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Buyers personas: A complete guide to how to create and use them

How to make sure your buyer personas are practical and actionable
Set your buyer persona goal
Find interviewees to research your buyer personas
Ask the right questions
How to create “negative” buyer personas
Understand your target market
Learn how people become connected to your business
Figure out how and why people use your products or services
Segment your list based on your findings

A buyer persona is an outlined description of the sort of person who best represents your target audience (or a demographic within it). Personas help your sales and marketing teams to personalize and target their messaging and outreach efforts to ensure relevancy across varied customer types and segments.

By using actual data to identify patterns across both your existing and potential customers, your sales team can clarify who to sell to, why they’re a good fit and how your solution fits into their life and solves a problem.

In this article, we’ll go beyond the basics of a buyer persona and guide you through how to craft detailed personas of your own. You’ll also learn about the many lead generation, lead qualification and buyer journey insights that buyer personas can give your sales and inbound marketing teams and how to best take advantage of them.

Table of Contents

What is a buyer persona?

A buyer persona is an imagined buyer who embodies all the characteristics you’re looking for in a potential customer.

Traditionally, marketing teams are responsible for researching, creating and populating buyer persona templates. They either create their own buyer persona templates in-house or use one of the many persona creator resources available online.

We’ve created a free buyer persona template, with two examples, which you can download below.

That said, while there are many key differences between sales and marketing teams, specifically in terms of strategy, activities and benchmarks, aligning these teams can have a powerful impact on your buyer journey. We’ll dive into exactly why and how in the next section.

To create a buyer persona template, you’ll want to start with a basic user persona that includes things like:

  • Demographic information

  • Interests

  • Personal values

  • Pain points and challenges

  • Professional circumstances

  • Purchase patterns

  • Online behavior

  • Decision-makers, revenue and size of business

Many marketers give their persona a name and sometimes a job title, such as “Dave the Dad” or “Anne the Accountant” to help visualize them as a person.

The outline of characteristics isn’t meant to be a checklist to qualify target customers, but rather to help you come up with strategic sales and marketing campaigns that better relate and connect to your audience’s needs.

Why are buyer personas important?

Buyer personas help you to ensure your products and services consistently align with your audience’s interests, preferences and needs. They can be used to improve and enhance all areas of your business, including product development, customer service, the buyer journey, content creation and sales enablement.

Through collaboration and information sharing, your sales and marketing teams can help each other unpack some of the biggest questions about your audience’s behavior and unique patterns, including:

  • Barriers to purchase

  • Specific product capabilities

  • Reasons for ultimately making a purchase

  • Explanations for customer churn

  • How to make the most out of a purchase

Once developed, user personas can then help your salespeople to:

  • Develop a granular understanding of your target audience’s background and needs

  • Tailor messaging and outreach to the right people at the right time

  • Dive deeper into what makes your product or service unique compared to your competitors

  • Answer frequently asked questions more concretely, supplemented by relevant content

  • Build more targeted product guides, infographics and demos

  • Better understand common sales objections and how to overcome them

Let’s unpack that last point about how detailed buyer personas make it easier for your sales reps to effectively overcome sales objections.

If your reps can anticipate the root cause of potential objections, they’ll be able to reply with genuine, knowledgeable points that add value and meaning to the conversation. This shows that your reps not only did their research, but also that they care enough to devote their time to discovering these unique insights and want to talk through them. This helps to build trust, which is a key part of nurturing relationships and moving deals over the line.

Overall, buyer personas can help you better connect to the needs of your prospects and leads, generate more sales and gain more loyal customers.

How are buyer personas used by marketing and sales professionals?

At a basic level, a comprehensive buyer persona allows you to create messaging that resonates with your target audience.

When it comes to using them to advance and enhance your sales efforts, segmentation is key. For example, you might decide to segment your email list or content marketing promotions based on what you know about the various personas that may benefit from your offerings.

From there, you can layer buyer personas with other important data such as their typical buying process, their company’s sales cycles and any other key traits. By creating buyer personas that take into account real circumstances and data, you can skew your sales and marketing messages to meet your prospect or lead in the right way, in the right place, at the right time.

How to make sure your buyer personas are practical and actionable

Many businesses make the mistake of building buyer personas and then retroactively trying to find ways to apply them. A better practice is to identify which areas of your business could benefit from more clarity around customer needs and develop a persona to address those gaps.

If your teams only collect basic demographic and psychographic data, you’ll likely be left with a buyer persona that is biased, based on guesswork and limited in terms of practical application.

To create buyer persona examples that provide usable insights, first identify the problems and goals you’d like to address.

Then, follow this step-by-step guide to ensure you end up with actionable and data-driven user personas:

  1. Start by identifying which problems could be solved with more robust data about your customers.

  2. Decide which data would provide the most insight into how to address and solve the identified problems.

  3. Compile and organize the relevant insights using data from sources like Google Analytics, market research, sales calls, customer surveys and more.

  4. Create buyer personas that are informed by both qualitative and quantitative data (e.g. descriptive data from the human perspective as well as numerical data that can be measured).

  5. Continually hypothesize and test your techniques to improve and refine your personas.

By following this process, you’ll create more comprehensive buyer personas that give your teams clear direction on how to proceed.

Better understand your customers with our Buyer Persona Templates

Use these templates to ensure your solution always aligns with your customers' interests and needs

What’s the difference between a buyer persona and an ideal customer profile?

An ideal customer profile (ICP) defines the perfect customer for your business on a company-wide or organizational level. This is particularly relevant for businesses that use account-based marketing and need to make sure the business as a whole would be a good fit.

Common factors to review and outline for your ICP could include budget, revenue, company size, location, legality and any product or service limitations.

In contrast, a buyer persona focuses more on describing the characteristics of an individual sales prospect—not just what makes them an ideal customer, but also their pain points and preferences that could help you tailor or improve your product. This includes specifics such as the buyer’s demographics, goals, personal values and challenges.

How to create buyer personas for your sales and marketing teams

Creating comprehensive buyer personas is a significant undertaking, so it’s best to have a plan to ensure your personas are detailed as well as actionable.

Set your buyer persona goal

First, you’ll need to decide on which goal(s) you’d like your buyer personas to help you achieve, such as:

  • Discover potential new types of clients

  • Understand more about your customer’s interests, desires and motivations

  • Have a better sense of what marketing and sales strategies are most effective

  • Learn more about the sales process and the journey they have with you

  • Identify the optimal marketing and sales channels to use to reach potential customers

  • Find sticking points in your customer experience to improve upon

  • Improve conversion rates

Find interviewees to research your buyer personas

The quality of your data is only as good as the real people you interview. Here are some ideas on where to find interviewees for your research.

  • Existing customers are a great source for feedback since they’ve already engaged with your business and have made a purchase. By tapping current customers, you’ll be able to gather valuable insights on specific products or services, their customer experience and other helpful information on your current buying process.

  • Potential prospects can offer insights on buyer’s journey roadblocks, objections or concerns that haven’t been addressed as of yet (or that could be further optimized).

  • Referrals in your network such as relevant coworkers, industry colleagues, LinkedIn connections, or other social media contacts might be helpful especially if you don’t have many leads or customers yet.

When recruiting for interviewees, remember to make it clear that your outreach is for research, not for sales. Make it as low-effort as possible for people to participate and offer an incentive or a token of thanks when possible.

Ask the right questions

Now that you have your interviewees, it’s time to plan which questions to ask. Here’s a helpful list of questions and characteristics that can help you develop your buyer personas.

How to create “negative” buyer personas

What traits are you not looking for? Review the previous questions and look for opportunities to define your “bad fit” buyer persona. This could include someone who falls outside the target demographic, has misaligned values and priorities, is outside of your service area, turns out to be a “tire kicker” or in the wrong industry.

Creating “negative” buyer personas can also help create clarity for your sales team, as chasing unqualified leads can be a waste of time and money and negatively impact team morale.

How to use data to inform your buyer personas

Using data to supplement your various market research activities can help you make your buyer personas acutely more accurate.

As many marketers and sales reps will note, there’s sometimes a disconnect between what a customer says and does. Data can help ensure that the user personas reflect reality and not just anecdotal or qualitative info.

To efficiently use data to inform your buyer personas, first take an inventory of data sources you can rely on. This might include web analytics, social media insights, online surveys, email marketing data, website exit surveys, social listening tools and common sales objections.

By using data to inform and refresh your personas, you can help ensure they are always up-to-date, accurate and relevant to your customers’ behavior and interests.

How to create powerful marketing segments using buyer personas

Personalization is no longer a nice-to-have but rather a standard expected by customers.

A report by Accenture found that 91% of consumers said they’d be more likely to purchase from brands that provide relevant product or service recommendations. Meanwhile, research by Epsilon showed that 80% of consumers said they’d be more likely to make a purchase if a brand offers personalized experiences.

In other words, personalization strategies can produce exceptional results (e.g. better ROI, improved lead qualification strategies, quicker to close deals, etc.).

Understand your target market

First, you should gather and organize information around your target market. Demographic information like age, gender, family status and location are great jumping-off points. From there, you should aim to dive deeper into things like personal values, goals, challenges and interests.

Learn how people become connected to your business

By looking at data like site traffic, social media engagement and webinar attendance, for example, you can learn where people are first discovering your business and why they choose to stay engaged.

From there, you can create unique website personas and internet personas based on their online behavior. These different personas add yet another layer of value to your buyer persona template stack as it pinpoints the distinctions between online buyer journeys and in-person buyer journeys, which can further enhance your segmentation and personalization efforts.

Use the following questions when determining how someone becomes connected to your business:

  • How did they first hear about your company?

  • What made them decide to make a purchase with you?

  • What sales or marketing effort informed their purchasing decision?

  • Which platform inspired their purchase (email, social media post, browsing your website, etc.)?

  • What opt-ins, if any, did they subscribe to when joining your email list?

Figure out how and why people use your products or services

To ensure your buyer personas are actionable, you need to know why and how people use your products and services.

For example, you might assume that the driving factor behind a purchase is a specific feature or service, but data and customer interviews may reveal another reason entirely.

Here are a few steps you can take to learn what factors influenced your customer’s buying decision:

  • Reach out to your customer base for feedback or testimonials to find patterns in their interests, preferences and priorities

  • Conduct market research on how people use competitor’s products and services to see if there are any gaps or creative ways to market your business

  • Send a follow-up email questionnaire after your customer checks out to learn what brought them to your website and what solution they were looking for

Segment your list based on your findings

Now that you’ve created your buyer personas, you can segment your list based on the different types of customers and characteristics you’ve uncovered.

Here are a few ways you can segment your list to create more personalized messaging:

  • By buying stage. Segment by lead, prospect, existing customer or returning customer.

  • By relationship. Segment by if they’re hot, warm or cold leads.

  • By level of engagement. Segment by metrics such as the number of web pages visited, resources downloaded or emails engaged with.

Whether you’re planning a sales promotion or doing a sales follow-up email, you’ll generate better results when you combine your customer personas with segmentation to ensure your outreach is as relevant and engaging as possible.

How might buyer personas be impacted by COVID-19?

The pandemic shifted many people’s needs, priorities and desires—and that applies to your customers as well. They are likely dealing with unique challenges that may have led to them shifting their values, such as becoming more price-sensitive or caring more about customer service than they used to.

They may also have developed new priorities or preferences such as placing a premium on low-risk purchases, no-commitment options, instant gratification and fast results.

Overall, it’s worth taking time to revisit your marketing strategies and buyer personas to see how things may have changed at the start of the pandemic and how the pandemic may still be affecting decision-making processes today.

Final thoughts

Buyer personas are an effective way to gather and organize your ideal buyer’s characteristics to help you and your team make better business decisions.

By using a combination of qualitative and quantitative data, you can create comprehensive buyer personas that help you improve outreach and lead generation efforts, build deeper connections with your potential clients, close more deals and, ultimately, improve your bottom line.

Better understand your customers with our Buyer Persona Templates

Use these templates to ensure your solution always aligns with your customers' interests and needs

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