There is a ton of material written about the importance of customer discovery, customer development, market validation, and the like.  If you’ve read any articles about startups or entrepreneurship in the past decade, you will have undoubtedly come across Lean Startups, Agile Methodologies, and Business Model Canvases.These are all great models, and they share many common and complementary traits. But there are a couple of areas that are worth exploring a little more deeply,

One of the common threads in successful startup and marketing literature is the importance of buyer personas. Personas are not a fill-in-the-blank academic exercise. When done right, they will help you dial in your product, your value proposition, your messaging, and your go to market strategy.  

We’ve seen lots of personas created by entrepreneurs, marketers, and agencies. Unfortunately, in many cases, they fall short of actually helping the startup. When you are crafting your personas, keep this question in the back of your mind: how do I get this person actually to buy my solution?

What is a Persona?

As they write over at Hubspot, “A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers.”

Too many times, the persona starts trying to paint the psychographic map of the ideal customer.  “Mary is in her mid-30s, she drops the kids off at daycare before heading to the office where she has a full calendar of meetings and deadlines…”  The only thing missing is that she’s an Aries and enjoys long walks on the beach.

What does most of that rich-but-mostly-made-up-information have to do with the customer’s interest in your solution, or their ability to buy?  Nothing. We all understand that the idea is to make your potential future customers seem more real. That’s fine, but the fluffy stuff shouldn’t be a distraction from the hard questions.  

Important Considerations For Your Persona

1) Personas are based on research.  You need to be out in the wild talking to prospective future customers.  If your personas are or have been written by a bunch of people sitting around a conference room table, whilst sharing ideas on a whiteboard, you should consider that to be a big red flag.  (This might not happen all that often in startups these days, with the pervasiveness of the customer discovery philosophy, but we see it happen often enough it is worth bringing to your attention.

2) To really be helpful, Personas need to dig into that person in their buying environment.  As you are conducting research interviews with your prospective personas (see point 1 above), consider the following points:

Why would they buy?

Chances are they already have a way of accomplishing what you are offering.

If you have an offering that is so much better, what about it would convince them to change the status quo? Explore the pain points: how does the way they are doing it today work. What do they like about it.  What do they wish was different? Can you quantify the impact of the pain? Look for efficiencies, errors, risks, etc.

How would they buy?

In almost all B2B purchase decisions, there is more than one person involved.  Who are the people that would be involved in the buying process? How would the purchase decision be made?  Would there be a formal RFP? Would there be competitive bids? What are the criteria for decision making? Why would the other stakeholders be in favor of your solution?  

Why won’t they buy?

It’s not all sunshine, rainbows, and puppy dogs.  There will be reasons why they will not buy your solution. Now is your chance to play devil’s advocate with them and invite them to tell you the objections and obstacles you are going to encounter in trying to sell the solution.  Explore each one and find out if any of them are show stoppers. IMPORTANT: find out how to get around them.

Example:

Conversational AI software to automate lead followup.  It sounds great on paper. The case studies are compelling. The problem of lack of lead follow up is pervasive in B2B sales & marketing.  The purchase decision is largely contained to the marketing department. But the technology stack in marketing is a tall one. There are a lot of moving pieces and interdependencies.  The reason not to buy (and the reason for a disproportionate percentage of sales losses) was the lack of clarity around HOW the AI solution would fit within the landscape of CRM, Marketing Automation, and Prospecting Automation solutions.  

The Point:

Whichever persona-building template you use, be sure to do two things:  

1) Talk to real people from your target audience. 

2) Include questions that are specific to the reasons and methods of buying.

Last modified: August 4, 2019

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