How to Research Buyer Personas

Understanding your customer audience

Know Your Audience

Kim Goodwin, in Designing for the Digital Age, defined personas as “…archetypes that describe the various goals and observed behaviour patterns among your potential users and customers.”

Regardless of the field; marketing, sales, or products, personas help to define the ideal consumer, the person that the business is attempting to attract, and most importantly, it serves to remind a business that the customer is a real human being. By understanding your buyer persona, you can drive content creation, better develop products, and really understand anything that relates to customer acquisition and retention.

The Need for Creating Buyer Personas

Most businesses, if not all, understand the need for clear buyer personas but how do you devise one successfully? Like many things in online life, you can find templates to help you do this and this is no exception. In this case, the helpful folk at Hubspot have compiled a template for creating buyer personas. Use this tool and plug in your research and before long you’ll have a clearly defined buyer persona to move forwards with.

Taking the same approach as the template suggests, let’s have a more detailed look at how you can develop the buyer persona for your business. We’ll start with interviewees and who they can be.

Customers

Simple really. Interview the people who are already using your product and find out what it is that engages those customers. The odds are that some of them are likely to exemplify your ideal buyer persona already and you can then use these are your ‘base’ personas.

Remember to reach out not only to customers with positive things to say, but also to those who are less enamoured by your company. It’s important to find balance and whilst it may feel good to hear praise from your customers, is it really constructive?

Talk to ‘Bad Customers’

You may find that by talking to ‘bad’ customers you will discover what is needed to improve your product and turn the disgruntled into satisfied customers. You will at least make them feel validated by hearing them out and any business that isn’t prepared to identify and act on its weaknesses won’t get far anyway.

A good advantage to interviewing customers is that it’s less likely that you’ll need to offer an incentive. Many customers, and people in general, simply want to be heard and considered – social media is a great facilitator for it too. It may also make existing customers feel more loyal to your company, as you’re taking the time to talk to them.

Be clear with the customers about what it is you want and what feedback you would like them to provide. Your goal is to get feedback and their responses to your questions are highly valued, so ensure that you make them feel that value.

Potential customers

It’s advisable to balance out your interviews by talking to people who have not purchased your product or perhaps even those who know very little about your company. Current prospects and leads on a consumer database are worth exploiting here, as you already have information about them. Use this data, perform analytics, and figure out who might slot into your buyer persona. Then make them a customer (easy!).

Referrals

Talk to some people who may never fit into your target customer base, especially if your business is moving into new markets, or you don’t have any leads or customers yet. Consider any networking options you may have – co-workers, existing customers, and social media contacts – to find people you may be able to interview, or at the very least, be introduced to.

This tactic will probably not allow you a huge volume of contacts, but it’s likely that the interviews you do get will be of a high quality. You can search LinkedIn for people who share interests with you and who may be of use in finding other connections for you.

Third-Party Networks

There are numerous options for reaching out to potential interviewees, but not all of those people will be connected to your business. In fact, some will have absolutely nothing in common with you or your brand. You’ll have less control but you can utilise websites like Craigslist and UserTesting (for websites). These sites can help you to contact and connect with users quickly.

Tips for Recruiting Interviewees

In many ways, the hard part of this process is not finding people to interview, but asking the right questions. But it’s also important to make sure that those who are interviewed are happy with the task in hand.

Offer Incentives

This may not be necessary in all circumstances, but it can help to get more people involved. The incentive doesn’t have to be huge or costly, just a token that shows you value their time.

These can be:

  • Special offers
  • Money-off vouchers
  • Freebies
  • A small gift they can receive in the post

The more inventive you give, the more likely you’ll gain more people to interview and grow your email list at the same time.

Be Clear that it’s Research

Most people these days don’t want to commit to a sales call in any fashion. Be clear from the outset that you are conducting research and that is all that you want from the participant. Again, social media is great for this, as the user doesn’t necessarily have to give you any information they don’t want to.

Make it Easy for Them to Say Yes

Go out of your way to ensure that the customer is happy and that they feel in control. Make sure that times are flexible, allow them to pick a time perhaps, and keep in touch with them – perhaps email them a reminder. Remember to not hound them or make them feel uncomfortable. They are helping your business at the end of the day.

How Many People Should you Interview?

It’s that irritating answer, how long is a piece of string, as there is no correct sample size. It is dependant on your business and how the research is progressing. Start with a smaller sample, three to five interviews in every identified buyer category and then go from there.

A good rule – if you can predict what your participants are going to say, then stop. By conducting these interviews you’ll find that you begin to notice patterns. If you start seeing those patterns clearly and in a defined manner it’s likely that you know your target audience and even better, are clearly reaching them.

How to Apply your Research

So, you’ve defined your buyer persona through rigorous interviews and customer research but what do you do with that information?

The next step to distil all of that raw data is to identify patterns among the different interviewees, develop at least one primary persona, and then share that with the rest of your organisation. Use the Hubspot template and input all the information you’ve collated. Now everyone in the organisation can see the information and benefit from the research you’ve done.

Then you’ll want to consider basic demographic information, as this will help your sales staff identify potential prospects on the phone. Make sure that you share what you’ve learned about your persona’s motivations, as this will show potential customers that fit your demographic that you understand them.

Finally, help your sales staff out further by preparing them for conversations with your persona. Perhaps include some real quotes that exemplify who your persona is. You can use this information to generate a list of potential objections and the responses to fully prepare your staff.

Flesh out the Character

Name your persona and put a real life image on there too; this will be an easy visual aid in helping your staff see whom they are selling to, as well as helping the marketer to produce tone of voice documents for addressing the audience in the best way.

A good understanding of your audience means that your product and business understands its place. By doing this you can then target specific consumers and galvanise your business into the social stratosphere!

Kerry Butters

A prolific technology writer, Kerry was an authority in her field and produced content for a variety of high profile sites in her niche. Also a published author, she adored the written word and all things tech and internet related. Sadly she passed away in February 2016 after a valiant battle with cancer.

2 thoughts on “How to Research Buyer Personas

  1. Matt Jackson says:

    I think buyer personas are too often overlooked, especially by those that try and do all of their marketing themselves. From a writer’s perspective, it allows you to be able to concentrate your writing on a single “typical” person rather than unproductively attempting to write to 1,000 people at once. It also means that you can write content geared towards people with different stages of awareness, and that are at different stages of the buying process. Definitely worth the effort.

  2. Kerry Butters says:

    Hi Matt, thanks for reading :) Yes I agree, it’s important to know your audience whatever niche you write in too, even fiction and I think that’s a mistake that many budding authors make, writing for themselves rather than their readers.

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