish,what goals drive their behavior, how they think, how they buy, wherethey buy, when buyers decide to buy, and why they make buying decisions.…
Between them, these definitions hit a lot of the main points you need to understand about creating and using buyer personas for your business. Here’s how we would sum it up for our service industry customers:
- You have to base personas on real (researched) information. (But if you talk to clients every day, you already have many examples of their identities and motivations)
- You’re trying to answer multiple questions about their motivations, so you can figure out how to sell to them and service them. Look at all those “W-words” (who what why where when)!
- By creating a character, it becomes easier to get inside the customer’s head and understand how they will react to things you may do to try and motivate them.
- If you think about the customer as an individual, it’s easier to predict their reactions than if you think only about the group.
Want to try it? Here’s a few tips we’ve picked up:
This first part might take about an hour, or you can get really elaborate and take much longer.
- Start by defining the first customer “type” you want to build a persona for (your business may have one or several, but let’s start with one)
- Jump into the basics like gender, age, a physical description, where they’re from, and other basic background then give this character a name (seriously)… like Bob, or Amy, or Charlie, or something you can relate to.
- Dive deeper into their demographics… are they married? Kids? if so, how many and how old? Where do they live? What kind of place? What do they drive (or do they)? What are their hobbies and interests?
- What is their official “role” they perform as a customer. (Owner, manager, etc) And what is important to that role? Cost? Quality? Efficiency? Also, if that role is a professional one, what do they strive to be next?
- Who (besides themselves) are they responsible to? Who else gets a say?
A Relatable Character
Once you’ve answered a lot of these questions, you’ll end up with a fairly complete sketch of someone that will start to seem like a real human being. In fact, if you use this persona for a while in business, they will start to feel very real to you… and that’s good because the whole role of a persona is to become a “relatable” character that can help you decide what will motivate that “normal” customer to choose you.
If you have several, very different types of customers, you may want to repeat this process for each of them. Once you have all the Personas you’ll want to use, it’s time to put them to work.
After creating Buyer Personas, high-power marketing agencies will take their corporate clients through a big workshop. For Service Industry Businesses it’s probably a much simpler process. Start by asking a few relevant questions and answering them ‘in character’ as your buyer persona… What would Bob do?
For any practical question like “Should I get confirmation from the client before I do xxxx” or “Should I focus my sales message on price, service, or quality”, the buyer persona can give you practical clues that might not otherwise be obvious.
For example, if you do work for Amy, who manages 2 dozen properties, she may be stretched thin and much more interested in saving time than in hearing about the job in excruciating detail. And once on the job, she may want you to make educated decisions about how to manage a property and report them back to her later, rather than calling her to get a decision from her. But as a 31-year old, she’s probably tech savvy and highly connected. She might appreciate a text that she can choose to address or ignore.
If Bob is a homeowner, his choices may be very different. He may want hand-held through every decision and may become dissatisfied if anything gets done without his express approval.
If Charlie owns a commercial building, he may want you to report back any long-term maintenance issues you see. And if he’s over 60, chances are greater that you’ll have to get him on the phone or in person to get his feedback.
Creating a buyer persona can be especially useful when changing customer types. For example, if you’ve built your business primarily in the residential market, following your instincts may work great for dealing with residential customers, but it might lead you astray when dealing with commercial property management customers.
Creating a persona of the typical commercial property maintenance customer might help you stay focused on appealing to the new customer instead of just relying on your old tricks. It might be a really worthwhile thing to do before you go out and try to jump into this market.
Are Personas for You?
The creation and use of Buyer Personas can be a great way to understand your customers. We think they can be useful in any business, but they may or may not be something you want to do. If you think it’s worth a try, start out simple and see if the persona model keeps you focused. If it works, great. That’s one more tool to help you win sales and understand your customers and their motivations.