Responding to major events like a pandemic or recession requires marketers to use real-time data to keep up with consumer demands, attitudes, and behaviors. However, marketing according to data points alone isn’t enough to get meaningful customer engagement with your business—that’s the job of a buyer persona.
There are many factors of customer behavior you’ll need to create a buyer persona that can’t be siphoned from a demographic survey alone. Combining different research methods to form a detailed buyer persona is the way to go.
In this post, we show you the research-driven method of creating buyer personas. In just a few thoughtful steps, you’ll walk away with consumer stories and profiles that represent your customer base.
Before we dive into the buyer persona-creation process, let’s pause to understand the impact of well-developed buyer personas on your business (most specifically, your marketing efforts).
Why are buyer personas important to your business?
1. Buyer personas inform product development.
Extensive research into your target customer isn’t limited to marketing functions. These insights have a place in the research and development phase of your product development process.
Understanding what your ideal customer experiences on a day-to-day basis can inspire innovative improvements to your product.
Say, for example, you run a company that sells kitchen utensils and your buyer persona research tells you that your ideal customer lives in the South where grilling is common throughout the year. This could present an opportunity to develop and offer grilling utensils or improve your kitchen utensils so that they work in both indoor and outdoor cooking environments.
2. Buyer personas enable the optimization of demand generation, lead generation, and lead nurturing content.
Do you know whether your buyer persona is more responsive to text messages compared to emails? One way to find out is through buyer persona research. Understanding how your ideal customer prefers to receive communication can influence your demand generation strategies.
A preference for SMS communication among your target audience can lend itself to an SMS lead nurturing campaign over an email one. On the other hand, you may be able to justify entire website changes based on the data points you discover for your buyer personas.
3. Buyer personas tailor the messaging of your product to the target audience.
Buyer personas help you understand your customers (and prospective customers) better. This makes it easier for you to tailor your content, messaging, product development, and services to meet the specific needs, behaviors, and concerns of your target audience.
For example, you may know your target buyers are caregivers, but do you know the type of care they provide most often? What is the typical background of your ideal buyer? To fully understand what makes your best customers tick, it’s critical to develop detailed personas for your business.
The strongest buyer personas are based on market research and insights you gather from your actual customer base (through surveys, interviews, etc.).
Depending on your business, you could have as few as one or two personas or as many as 10 or 20. But if you’re new to personas, start small. You can always develop more personas later if you need them.
What is a negative buyer persona?
While a buyer persona is a representation of your ideal customer, a negative—or exclusionary—persona is a representation of who you don’t want as a customer.
For example, this could include professionals who are too advanced for your product or service, students who are only engaging with your content for research/ knowledge, or potential customers who are just too expensive to acquire.
The potential customers may be too expensive because of a low average sale price, their propensity to churn, or their unlikeliness to purchase again from your company. Having this knowledge is valuable because it helps you narrow down your strategic execution so that your inputs directly contribute to your results.
How can buyer personas be used in marketing?
At the most basic level, developing personas allows you to create content and messaging that appeals to your target audience. It also enables you to target or personalize your marketing for different segments of your audience.
For example, instead of sending the same lead nurturing emails to everyone in your database, you can segment by buyer persona and tailor your messaging to what you know about those different personas.
Furthermore, when combined with lifecycle stage (i.e. how far along someone is in your sales cycle), buyer personas also allow you to map out and create highly targeted content. (You can learn more about how to do that by downloading our Content Mapping Template.)
And if you take the time to also create negative personas, you’ll have the added advantage of being able to segment out the “bad apples” from the rest of your contacts. This can help you achieve a lower cost-per-lead and cost-per-customer — and, therefore, see higher sales productivity.
Types of Buyer Personas
While developing your personas, you may ask yourself, “What are the different types of buyer personas?” From there, it’d be simple to adjust one for your business — right?
Well, that’s not exactly how it works. There isn’t a set list of universally recognized buyer personas to choose from, nor is there a standard for the number of personas you need. This is because each business (no matter how many competitors they have) is unique. For that reason, their buyer personas should be unique to them, too.
That’s why identifying and creating your different buyer personas can, at times, be slightly challenging. This is why we recommend using HubSpot’s Make My Persona generator (as well as HubSpot’s persona templates) to simplify the process of creating different personas.
Just like buyer personas are unique to each company, so is their name for them. You may see buyer personas referred to as “customer personas”, “marketing personas”, “audience personas”, or “target persona”. Each of these carry the same meaning but will look unique within your company.
In general, companies may have the same, or similar, categories for their buyer personas (e.g. a marketer, an HR rep, an IT manager, etc.). But the different personas your business has and the number of them your business requires will be tailored to who your target audience includes and what you offer your customers.
What goes into persona development?
Now that we’ve discussed the importance of buyer personas and the different types, let’s explore the nuances of developing your buyer personas.
Before you begin creating your buyer personas, you need to identify the people on your team who will have a role in its development. Who should create your buyer persona? Frankly, any customer-facing team member should be a part of the process. While that sounds like you’ll have too many cooks in the kitchen, it’s important you select one representative from each department. Each department has unique experiences with the customers that will serve as valuable information in identifying your target audience.
When building your team, start with representatives from sales and marketing. Sales employees directly communicate with customers. Your marketing staff can conclude and create data based on information about your customers. Additionally, your team should include an executive leader who ensures that the brand mission and values are upheld through every step of development.
Persona development teams need sales, marketing, and executive members. You’ll find these individuals in almost every business, which leads to the question,“What type of business needs to create buyer personas?” Answer: all of them. Every business needs customers or clients. As long as this concept is true, buyer personas should be a staple in every business, regardless of the industry.
While developing buyer personas is crucial, it’s equally important that your business regularly reviews and updates them. Take the time to do this annually. It might feel like a tedious task. However, identifying your target audience is the first step to securing these buyers as future and repeating customers.
Now, are you ready to start creating your buyer personas?
How to Create a Buyer Persona In 4 Steps
Buyer personas can be created through research, surveys, and interviews — all with a mix of customers, prospects, and those outside your contacts database who might align with your target audience.
Here are some practical methods for gathering the information you need to develop personas. You can also further your knowledge on this topic through the free HubSpot Academy course.
- Look through your contacts database to uncover trends about how certain leads or customers find and consume your content.
- Use form fields that capture important persona information when creating forms to use on your website. For example, if all of your personas vary based on company size, ask each lead for information about company size on your forms.
- Consider your sales team’s feedback on the leads they’re interacting with most. What generalizations can they make about the different types of customers you serve best?
- Interview customers and prospects to discover what they like about your product or service.
Now, how can you use the above research to create your personas?
Once you’ve gone through the research process, you’ll have a lot of meaty, raw data about your potential and current customers. But what do you do with it? How do you distill all of it so it’s easy for everyone to understand all the information you’ve gathered?
The next step is to use your research to identify patterns and commonalities from the answers to your interview questions, develop at least one primary persona, and share that persona with the rest of the company.
Use our free, downloadable persona template to organize the information you’ve gathered about your persona(s). Then share these slides with the rest of your company so everyone can benefit from your research and develop an in-depth understanding of the person (or people) they’re targeting every day at work.
Here’s how to work through the steps involved in creating your buyer personas in more detail.
1. Fill in your persona’s basic demographic information.
Ask demographic-based questions over the phone, in person, or with online surveys. (Some people are more comfortable disclosing personal information like this.)
It’s also helpful to include some descriptive buzzwords and mannerisms of your persona you may have picked up on during your conversations to make it easier for people on your team to identify certain personas when talking to prospects.
Here’s an example of how you might complete Section 1 in your template for one of your personas:
Download this Template
2. Share what you’ve learned about your persona’s motivations.
This is where you’ll distill the information you learned from asking “why” during those interviews. What keeps your persona up at night? Who do they want to be? Most importantly, tie that all together by telling people how your company can help them.
Download this Template
3. Help your sales team prepare for conversations with your persona.
Include some real quotes from your interviews that exemplify what your personas are concerned about, who they are, and what they want. Then create a list of the objections they might raise so your sales team is prepared to address those during their conversations with prospects.
Download this Template
4. Craft messaging for your persona.
Tell people how to talk about your products/ services with your persona. This includes the nitty-gritty vocabulary you should use, as well as a more general elevator pitch that positions your solution in a way that resonates with your persona.
This will help you ensure everyone in your company is speaking the same language when they’re having conversations with leads and customers.
Download this Template
Finally, make sure you give your persona a name (e.g., Finance Manager Margie, IT Ian, or Landscaper Larry), so everyone internally refers to each persona the same way, allowing for cross-team consistency.
And if you’re a HubSpot customer, add your persona to Marketing Hub by following this step-by-step setup guide.
How to Find Interviewees for Researching Buyer Personas
One of the most critical steps to establishing your buyer persona(s) is finding some people to speak with to understand, well, who your buyer persona is.
That means you’ll have to conduct some interviews to get to know what drives your target audience. But how do you find those interviewees? There are a few sources you should tap into:
1. Use your current customers.
Your existing customer base is the perfect place to start your interviews because they’ve already purchased your product and engaged with your company. At least some of them are likely to exemplify your target persona(s).
Don’t just talk to people who love your product and want to spend an hour gushing about you (as good as that feels). Customers who are unhappy with your product will show other patterns that will help you form a solid understanding of your personas.
For example, you might find that some of your less happy customers have bigger teams and need greater collaboration functionality from your product. Or, you may find they find your product too technical and difficult to use. In both cases, you learn something about your product and what your customers’ challenges are.
Another benefit of interviewing current customers is that you may not need to offer them an incentive (e.g., gift cards). Customers often like being heard. Interviewing them gives them a chance to tell you about their world, their challenges, and what they think of your product.
Customers also like to have an impact on the products they use. So, as you involve them in interviews like this, you may find they become even more loyal to your company. When you reach out to customers, be clear that your goal is to get their feedback and that it’s highly valued by your team.
2. Use your prospects.
Be sure to also interview people who have not purchased your product and don’t know much about your brand. Your current prospects and leads are great options because you already have their contact information.
Use the data you do have about them (i.e., anything you’ve collected through lead generation forms or website analytics) to figure out who might fit into your target personas. Tools such as Enlyft can also help you create custom buyer persona profiles and match your prospects to them to make it easier to find the people you need to talk to.
3. Use your referrals.
You’ll probably also need to rely on some referrals to talk to people who may fit into your target personas, particularly if you’re heading into new markets or don’t have any leads or customers yet.
Use your network (coworkers, existing customers, social media contacts, etc.) to find people you’d like to interview and be introduced to. It may be tough to get a large volume of people this way, but you’ll likely get some very high-quality interviews out of it.
If you don’t know where to start, try searching on LinkedIn for people who may fit into your target personas and see which results have any connections in common with you. Then, reach out to your common connections for introductions.
4. Use third-party networks.
For interviewees who are completely removed from your company, there are a few third-party networks you can recruit from. Craigslist allows you to post ads for people interested in any job, and UserTesting.com allows you to run remote user testing (with some follow-up questions).
You’ll have less control over sessions run through UserTesting.com, but it’s a great resource for quick user testing recruiting.
Now that you know how to identify interviewees, let’s look at some tips for recruiting them.
Tips for Recruiting Buyer Persona Interviewees
As you reach out to potential buyer persona interviewees, here are a few ideas to improve your response rates.
1. Use incentives.
While you may not need them in all scenarios (e.g., customers who already want to talk to you), incentives give people a reason to participate in an interview if they don’t have a relationship with you. A simple gift card is an easy option.
2. Be clear that this isn’t a sales call.
This is especially important when dealing with non-customers. Be clear that you’re doing research and just want to learn from them. You are not getting them to commit to a one-hour sales call. You’re getting them to commit to telling you about their lives, jobs, and challenges.
3. Make it easy to say yes.
Take care of everything for your potential interviewee. Suggest times but be flexible. Allow them to pick a time right off the bat and send a calendar invitation with a reminder to block off their time.
4. Decide how many people you need to interview.
Unfortunately, the answer is, it depends. Start with at least three to five interviews for each persona you’re creating. If you already know a lot about your persona, that may be enough. You may need to do multiple interviews with each category of interviewees (customers, prospects, people who don’t know your company).
The rule of thumb is when you start accurately predicting what your interviewee is going to say, it’s probably time to stop. Through these interviews, you’ll naturally start to notice patterns.
Once you start expecting and predicting what your interviewee will say, that means you’ve interviewed enough people to find and internalize these patterns.
5. Determine which questions you’ll ask interviewees.
It’s time to conduct the interview! After the normal small talk and thank you’s, it’s time to jump into your questions. There are several categories of questions you’ll want to ask in persona interviews to create a complete persona profile.
Buyer Persona Examples
Let’s go over some examples of completed buyer personas to get a better understanding of what they look like.
B2B Buyer Persona Example
The image below is a B2B buyer persona for someone who works in HR. The persona paints a clear picture of the target customer’s struggles and how the business can best meet those needs. In this case, HR recruiting tools streamline processes, make recruiting easier, and help HR expertly manage their overall job duties.
B2C Buyer Persona Example
The image below is a B2C buyer persona for a music streaming service.
Based on this persona, a streaming service would want to ensure that it has a mobile app that’s user-friendly, sends new music notifications, and makes it easy for users to discover new music related to their interests and share content with friends.
Create Your Buyer Personas
Create your buyer personas to understand your target customers on a deeper level and ensure everyone on your team knows how to best target, support, and work with your customers. This will help you improve reach, boost conversions, and increase loyalty.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in May 2015 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.