Buyer Personas:
When Marketing is Just Helping, Selling is Easy

One of the first marketing lessons I was taught was this: if you try to orient your marketing efforts to everyone, you’ll end up marketing to no one. In other words, when someone asks you who your product or service would be good for, and you reply, “Everyone would love it!”, I’ve got some news for you: you’re going to spend a lot of time and money on marketing that will yield little results.

Customer personas (also known as buyer personas or marketing personas) help you narrow your marketing and sales focus to pinpoint people who naturally want what your business offers. So rather than casting a gigantic net and hoping you catch something you want, you use a specific kind of bait to catch a certain kind of fish. The key is to start by knowing what kind of fish you’re looking for.

Let’s dive deeper into what makes up a buyer persona and how you can use one to make sure your product matches who you’re selling to.

Why Do You Need a Buyer Persona?

When you understand what drives your ideal customer, you’ll know what problems they have that your company can fix; you’ll know what makes them hesitant to buy something; and you’ll know what helps them decide between one brand and another.

When your team has this information about your ideal customer, marketing just becomes providing helpful information—and selling doesn’t feel “salesy” for your employees or your customers.

Once you’ve created a customer profile, you’ll know where to put your marketing money and attention. Are your customers more likely to watch a video about how your product works, or do they want a downloadable guide? Is your customer motivated by price more than quality or vice versa? Does your customer spend more time on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn?

When you build a buyer persona, you’ll know the answers to those questions. And that means your marketing is no longer a guessing game.

What is a Buyer Persona?

In the simplest terms, a buyer persona is a carefully cultivated profile of the ideal buyer of your product or service. Most companies will have 2 or 3 distinct personas. Here are some examples:

Example Persona #1

Let’s say you have an art supply store. You call one of your personas Artistic Alice. She’s has a non-artistic career but enjoys creating art in the evenings and on weekends. She spends more time on Instagram than any other social media, and she follows a lot of amateur and professional visual artists there. There are a few brands of art supplies she prefers, but she’s not against trying a different brand or product – especially if it’s on sale. She’s not interested in a full-fledged art program, but she’s curious about taking occasional one-day classes in different art techniques. She’s also a wine drinker—and that’s important for you to know because you’ve been considering starting a wine-and-painting event a couple times a month.

From this persona on Artistic Alice, you know you should become more familiar with Instagram, investigate what it would take to put on events and classes in your shop, and think about moving some old products off the shelves with strategic sales.

But what if your art supply store also sells products in bulk to local schools? You’ll need a separate persona for that buyer.

But what if your art supply store also sells products in bulk to local schools? You’ll need a separate persona for that buyer.

Example Persona #2

Let’s call him Secretary Steve. He’s been tasked with finding a supplier for a big school art project. He’s not in charge of determining the budget, and he may not oversee deciding which vendor to go with. But it’s up to Secretary Steve to do the research into art supply companies. He’s got to get info on bulk prices, products that are non-toxic, and especially products that won’t stain clothes. You keep in mind that Steve has a ton of other tasks and responsibilities to get through, and finding the art supplies is not something he has a lot of time for. He wants answers to his questions quickly, and he wants them in a way he can easily pass along to his decision maker.

From what we know about this persona, you’d want to create a handy list of prices and easily understood information about product toxicity and ease of clean-up. Maybe you put that information in a printed sheet or a downloadable PDF. Maybe you have it listed in a blog post that you can send in an email (which your customer can forward if needed).

By putting imaginary faces to your ideal customers, it’s much easier to make the marketing and selling process a human experience, rather than cold and calculated. Of course, none of your actual customers will look exactly like your made-up personas but the personas give you a jumping-off point.

Business to Business vs Business to Consumer

While there is possibly no limit to the type of info you could gather for your persona, there is such a thing as overkill. Too much data that muddies the water can sidetrack your marketing efforts. So how do you know what information you should gather?

First, you’ve got to know if you are a B2B or B2C company.

B2B (business to business) companies are selling a product or service to another company; while B2C (business to consumer) companies are selling a product or service directly to an individual. Key differences between the two include who makes the final buying decision, and the kinds of information buyers want before moving forward.

If you’re marketing directly to a customer (B2C), you’ll be focused on more individual information about your customer, such as age, gender, family status, what they do on weekends and vacations, income, housing situation (rent/own), etc.

If your business is marketing to another business (B2B), your buyer persona should include work-related topics such as industry, jobsite location, number of employees at the company, annual revenue, number of years in business, etc.

The B2C customer will be spending their own money and making their own decision about whether or not to do business with you. On the other hand, a B2B customer will work differently. You might have an administrative assistant doing the research on a product or service, while the final decision maker is someone else. And that someone else might require data sheets and white papers on potential ROI of using your business.

In our art store example above, the company would mostly be B2C, providing art supplies to people like Artistic Alice. But there is one branch of the company that is B2B focused: providing supplies in bulk to schools.

Typically, companies will be one or the other, but there may be singular products or services you offer that stray from your norm. Regardless, your personas should have all the necessary information your team needs to put a face to your ideal customer, even if that face is fictional.

Creating Your Buyer Persona

There are a couple ways to start building your personas. Which one you choose will depend on how established your company is. If you’re a new company with very few customers, you may need to start with some general market research.

You can find what companies similar to yours look for in a customer. That means finding out who they’re marketing to, but you can also find some published market research online.  Work with your sales and marketing team to create a list of ideas of who your ideal customer is. Get a rough description together to help move forward until you gather more customers and therefore more data.

If you’ve been in business for a while, and already have some established customers, building a persona will be a different process. It will still take some research, but you’ll be using the data you’ve already collected about your customers, rather than looking to other companies for ideas.

Look at the information you know about your best customers – the ones your sales team had no trouble closing, or who went through your sales process without trouble. Bonus points if they’re repeat customers. Identify commonalities among this stellar group and start to build your personas from there.

You’ll want to also pay attention to your buyers’ pain points: what are their main problems with other products or services in your industry? What problem do they have that your company can solve? Your buyer personas should address pain points because they help you to know what may be holding your customer back from choosing your company.

Artistic Alice’s pain points could be that she’s getting bored with her self-taught art skills – she wants to be challenged by new techniques and art forms she hasn’t tried before, but she doesn’t want to spend a lot of money on expensive supplies. Secretary Steve’s pain point might be needing to relay complex but important information to someone who doesn’t have much time to devote to it.

One key component to creating solid buyer personas is to ask your customers to complete a survey. Ask questions that will gather your persona information and be sure to offer something in return, such as a gift card.

Will Your Buyer Persona Ever Change?

After your first stab at creating your customer personas, you’ll be able to put them to use to segment your marketing—but you’re not done yet.

Your personas could change over time if your product or service changes, if your company grows, shrinks, or moves location, or when you start to accumulate increasingly more satisfied customers.

If you built your personas using general market research, you’ll definitely want to revamp your personas once you’ve gathered more customers of your own. Now that you have more accurate data on what your very own customers like and dislike, you’ll want to revise your personas to reflect that.

A note on squeaky wheels: Remember how I told you to use your best customers to inform your buyer persona? That was mostly true.

Your worst customers will also give you invaluable information. Your squeaky wheel customers—those that require the most of your employees’ attention but don’t yield enough revenue to make it worth it— should be factored into your personas in some way.

Here’s what that could look like: If your B2C company consistently has trouble with customers who use coupons, maybe you should stop offering coupons. If your B2B team spends too much time hand-holding large businesses with complicated processes for you to follow, maybe you focus your attention on small-to-midsize companies who are more agile and can adapt to new services easier.

You will have learned these lessons by paying attention to who your customers are, and watching their behavior with your business.

If you pay attention, every one of your customers can teach you something about your business.

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Erin Hall
Content Marketing Manager
Incorporate Massage

Erin Hall is the Content Marketing Manager for Incorporate Massage, a Utah-based company that provides on-site employee massage services to businesses across the country. Erin has an MA in Writing, a Digital Marketing certificate, and has a variety of Hubspot certifications. She is based in Portland, Oregon, where she is a member of the Oregon Historical Society, Portland’s Hubspot User Group, and SEMpdx.