a 8-minute read | Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in September 2019 and has been updated in September 2020 for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
Are you showing the same message to every customer? If your answer is yes, then why? The old attitude of “repeat, repeat, repeat” used to be a definitive rule of advertising – but things have changed. Today, we focus on customer-centric marketing: marketing that puts the consumer at the top of a marketing campaign and work from there. Instead of beating customers over the head with the same message, we go where they already are and try to speak their language.
If you’re still sticking to the old ways, you need to redesign the ways you approach your audience if you’re going to stay ahead of your competitors.
Instead of grouping everyone together into some massive indiscriminate melting pot, you need to break down your audience into different groups and recognizing different segments of your audience for their unique needs and expectations. Once you understand your audience segments, you need to tailor your messages to the specific stage of the Buyer’s Journey that each of those individuals has reached.
You need to tailor your message not just based on the different channels where you communicate with your audience (e.g. email, social media, paid ads, blogs), but also based on the specific actions your customers have taken. These actions will tell you where they are in their journey, whether that’s an initial curiosity to being ready to put cash on the table.
The ROI is simple: The better you communicate with your audience on their terms, the more conversions you get. Today we’ll show you our five-step process for gaining a deep understanding of your audience that will lay a strong foundation for all of your marketing strategies.
Step 1 | Ask the Right Questions
Creating a persona is a little like creating a character – except that it’s based on hard facts instead of imagination. The only way to get those hard facts, and make sure you’re getting a clear picture of your customer, is to ask the right questions.
Every business is unique, and the types of questions you ask need to be relevant to your business, your industry, and your audience. To get you started, you can view 39 questions we think about at Conversion Advocates when we’re gathering data to build customer personas for our clients.
Step 2 | Gather Data in the Right Places
Once you’ve got your list of questions, the next step is to find the right people to answer them. First-person data is a great place to start. This data comes from customer behavior patterns on your website, survey responses, verbatim quotes, and other self-reported sources.
Here are some of the top first-person data sources we use when we’re building customer personas for our clients.
Behavior patterns on your website can provide deep insight into the needs and interests of your audience. Data points, like traffic sources, page visits, page views, time on site, and bounce rates can serve as solid starting points for understanding your audience’s consumption patterns.
Pro Tip: Combine this quantitative data with qualitative data; for example, heat mapping software, which visually maps where people are clicking on a page, or scroll mapping software, which maps how far people are scrolling down the page. Now you’ve already got some basic vital stats on where your users are spending their time.
Social Media Discussions
People love to talk about themselves; if you ask the right questions in the right way, you’ve got a free survey that can offer deep insights. Some social networks of choice for us include Reddit.com and Quora.
Discussions With Your Sales Team
Your employees are on the front lines, which means they can bring you detailed insights about how your leads are behaving, how your customers get talked into converting, and why your returning customers come back. Make sure your people are dialoguing openly with every lead, whether they convert or not
Interviews With Customers
It doesn’t get much more first-person than this! Talk with your customers about how they found you, what their problem was, what made them hesitate before buying, and why they changed their minds.
Step 3 | Segment Your Audience
Once you’ve gathered as much data as possible from the sources above, it’s time to start assembling those quantitative and qualitative points into unified customer personas.
The number of personas you create depends on the number of distinct audiences you’re trying to target. Remember that, just because someone holds a different job or position within an organization, that doesn’t necessarily mean their needs or buying requirements are different.
Personas are descriptions of behaviors and the reasons behind them. That means the number of distinct audiences you’re targeting – and the number of personas you should create – equals the number of distinct customer behavior patterns you see in your data.
For each buyer segment, try and give as complete a picture as you can. Use the questions you created in Step One and the answers you collected in Step Two to create your personas. Feel free to answer in bullet points wherever you find it helpful. Don’t be afraid to ramble – there’s no such thing as too much information and you can always cut it down later. Eventually, each of your buyer segments should look something like this:
Note: This is a fictional Buyer Segment based on a B2B SaaS company that sells lead management software to law firms.
Hi, I’m George. 👨💼
Position: Business Development Manager
Company: ABC Law Firm
- Increase business for the firm
- Improve the firm’s position against the competition
- Demonstrate his value to his managers and the firm directors
- Gain more recognition, respect, and responsibility within the firm
- Increase his salary
Goals that affect buying behavior:
- Looking to increase business for the firm: he’s looking for the latest trends within his industry.
- Securing a better position against the competition: he’s keeping an eye on what competitors are doing.
- Demonstrating value to firm owners: he needs to be confident about the results and potential gains before presenting something to his team/
- Gaining more recognition, responsibility, respect at the firm: he’s actively looking for opportunities to prove himself.
- Know they need help managing new accounts and leads
- Have a specific budget in mind
- Understand custom software costs money
- Have a vision for what they want
- Satisfied with the status quo
- Online software is complicated
- Older staff may be more resistant to adopt new technology
- How much it’s going to cost
- What is their level of involvement
- How much control do they have over the software
- What is going to be the return – how much value are they going to get
- How much of their business is going to be affected
- Ability to “test” software before committing long-term
- Too expensive
- Need to consider alternatives
- Need to discuss with other stakeholders
Potential reasons they don’t choose you:
- Went with lower-cost option
- Want to do it, but can’t afford it
- Decided that it’s not critical for the business today and will continue with the status quo
- Onboarding would be complex
Unspoken reasons that impact their decisions:
- Don’t trust what you’re saying
- Don’t understand what you’re saying; perhaps it’s too technical
- They don’t like or connect with your company on a personal level
- Industry blogs, forums, professional communities, LinkedIn
- Networking events
- Firm partners
- Industry standards
Information requirements throughout the buying journey:
- Interest – They want to know industry-related trends, tips, news, updates
- Evaluation – They want to read more about your company and what you do
- Consideration – They want proof and examples of success with businesses in their industry
- Commitment – They want to see a clear plan, budget, timeline for the project
- Conversion – They want clear communication and transparency of progress. Hard numbers and verifiable results.
- Satisfaction – They want to maintain relationship and communication, ability to reach out for help if required, continued advice, and engagement for improving business after project is complete.
Once again, this is a sample of the kinds of information you could include in a Buyer Persona analysis. Remember that every business is unique, and the types of questions you ask need to be relevant to your business, industry, and audience. You might not need to include some information we have here; you might also need to add new areas. Make this template and our questions work for you and your business.
Step 4 | Map Out Your Buyers’ Journey
By now you should have a clear (or at least clearer) picture of your buyer’s goals, mindsets, buying requirements, and informational needs, as well as a sense of who they are in terms of character.
Now it’s time to map out the Buyer’s Journey of each of your buyer segments and discover the best way to communicate with them at different stages within that journey. The messages and calls-to-action you put in front of your audiences need to reflect their needs at the particular stages of the Buyer’s Journey that they’ve reached.
Here’s a quick summary of the six stages of your Buyer’s Journey:
For each stage of your Buyer’s Journey, you need to list out your customers’ goals, desires, and expectations, as well as the channels where you can find those specific customers. This might seem like a lot of work right now – and that’s because it is. But your buyer persona documents are going to turn into some of the most vital, useful resources you have in your marketing arsenal. It’s some heavy-lifting now that will pay off for you later.
Step 5 | Track. Execute. Adjust.
Congratulations! If you’ve made it this far, then you’ve got actionable descriptions of the way each audience segment behaves, and what they each want during different stages of their buying journey. A lot of the hard work is already behind you.
Now it’s time to start implementing your plan. Before you pull the trigger on any of your marketing investments, here are some important considerations.
Plan the Order in Which You’ll Implement Your Investments
Would you drive to the airport without knowing where you’re flying to? Probably not (unless you’re super adventurous!) Even if are an adventurer, you probably don’t want to be taking similar risks with your marketing spend. Before you invest a single dollar, create a flowchart of the connections between each of your marketing activities, and plan out the order in which you’re going to implement them. This will also help you make sure you’re prioritizing critical marketing activities first.
Sometimes you have to choose which marketing activity you’ll prioritize. When this happens to us, we evaluate each investment based on three criteria:
- Potential: How big is the potential return on investment (ROI) and how much does it cost?
- Importance: Is this a critical activity that needs to be completed before moving on to anything else?
- Ease: How easy and quickly can we implement the changes?
With the answers to those questions in hand, you’ll be well-equipped to put your priorities in order.
Create an Analytics Tracking Plan
A detailed analytics plan will help you keep track of what’s working and what’s not. This plan should explain what information you need to capture, why it’s valuable, and how it’s going to help in future decision making.
Many good blog posts have been written on this subject over the years (one definitely worth reading is Avinash Kaushik’s post). Google also provides a number of good resources on the subject, for example here, or at the Analytics Academy.
Focus on Continuous Improvement
The only way to push your marketing in the right direction is by continuously evaluating, testing, and tracking your results and assumptions – and making every improvement you can think of. Remember that every improvement you make is an opportunity to make a sale and increase revenue.
Do you have any questions or an interesting customer story you’d like to share? We’d love to hear about it!
If you ever need help, we’re here for you.