How do you convince your company that it's worth the time to invest in researching and making buyer personas?
Personas are the way you bring segmentation and targeting to life by understanding what ‘motivates’ the buyer. If you don't have a good sense of the motivators, needs, and wants of your buyer, then i’d make a bet that your marketing spend isn't optimized and your deal cycle times are longer than they should be.
There is a meme going around on LinkedIn right now that compares the demographic information of Prince Charles and Ozzy Osbourne. They both fit the same demographic category, but they couldn't be more different. This is a good way to argue the point. If you look at the segmentation/demographic data only, you miss a huge opportunity to appeal to the unconscious urges of your buyer, the biggest of which is emotion.
Your leadership will be focused on the ROI of the budget and time spent developing personas. The most salient metric for these exercises will be customer acquisition costs. I would look at trends in customer acquisition costs over time, across segments, and across channels. This helps illuminate where there are pockets of inefficiency. On the qualitative side, it can also be valuable to gather sentiment from your customer-facing teams (i.e. sales and customer service) on how the lack of personalization and clarity of their target segments has increased complexity for their roles. Lastly, it can be helpful to pilot personas after a small study. At the beginning, you may try developing just one or two personas for a very clear target and adapt your marketing and scripts accordingly as an a/b test. This can yield some initial data to support the value that a broader, more rigorous exercise would bring to your organization.
Firstly, know that there are ranges of budgets to create buyer personas depedning on if you go with an agency or do them in-house. I’ve worked for a company where we paid $100K to an agency to make buyer personas, and another one where I had to figure it out on a shoestring budget (< $1000). I honestly had so much more fun and learned so much more doing it the scrappy way! What did I use my scrappy budget for? I used budget for incentives to get clients, prospects, and churned customers to talk to me. I developed an interview script and trained others on HOW to interview so we quickly got 30+ customer conversations (recorded, too!). I used a little more budget to run an email raffle for customers that would take a survey. The chance of a $250 Amazon gift card gets people to answer your questions!
But to answer your question directly, if you do not clearly know who your customers are - there is no way you’re being effective with your product development or marketing budget. One thing you might try is to ask 5-10 people internally in different orgs who they think your customers are. Chances are - the answers will be all over the place. Package this up and send it to your boss, or your exec team, wherever you have the best influence - and I bet you can make the case to get the budget and time resources you need.
I'd say, start asking questions, especially of the leaders and sales team. Depending on the answers, you may have a really good start to building some personas already. Or you may validate that you don't really know your target audience, and in this case, it would be worthwhile to arm teams with better information. Report back your findings and collaborate with stakeholders to decide whether it's good enough or needs more.
Understanding your buyer persona, and their priorities will help you better understand your ideal customer profile. Your marketing team does not want to waste $ on generating leads that go no where, and your sales team wants leads they can easily convert. Are these complaints that exist at your organization today?
There are only so many budget dollars available. If the problem you solve is not one of the highest priorities of your buyer, then it will make selling challenging, especially in tough times.
Often, the priorities of buyers and champions/users are different. For instance, we just did a survey and found the top priorities of managers compared to the CIO for SaaS management were not aligned.
My advice is to build a hypothesis by looking into your closed won and closed lost opportunities. Who are your buyers and champions? Are they the same in won and lost ops? At a high level, what are the priorities of each persona? Are they vastly different? If so, you hopefully will have enough data to convince your organization to do more research.
As they say, the proof’s in the pudding. If you work with folks who don’t see the value, it’s only once you get people using them and benefitting from them that they’ll be asking for more. In general I think Product Marketing is about using your customer expertise to place smart bets on the places that are going to move the needle. If you have a lot of conviction that personas are needed, you should place that bet.
Alternatively, if you’re not sure of the impact they’ll have, it might be worth prototyping with a single segment or two and getting them into the hands of potential users. To do this, you only need small budget to reward folks for their interview time - a few hundred dollars should get you moving. Once you have a draft persona or two, put them in front of users and ask what they find valuable (or not) and iterate from there. As you have those conversations, find your advocates and ask them to help you build momentum.
The other thing I’d add is that it’s super important that you are VERY specific about how other teams will find value in personas. I’ve found it often doesn’t resonate to just talk about “making personas”.
This really depends on the leadership team and company culture. Some organizations have a culture of "execute and iterate" first, whereas others will like to be more throughout from the beginning. This culture is unlikely to change with the viewpoints of one person, so I recommend choosing the company you work for very wisely!
However, there are ways you can set yourself up for success in any company:
Start talking with customers BEFORE you need to. Chat with 1-2 a week. Enough to get a pulse, but not too much to the point where you can't get your weekly work done.
Compile notes (and record to pull snippets), then highlight some key findings to your manager and product/sales teams. By delivering this value proactively, I promise you'll find key nuggets that make an impact. Then, when you have a big project come up where customer research is needed, you can point to your casual customer interviews and the value you provided from that. Just imagine the value once you kick it into high gear and talk with a specific cohort of users!
There's a lot of reluctance around investing in buyer persona research that comes from a "so what" sort of experience in the past. You're going to have to establish what you want to accomplish with the buyer persona research as well as how to operationalize the research so that it isn't just a deck that sits there collecting dust. Prove that the content strategy requires the buyer persona research. Show that segmentation is proving valuable in email open rates and asset downloads. Show that there needs to be buyer persona segmentation of content and that there are gaps in addressing the audience due to the lack of cross-organization buyer persona knowledge and ownership.
First off, full disclosure, this is what I do for a living, so it is difficult to answer this in a way that is neither biased nor self-serving.
With that out of the way...
Step one, start by being a product marketer. Product marketers spend all day every day answering each buyer's "What's in it for me?" So do the same internally. Build your persona (who's budget this comes from; how high up the approval must be; how the "buyer" will use and benefit from this) and then the business case around it.
Step two, know that the persona is only a starting point, and something most outside product marketing won't care about. What they will care about is what the persona(s) unlock for them. That means taking it to the next level and asking: What can I hand over at the end that will be readily and easily used by the decision-maker? Personally, I find that it is a buyer-specific business case but it may vary.
Step three, if you get stuck, call me (hey, I warned you this could end up biased and self-serving!).
In the Enterprise B2B space, my experience has been the scrappy way. Mostly because I prefer to do it myself, by collaborating with product management and saless. I might spend $$ (if I have) to either buy some strategic research say for example from Forrester, that I did one time. Or to run a custom survey as Mary mentioned above. In the survey I am looking for more than just learning about the person's job, interest, challenges, pain points. I also want to know how their organization is structured for decision making, what other technologies they use etc.
The more important question for me -- how are you presenting the buyer persona information, how will it be leveraged in the sales process, where is it accessible -- for example in SFDC. In my last company, they started using the MEDIPIC model for enterprise sales framework, and ideally you want to align with sales and product teams, what depth and breath of information is needed for the buyer persona, influencers, executives.
I see some product folks producing fancy PDFs of buyer persona which no one has anytime to see, its not used, and it just sits on the portal because PMM wanted to do it :-(...
We just finished our company’s first true Personas project and took clear steps to convince many teams that have never worked with personas before. The most important of which was to call a meeting, present the idea and ask a selection of people from each of the 4 teams that would most use them to quickly come up with the personas (sales, content + growth, customer success and product) they thought made sense. In a quick brainstorm we came up with wildly different answers from each team and even a clear confusion between whether personas should be buyer or user and why. The 2nd step was to ask each team to identify where they used personas in their work or could use them.
From this meeting we walked away from the group with a clear view that personas were needed and not generally understood or agreed on. So we built a proposal to run the interviews in process in house, defined clear objectives and shared with the leaders of these areas. They agreed and we moved forward.
There were only 2 monetary costs involved: 1) paying participants in the survey and 2) printing persona cards for the sales team to use in their daily routine.
For added success we packaged the personas with the new sales deck (4 slightly varied versions) and product packs for the CS team.