From Vague to Valuable: Putting Buyer Personas to Work

Jeffrey Russo
Jeffrey Russo



know-customer“You’ve got to know your customer.” It’s a business cliche that has reached fever pitch in the past couple of years. And if it wasn’t 100% true, I’d hesitate to mention it yet again.

The truth is that knowing who your customer is, what they value, what they need, and what it takes to motivate them is so critical that it still bears repeating. (If you’ve ever spent time at a newer company that hasn’t quite found its customers, or a large company that has lost interest or a sense of importance in knowing its customers, then you know this first hand.)

In a noble effort to get to know the customer better, many marketers have turned to creating buyer personas -- archetypes that represent the customers they most commonly encounter. It’s an easy way to put the customer on paper, and socialize the idea inside of your company.

But as useful an exercise creating buyer personas might be, it’s something that has always felt a little nebulous -- still once removed from yielding any practical value. Sure, it’s nice to have that printout of your persona “Chris the CIO” tacked up in the lunchroom. Hopefully you ponder Chris at the outset of important projects, and use him as a guide in making important decisions. But aren’t there other ways to derive real value from the buyer personas you’ve identified?

There are. In fact, personas can help you overcome some of the tougher challenges that you might face as a marketer.

Solving Segmentation With Personas

Segmenting your audience and your database is critically important to delivering targeted, relevant messages to your contacts. It’s also really tough to get right. Maybe it’s just that I’m an organizational freak, but I always have a sliver of self-doubt that I’m segmenting effectively.

There are so many variables to take into account and so many possible ways to approach segmentation that it’s tough to know you're getting it right.

This is one place where personas can really help. At their core, your personas represent the dividing lines between different customers. When done right, they should give you cues on how you should talk to specific contacts, and what you should be talking about. Depending on your business and your breakout of personas, it’s possible that you’ll modify your approach, your language, the terminology you use, and the next steps you offer in your marketing depending on the persona.

Something we’ve found to work particularly well at HubSpot that has formed the basis for our segmentation strategy (and our tools) is segmenting by both persona and lifecycle stage. For us, discerning between a marketer who has expressed interest in our product and a business owner who is interested in educational content on marketing makes a world of difference in our approach (and ultimately, the results we see).

Personas to Map Your Content Strategy

Creating a new piece of content can be a big investment of time, energy, and resources. (If your business is still just starting to embrace the value of inbound marketing and content, it may also not be all that often that the resources to create content are available.) Long story short -- when you're able to make the investment in a significant piece or pieces of content, you obviously want to make sure it has the biggest possible impact.

Again, this is a place that personas can help. Mapping your content against your personas -- and how many leads fall in each persona and lifecycle stage -- can be a great way to prioritize what to create next. If you have 1,000 contacts of persona X who have been sitting at the “lead” stage for a long time and a lack of content to entice them to move to the next stage, that’s your starting point. We’ve recently turned this idea into a first class citizen by creating this as a view in our product -- here's what it could look like:


Keep personas simple to keep them useful.

Another important aspect to consider in actually getting value out of your personas is that they're more likely to get used by you and others in your organization if they are grounded. When you can back up why you’ve defined your personas in the way you have to anyone who should ask, personas are less likely to come off as nebulous.

A great way to do this is to look at the data you may already have on the contacts in your database. Are you already capturing “job role,” “industry,” or a similar piece of information on your forms? It’s concrete evidence about a contact that alludes to their persona, that they actually gave you. The combination of these pieces of data might also make it possible for you to deduce the personas of your existing leads.

The best way to get persona data? Ask.

While you may be able to deduce the persona of leads who are already in your database from details you already have, you’ll need a way to reliably capture accurate data on your contacts’ personas as they convert on your website.

There are a lot of possible ways to do this, but it’s important to get it right. If a persona is being determined by the qualitative assessment of someone on your sales team, or if it’s being determined by some behavioral factor, you may be introducing an element of bias into your data.

Rather than trying to deduce a lead's persona from hints of information, why not just ask them? Maybe it’s a field on a form asking “How would you best describe yourself?” or the click of an option on your website. Khan Academy does a great job of this, actually asking users to bucket themselves based on their role or persona:


That one simple click gives Khan Academy a tremendous amount of insight into who a visitor is, and what their wants, needs, and intentions are likely to be.

When done right, personas can change everything.

There really is no limit to the number of ways in which you can use a set of well-crafted buyer personas. For marketers, they can (and should) dictate the emails you send, the calls-to-action your contacts see, and the website experience they see. For your sales team, it should influence the topics and tone of the conversations they have. If you’ve got a customer service team, it’s useful to them in the same way.

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Topics: Buyer Personas

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