Most employees in an organisation seem to fall into two camps: those who think they have a pretty good idea who their buyers are, and those who just focus on their own output and don’t really think much about the customer at all.

The trouble is many times people in both camps don’t really know who the customers are or what drives them. For the good of the company, they should.

The answer for many firms is to build ‘buyer personas’. These are composite ‘sketches’ of your most important customers, providing detailed views of their key characteristics and behaviour patterns. These should personify crucial customer segments, giving them names, personal backgrounds, specific job roles and goals.

Buyer personas enable customer-facing employees across the business – including salespeople, marketers, customer service reps, delivery staff, receptionists and most top managers – to actually picture who they are dealing with on a day-to-day basis.

Indeed, a survey by global business-to-business marketer association ITSMA revealed that, of the 44% of companies found to be using buyer personas, 90% said it gave them a clearer understanding of who their customers were.

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How to get started

You can begin to build buyer personas by finding a template that includes the information that would be most useful to your organisation and presents all of this in an easily accessible way. There are plenty of these to choose from on the web, so finding one that works for your business should not be difficult.

As you build your personas, don’t be afraid to deviate from the template and customise it based on your business’s needs.

Next, gather together as much existing data and qualitative information on your customers as possible. If you have a customer relationship management (CRM) system, this is a great place to start. Any online forms or other digital tracking that you do can also yield great initial insights.

Identify the most valuable and loyal customers. You should start small – maybe three to five personas representing your most important target segments – and add others later if necessary. This will make the task more manageable and help you stay focused.

How to take personas to the next level

After creating a persona framework and doing your initial research, you can then identify gaps in your view of each typical customer segment.
At that point, talk to people within your business to flesh out the picture and gather additional information. Getting input from sales people is absolutely critical, as they talk to customers regularly. Input from marketers, customer service people and others who are in contact with buyers is also valuable.

You can then start to piece together a fuller representation of who you should be looking at. Identify company size and sector, who the key contacts are, what their titles are, what they are buying and when. Look for trends and patterns.

Next you can start to piece together the whys and hows by interviewing customers and prospects. Begin with what they know about your company and what they think of it. Then look at how they relate to it, what their motivations are for buying, who they are, what they are like, how they get their information, what their personal circumstances are and what their personal objectives are.

Get as specific as possible in your interviews with them, but don’t be afraid to use your instincts: follow conversations down unexpected paths for greater insights and reframe questions that feel awkward or seem to lead to a dead end.

It is then crucial to ensure you have feedback from across your business. This helps in ensuring that no critical points have been missed and that all staff are fully engaged.

Having participation and buy-in from everyone in the business is vital to the success of personas. If staff are not involved in their creation and simply presented with completed descriptions they had no part in creating, then they are less likely to accept them and use personas in their jobs.

What you get

You will then have specific profiles that emerge, capturing living depictions of the customers you are targeting and managing on a daily basis.

This information then feeds into lead generation, the creation of content for marketing, website construction, sales tactics, research and development, staffing, strategic planning, handling of complaints, CRM and the business’s whole approach customer interactions at all levels.