One of the biggest paradigm shifts in the business world is the change from traditional, outbound marketing to the inbound marketing.  This evolution is due to widespread access to information, use of technology, and change driven by millennial values.  As a result, the inbound methodology focuses heavily on the buyer’s journey.  Although there are a few different schools of thought regarding the buyer’s journey (not to mention the rapid change in how consumers engage with brands) there are plenty of resources available to get you started.

This blog post is part of Your Definitive Guide to Lead Generation blog series.

Before you can map out your own business’s buyer’s journey, you have to first create your buyer personas. One of the leaders of inbound marketing, Hubspot, accurately summarizes how they think about personas:

A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers.

In other words, you are trying to get to know your ideal customer better.  Tony Zambito also has a very interesting take on buyer personas.  He likes to think about them in more of a storytelling format: who buyers are, what they are trying to accomplish, what goals drive their behavior, how they think, how they buy, why they make buying decisions, where they buy, and when they decide to buy.

Although not quite as concise, this description is a little friendlier and digestible for the average marketer.  If you can accurately answer those questions, usually you are on the right path to developing a buyer persona. 

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Buyer personas have always had a lot of “synonyms.”  Avatars, target market, and target audience have all been used interchangeably in the past.  It is important to point out that these “synonyms” typically have slightly different connotations, so be careful how you use those terms.  These aforementioned terms align more with “demographic” or “socioeconomic” information instead of the deeper holistic psychographic descriptors.

Read on to get answers to the most common questions that occur when building buyer personas.


1. How do I start my persona research?

Engulf yourself in the business.  Engage with anything that you can find related to the business you are building a persona for.  Attend webinars, go to tradeshows, sign up for newsletters… you get my point.  The more information you can surround yourself with, the more you will have to draw from.

I will often start of my persona research with a simple Google search.  You can find out a lot of good information about what Google sees is important from a strategic keyword search.  In addition, you can look at the paid advertisements (usually in the sidebar or at the top of the page) to see the messaging company’s are paying for others to see.  Many times it is interesting to analyze the difference between the paid and organic results. 

We talk about buyer persona research in the Buyer Personas series; check it out here!

Beyond what you can gather online, it is usually helpful to supplement secondary research with primary research.  If you are able, interview current long-standing customers, talk to salespeople, and even conduct some field research if it calls for it.


2. How do I segment personas?

Our final persona output has several different subcategories.  Challenges, common objections, demographic information, and marketing messaging are all commonly outlined as part of the final personas.  One of the most important subsections we use in determining whether or not to use different is the marketing messaging.  What this means is if you are talking to potential customers in different ways, then they likely should be separate personas.  I don’t care if they have the same age, name, occupation, and experience, if they need to communicate with your brand differently, then usually two personas are required.


3. How many personas should I have?

This is a tough one, because there is no concrete answer that will work for every business.  Often times, using fewer personas is easier because you are able to have a more concise brand message.  It is impossible to be everything to everyone, so a lot of times creating a hierarchy of personas is helpful.  If you have a long list of personas, try to start with what you consider to be your three most important personas, and then see how your business performs.  You can always add more if needed.


4. What is the difference between a sales and a marketing persona?

Sales and marketing alignment is becoming increasingly more important.  The buyer’s journey has evolved so that the sales portion of the journey comes much later than it used to.  Studies have shown that up to 70% of the purchase decision has been made before somebody even gets in front of a salesperson.

Marketing personas need to be created for marketing activities and sales personas for sales activities.  However, both can learn from the other.  Let’s say you’re in middle management for a company that’s looking for project management software. Your CEO tasks you to go and find three different solutions for you to present to him to make a decision.  In this example you are the marketing persona, your CEO is the sales persona.


5. What are negative personas?

Negative personas are potential customers that your company should look to avoid.  Over the course of any business, you learn who has the highest lifetime value to your company and who you should probably avoid in the future.  Negative personas should be documented, so that everyone on your team can be on the same page.

Personas are a foundational part of any business, and well-built personas can directly influence your company’s ability to generate revenue.  Are you looking to build personas for the first time or improve ones that already exist? If so, watch our on-demand webinar to learn how to build buyer personas for attracting, engaging, converting, and delighting your audience.


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