The value of interviewing customers when defining buyer personas

Written by Katie Hughes  |  3, August, 2017  |  0 Comments

For any business using an inbound marketing approach, defining buyer personas is an essential first step. Buyer personas are in-depth representations of your ideal customers. They go beyond the demographics of your target audience, and represent their attitudes, behaviours, challenges and aspirations.

Buyer personas are vital for creating content that will resonate with your target audience. Meaning you have a better chance of attracting new prospects, creating new leads, and converting them to customers.

Your sales and marketing teams will know a lot about your customers; the types of roles they are in, what they want to achieve by investing in a product or service like yours, and what the common objections to purchasing are.

But the best way to really understand them, is to speak to them.

While this will require some extra time and resources, we put forward the case that interviewing customers is the key to creating insightful and actionable buyer personas.

Straight from the horse’s mouth

When betting on a horse, the most trusted source for tips are considered those in closest touch with the horse, e.g. the jockey or trainer. The notion ‘straight from the horse’s mouth’ indicates one step better than that inner circle, that is, the horse itself.

A tip straight from the source is foolproof.

It’s the same with defining your personas. By speaking directly to your ideal customers, you get the unfiltered, unedited truth, direct from the source.  

You may be dedicated to wearing your Procurement Phil or Director Darren hat when creating content. But if your persona is based on your business's internal knowledge and experiences alone, can you be sure your content will hit the right mark?

Decision making is complex

The buyers decision making process is complicated. Think back to the Pepsi Challenge. Blind taste tests showed that more people thought Pepsi tasted better than Coca-Cola. And yet, more people continue to buy Coca-Cola than Pepsi.

The point here is that customers don’t just buy for one reason, there are many factors that go into the purchasing decision. Price, features, support, convenience, quality, company reputation, culture fit - they are all likely to be considerations.

You might have an idea of what factors are important to your target audience, but do you understand this at a more granular level? Do you know which of these factors are most important? The deal breakers versus the ‘nice to haves’? You might be focusing your content marketing efforts on tapping into the importance of one of these factors, but actually this may only be a minor consideration, and you’d be best focusing more on something else.

And so often in B2B there will be more than one person involved in the purchasing decision. Do you know who else is involved? While your buyer persona should be focused on one individual, part of understanding them is determining how they fit within the wider business, and who holds the final decision.

Understanding this level of detail will give you a better idea of the challenges your buyers face along the journey, and generate more ideas for content.

The best way to get to this level of granularity, is to speak to your customers directly.

Understanding traits

You may know that your buyers are very active on LinkedIn, and keep up to date with industry newsletters. But do you know what social media posts and blog articles they click on most? Do you know the topics they are most interested in? And what content formats they prefer to engage with? And why?

Speaking to your customers can give you this insight. This depth of understanding will make your buyer persona profiles actionable; you can create content they will want to absorb.

You will also be able to pick up on buzzwords and language they use so you can use these in your content efforts. Buyers will be able to better relate to your content if you speak to them in their language.

It doesn’t have to be onerous

Interviewing customers for your buyer persona development will of course involve some time and resources. But it doesn’t mean speaking to a large, wholly representative sample. It’s a series of telephone interviews, around 30 minutes long, with some of your customers, and ideally prospects, to suss out your personas.

Your existing customer base is the perfect place to start. They’ve already purchased your product and engaged with your product or service. It might be tempting to reach out to only your really happy customers, but you can gain really valuable insight by also speaking to some who are less satisfied.

When it comes to prospects, you can use the data you already have in your CRM about them to identify who might fit your buyer persona. Consider also speaking to “closed - lost” prospects, who chose a competitor product over your own, as they can tell you how and why they decided your solution was not as good as the one they purchased. It’s also useful to speak to those who decided to keep things as they were.

You can compile the knowledge you gain from the interviews with existing internal knowledge, so you can create comprehensive buyer persona profiles from a holistic viewpoint.

Buyer personas are great… except for when they are not. They are an integral part of an inbound methodology, so it’s crucial to get them right. Interviewing your customers and prospects will give you a greater depth and granularity of insight into the behaviours, needs and challenges of your personas. Going direct to the source will take your buyer persona profiles from useful, to powerful.

If you want to find out more about how to interview customers for your buyer personas, download our eBook below.

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