How Do You Create Buyer Personas? (Part 4 of 7 Series)

It’s probable that no one in your company has the information needed to create insightful Buyer Personas and you certainly can’t make it up so research is required.

The foundation of Buyer Personas is comprehensive research into buying behaviour, skilfully conducted by experienced personnel to uncover deep insights into buyer mindset and decisions. This encompasses qualitative research, ethnographic research, business anthropology, digital anthropology and buyer psychology.

So how do you do that research? Firstly you need personnel qualified and experienced in doing this type of research and creating Buyer Personas. Secondly, as long as you know how to ask them, how to establish rapport, buyers will tell you how they evaluate and compare products or services and reach decisions.

Your options are:

  • If you don’t already have the skills in-house you can have your team trained (the Buyer Persona Institute is one source of such training) and give them some time to practice and perfect their technique so you are confident in their results
  • Hire new team members with the required proven expertise and experience
  • Hire a market research firm whose ability is proven by satisfied customers – often a good way to avoid biases.

Buyer Persona interview

It may surprise you but buyers will reveal facts to you that they haven’t shared with anyone else – but probably only if you are able to hold relaxed and wholly unscripted, but nonetheless agenda-driven, conversations with them.

Because so much interpersonal communication is non-verbal, face-to-face meetings are ideal and can provide greater depth of information, tolerance for longer interview and better rapport with the interviewer. But they can be costly to do, particularly if customers are geographically dispersed thus adding considerable travel time and cost. On the other hand experienced interviewers can achieve excellent results more cost effectively via telephone interviews. For a lower cost more customers can be reached, but still with a good level of detail (although perhaps not the depth enabled by face to face), generally more quickly but likely with less rapport and non verbal cues. A third alternative is to use web meetings with high resolution video to help pick up more non verbal cues.

“People buy what they need from those who understand what they want.” – Bill Brooks and Tom Travesano

Whichever interviewing methodology is used, you want a deep conversation in order to find the insights you need and you’ll need an agenda template as a guide to obtaining full information to prepare a Buyer Persona – the goal is to include essential information and profound insights in a focused but uncluttered description that excludes irrelevant information.

The required qualitative research is NOT a questionaire process but rather a skilfully steered conversation with buyers that explores the subject deeply. A Buyer Persona that simply states the obvious will achieve little and may simply undermine the initiative. It’s very likely that you and your sales team already know or can readily guess the answers to the obvious questions (e.g. why are you looking to buy this product?) so the research must dig much deeper into the whys and wherefores of motivations, concerns, fears, objectives, personal goals and much more (how do they decide? How will they know they made the right decision?).  Often you will discover mindsets and mental models that Buyers themselves are unaware of but that influence their behaviour – understanding these can be the difference between a won and a lost sale. Getting to ‘why’ a person behaves in a particular way takes skilled interviewing to get beyond defense mechanisms and smoke screens intentionally or subconsciously put up as shields from a selling organization – for this reason a 3rd party qualitative researcher often has an advantage over company representatives.

For example, an interviewee may say that your product is interesting but is missing a feature. That information may or may not be an insight you need but, as the interviewer, your job is to get to the core of WHY someone is asking for that feature. It’s the need behind the feature that may be the insight you seek and the feature as described by the customer may or may not be the best way to meet the need.

Buyer Persona interviewing


“You need to find the story the data wants to tell you (not what you want it to tell you).”

Start with your sales team, tell them what you are doing and why to get them actively engaged and supportive of developing Buyer Persona. You need their insights to create the Personas and you need their support to use and apply the Buyer Personas once they are available. Ask questions like:

  • What are our prospects’ or customers’ biggest objections?
  • What are the common goals people have?
  • What problems are they trying to solve?
  • Is there a particular demographic that makes better customers?
  • What’s the most effective way to contact them? – by phone, email, etc.

After interviewing your sales team move on to interview current customers Then interview prospective customers – it can even be advantageous if they know nothing about your company, products or services because the interview is wholly about them not you. Don’t ask people what they would do rather ask what they did do.

This mix of external interviewees, customers and prospective customers, is to ensure no bias is introduced. It’s also vital to understand any real differences between that may exist between groups, for example, an insight may solve one group’s challenges but not another group’s.

How many interviews to do is a function of when you start to see repetition, the same insights coming up repeatedly and no new ones being revealed. At that point you have convergence for the current time and can write your Buyer Persona.

“Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.” – Benjamin Franklin

See this AUTODESK® CASE STUDY on the creation and use of Buyer Personas (Autodesk® is a leading software supplier for the CAD, CAM, CAE, PLM, PDM and many other markets).

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Series Navigation<< Who Should Use Buyer Personas? (Part 3 of 7 Series)Common Buyer Persona Mistakes to Avoid (Part 5 of 7 Series) >>

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