Bootstrap Buyer Persona Building in 4 Steps

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Content Marketing

Buyer persona“Buyer, Buyer, Buyer.” You can’t take to two steps in any direction in the marketing thought leadership landscape without hearing how important and central the buyer is, and how important it is to develop a “buyer centric” approach to demand generation. Why all the hullabaloo around the buyer? Well, because it’s true: Keeping the buyer front and center is the key to effective demand generation. The research supports it. Case studies speak to it. And most of all, the bottom line proves it.

Becoming ‘buyer-centric” demands building buyer personas

So you’re convinced, ready to tackle the first step … defining your buyer by building buyer personas. But quickly, the excitement turns to despair. “How do I start? Who should be involved? What questions do we ask to develop these personas?” This may not be as easy as you thought.

Then the answer comes: “We can hire a consultant to do this for us!” However, after making a few web inquiries and calls, you’re back to being discouraged. “We’re not a multi-billion dollar company! I don’t have the budget to hire out for this”.

Ahh yes, the all too familiar conundrum…champagne dreams on a beer budget. What to do, what to do?

Well, don’t fret. Although you may want to shoot for the moon with regard to developing your buyer personas, there are ways to do so without having to spend the money on outside expertise, or extensive research. Most likely, you have the resources necessary internally to get the job done. Below are a few steps you can take to get moving in the right direction.

Step #1: Bring marketing and sales together

Believe it or not, this is the single most important step. The reality is that marketing and sales each see the customer from a different perspective. Buyer persona-building has traditionally been strictly a marketing function. The problem with that is, you don’t get the insight that comes from the sales team as they interact with the customer daily. So, don’t make the mistake of making this a marketing project that sales needs to buy off on. Start your process of building personas by having sufficient representation from both marketing and sales, right from the beginning.

“All well and good,” you say, “but sales won’t participate”. That may seem the case. But let me throw out this observation: In close to 25 years of helping companies with marketing and sales, I’ve yet to see a scenario where a company doesn’t have at least one sales person who’s willing to help out. So don’t lump them all in together. Go find your sales champion, and ask him/her to participate.


Step #2: Build a Buyer Persona Matrix

Once you’ve identified the marketing and sales personnel who will participate, dedicate time (perhaps offsite) to conduct a facilitated workshop for building out a buyer persona matrix. To do this, first define the buying roles among your existing customer base (stay away from title such as “VP”, or “Manager”). Instead, define roles by what people actually do and what they’re responsible for. Label the top axis with these roles. Next, determine which categories of criteria you’ll use to make up the personas. Information such as background, daily activities, challenges (what keeps them up at night?), etc. is what you’re going for here. Label the vertical axis with the criteria. Lastly, spend the rest of the time filling in the matrix in “bullet point” fashion. For example, determine the 3-5 “daily activities” of the “technical buyer”. Or the 3-5 “buying concerns” of the “user”. Fill in the matrix with this detail. The example below is a matrix template that illustrates this.

Buyer persona matrix

Step #3: Leverage the rest of sales and marketing to further enhance the picture

Assuming your workshop team is made up of a sub-set of marketing and sales personnel, you can then leverage the rest of the team to further enhance the detail and information in the matrix. Present the matrix to other marketing groups, inside sales, customer service, sales teams, etc. to get their feedback, input, etc. Use that information to further build the matrix. This doesn’t have to be done via formal meetings or presentation only. Having informal one-on-one conversations, asking colleagues to review, and give feedback can be just as helpful in obtaining the buyer insight that will help you craft the right messaging and build the right offers.


Step #4: Conduct in-depth interviews with customers

Your customers not only want to hear from you, they want you to hear from them. So, leverage this dynamic to get them telling you what’s important to them. Using the information from the matrix, develop a question guide (between 5 and 10 questions is good) and administer in-depth market research interviews with 10-15 people per persona. Your goal is to to gain insight or detailed information from customers or users of products or services. These can be conducted via telephone, and each conversation should last 20-30 minutes.

Sample questions you might ask could include:

  • Tell me when you and/or your team first became aware of your need for (product/service)?
  • What were the first few steps you took once you identified the need? Why did you take those steps?
  • How many people were involved in the buying decision?
    • What role did they play?
    • What role did you play?
  • Describe for me a typical day. What do you do throughout the day? (Look to see how it relates to your product/service/industry)
  • What would you say are your top 2-3 challenges within your role?


CAVEAT ALERT: As good as this may sound, sometimes customers are not directly available. What do you do then? Below are some alternative (albeit less than optimal) things you can do…

  • Obtain as much behavioral data from your systems as possible (CRM, Act-On or other marketing automation platform, etc. )
  • Conduct the in-depth interviews among prospects that closely match your customer
  • Conduct in-depth interviews with groups that connect with the customer, but don’t buy directly from you. For example, if you are a wholesaler, speak to retailers asking them about the end user.

Extra credit: Secondary research

Lastly, spend some time conducting secondary research on your target audience. For most markets, there is an abundance of buyer behavior information and insight online. Yes, it takes time to search and weed through it all, but it’s there. And, it adds yet another dimension to understanding the buyer. Look at it this way:Someone took the time to research your buyer…why not use it?

So there you have it: Four steps to “boot strapping” the building of buyer personas. Will these steps give you a full, quantitative, 360-degree view of your buyer? Probably not. However, taking these steps will get you about 80% of the way there. No, it’s not easy, and it will take time.

But hey – if it were easy, wouldn’t everyone be doing it?

To learn about how personas fit into lead generation strategies, read Part 1 of an Act-On Conversation between Jay Hidalgo, the Demand Gen Coach, and Atri Chatterjee, Act-On’s Chief Marketing Officer.

Please visit the Act-On Center of Excellence for resources about all aspects of marketing.

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