Creating Customer Personas

Just like the user personas used in product development, customer (or buyer) personas are a shorthand profile for the set of people who might eventually buy your product. The difference is the focus: instead of focusing on activities inside the product, a customer persona answers two questions: who’s holding the credit card, and what problems will motivate her to swipe it?

What belongs in a customer persona

Before we look at what goes into your persona, let’s talk about what doesn’t.

  • a name or profile photo
  • an extensive biography (cum laude from Stanford… or was it Harvard?)
  • demographic features (age, sex, ethnicity, etc.)
  • any other details that aren’t relevant to their buying decision (how many cars will fit in their garage)

If you’re selling to consumers or to businesses where these details matter (you’re a mustache wax wholesaler, say) you can include them. But time spent finding the perfect stock image photo for your pencil-sketch persona is time you don’t have for everything else.

Like their professional profile:

  • what’s their role?
  • what industry(s) do they work in?
  • how big is their business?
  • what responsibilities and duties are front of mind?

And the acute pain that your product or service relieves:

  • what problem[s] can you help them solve today?
  • do they face adjacent problems that could create future opportunities?

You may have reasonable answers for these already based on interviews, analytics, or your own professional experience. If you don’t, you can still construct a best-guess persona based on your own good judgment. You’re in business to do something, right? If you’re scratching your own itch, what is it? And who else is feeling it too?

Refining the persona

That’s a first draft, but the persona isn’t done. As you study your early adopters, you’ll build a more complete picture of who they are and what drove them to look for, evaluate, and adopt your product or service? These may not be the same problems that you originally imagined, and that’s OK! You’re in listening mode, and it’s always better to lean into what’s working—adjusting the persona accordingly—than to move heaven and earth bringing anyone around to your existing point of view.

Expect to invest meaningful time here, too. The pain that prompts someone to click a subject line or start an Internet search may represent a deeper problem they can’t even articulate yet. Teasing these out takes more work (and patience) than selling band-aids for the symptom, but a novel solution to an unrecognized problem can be the basis for remarkable growth.

But even if the first pass is off the mark (spoiler: it will be), providing some definition around who you’re selling to will help keep you honest as you build and implement your growth strategy.

And don’t stop here! The entire Guide to Growth is free to read and share. It’s important stuff, and I hope you’ll check it out.