As SaaS marketers and entrepreneurs, we need to understand that talking about our product or service based off of what we want to share typically ends with lackluster results. If you’ve ever tried to write information about your product and had someone look over it, you’ve probably noticed the glossy-eyed glares as they review the material in front of them. Marketing and sales becomes exponentially easier and more effective when we know detailed information about our target audience, and we can talk specifically to their pains and challenges.
On today's episode of Under The Canopy, we talk about how to appropriately build your buyer personas!
An all-too-familiar situation
Here is a hypothetical example to highlight this point.
Let’s say we have a made up SaaS company we’ll call “Tagimage.io.” Tagimage.io is a SaaS based platform that allows enterprise brands to keep a large catalog of photos and docs that are sorted and tagged using AI.
They came up with a campaign that included writing some blogs about the features of their product and how it’s a game changer for sharing AI generated content with a larger audience. They then promoted their images on instagram, and they made up a trendy hashtag for their loyal followers to start using as they began sharing their photos for their business.
Surprisingly enough, about a month later they started to realize that this campaign didn’t actually take off like they had hoped. In fact it really didn’t take off at all, and it converted virtually no leads. Also worth noting, not more than 6 or 7 people had visited the blog posts, all of which had extremely high bounce rates which means people left as soon as they hit the page and did not read the blog. When they looked at instagram, their posts got little to no engagement, and not a single person other than the employees who were reluctantly required to make a post used their new hashtag.
Tagimage.io invested two months of their efforts into this campaign, which resulted in lost time, and more importantly, lost money. It was a major hit to the ego of the Founder, who had shared with the board in the previous quarter that a major marketing initiative was underway to boost sales. Now, he was going to have to report on the results of this marketing campaign.
For a young startup, funded or not, wasting time and money is one of the worst situations to be in, and it hurts the credibility and morale of those involved.
What’s unfortunate is that many of you reading or listening to this are nodding your head with a slight cringeworthy taste in your mouth, because you likely have experienced something somewhat similar to this before. Don’t worry… we’ve all been there, and we all know what this is like. Fear not, for there is a way out!
Had the team at Tagimage.io just done one little extra step before planning this campaign, they would not be in this situation. I’m telling you this now, because this is quite honestly the single most important key to the success of your business. If you miss this step in your marketing, you will lose in the end. If you get it right, you will be so extremely successful in the months and years to come, that you won’t even know what to do with yourself.
Tagimage.io did not create their buyer personas. They did not understand who it was they were actually trying to reach. They did not clearly define the goals, pains, and challenges of their customers, which set them up for failure from the very start.
What is a Buyer Persona?
Buyer personas, according to HubSpot, are a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers.
This is a fantastic definition, because it states exactly what kind of person this is you are trying to market to - semi-fictional. Note that we don’t say “made up” and we don’t say “actual person.” We want to create a persona who is based on your most ideal kind of customers. These are the customers you would replicate a hundred times over if you could, because they are the exact kind of people you want to work with.
You may hear these described as “customer avatars” from some other groups. This is totally fine, and they essentially are the same thing. For our example, however, we are going to refer to them as buyer personas.
What buyer personas are not
Personas are not your “target audience,” which is far too broad. Saying your target audience is made up of IT companies in the Pacific Northwest doesn’t tell you enough about who they are. Who are you trying to connect with in the company? What are their problems? What are they hoping to accomplish?
Personas are not actual customers of yours. If you have a real client who is a CEO for an IT company named Dan, you would never call your persona “IT Dan,” because it would just make things kind of weird, for one, and it could also do a lot more damage than good. There must be room for creativity and understanding that this is a semi-fictional representation - not an exact copy.
How do buyer personas help
If you could have a document that outlines exactly what problems your buyer personas are currently facing and start to create content that solves those problems, you can be one step ahead. If I am trying to find a way to improve my unorganized file storage and I see a blog called “3 easy ways to organize your files so you can live worry free,” you had better believe I’m going to read that content!
But there’s so much more to personas than just the problems. We need to outline what success looks like for them, what ways your company can fill the needs of their business and their position, and so much more.
How many personas should I have?
Most companies have 2 or 3 personas, but typically there is just 1 primary persona that is the main target. This should be the persona that, if everything else had to stop, you’d do whatever you can to focus on that primary persona.
How Do I Build A Buyer Persona
Buyer personas are easier to build than you think. If you enjoy being creative and having a little fun, it’s actually a pretty entertaining exercise to go through with your brand!
There are a few ways you can gather information for your buyer personas. First, there’s customer interviews. If you have the ability to interview some of your ideal customers, again those that you would just love to pick up and replicate, you definitely want to do so. This is a fantastic way to get first hand information about how they might describe themselves.
Second, you should consider preparing a survey to gather as much data as possible. Now, these kinds of surveys might not be as fruitful as you hope, so be selective about how many questions you ask. It’s easy to get carried away and try to add a ton of questions. Keep in mind that every question you ask removes the likelihood that you will get more submissions. Ask just one question, and you will have a large number of submissions. Ask 5 questions, and you’ll start to see those numbers diminish. Ask 15 questions, and you’ll be very unlikely to receive more than a handful of responses.
The most common way of building a buyer persona is to brainstorm as a group. If you have salespeople, definitely get them involved as they have first hand experience dealing with this audience. Bring others to the table who might have first hand knowledge of your target audience who are willing to help.
Giving your persona a name
However, before we get started, we need to consider what we should name our persona. It’s important to give them a name that is memorable, but again, it cannot be a real person that you know. Our recommendation is to think of the person’s job title and then build an alliteration from that title! For example, you might be dealing with Student Stan, Marketing VP Mike, or CTO Sam.
The anatomy of a good buyer persona
There are several components that make up an accurate and comprehensive persona. You may see other resources that give you some alternative categories to explore, and those are great. You may choose to add more to your personas down the road. For now, we are going to stick to the most impactful elements that make up every buyer person we’ve ever developed at Web Canopy Studio. We have found that focusing on these 6 primary categories for your personas will give you everything you need to know in order to create amazing content that converts leads time and time again. Those 6 categories are demographics, goals, challenges, sources, objections, and breakthroughs.
Every persona starts with a breakdown of demographic information. Think of this exercise like you’re building a character for a video game. The more you can describe this character as an actual person with actual traits and characteristics, the more they will come to life for you. By the time you finish developing “Bread Baker Brad,” You should be able to picture this guy sitting across the table from you, having an excellent story to tell that you know by heart. The more information we can specifically provide about Brad, the more likely we will see him come to life as a person you can do business with.
When putting together demographics for your personas, you want to stay away from broad ranges or incorrectly stereotyping your audience. For example, you don’t want to say something like “this person is typically male or female, between the ages of 25 and 50, and they live in rural areas or big cities.” That does nothing for describing your buyer persona to me. You need to pinpoint exactly who your persona is and say something like, “Brad is a 42 year old male, and lives in a suburb of a major metropolitan city.”
Remember, you are building an actual character - not a range of categories that multiple characters can fall under as a persona. When we do buyer persona exercises in our office, I would hear constantly, “But John, I have some customers that are in their 50s, and I have some that are in their 30s. There’s no way I can choose what to put down.” Some people have a very difficult time doing these personas because they can’t get their head around making this persona a single person. They think if they say that the persona is a 42 year old male, they are somehow going to be excluding the 33 year old female that comes to their website, and ultimately would lose their business.
Nothing could be further from the truth! If you’re developing personas accurately, you’re not excluding people that have similar challenges. Odds are the 42 year old male and 33 year old female still have many of the same challenges and goals, pending they are in the same kind of position in their company. If they are vastly different, then perhaps they are two separate personas. However, for the most part, your persona demographics should be representative of the most likely or ideal scenario for generating better customers.
Here is a breakdown of the demographic information you should gather:
- Name - use alliteration, like Director Danielle or Professor Paul
- Age - be specific, don’t give a range
- Gender - is this a dude?
- Marital status - single? Married? divorced?
- # and age of children - how many kids do they have, and what ages
- Location - are they in a big city, rural area, suburb, etc
- Job title - what do they do?
- Annual income - what are they bringing home annually?
- Level of education - what kind of background do they have
- Other background - list any other important factors about this person’s demographics that weren’t picked up
Now, I know some of this seems silly and completely irrelevant. And to an extent, you’re kind of right. Whether or not your persona has 3 kids or no kids is not going to impact if they buy your product (unless your product is pertinent to that information!). However, when we take into account the full picture of all this information about your persona, it really gives you an amazing sense of who this person likely is. If you put together this information, you’re going to paint a really awesome picture of your personas, and you could imagine them sitting at the table across from you much, much easier.
For example, “Philanthropist Phil is a 52 year old male, divorced and remarried. He has two sons, the oldest is 21 and in college, and the youngest is 16 and still at home. He lives in a wealthy suburb of a large city, and retired early from his job in finance 5 years ago. Now he’s a philanthropist, investing in businesses that do great things for the environment. He makes about $150,000/year but lives primarily off his investments. He has a bachelor’s degree from a state university and an MBA from a private school. Also worth noting, he holds several certifications in technology.”
Here’s another example. “Small Biz Becca is a 37 year old female who is married, and has 1 child who is 4. She lives in a small town about an hour outside of the closest big city. She owns a small boutique in her downtown on historic main street. She brings home about $80,000 in a good year. She has a bachelor’s degree from a state university. She is also trying to spend as much time at home with her young daughter during these precious years.”
Both of these persona demographics paint a very vivid and clear picture about the person you are trying to reach. You can almost picture this persona sitting next to you while you craft content specifically for them.
Now, we’re going to explore some of the nitty gritty of what makes your persona tick.
When we think about goals for our personas, we’re trying to understand what they view as success in their position. If we can start to understand where they are trying to go, we can provide a path to help them get there little by little through amazing content positioning. To gather goals, you need to explore what they are hoping to achieve and what they value most.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What goals does my persona have that are relevant to what we offer?
- What values are a driving factor in why they are doing business?
- What are they committed to in their professional world, above all else?
- What does success look like for them in their position?
- What obstacles must my persona overcome on a regular basis?
- What are they challenged with in their position?
- What makes them nervous?
- What is keeping them up at night?
- What are some of the most obnoxious parts of their job?
This information is used in guiding what kind of content should be produced that is appealing to helping your persona achieve something greater.
For example, Becca, mentioned above, might have a goal of spending more time at home and less time working on the administrative tasks that she can’t stand doing, like payroll. So, if a bookkeeping automation software sends her an invite to a webinar called “3 impactful ways to automate your payroll so you can spend more time at home,” she is very likely to engage with that kind of content.
This might be the biggest area of impact you can have with your audience. If you can correctly identify and highlight your persona’s pain points and challenges as it relates to what you can provide for them, you will know exactly where to go in order to solve issues.
It’s important to know that people are always looking for a solution to their problems. That’s probably why your company was started in the first place. There was a problem that needed a solution, and you came along at the perfect time to fill that need.
Also worth noting, it’s okay to push on negative pain points of your customers. Sometimes a wake up call is necessary to help people understand that the problem is more dire than they realize. It also means that you don’t have to live in the negative. You can use the information gathered in the challenges section of your buyer persona to know exactly what you’re trying to solve.
Ask yourself the following questions:
Like the goals section, this information is also used in guiding what kind of content should be produced that is appealing to our personas. For example, Becca is likely struggling with losing sales to online competitors who are more trendy and tech savvy than her store is. If she doesn’t solve that problem, she risks the likelihood of closing her business for good. If an online sales software starts reaching out to her, they will need to push on her pains in order to resonate with her. Becca is very likely to open and read an email with the subject line, “the quick start guide to selling online in 4 easy steps.”
If you needed just one place to turn to decide what kind of content you should be creating, it would be the “challenges” section of the buyer persona.
Where does your persona go for information? If you can identify where your audience is spending their time, you’ll have a better idea of potential areas for advertising and building a bigger presence.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What conference would my persona never miss?
- What influencers do they likely follow or are obsessed with?
- What author do they read?
- What magazine would my persona never miss?
- What website/blog/news source do they follow?
Understanding this kind of information helps you paint the picture of who they are. Let’s say Becca goes to the Womenswear In Nevada trade show every year to get caught up in the latest trends and choose what products to put in her store for the upcoming year. If you knew she’s in a buying mentality right there, wouldn’t you want to have a presence there? Or, at the very least, wouldn’t you want to produce content about “The 10 must see new products at WWIN this year” for Becca to check out? Also, if you know she’s spending all her free time on Instagram, you know exactly where you should be spending time on your content distribution.
Sometimes the best offense is a great defense. That’s true for most sports today, but it’s also extremely true in the world of SaaS businesses. Think about it this way: If you could predict every single question or reason someone would tell you “no” in the buying process, do you think you could do a better job of understanding how to break that down in various kinds of content?
Absolutely. This is exactly what we’re doing in the objections section of your buyer persona. We want to know why your persona is resisting or hesitating. We
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Why do people say “no” to you in the sales process?
- What are the biggest reasons people have not yet acted?
- What is holding back your customers from making a decision today?
- What does the decision making process look like in their company?
- Why would your persona choose to do business with a competitor over you?
Make a list of each of these answers and really think about what is preventing them from saying “yes” in the purchase process. Once you have the list created, you now have a great source of information to turn to when you’re creating content that breaks down barriers with your customers.
For example, Becca might be concerned about adding any additional software to her business because she has a hard time understanding how to use her current software, let alone adding something else into the mix. Knowing this, our hypothetical payroll automation software might have some positioning on their website about training and customer service, while really leaning into their onboarding process. They might say something like “We won’t let our customers feel like they are being left in the dark. Our onboarding specialists work with you on a weekly call to make sure you feel comfortable and confident using our tools. We are also here 24/7 for any kind of support calls you may have, day or night.”
This is a great category to highlight just a few things that will “break through” the barrier your persona has, and allow them to engage with you. So far, you’ve answered a series of questions about your persona and have given them some great background information. Now, you need to document a few content ideas that they might engage with.
This is meant to house a mini brain dump of ideas as you work on your persona. If you know they have specific challenges and you’re coming up with some good ideas for content, I would drop those ideas here in the Breakthroughs section.
For example, you might put something like “The 5-step checklist for your next [insert issue],” or “how to easily [solve a problem].”
These are things you know that if your buyer persona sees it, that they are very likely not going to want to pass this up.
The complete persona
Once you wrap up all these sections, you now have a complete persona! This is an awesome first step to landing more customers and really growing your business. You should consider printing these personas off in a one-pager and keeping them at your desk. Think about this persona as you do virtually everything inside your organization.
It’s not uncommon to hear us refer to our buyer personas in our office on a regular basis, as if we are actually talking about a real person in the room. “I don’t know if VP Vincent would really care about this webinar,” we might say as we’re putting together an outline. The more you can really start to work through your personas, the better off you are going to be with setting your team up for success.