Thousands of agencies have had the same realization over the past 20 or so years: when your customer engagement just isn’t there, your business won’t prosper.
Demographics were great for a while, but now it’s 2015, and almost every market is competitive.
Buyers have more options than they know what to do with, so you need to make sure your messages are really getting through.
A good buyer persona makes it possible to segment your buyers, letting you personalize the type of experience they have with you.
But a legendary buyer persona will turn you into Professor X, giving you the power to read minds and give your customer what she needs, when she needs it.
But if you’re told to make one, and to “just figure it out” (as is often the case), the term itself isn’t very helpful to what it is and how to make one.
Sure, it’s about your potential buyers, but how do you know when you officially have a persona? Should you just give an imaginary customer a problem and a goal? Not quite.
A buyer persona is a story.
It’s a narrative with a beginning, a middle, and ideally a very happy end.
Plenty of drama, heavy on plot twists.
The level of drama and the number of plot twists will depend on your business, but trust me— you’ll be surprised at what you learn while writing it.
I’m going to share the 7 ingredients that need to go into your buyer persona.
We’ll make one as we go along with my imaginary company: a mobile UX design agency called UXtreme.
Because, we’re really extreme.
If you just realized that you know nothing about your customers, then you’re in for a treat.
In a nutshell, all you’ll need is to survey your existing buyers.
I’ll offer up a few questions that you can ask and some resources that will help you create an awesome survey, but that’s at the end. So let’s get started.
Here are the ingredients you need to create your legendary buyer persona:
Ingredient #1 – The Human Element
Surprise! Your buyer persona should be a real person.
Even marketing junkies like us feel more comfortable when we know a bit about whom we’re dealing with.
How many times have you not Googled a new vendor’s name to see what they look like and what they’ve done? You stalker you.
It may seem weird to just make an imaginary person, but the whole idea is to try to create a real relationship that you can develop.
Good luck getting close with male, age 30-40, whose interests include Game of Thrones and chess-boxing.
Well, actually that guy sounds pretty cool, but you get the idea.
Generic data can’t make the same impression.
Your marketing won’t feel as authentic when the human element — your customer — is missing.
Give your person a name, a face, and a career. Talk about his family and where he lives. Maybe a tidbit about his hobbies…anything that’s relevant. Just bring him to life!
I’ll start. Meet Noah.
Status: Single, No Kids
Job Title: Marketing Manager
Noah is an adrenaline junkie living in Colorado, working for a tour company called Rocky Rivers.
They specialize in white-water rafting excursions for groups of 5 or more. A deliberate buyer, he always takes time to weigh his options regarding any business decision.
He leads a team of 3 people, and has full-decision making power as a co-founder, although he always consults his fellow board members. He’s interested in psychology and his ultimate pet-peeve is wasting time.
His friends and family call him a go-getter, and he’s never one to back down from a challenge.
You can use relevant customer data like purchase history and industry type, but don’t worry about getting it exactly right.
Even as an educated guess, this image of your customer is already more useful than demographics data alone. It helps turn your marketing into a conversation, rather than a tool.
Also, since it’s internal, this is one of the few times that Shutterstock is ok. Cheesy stock photos from image farms like Shutterstock or iStock are usually too impersonal for external marketing, but they’re great for something like this.
You can pretty much search any age and gender combo and you should be able to find a face that works.
You probably won’t need to get any customer insight on this one. The point here isn’t to perfectly guess your prospect’s career details, but rather their mindset when entering your sales funnel. Ask something open-ended like:
“What can you tell me about yourself? Career, family, hobbies, etc.”
Ingredient #2 – The Angle
Everyone has an angle.
The context of the interaction between your prospect and your company affects how you’ll market to them, what messages will work, and how much you really want them as your customer.
We know what he looks like and what he does, but who is he? What is he really after?
You’ll want to look beyond the product or service that you’re trying to sell him. Think about what he’s trying to accomplish, and what’s most important to him, both personally and professionally.
Noah’s company, Rocky Rivers, has seen a steady increase in tour bookings over the past 6 months, especially from out-of-towners.
He founded the company with 3 of his buddies, so he has a real stake in its success.
Their next big goal is to open up another location in North Carolina, which happens to be where Noah’s family lives. To this point, most of their business has been from word of mouth, but they’re starting to see an influx of organic traffic that they’d like to convert more of.
Noah and his co-founders decide that it’s time to optimize their mobile design to better convert mobile traffic.
Their immediate goal: To hire a top mobile UX design agency to optimize the Rocky Rivers mobile sales funnel.
You’re creating a real situation that needs solving.
Emotion, the biggest thing missing from demographics, starts coming into play.
How he reacts to your brand isn’t all about his stats, it’s more about what’s at stake.
You can create a situation like I did here, but asking your customers what was at stake can show you trends about what’s on their plate when they come to you.
Ask it in a way that reveals a bit about their business:
“What is the biggest need you’d like our product to solve?”
or you can lay it on them:
“How can we surpass your expectations?”
Ingredient #3 – The Key Decisions
Nobody wants to be caught off guard. It’s stressful. Like having to order when everyone else at the table said they were ready, but you weren’t. It’s the worst feeling.
A successful conversion depends on you making the decisions easy and as painless as possible for your prospects.
If your prospect is prepared and in the buying mindset, you can shoot for that conversion.
If they’re not, and you try anyway, you run the risk of damaging the relationship and having to scramble to recover. Potentially burning a fruitful bridge that will be a pain to repair.
To identify the key decisions that your prospect will have to make, look at the transition points in your sales funnel. In its most basic form, your funnel probably looks something like this:
In order for your customers to successfully move down the funnel, they’ll need a certain level of knowledge at each stage.
It’s up to you to give them the resources and the guidance. To create a template of how you’ll make this happen, point each key transition in your sales funnel to a specific interaction with your company.
Using the same graphic, this is how UXtreme guides Noah through their funnel (the arrow moves him forward):
Note that there will be smaller progressions in between these main steps.
For example, in the days after Noah read the case study, he received the new subscriber email series.
Very few sales pitches, just clear and useful information about the company and service.
UXtreme gained Noah’s trust, and now it’s much more likely that he’ll complete the next steps of researching the company’s capabilities and requesting a project quote.
The goal is to make sure that these decisions can be made with confidence and without undue pressure. Make it as natural as possible.
Remember that people don’t move down a sales funnel because of gravity (although that would be amazing).
Persuasive momentum is what really converts.
Prime your customers. Usher them towards a quote request through helpful information and resources. Be helpful, and they’ll gain the confidence to move forward.
Asking your customers for insight on this can be pretty straight forward. You can try:
“What made you ultimately decide to hire us?”
Or you can ask about specific interactions:
“What about our case study helped you the most?”
Ingredient #4 – The Limitations
Sometimes a customer can’t disclose everything or explore all of the options you offer.
It’s not that they don’t want to…they just can’t.
It could be a number of things: family commitments, budget constraints, company infrastructure, existing projects, etc.
It’s not something we often worry about when pushing a product or service, but you need to beware of the factors that could require special attention and maybe even a temporary change in protocol.
Like I said before, no one likes to get caught off guard.
Let’s catch up with Noah.
As you may have guessed, there are a few things that his pursuit for awesome mobile UX is limited by:
The company’s mandated style guide must be followed by all vendors.
All order pages must be approved by sales and legal department.
Project budget must not exceed $15,000.
Most limitations are going to be like these. Nothing outrageous.
The quicker they’re realized, the quicker you can find ways to adjust your sales strategy and keep these prospects in the pipeline.
You don’t want to write-off a customer if you don’t have to.
- The company’s mandated style guide must be followed by all vendors.
UXtreme agrees to work with in-house designer to coordinate with company style guide.
- All order pages must be approved by sales and legal department.
UXtreme prioritizes the design of pages needing approval to reduce idle time.
- Project budget must not exceed $15,000.
UXtreme customizes a pricing plan to fit Noah’s budget while still meeting requirements.
Most of your prospects will have unique limitations, but you can still ask questions to find trends that you should be prepared for:
“What outside factors do you keep in mind when making purchase decisions?”
or be straight-up:
“What limitations do you have when hiring a new vendor?”
Ingredient #5 – The Anti-Goals
It’s not that easy to list all the qualities of a person you’d like to fall in love with.
It’s super easy to name the qualities of someone you can’t stand to be around.
Anti-goals are more than obstacles in the way of your customer’s goals.
Anti-goals are those few things that will turn a “maybe” or “possibly” into a straight-up “NO”.
It only takes one bad flub to turn someone away forever.
Noah doesn’t have time for hour-long brainstorm sessions.
He needs an agency that knows marketing, understand the sales funnel, and will bring fully developed ideas to each call.
If they’re unable to do this, Noah is not interested. Noah absolutely hates feeling like his time is being wasted.
You can use your buyer’s angle to infer some of the game-enders to avoid, but this is really where your customer survey answers should take over.
Two questions that will help discover those no-nos:
“What made you leave your previous agency?”
“What are your deciding factors in hiring a new agency?”
Ingredient #6 – The Reverse Chronology
Laying out your prospect’s journey from start to finish is great to conceptualize and communicate your customer experience, but using a reverse chronology will help you see potential holes where your customer could get lost.
When you start at the beginning, there are just too many ways to get off track.
Doing it in reverse forces you to give each step in your customer acquisition plan a direct action or reason for it happening.
You can’t rely on momentum when you’re crawling up the slide.
Here’s the most detailed guide I’ve seen on creating a reverse chronology for your buyer. Use it.
No questions. Last one…
Ingredient #7 – The Reasonable Alternatives
A reasonable alternative doesn’t always mean losing business to your direct competitors.
It could be that your prospect has decided to push the project back a few months, or maybe they’re going to try to handle it in-house.
Or maybe they actually just gave their business to your direct competitors.
Whatever the case, be honest about where your prospects may be going.
List out all of the options your customer has and think about the type of experience they’d have with each one.
Come up with ways that you could offset these alternatives, but keep in mind that sometimes inaction is the best action.
Since mobile sales make up the smallest portion of his sales, Noah thinks that maybe he can get away with putting more money into other platforms to offset a non-optimized mobile experience.
UXtreme runs the numbers for Noah and shows him the potential revenue he would be missing out on by ignoring mobile, and how soon he could expect his return on investment.
A small agency based in Russia quoted Noah half of what UXtreme was charging.
UXtreme explains their process and the strategy in detail. When Noah insists that the price is too high, even with the lower-priced alternative package , UXtreme wishes him well and offers a contact for future collaboration.
Customer insight will shine here.
Some won’t want to share this personal information, but a bigger some will have no problem telling you what they could be doing instead of buying your stuff.
Go ahead and ask:
“What other services do you subscribe to?”
(use radio boxes) and
“What would stop you from subscribing to us?”
or if you really feel like sweating:
“Describe a time when you almost took your services to another company.”
So there you go.
Hopefully this made process of creating a buyer persona a little easier.
Remember that it’s a story, and you’re the author.
Pull from real-life (your customers) and use your knowledge of your business to create the rest.
P.S. Have you found simpler ways to create buyer personas? If so, let me know, and please share this post if you found value!