Why Everyone at Your Company Needs to Fall in Love with Personas

By Jonathan Lucky Personas have been invaluable at helping everyone at my company to more deeply understand the goals, aspirations and beliefs of our customers and potential customers. Yet I’ve been challenged at times on the need to incorporate personas into our business process. So what’s not to love about personas—composite profiles of archetypal customers? Often the push back comes from my associates—whether they’re executives, sales people or marketing professionals—who feel that they already understand our customers. And they have a point, they all talk to the market. But they all talk to part of the market, and so they see part of the picture. The goal of personas is to create and share the full story. But their insights still have value and so I ask for their data. I test it, and if it holds up, I build it into the personas. If they’re wrong, I counter with my own data. In my role as champion of personas at our company, my biggest misstep, however, was not getting enough stakeholder buy-in early on in the process. I needed to sell key decision-makers on the value of personas and I didn’t do that at first. Today, I’ve got a standard pitch: “I have a project for us to get unprecedented market intelligence that’s going to strengthen our product roadmap for the next five years.” That gets them interested. Once I secure stakeholder buy-in, the research begins. Personas are the product of both quantitative and qualitative research. Quantitative research includes surveys, industry analyses, geographic data, demographic data and other metrics. But qualitative data is at the heart of a persona. I get out of the office and interview in their place of business two to three customers a month. That’s a tall order considering all my other responsibilities, but the interviews always produce remarkable insights. I speak to both buyers and end-users as their perspectives will differ. Potential customers—many unaware of their need for our product—should also be interviewed. They’re the largest market segment. I arm myself with at least 10 good questions. One of my favorites is: “When you leave work at the end of the day, how do you want to feel?” The answer could point to a customer’s penchant for completing tasks on time and on budget, which might become an important thread in the short narrative I’ll develop for that persona. I often ask customers to describe something that drives them crazy. Answers have included unreliable servers, the lack of good job candidates or a workload that keeps them from making it home in time to have dinner with their kids. Back at my office, I like to describe to a colleague the information I collected from my subject. It helps me gather my thoughts before I write up a report. To ensure that the people I interviewed reflect the sentiments of the larger market, I develop a short survey of customers and prospects that tests against the qualitative data. If the interviews and the survey are way off, I’ll go back and interview other people in the market. I want to be absolutely certain my data is reliable. With both the qualitative and quantitative data in hand, I begin my analysis. I collect the insights, write them on sticky notes and press them to a board and look for themes and patterns. For example, let’s say simplicity emerges as a theme. I might be able to drive messaging around that insight. Or I may see that people expressed frustration with products or systems that require them to spend an extra 20 hours a week in the office. But 20 hours is only a stat. The real human story is that a customer can rarely make it home for dinner. That insight may become a key point in a persona’s short narrative. The narrative could underscore the persona’s desire to use a product so simple and efficient that it allows him or her to make it home for dinner. The vignette, cast in very human terms, becomes a focal point of the persona. A typical persona also features a photo, the persona’s likes and dislikes and demographic information such as the persona’s age or age range, level of education, role at the company and location. Personas should not be shunted away to a shared drive—never to be seen again like a dense, 50-page research report. They should be embedded into the business process across your company. If personas are done right, everyone at your company will come to love them. At the very least, they won’t be able to live without them. To learn more about how to create narrative-driven personas to enhance your selling process, listen to my webinar: “Getting the Whole Company to Fall in Love with Your Personas.” Jonathan Lucky is scrum master at Perform Group where he is responsible for coaching product and development teams. He is also former head of branding and product strategy at ChristianSteven Software where he conducted much of his persona research. 

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