Every marketer has come across what I call a ‘Sales Girl Sally’ buyer persona. It’s the shallow persona that tells us all about Sally. It’ll say she’s a twenty-eight-year-old female in sales, who struggles to find qualified leads, is dedicated to her work and finds quotas frustrating.
And after reading through tons of slides about Sally’s favorite color and what type of superhero she would be, do you know how to sell or market to her any better?? Can you name her pain points? Or her greatest struggles at work? Do you know what tools she uses at work? Do you know her goals? Or her customer journey for your product? If a standard buyer persona is all you have to go on, you don’t know enough about this customer to answer any of those questions.
And yet, every generic B2B buyer persona has determined that those few generalizations are enough information to build a marketing strategy, features, and products. While those are important things to know, it’s not enough to grow a business.
Best Buyer Personas are data-driven, added to continuously, and referenced often. When was the last time you looked at your buyer persona information to help you write copy, or create a marketing campaign, or determine which features should be built? Now’s the time to go back to basics.
Best Buyer Personas are not one-and-done documents that hide in Google docs or Notion. They aren’t doing you any good just sitting there. Best Buyer Personas are the reference manuals for business decisions. ProfitWell, a tool that helps subscription-based companies, has found that, “Without data-driven buyer personas, companies cannot succeed in the subscription market. The 1% of companies that have drilled down their buyer personas using data are what we call ‘LTV Beasts.’ They’re crazy efficient and crazy profitable.”
Let’s break down the three-step approach we use at Best Buyer Persona when creating our data-driven buyer personas. Then, you can take what you’ve learned and create the best buyer personas for your business!
Step One: Get To Know Your Customers
A data-driven buyer persona is not something that can be assumed or based off of another company with a similar product or audience. The best buyer personas use a jobs-to-be-done approach to your customer research and help you learn as much as you can about your customers.
By the end of this process, you and your customers are going to be BFF’s.
Whom Should You Speak with?
Before you pick up the phone, you need to decide whom you are reaching out to. Your first choice should be your very best customers. These are the customers who converted quickly without much convincing — they knew right away your product was exactly what they needed. These customers have been using your product for a while without complaints or much support help needed.
I call these customers your biggest fans — they might be on social media singing your praises, or in your community forums helping other customers. These are the first customers you’ll want to ask to schedule a call.
If you can’t find these customers, or if you’re just starting out and they don’t exist for you yet, don’t worry! You will just reach out to people who meet your ideal customer profile instead.
In the beginning, this is like a science experiment. You have a hypothesis of who your ideal customers are, and by the end of the conversations, you’ll have a good idea if your hypothesis was supported or not. And as with true science experiments, there are no wrong answers, it just requires a different approach next time.
Ring! Ring! It’s [Your Company] Calling
The most effective way to get to know your customers is to get on the phone with them. For many, this seems like a daunting task with too many opportunities for failure, but don’t fret!
Here are a few pro tips you can implement that will help you get your customers on the phone for a productive conversation.
How to ask your customers for a phone chat
The easiest way to get your customers on the phone is simply to ask them. This doesn’t have to be a huge, complicated or overly-marketed task. A simple and to-the-point email or social media post will work wonders.
You could send an email to your most active customers like this one:
We’re looking to learn more about our customers and would be honored if you could spare 20 minutes for a phone call. We’re not going to sell you anything, we just want to learn from you.
We appreciate your time so much, we’d like to offer you a 20% discount on next month’s bill.
Please, find the best time in the next two weeks in my calendar here.
CEO of [your company]
While this email is very simple and to the point, it does five things well:
- Asks for a phone call.
We’re not trying to skirt around the issue. We’re not just asking for feedback that they reply with in the email, or respond to in a survey. We want a phone call.
2. State the time commitment.
This will be a 20-minute call. It’s best to know beforehand how long the call needs to be. Practice a few times with other team members to get a good idea of how much time you need. Try to keep it under 30 minutes, because much more than that feels very invasive to a person’s day. The key will be to keep this time limit during the call. Going over the approved amount of time will send the message that you are either unprepared, unorganized, or inconsiderate of the customer’s time.
3. Assure them this isn’t a sales call.
These conversations are not sales calls. They aren’t customer support calls or product feedback calls. These conversations are you taking the time to get to know your customers. So, it’s important in the email or social post to let them know that you will not be selling to them during the call.
You don’t want your customers to have their guards up while talking to you. They need to be comfortable, so they will open up and share their thoughts with you.
It’s also important that you don’t turn it into a sales or customer support call. If they complain about a product or feature, you need to make sure you have a plan in place that keeps you on track with the customer development conversation. You can’t defend the product or try to fix their complaint right then and there. This can be challenging because you likely know a solution to their problem! Which is why it’s sometimes best if this is done by a third party.
4. Provide an incentive.
An incentive is a great way to show appreciation for your customer’s time. Keep in mind, they are doing you a favor. Choose an incentive that is appropriate for your product and your customers. If you’re asking for 30 minutes of a C-suite executive’s time and your product costs their company thousands of dollars a month, you want to make sure you reflect that value in your incentive. A 20% discount might be worth an executive’s time, while a $100 gift card to Amazon may not have them rushing to the phone. I’ve also seen great success with charitable donations in the customer’s name. Offer to donate $X amount to their charity of choice in exchange for 30 minutes of their time.
5. Allow them to schedule at their convenience.
In the email copy, leave a calendar link with multiple options for them to schedule time. Provide some morning, afternoon, evening, and maybe even a couple weekend spots, but only for a specific amount of time. You want to make it convenient for them, but you also don’t want your entire life consumed with customer calls. When starting from scratch, give a two-week time frame for customers to schedule calls.
What Do I Say Now?
You’ve scheduled phone calls successfully and are now ready to have conversations with your customers. This should be the easy part, right? Actually, this is the part that is deceptively difficult and many people get wrong. Here are a few tactics to ensure you aren’t wasting time asking the wrong questions.
The most important question you can ask your customers
There’s one question that really helps to uncover the core emotions or triggers around any statement your customer has just answered. The powerhouse question is: Why?
It’s versatile, interrogative, appearing in various forms, including:
- “Oh really, can you tell me more about that?”
- “You mentioned — specific thing they just mentioned— can you expand on that some”
- “Why do you think that is?”
“Why” is so powerful for customer conversations because it helps your customer answer the reasoning behind their idea, the motivation behind their actions, and the emotions behind their thoughts.
Your questions will vary depending on what you want to learn about your customer, but some good ones to ask are:
- What was the last thing you did with/on our product?
- Talk me through the last time using our product made your day better.
- What other tools/apps have you tried?
- Why do you strive to [solve a specific problem they’ve previously mentioned]?
- If you could change one thing about our product, what would it be?
- Who else should I talk to about this?
- Tell me about your typical day at work.
- What are your responsibilities?
- Do you have any people that report to you?
- Do you report to anyone?
When creating questions for a conversation, stick to my 4S method:
Strategic – Only ask questions you know you need the answer to. Useless questions, or “Well, it’d be nice to know” questions are a waste of time and resources. Before you ask the question, know why you want the answer.
Short – Your questions should be short in nature, because you’re only asking one question at a time.
Simple – Ask clear questions without giving your own opinion, such as, “I have a really great product that does X, wouldn’t you love to try it?” Or “It’s very difficult to do X, so I’ve created a solution to help. What do you think?” Keep your opinions out of the questions and keep your vocabulary simple.
Slow – Give your customers time to respond. Ask a question and then listen for their response. If they ask for time to think, give it to them. Their answers will be worth it. If they struggle for more than a minute to come up with an answer, provide context, but not clues as to how you think they should answer. If they still struggle, move on to another question.
Let’s Get Digital, Digital!
Customer conversations aren’t a highly technical operation, but it is important that you get the most out of these conversations, and the last thing you need to do is frantically take notes on a call. Your only job is to listen. In order to give yourself the best opportunity to stay focused on the call, it’s best if you record your conversations and have them transcribed. There are plenty of tools out there that you can use for free or low cost. A few I recommend are Rev or Temi, and Zoom or GoTo Meeting for recorded phone or video chats.
Survey Your Audience
A survey is a great way to gather information from a larger section of your audience or to get relevant feedback during a specific action your audience takes. But be aware, surveys validate ideas in large quantity. The phone calls come first because then you’re able to validate your customer’s ideas. If you send out a survey first, you’re only validating your own ideas.
When asking survey questions, keep in mind the 4S Method mentioned earlier — you want to keep your questions simple, short, and strategic (slow doesn’t exactly pertain to the survey questions).
Surveys Are Flexible
The great thing about a survey is that it’s automatic and can be done at any time. (Hello, working while you sleep!) If you’re curious why your customer’s purchase, ask, “Why did you buy from us today?” on the Thank You page after buying. Or send them an email and ask general questions about their overall experience with your company. The options are varied and can provide a great deal of insight.
When you pair a survey and customer conversations, you have the beginnings of data-driven buyer personas that will continue to evolve and grow with your company. It’s the secret combo!
Step Two: Organize Your Data
You’ve had all your conversations transcribed and gathered all survey responses, so now you’ve got tons of useful data to put to work. But how do you make sense of all these transcripts and responses?
-Find the patterns
You’re looking for commonly repeated phrases, words, and remarks. Create a category, and anytime you see the same repeated words or phrases, put them into the same category. The category name could be anything of relevance; maybe it’s “Buying Decisions” or “Not Quite Customers” or “ Really Happy People.” The only way to know what categories you will have is to examine the patterns in your responses and group them together.
One of my favorite ways to categorize data is by buyer awareness. Grouping comments and phrases made at different points in the buyer journey helps me to map their experiences and organize the responses in a way that is easy to reference in the future.
You may have one quote, phrase, or word that ends up in multiple different categories. That’s totally fine! This is about putting information in the right buckets so you can find it quickly in the future.
-Use the right tools to get the job done
Organizing all the data can be as simple as using Excel or Google sheets. If you have a budget, a tool like EnjoyHQ is a great option to help you find themes and organize data efficiently. If you’re using Google Sheets or Excel, the steps are simple — read, highlight, copy, and paste. You’re looking for words that show emotion and motivation.
You’re reading through the transcribed conversations and see this sentence:
“I really loved using FlySwat, it helped me catch all the flies in my house without making a mess.”
From this sentence, the key phrases to pick out are “helped me catch all the flies” and “without making a mess.”
Now, this is a skilled interviewer, and their next question was, “Oh, that’s interesting. Can you tell me more about that?”
The customer responds:
“Yeah, I hated my last flyswat. It left fly guts everywhere, and I was constantly having to use a paper towel to clean them up. I hate to use a whole paper towel on such a small task, but I also didn’t want to use cloths or my fingers. Flyswat really helped me reduce my waste.”
Now, we’re getting somewhere! The customer has just revealed one of their motives for buying — they’re aware of how much waste they produce. That’s a great thing to understand about a customer and future potential customers.
From that sentence, I would highlight “helped me reduce my waste” and paste it into the “motivation category” because it very clearly tells me their motivation for buying FlySwat.
This will likely be the most time consuming part of the overall project. But don’t lose hope! Being able to find patterns and repetition in responses usually requires going through the data a few times to grasp how people responded and what ways the responses need to be categorized. Getting the data organized is the difference between creating a generic buyer persona and a data-driven buyer persona.
Step Three: Segment Your Audience
This is the point in the buyer persona process when everything will start to come together. All the conversations and surveys you received and all the categories you created will start to become data-driven buyer personas, with pain points, a customer journey, frustrations and aspirations, goals — a full story.
Once your data is organized and your categories are filled with common terms and patterns, you can begin to create audience segments — these will be the basis for your buyer personas.
How To Segment Your Audience
Segmenting your audience is breaking up a large group of people into smaller groups with similar characteristics and commonalities. Since you categorize all your data, this part of the process should go pretty quickly.
There are multiple ways to segment your audience. You could choose to segment by:
- Experience with your product
- Product usage
- Buyer’s journey
- Pain points
- Future goals
- Behavior with your product
- Company size
- Product demand
How you segment your audience is very personal to your brand and your customers. Look for commonalities among the data. Were there multiple people who mentioned the exact same pain points? If so, that could be a great way to segment. Maybe your audience is largely divided into two different states. Then a geographical segment might make sense. Or you noticed large numbers of customers using your product in the same way, but different from each other. A segment for each use case could be a good option.
Create a document with the segmentation name and place the relevant quantitative data in the doc. I like to have documents for various pieces of information like job titles, daily tasks, frustrations, pain points, where they learn new information, etc. Once all of this information is compiled, you’ll begin to see the buyer personas.
By this point, you’re lightyears ahead of the standard buyer personas, because your personas are built from the real words, perspectives, issues, and behaviors of your ideal customers.
Keep up the good work!
Now that you’re done, you can put all this behind you and get to work! Well…not exactly. It’s extremely important that you make customer conversations an integral part of your growth strategy for your business. Receiving constant feedback from your customers and then applying it to your product or strategy is known as a feedback loop.
Best Buyer Personas will be the ones that continuously grow with your company and can be referenced often. Through customer conversations and surveys, we can create segments of users that allow your company to serve your customers’ needs better. This three-step approach to creating buyer personas is one any SaaS company can incorporate. Even if you already have buyer personas, but feel they’re weak or ineffective, I encourage you to give this three-step approach a try.