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Tanya CandiaTips of the Trade

Personas are vital to the success of a product and of a sales effort. A persona – a somewhat fictional character that personifies the ideal customer – is often discussed in marketing circles, but many companies skip the step of defining the persona since they think they know the audience. If sales have already been made to a number of organizations, it’s easy to gather up the info available– the job titles, what they told your sales reps during the sales process about problems and pain. Voila: there are your personas.

But it’s often the case that, rather than selling to them, they purchased from you. In other words, they were self-motivated, they sought out your solution, and they purchased it – all without disclosing their true motivation, what other alternatives they researched, or who else in the organization played a role in the process. And you don’t have access to other vitally important information: where do they spend their time when visiting websites – including your own? Where do they look for information? What resources do they trust? What are the biggest problems they face? How important are price, customer support, the sales process itself in their buying process?

Experience shows it is worthwhile to invest the time to develop solid personas, to help not just in product development but also to assist marketing in creating outreach, and to help sales people understand the motivations and buying behaviors of their prospects. Personas can be developed by, first, talking to current customers (or prospects, for early stage companies.) Offer a small incentive, if needed, and talk to them one-on-one. Just a few questions and a few interviews are enough to start disclosing patterns that can help you understand the real motivations, concerns and constraints. Second, look at the data in your CRM. If you are asking enough questions during the sales process, and recording the answers, you can see patterns. If not, it’s time to make changes in how you collect data.  Don’t neglect the advice of industry analysts and specialists who focus on your industry and target market: there may be insights you can glean from their opinions. This work is sometimes best handled by an independent third party, where the prospects will be more likely to be open about their true feelings, and the researcher is free of other conflicting time constraints and priorities.

Don’t expect the personas will stay static forever. Although the fundamentals probably won’t change, as markets mature you will need to re-evaluate. It’s enough to use a simple feedback form after a purchase is made. However, when making a big change such as redesigning a website, launching a marketing campaign, or bringing a new product to market, it’s worth the effort to reach out again to talk one-on-one with the buyers and prospects. Re-evaluate personas, refine them, and make sure you bring common user needs to the forefront. Make sure you understand where you fit in your customers’ world, where you add value, and how your solutions makes them better off.

About the Author

Tanya Candia is the author of several engineering and marketing books, including the five-book series “Starting Your Startup” published by IEEE. She has held senior executive positions in technology companies, and works with organizations around to world to develop and implement winning strategies.

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