As many of you know, I spend a lot of time working on buyer personas in my client projects. I thought I'd share a few things that should be obvious, but apparently are not.

  • Objectivity is critical. One of the benefits of an outside perspective when creating buyer personas is no baggage. When I come into a project, I don't have any pre-existing beliefs, company Kool-Aid, or political pressure to see them in a certain way. I'm always open to input and feedback from the client. They know their markets better than I do, but when they start rewriting the personas to match their own beliefs, we have a problem.

    Before you say that I'm protecting my work, let me explain. If you conduct interviews with salespeople and customers and the feedback differs from everything you heard, then the reality is off. The reason i push back is to make sure that the client has an objective tool that works, not something that they like that represents their opinion.

  • Personas aren't interchangeable. If your personas are developed around problem-to-solution scenarios your prospects pursue in relation to what a specific solution helps them achieve, you cannot use the VP of Infrastructure or Director of Online Marketing personas you create for one solution in application for another.

    Here's why: If your Director of Online Marketing persona is created in relation to influencing the purchase of a marketing automation system and you also want to market a PPC optimization tool to them where they're the decision maker, the persona for one won't address the needs of the other. Those are totally different dialogues. If the objective of the dialogue changes, so does the persona. You may be able to reuse certain parts - such as orientation and obstacles, but the objectives and the questions the persona will need to have answered across their buying process are different.

  • The person who makes the final decision may not be a persona candidate. If the purpose of creating a persona is to create a tool that informs content strategy and prospect engagement then each persona you create should be an avid content user. They should be the ones who will research to build the business case, spend time evaluating options and be charged with solving the problem your solution solves. If they are only holding the purse strings, then you may be wasting your time.

    The CIO persona is often representative of a misstep in persona selection. Most companies want to target them because they hold budget and have the final say. But if you dig deeper and look at the folks who are actively involved in the buying process, I bet you'll find them a couple of layers down. Who you target with personas is a critical decision. After all, you're investing a lot in content marketing. If it's not engaging anyone, it's not doing it's job and you're wasting that money. This being said, there are a few strategic pieces of content that will serve the CIO extremely well. But make sure that they're truly involved in the buying process in a way that involves sourcing content, knowledge and information, before you invest in an entire strategy to market to them.

    One example would be utilities tools for managing infrastructure. The CIO will want to know about them, see the business case for making the selection and have that meeting with the team to make the final decision. But they will not be out searching online for automation tools unless they're running a very small IT department.

These are 3 important things to consider when you set out on your buyer persona journey. What else would you add?