‘Personas’ more generally (whether for product, software or marketing purposes) have been around since the early 1980’s when Alan Cooper came up with the concept of a user persona to help him and his team create software for a single archetypal user.
Fast forward to today, and the world of SaaS depends just as much upon Buyer Personas as ever. If you’ve just started looking into buyer personas or want to polish and improve your existing process, then this article is for you.
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What is a Buyer Persona?
In short, a buyer persona is nothing more than a fictitious representation of your ideal customer. However, the key is to keep the persona up-to-date over time and evolve it to a point where it’s less fictitious and more based on real, empirical data - typically gathered through research and customer interviews (more on this later). The more accurate (and fact based) you can make your persona, the more likely you are to drive real change within your business as a result of its findings.
A good buyer persona will help you and your team make decisions about the language you use to communicate to your audience, the nature and content of blog posts you write, your pricing strategy, product feature decisions and so much more. In fact, the best SaaS companies will use their well thought out buyer personas to influence and inform almost all areas of their business and product strategy.
But really, the primary benefit of a buyer persona is... focus!
Creating and launching a SaaS product brings with it a lot of dreaming and ambitions. We all tell ourselves that our product is for everyone but the reality is that it’s perhaps ‘OK’ for the many and amazing for the few. If you’re creating an incredible product (and let’s just assume that you are :), it should be your goal to put it in the hands of the few that are more likely to find it amazing and get the most value from it.
If you had to pick just one customer to market your product to over the next 12 months, what type of customer would that be?
The more successful your customers are when using your product, the more likely they are to pay higher prices and become genuine brand ambassadors singing your praises.
How to create a Buyer Persona
If you scour the web there will be numerous guides and step by step instructions to create your buyer personas. Most are actually quite good (we’ve listed the best in the resources section). But when it comes down to it, creating a buyer persona can be boiled down into a few key steps:
Although those are the basic steps, the devil is as always in the detail. So let’s break each step down and look at the critical success factors and steps you might want to be thinking about.
Defining your ideal customer types
Depending on whether you’re in the process of launching your SaaS or have an established product, you’ll either have a vague or a (potentially) more informed idea about who your ideal customers are.
If you’re just starting you, you’re simply going to have to make some educated guesses here. If you already have customers then you’re in the advantageous position of being able to dig into your data. However, chances are that even if you do have existing customers - coming up with your ideal customer types is still going to be a bit of a guess.
And that’s OK. This first step is simply about making an informed decision about who you think your ideal customers are going to be. For now, just define them based on their role and perhaps industry. So for example, you might say that you have 3 ideal customer types for your product - indie hackers, small business owners and Fortune 500 CEO’s.
The principle here is that we want to make some sensible guesses that we can then later on qualify and test against.
As a general rule of thumb, I’d recommend defining 2-3 customer types. More than 3 and you’ll find it hard to focus later on and fewer will restrict your ability to unearth hidden truths in the next step. Speaking of which, let’s move onto the next step - adding data!
Adding information and demographics to each persona
Now that you have your 2-3 ideal customer types, the next step is to flesh these out with additional information and demographics so that we can start to really understand who they are, what their job is and how they do it and crucially, what their motivations and challenges are.
Ultimately, it’s down to you to decide what types of information you want to track against each persona. That being said though, there are some best practices here to help you eek out the important details. If there’s one piece of advice I’d offer here, its that you want to make sure that you don’t just create a simplistic ‘profile’ that does nothing more than outline a few demographics (such as country, age, sex etc). As nice as these might look, they won’t really do anything to help you understand their challenges and motivations. So with that in mind, here’s what I’d recommend starting with:
Thinking about who the daily user, manager and cheque signer is (in relation to your product) can be a really neat way to understand whether their’s anyone else in the picture that you might want to consider and in some cases, whether the buyer persona you’re defining here is even the right one to be focusing on. FYI - these terms were coined by Michael Smith at Powered by Search(2) - a great read if you want to dig a bit deeper.
All of these sections and fields might sound like a lot, but to start with we’re just going to provide high level bullet points for each one.
There’s no need to over engineer things or feel the need to be super accurate. Sure, if you have actual data or research to help you answer some of these questions then all the better, but the main objective here is to start the process and create something that you can come back to and update later on.
By way of an example, here’s an early buyer persona we created for OnboardFlow that helps pull all of these data points together:
Interviewing customers over time and updating your buyer personas
The first two steps are key in getting the buyer persona process started, but unless you follow-through with this final step you’ll end up with educated guesses at best and completely wrong (and distracting) ones at worst.
Remember, the purpose of a buyer persona is to have it act as a guide when making marketing and product decisions - so the more accurate we can make our personas the far greater our chances of seeing results with them.
Ultimately, it’s down to you to decide how best to extract information, facts and evidence to use to update your buyer personas. Common approaches though, include:
- Conducting customer interviews (either in person or over a video conference call).
- Sending out surveys to your customers.
- Reaching out to cold leads and asking if they have time to answer a few question for marketing purposes (this can be done by posting a message in a Facebook group, Reddit or some other community).
In all cases though, all we’re really looking to do is listen. As long as you’re talking to your actual customers or your ideal type of customer (in the case of a cold outreach) then your main job is to ask a few leading questions about their job, their objectives and challenges (perhaps by framing it around a particular part of their job so that it aligns with your products purpose) and then listening and documenting what they say.
Remember, in step 2 (where we defined our initial buyer personas) we (largely) make sweeping guesses. As such, when interviewing or surveying customers we don’t want to be too specific with our questions as they are likely to be influenced by these sweeping generalisations.
Instead, open-ended questions will often reveal things you didn’t know, and that’s when the magic really starts to happen.
A quick point on not asking questions that are too specific - this is generally how you want to start out when conducting your first wave of interviews. However, as you start iterating on these interviews with new batches of customers it’s quite likely that you’ll now have more informed and fact based data points and insights, so it’s quite reasonable to start asking leading questions around these specific insights to further test and validate it.
Example Buyer Personas
There are some great example Buyer Personas out there. We're showcasing the best examples below.
Ways you can use your Buyer Persona
On a general level, advocates of buyer personas will tell you that they can influence and impact almost all areas within your business. But let’s get specific for a moment and dig into some of the most impactful, obvious and straight forward ways you can use your buyer persona to great effect:
Top tips and takeaways
As with everything, advice should always be taken with a pinch of salt. Personally, I’ve always found the best results through adapting things based on my own strengths and insights. However, as with anything there are often common truths and principles that you might want to take into account when coming up with your Buyer Personas. Here’s some of the best ones you might want to consider:
Reading how others have created and used buyer personas in their own business can be an incredibly powerful way to improve our own understanding and hey, it might also spark inspiration. Below is a list of some notable case studies and research we've found along the way.