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How to Create Meaningful Buyer Personas for the Buyer's Journey

How to Create Meaningful Buyer Personas for the Buyer's Journey

By Stephanie HawkinsJun 25 /2013

You’re not a mindreader, and you shouldn’t have to be. Yes, you need to understand your buyers and what they need from you, but you don’t have to get that information from surveys or focus groups. Actually, you shouldn’t.

Mapping content to the buyer’s journey is a big project and a lot of work. It’s also one of the single most important things companies can do to stay relevant and continue to grow. As a marketer, if you take this project on and do it well, you could very well emerge to be the CEO’s hero.

In this six-part series, I’m going to help you understand buyer personas and how to create content for the buyer’s journey. To make the process more manageable, I’m going to walk you through it step by step, from Awareness, to Consideration, Decision, Support and Retention.

So, let’s dive in: What is the buyer’s journey and why does it matter?

The buyer’s journey is a way to understand the buyer’s mindset. It’s a model for understanding what gets buyers from “Who is this company?” to “I want to buy what they’re selling!” and then, even further, to “I want to buy it again and again!” to “I want to tell all my friends I bought it!”

How can you understand the buyer’s journey? Well (warning: jargon ahead), that involves creating buyer personas based on buyer roles and pain points for each stage of the buyer’s journey. The truth is, this is the part where things get more than a little complicated. Why? Let’s discuss.

  • First, different buyer personas are involved at different stages of the journey. The person who initially fills out a form on your website might not have the authority to actually buy your product. That means you’ll need to create content for different buyer personas at different stages of the journey.
  • Obviously, that’s going to take some time.
  • And yes, it’s also going to take some serious critical thinking. You’ll need to be an investigator, researcher and information collector. (But you’ll be investigating, researching and collecting information that will bring you leads, sales and lifelong customers! So, there’s some good news, too.)
  • Finally, this is a process you’ll need to repeat. How often? A good rule of thumb is once a year. Why? People change, needs change, technology changes...and your company changes, too. Though the maintenance of your buyer personas might seem like a low priority activity, treating it that way is a mistake.

Now that you’re ready to create buyer personas for each stage of the buyer’s journey, where do you start? To get some guidance, I turned to the experts. Here’s what they said.

  1. Adele Revella, founder of The Buyer Persona Institute, recommends interviewing “the person who did most of the work.” In this case, that’s the member of buying team who did most of the digging and explained your product or service to everyone else. This might be someone in a mid-level position—not the end user, but a consultant to or manager of the end user.
  2. Christine Crandell suggests interviewing more than one person to get a clearer picture of the buyers you’ll be interacting with at each stage. Obviously, this depends on your marketing department’s capacity, but if you can manage it, do multiple interviews.

  3. Don’t automatically use someone from marketing to conduct your interviews. The best buyer persona researchers aren’t necessarily marketing people. Instead, look for someone who’s naturally curious, comfortable with complexity and quick on the uptake. Tony Zambito has a degree in anthropology, and he and I talked about how valuable that kind of background is to the buyer persona development process. If you don’t have the right talent internally, consider hiring a consultant or journalist to do the interviews.

Before you start interviewing your buyers, let’s talk about one last thing—what buyer personas are NOT.

Buyer personas are not demographic profiles. You’re not interested in how many kids your buyer has or which magazines he reads. You’re interested in his behavior as it relates to your products or services.

Buyer personas are also not guesses or assumptions about who your target buyers are. You’re looking for the real buyer, not who you think the real buyer might be. Prepare for surprises. What you find out might be game-changing. That’s why-as tempting as it might be to use surveys and focus groups, etc-it’s worth it to do one-on-one interviews. Conversations are the best way to find out what happened before, during and after the buying process.

If this seems like a lot of information, hang in there. I’ll be back soon with more about the first stage of the buyer’s journey: Awareness.

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The Author

Stephanie Hawkins

Stephanie has 10+ years of experience creating quality content for innovative software and healthcare companies. She is passionate about using interviews and journalistic techniques to create content that truly resonates with target audiences. Stephanie lives and works in Raleigh, NC.