Creating personas is a valuable practice for many departments across organizations. From marketing and sales to product and client success, personas help teams to focus on understanding the needs and pain points of their prospects or customers. This helps organizations deliver more personalized experiences, content, and solutions that are tailored to meet the needs of specific segments of your audience.
To serve your audience well, you have to know them. Before you can start drafting and developing your unique personas, you have to get a data-driven understanding of your environment. This means getting a firm grasp of the makeup of your customer base, your website traffic, and your competition.
Harness Your Customer Data
Luckily, you already have a great foundation for persona research: your current customer data.
Sometimes there’s quite a disparity between perception and reality. Your target audience is not that one outlier mega company you scored several years back – it’s the companies or prospects that make up the bell curve of your base. Crunch your customer data to find patterns in demographics and interactions.
Ask these simple but effective questions:
- What’s the age range of most of your buyers?
- How much do they spend?
- What roles do they perform within their organizations?
- If you sell to companies, what industries are most represented?
- What is their yearly revenue?
Demographics will differ depending on B2B, B2C, or member-based organizations, but the goal is the same: identify key data points and find the statistical range where most of your customers fall. This is a great starting point for building personas.
Analyze Your Website Data
Another great resource for discovering your audience is web analytics. Understanding how customers and prospects navigate your site and product pages is invaluable for developing effective, accurate personas.
Look for traffic patterns that suggest your audience’s intentions, needs, interests, and sticking points:
- Who is coming to your site?
- Which product pages and landing pages are most popular?
- How long do they typically visit your website, and how long do they linger on these popular pages?
- What keywords do they use to find your site?
- What content and search terms do they search for on your site?
Gather Competitive Intel
Keeping tabs on your competitors is a great habit for all departments within your organization. From how to price offerings and ideas for new features or programs, to who they’re targeting - having a keen understanding of your competitors is critical.
In terms of audience personas, wouldn’t it be nice to capture and target some of your competitors’ customers or prospects? Or at least better understand their motivations? Start by searching their site for testimonials, case studies, press releases, or newsletter signups. Set up Google Alerts for new content, and follow their social media accounts for constant updates, interactions, and events. Conferences are a great place to get a feel for how a competitor positions their offerings.
Depending on your industry, services like Guidestar or Zoominfo can help you get an understanding of your competitions’ size and finances.
After your online research is complete, it’s time to get personal. Attend a webinar, call customer support, even request a demo or sign up for the service if you can. When it comes to competitor intel, being aligned across your organization can really play dividends. Make sure you're in the habit of asking customers switching from the competition why they are making the change. Even more importantly, conduct thorough exit interviews for those customers who choose to leave you for the competition.
Not only will this information help you fill in nuance and detail in your audience personas, but it has the potential to help and improve every department across your organization.
Validate Your Assumptions
So far, you’ve done great research and identified who your audience is in terms of demographic data and some professional interests and information. But your assumptions about their needs, drivers, and pain points are so far just that – assumptions. A great way to round out your research for your personas is to go straight to the source – your customers.
Set up some time to interview a handful of customers. Fight the natural urge to go straight to your all-star influencers who are diehard fans. It’s critical you get a full spectrum of perspectives.
Ask questions rooted in “How, What, When, Where, Why,” but don’t be afraid to go off-script. Rather than asking about prescriptive solutions or potential features, ask general-purpose, open-ended questions. Inquire about goals, frustrations, processes, limitations; look for examples, and most importantly, always come back to “Why?” Simply asking why will give your customer a platform to provide you with in-depth, unscripted observations.
The real insight will come when you get away from your initial agenda and start listening to the customer’s story.
Involve Your Organization
Now that you’ve gathered your information and have a firm idea of who your broad target audience is, it’s time to check with other departments around the organization to round out and validate your research.
This will help you make sure your research is complete and you’re not missing any of the major buyer or customer groups you serve.
It will also ensure your entire organization is aligned and focused around this agreed-upon audience. With everyone on the same page, and sharing an understanding of the audience and customer base, your organization will be much more effective.
Now that you’ve checked off your list internally, you’re ready to start building out your audience personas.