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Buyer Personas: Why and How We Use Them for Focus

This is the second blog post in a series where we discuss different approaches we’ve found helpful for focusing our company efforts. Learn about The Golden Circle.

A couple months ago, we realized our marketing efforts weren’t having the impact we wanted. Since Geckoboard helps companies across industries and job roles build live TV metrics dashboards, we were trying to reach everyone. However, in practice, that meant we weren’t marketing to anyone.

Our messaging and content were generic since we weren’t clear who our ideal customer was. That’s a big issue if you want to grow as a company - if you want to help them with the problems your product or service solves and target specific channels that will have the most impact.

When you’re a small team with big ambitions, focus is important. We needed a way to provide laser focus on the individuals who would benefit the most from our product – those who would be most likely to buy it. We needed to create a buyer persona.

What is a buyer persona?

Usually used in a marketing context, a persona is a snapshot of your ideal customer that tells a story using demographic, personal, and professional information. This ‘story’ provides critical context for understanding, finding, engaging, and retaining your ideal customers. Personas are sometimes called marketing personas, buyer personas, or customer personas.

Ardath Albee, author of eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale, shares another helpful definition.

“A marketing persona is a composite sketch of a key segment of your audience. A persona is focused on the roles and responsibilities of particular people that you are going to try to establish dialogue and conversation with, that are going to be part of that purchasing process.”

It differs from a user persona, who is likely to be an end user of your product or service, more often used in product teams. The buyer persona is the person you have to convince that your product is valuable as they make the buying decision.

Typically, you’ll have one to five personas, depending on your product or service. If you offer an array of services, you might have a different persona for each service. For example, if you offer a product for marketers and a different product for sales reps, you’ll want to create a separate persona for each. As you define and refine your personas (we’ll talk about this in a moment), you may add or remove personas.

How do buyer personas provide focus?

By getting a clear picture of our best customers, their problems and objections, our team was able to identify what actions needed to be prioritized to reach, engage, and retain more of our ideal customers. Personas put a face to our most valuable potential customers.

Using buyer personas enabled our team to understand and empathize with our customers. It also allowed us to build a better a product and provide better service since we’re now laser focused on our ideal clients. With buyer personas, you won’t waste time trying to attract or retain customers who are less likely to convert from trial or churn (cancel/quit). And you’ll be less likely to attract customers who won’t provide word-of-mouth referrals.

How to define a buyer persona

Buyer personas are comprised from a variety of details that are common to a segment of your customers. So it’s beneficial to gather qualitative and quantitative information from several different sources.

Qualitative Research

Between our product team and marketing team, we did qualitative interviews with over 30 customers to better understand their challenges, background, position, company size, and more.

It was quite insightful to chat with both successful customers (i.e. customers who are highly engaged, have a high purchase value, etc.) and unsuccessful customers (i.e. those who would be better served with a different product).

This contrast of interviewees helped us understand the similarities of our ideal customers and also highlighted the red flags that indicate a prospect wouldn’t be a good fit for our product.

We asked a variety of different questions, but here are several of the most common questions to get you started. Of course, you’ll want to customize the questions based on your industry and product or service. The best way to get more information is to follow up to their response with “Why?” or “Tell me more?”

  • What is your job role? Your title?
  • Who instigated the decision to look for a product like ours? Who was involved?
  • What skills are required to do your job?
  • What knowledge and tools do you use in your job?
  • Who do you report to? Who reports to you?
  • In which industry or industries does your company work?
  • What is the size of your company (revenue, employees)?
  • What are you responsible for?
  • What does it mean to be successful in your role?
  • What are your biggest challenges?
  • How do you learn about new information for your job?
  • What books, publications, blogs, etc. do you read?
  • What associations and social networks do you participate in?
  • What is your educational background?
  • Where do you live? Where do you work (location)?
  • Why did you choose to buy our product/service?
  • Did you have any concerns about purchasing our product/service? If so, what?

Quantitative Research

To supplement the qualitative information - and being a metrics company - we also gathered quantitative data on our most successful customers to understand who they are. How did we do this? There were a few ways:

  1. Advocacy Data: Our Customer Advocacy Manager, Adele, has a database of over 500 happy customer advocates. This was a rich data source for us to understand who our happiest customers are at scale. We used Clearbit’s enrichment product to get more information on these awesome people using their email address. This way we could understand more information on their job title, location, number of employees, industry, money raised, etc. Then we segmented that data to understand what the commonalities were between these people.
  2. App Engagement Data: We also have lots of data on who the most engaged companies are based on their usage of the Geckoboard tool. Similar to above, we were able to understand more about these people using Clearbit, to see if it aligned with our advocacy data.
  3. Google Analytics Audience Data: Google Analytics also holds a wealth of information on people who visit your site. Within the audience tab, you can start to understand your audience’s demographics, interests, and location.
  4. Twitter Audience Insights: Similarly, you can use Twitter’s Audience Insights to build a picture of your social followings demographics in terms of occupation, age, net worth, income, and interests.
    twitter-audience-insights-for-buyer-persona Here, you can see our core audience is likely tech founders and startup employees.

All-in-all, you have a lot of free information at your fingertips about your audience and buyers. It’s simply a case of taking the time to segment it and find commonalities across data sets.

Our example of a buyer persona

After cross referencing all the answers and data we collected to find the commonalities, we put together a rough sketch of our buyer persona.

  • Founder / C-Level - These are the people that have the influence to instigate the cultural change that’s necessary for Geckoboard to be successful.
  • 11-200 Employees - Once you go above this, the C-Level are slightly more detached from day-to-day business operations and the decision moves down the org chart. Below this and the team is small and their need for our product is lower.
  • High-growth online business scaling after finding product / market fit - At this stage, the company is building a team quickly with aggressive growth targets. As the team grows, focus can be diluted, and they begin to look to metrics as a guide for focus.
  • 25-45 years old - A recent survey shows this age bracket of leaders are more data-driven as their careers have grown-up in a world where they expect to have data at their fingertips.
  • US, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada - These are the regions where we have the highest awareness, and also a good concentration of startups who are scaling.

This persona outline has become the guide rails for all of our activities from attracting prospects to retaining clients. All the messaging, emails, blog posts, and email courses are filtered through the lens of this persona - will a founder with 11-200 employees be interested in reading this? How will this solve the challenges a CEO who’s trying to scale his/her company?

If you want additional input and a broader perspective as you create your personas, chat with prospects, referrals, and even third-party networks (e.g. that fit the underlying commonalities you discovered in your customer interviews to understand how they feel about your ideas.

But the persona doesn’t stop there.

Bringing a persona to life

We’re continually learning what makes our best customers tick. As we have more conversations, we fill in the sketch a little more. Favorite resources, preferred social channels, and even hobbies get added to bring our persona to life.

Buyer personas are living stories. They aren’t merely a conglomerate of facts dumped into a spreadsheet and forgotten, but a character from real life that we empathize with and seek to help. By constantly reviewing, updating, and adding to our persona, we’re able to crystalize our messaging and develop the focus we need to grow as a company.

Do you use buyer personas? If so, share what you’ve learned in the comments! Maybe you fit into our buyer persona? If so, we’d love to hear what makes you tick, so we can deliver more of what you want.

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