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How Kristine developed a great buyer persona

I recently reviewed twenty-four buyer personas produced by four product marketing teams. While most  needed a lot more work, Kristine’s was exceptional.

I didn’t know the story I’m about to share with you when I reviewed Kristine's work. As none of the people assigned to the project had any previous experience developing personas, I imagined that Kristine might have had previous work experience as an IT Architect, the buyer persona she was assigned to develop. Or maybe she was married to someone in this position, or had a close friend or colleague who gave her an advantage over her colleagues.

All these assumptions were wrong. Kristine simply did better work than her colleagues. When we sat down with the team to review Kristine’s persona, here’s what she told us about her approach:

  • Her first step was to search online job boards for companies looking to hire IT Architects. This gave her a bit of insight into the experience and other expectations that hiring managers had for this role.
  • That led her to a few technical requirements — she learned that hiring companies were focusing on the IT Architect's experience with SOA and ITIL, technologies she had heard of but didn’t know well. So she did web searches to learn more about those technologies. Note that Kristine is not a a very technical person, but that didn't stop her from taking an interest in a topic that was critically important to her buyer persona.
  • The web searches led to some interesting papers, plus several conferences that were targeting the IT Architect. So Kristine reviewed the conference agendas to learn about the aspects of those technologies that were most interesting to her buyer persona

Only now did Kristine feel like she was ready to talk to some IT Architects. When I talked to Kristine’s colleagues, they had skipped these preliminary online research steps. Many had also found it difficult to secure interviews. But Kristine easily found people by:

  • Using her LinkedIn network to get introduced to a few people
  • Sorting through her stack of business cards to find people who could introduce her to someone in that role
  • Posting a request on two of the online forums that she participates in

These steps led to interviews with five people who were willing to talk to Kristine about their priorities, goals and frustrations. She asked a lot of probing questions, typing as she listened, capturing quotes and key thoughts. Most people would be better off taping the call or having someone else take notes, but Kristine’s background as a journalist prepared her to simultaneously think about interesting areas to pursue with her questions, listen for the most relevant data, and take good notes.

Finally, Kristine organized her notes from the five interviews by subject, scanning for patterns in the responses. When she wrote up her persona document her findings were communicated through short, pithy, colorful statements, each summarized with a heading that made it easy to identify the focus of that section. She included quotes that turned statements that might otherwise be meaningless — like “leads key business initiatives” — come alive with examples and references to specific issues that frustrate the IT Architect’s attempts to succeed on those initiatives.

Based solely on reading the buyer persona Kristine wrote up, I had already decided to present her with an iPad for the best buyer persona on the team. Now that I know how she produced that result, I’m wondering how to get other people to take the steps that came so naturally to her.

Comments

  1. Aaron says:

    Thank you for the tips! I had few questions, though, if you don’t mind:
    Can you tell us about how long it took Kristine to complete the personas using these steps?
    Also, do you feel you got a representative sample using 5 interviews?
    How did Kristine “qualify” the interviewees before setting up the interviews?
    Thanks in advance for your feedback!

  2. Kristine (yes, really) says:

    I frequently design user personas for websites and applications, and often must clarify the difference between marketing personas and user personas for my clients. What is the difference between marketing and buyer personas?

  3. Bruce Olsen says:

    Would it be possible for you to share the buyer persona Kristine developed–anonymized as necessary?
    Thanks!

  4. Aaron — Kristine says she spent about ten hours on this project, beginning to end. Five interviews is enough to give us some insight into the buyer persona, but if we were making critical decisions based on the persona we would want to do more, and for complete confidence we would follow up with a quantitative survey to validate our findings.
    The only qualification she used for the interviews was that the person she was interviewing was in the role of senior IT architect in an enterprise company. Had our persona been more narrowly defined (such as in a particular industry) she would have added that qualifier.

  5. In response to “the other Kristine’s” question about user personas, those personas are developed to guide design decisions for a product. Alan Cooper, author of “The Inmates are Running the Asylum” wrote the book on user personas in 1999, and many development teams have adopted his excellent recommendations. When product developers build user personas, their products are more apt to be easy for real users to use.
    Buyer personas, on the other hand, are only built for the user of the product when the user is also the buyer. B2C products are usually purchased by the user, and thus the buyer persona and the user persona could be developed for the same person. But the buyer persona for that user would focus exclusively on the buying motivations and buying process, rather than the usability issues.
    In B2B companies, it is frequently true that the users are not the buyers at all.
    In any event, the content of the buyer persona document is completely different than the content of the user persona document.

  6. Unfortunately Kristine’s company would never permit us to share the persona with you. None of the insights in that document are about her product or company, so there is nothing to “anonymize.” Instead, all of the content in that persona is a source of competitive advantage to Kristine’s company — they now have a better understanding of the IT architect’s priorities and frustrations. They certainly wouldn’t want that information to be available to anyone else.

  7. Forget sharing Kristine’s persona. Give us her contact details! We should all want to hire people like her…

  8. Luke Faccini says:

    That is an awesome process. Noted and will definitely use it! Well done Kristine.

  9. Always be the first to congratulate an opponent who succeeds, the last to criticize a colleague who fails.

  10. Kristine, really has some leadership quality’s. Thanks for sharing this informative article.

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