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What information sources do you use to create buyer/user personas?

5 Answers
Mary Sheehan
Mary Sheehan
Adobe Head of Lightroom Product MarketingSeptember 14

Great question. When creating buyer personas, you’re ideally using data from current, prospective, and churned customers to create archetypes of your buyers. The goal is to understand more about your customers, design better products, create better marketing programs, and arm your sales team with the best talking points.

 

The problem is, most personas suck!  The ones I see most often have demographic info only (e.g. “Marketing Mary is 32, has a BA in Communication, and lives in a large city) or are really generic (e.g. “She’s hoping to increase her MQLs this year.”) Are these helpful? Not really.

 

Understanding customer motivations is the key to better personas. I recommend surveying or interviewing 25 or so people and really trying to understand their motivations for using your product, or a product like yours. This will help you create much better personas. 25 sounds like a lot, but if you can train other team members, you can accomplish this quickly. Some questions to ask to uncover motivations:

  • What were the real pain points they had that led them to buy your product? 
  • What were the alternatives to your product? 
  • How did they get budget to buy this? 

 

Talking to existing and - even better - churned customers will give you the best insights. I wrote a blog post that dives deeper into this, and talks about a helpful framework to follow - “Jobs to Be Done” if you’re interested in learning more: https://yourgotomarketer.com/2017/05/01/why-traditional-personas-are-terrible-and-how-to-make-them-better/

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Morgan (Molnar) Lehmann
Morgan (Molnar) Lehmann
SurveyMonkey Senior Director, Head of Product & Solutions MarketingMarch 24

We just went through this exercise at Momentive, focusing specifically on building buyer persona "packs" – a collection of materials to help our broader organization understand our target personas. Depending on your project timeline, you'll likely want to conduct a blend of primary and secondary research as well as both quantitative and qualitative research. Quantitative research (industry reports, surveys, etc) can provide great stats, but qualitative research (interviews, recorded calls) is where you'll understand even more context about your buyers.

Sources to help you prioritize which personas to focus on:

  • Industry reports where you might find stats about your industry's TAM, you may also find intel about the top buyers.
  • Your own customer database, segmented by spend level, purchase frequency, or renewal rate.
  • A market segmentation study - especially important if you are earlier stage and your customer database won't reflect the potential opportunity.

Sources to help you create buyer personas:

  • Existing research that's been done at your company - this could be UX research, brand health studies, pricing interviews, etc.
  • Customer & prospect interviews - the best source of information is directly from the mouth of a real buyer. At Momentive, we use usertesting.com and respondent.io to recruit non-customers for interviews; we leverage our Customer Success team to get in touch with existing happy (and unhappy!) customers.
  • Market research surveys - by surveying a representative sample of your target buyers, you can easily quantify top challeges, pain points, and purchase drivers. I'm #blessed at Momentive to have our own survey platform & integrated panel (including B2B targeting) for this: momentive.ai/insights/
  • Recorded customer calls: We're big fans of gong.io to listen to sales calls with our target buyers. Discovery calls are the best for teasing out context/challenges/pain.
  • Job descriptions: this is a sneaky one, but I love browsing LinkedIn job descriptions for specific titles so you can start to understand the nuances in responsibilities/ownership across different roles in a department.
  • Win/Loss analyses: great for getting insight into why you win. If you don't already, I'd recommend making win/loss fields mandatory in your sales CRM.
  • Internal experts: Selling to IT? Interview your own CIO. Selling to marketing? Interview your own marketing leaders. Sometimes they're the best sources
  • A good ol' Google search using top keywords can help you see which sites/publications are serving content to your target buyers, to know where your buyers can go for education/information.
  • Industry organization sites or publications can reveal hot topics your buyers care about

In my experience, buyer personas are most impactful for aiding strategy for marketing, sales, and product prioritization. Once you get deeper into product design and UX copywriting, user personas become much more critical. Most of the sources I've stated above would be great for generating user personas, espeically 1:1 interviews. You would focus your questioning and documentation less around the buyer journey/decision making and more about their expectations/needs for the product itself.

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Bonnie Chiurazzi
Bonnie Chiurazzi
Glassdoor Director of Market InsightsSeptember 27

There are a few different ways to go about creating personas (which may be more closely aligned to “archetypes” or “segments” depending on the terminology your organization uses). The way you source the data largely depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. But the short answer is you can use qualitative data, quantitative data, or a mix of both. Either way, you’ll usually get the best results with primary research data - data you collect as opposed to insights you find in published research.

Methodology:

  1. Using qualitative data is a good choice if:
    1. Your target audience is difficult to reach (e.g. HR professionals or executives of large companies)
    2. You don’t have the budget or tools to conduct quantitative research
    3. You already have a strong sense of who your user/buyers are and are looking for a deeper, richer understanding of these folks
    4. You need to complete the research on a short timeline
  2. Using quantitative data is a good choice if:
    1. You want to better understand the total addressable market (TAM), which kinds of attitudes, wants and needs make each segment unique, and which segments are most aligned with your offerings
    2. You want to learn more about your existing user base by leveraging behavioral data (e.g. platform usage or purchase behavior), and segment them into groups based on their behavioral patterns
    3. You have the resources and time to fully develop the research methodology to accurately meet your needs

Research Objectives:

  1. You’ll also want to consider your primary research objectives. Are you looking for personas that will primarily impact current or future strategic initiatives? Which teams will be leveraging these personas? Will they need to be operationalized in a way that will include algorithms and formulas to track their behavior?
    1. Whether quantitative or qualitative, personas that are primarily based on attitudes, wants, and needs tend to be more future-focused because they highlight unmet needs and areas of opportunity. If your goal is to grow your user base or create new, innovative products, this is a good place to start.
    2. Personas that are rooted in current behavior help optimize for the present and shorter term strategies. For example, if you’re creating presonas to learn more about your most engaged users, or users of a particular product, this could be a good place to start.

Protips:

  1. Bonnie’s (Director of Market Insights) Pro tip: Prioritize the jobs to be done with your personas. If it only does one thing well, what should that thing be and who will leverage it the most?
  2. Patti’s (Head of Consumer PMM) Pro tip: Get the most out of your personas by engaging all potential stakeholders before you finalize your research plan.
  3. Sophia’s (Product Marketing Lead) Pro tip 3: Use what you have! Get scrappy and connect with whichever teams have the best access to your target audience (e.g. sales, customer service, data science, UX, market research, PMM, etc.). Take initiative to get in touch with customers, work with teams that have dedicated research resources (like UX and market research).
  4. (For more, check out our answer to the question about persona framework!)
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Lisa Dziuba
Lisa Dziuba
Lemon.io Head of Growth Product MarketingAugust 1

When I was running user research for Abstract SDK, my product marketing team used 11 sources of getting research data for forming user personas.

It included

  • Zendesk tickets from the support team,

  • insights from chatting with potential users

  • insights from competitors' research

  • all Google Analytics data,

  • insights from our design advocates and sales team,

  • as well as data from the analytics team.

When working on power user research with Lemon.io, my team found an unbelievable amount of useful information in

  • Hubspot records,

  • sales calls,

  • internal dashboards,

  • and notes from customer success and sales teams.

It’s quite possible that someone in the company has already run some research or knows where to find insights about customers. Using all that secondary data will optimize research effort and speed up the process.

319 Views
Daniel Palay
Daniel Palay
KPI Sense Chief Executive OfficerMarch 1

Mary's answer is very good, and comprehensive, and many would do well to simply follow it. For those who enjoy a slightly more spirited debate on the nuances of persona development, I'm going to disagree on a few finer points (in the spirit of sparking a robust discussion!). First, where I absolutely, 100%, agree:

Most personas SUCK. They typically come off as a hybrid of an emoji and a Pixar character and tell us NOTHING. I also couldn't agree more that understanding motivations should be the keystone of any persona. 25 also seems like a pretty good number, assuming you have anywhere between four and six different stakeholders you're looking to profile and want to figure out what is "typical" of each.

Now, here's where my views and approach depart from hers (and something we'll hopefully discuss further on here):

First, I don't care one iota between current, prospective, former and non customers. What I care about is a representative sample that will give me the most unbias view of what "typical" looks like for each stakeholder. 

Second, I think we differ in how we define "motivations." To me, it's less about what draws them to one product or another, and more about what incentives they respond to. Any good profile will account for this, because in the marketplace, the product most aligned with buyers' incentives will win.

Finally, I want to talk to them about every except my client's product. Why? I don't want to immediately bias the conversation towards the importance of that product/category, since I have no idea how often/intensely they think about it. I want to know what they do think most about, because that can inform product positioning.

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