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  • Dr. Ipshita Basu Guha

How to get the most out of your Customer Personas


Image created by Ipshita using Canva


INTRODUCTION

I will be upfront. If you are expecting to learn or be taught how to create/ define/ profile customer personas for your business then you will be disappointed. This blog post is not about that. There are too many authoritative sites on this topic and each one is a terrific resource that might be helpful to you.

There is often a gap between creating these personas and making them work for your business. Err work? Aren’t the “customer” personas — the ones for whom we should work?

Well, that’s the disconnect.

This blog post is a case study of my targeted customer personas, how I can serve them and why am I the best fit for the customers. How are these 3 things (who, how, and why) connected? It is the “why” which you need to double–down on.

At the end of this post, you will rethink the link between your skill sets, marketing communication messages, and customer personas. You will be able to make your personas razor — sharp and use this precision to make every penny get 5x returns. What will you gain from this post?


  1. You will revisit your customer personas (and you will create them if you have not done it yet). You will develop a holistic view of customers, your offering, and the synergy between the two in the context of your business.

  2. You will rethink your “how” and “why” which most of the posts on “developing your customer personas” do not dwell upon. You will end up choosing an appropriate niche and outdo your competition.

  3. You will customize your marketing efforts and content strategy to attract various persona based on their particular needs and pain points instead of trying a one-size-fits-all approach. It means you will make superior use of your resources and make significant business gains in a short time.



1. MY CUSTOMER PERSONAS

I am in the business of weaving content for digital media — blog posts, product information pages, training manuals, information booklets, slide decks, keyword research, statistical analysis, etc.

But first things first. You cannot serve the entire market. No one can. It is unviable and lacks economic justification. Let us get that out of our way. Otherwise, Kotler would not have devoted an entire section on segmenting, targeting, and positioning in his book on Marketing Management.




I have defined and developed the customer personas that are part of certain target segments. They are freelancers, small product/ service businesses serving local markets, or online small businesses, marketing agencies, and a select few businesses operating in the engineering or pharmaceutical industry (see the specificity of industries).

Segmenting and creating the personas enabled me to customize precise and powerful marketing communication instead of generic jibber jabber which is lame and appeals to no one.

My customer personas are not of much use to you independently, but they are essential in the context of this post. So please bear with me and stick around. And maybe, (just maybe) if you are stuck with defining your persona, you can pick a hint or clue or two from mine.



1.1. What comes first? Product/ service offering or the persona?

I bet when you read those bunch of customer persona posts, this was not the question that came up. You just knew that you have to create the personas — the only question was how. In the beginning, I made the same mistakes but I am wiser now.

The persona undeniably comes later. You do not start a business of running a coffee shop thinking of all those people who frequent such places.

Do you even have the aptitude to run a coffee shop?

It is the offering that matters. That’s the beginning of the saga. And our offering is inextricably connected to our abilities and skillsets.

The questions that you should be answering are:

  1. What is my offering?

  2. Have I performed my SWOT analysis? 

  3. Who can I help with my offering? (The probable prospect pool)

  4. Why do they need this? What are their pain points that I can resolve?

  5. Isn’t there anyone else who can offer the same thing having better quality and competitive cost? Where is the gap?

  6. What is my USP — unique selling proposition?

  7. Who is (are) my ideal customer persona based on my offering?


I would recommend that you write down the answers to the above questions in a notebook and pore over them for a couple of days. Do not be in a hurry to complete this session of introspection.

Only when you have confidently answered these questions, should you start thinking of targeting certain segments of the market and thus your personas.


1.2. Best practices to select the perfect buyer persona

Creating a customer persona is not an isolated act. 
There is a purpose — Cultivating Synergy. 

As you begin to weave your customer personas remember few aspects.

  • Create a fairly broad homogeneous group. This will ease up your content strategy.

  • Segment your target audience on the lines of revenue generation, widening your domain (industry) knowledge and ability to execute many smaller projects. There should be 50:30:20 mix of well paying, new industry exposure, and smaller projects; for future growth and viability of your business.


For example: From my set of customer personas, Artistic Astha gives me the maximum scope of work that helps me strengthen my skill set because (a.) There is a lack of structure and clear targets hence a wide range of activities to be performed (b.) I get a fairly clean slate to create quick gains for my client. 

But they may not pay well and on time because of the open-ended nature of the project. That’s why you need Meticulous Mr. Wilms’ projects. And the new industry exposure is gained either from Freelancer Frida or Straightforward Sally.

  • Your customer base should be diverse. It must ensure that there are a steady flow and a variety of work for you. If you are heavily onto one kind of customer persona or two; your project slots might be either too tightly packed or remain too open. You need to balance the workflow like Goldratt has professed to avoid bottlenecks.

  • Set skill targets for every quarter as you set sales and revenue targets. It should be one of your KRAs (key result areas). Amassing skill sets will give you the impetus to grow more and target new lucrative segments. And of course, hedge your bets.



2. HOW CAN I SERVE THESE CUSTOMER PERSONAS?

Your marketing communication through different digital channels might be focusing on “we can do this” and “we can do that”. La dih dah. That is fine. But you need to stop talking about yourself and focus on your customer personas.

What people rarely talk about is the empathy map of their buyers. If you want to know more, check out “The Strategy of Content Marketing” course by UC, Davis. 

  • What are they looking for and where (not what are you offering and where)?

  • Why are they looking for a solution? 

  • What are their pain points? 

  • What do they intend to gain by removing those pain points? 

  • What do they need to help make a good decision?

Use the answers to these questions as input to the content of your marketing communication. Bring the customers to the center of your offering. It is all (and only) about them and not you.

Suppose you are an inheritance lawyer. No one wants to know what you can do for them. They are not going to come looking for you. You have to seek them out. Find out what do they need. Gear up to fulfill that need. Present yourself as an effective solution and see the magic flow.

2.1. Focusing on the empathy map (specific customer pain points)


Prospects do not become a customer without a reason. There is a driving force that propels them towards you or your competitor. In a nutshell — they are thinking about their needs, their issues, things which are creating obstacles for them from attaining their goals. These needs are slightly different for B2B and B2C segments but they have the same pattern.

Something is disrupting their lives and causing them unnecessary hindrances or difficult to focus on more value-oriented tasks.

They begin to seek out information banking on the knowledge that they are probably not alone. So there is some solution out there which others are using or adopting. They start seeing what others are doing to resolve similar problems. Are those viable solutions? Affordable? Easy to implement? Are there other options, choices?

As they continue to weigh the pros and cons of different solutions; they grudgingly continue to do the difficult tasks. Their mind is focused on seeking solutions from the marketplace. And till they zero-in on a solution they are constantly disturbed and frustrated. This is also a situation where they are most likely to act.

If you manage to tap the empathy map, you can handhold your prospects through the buying process and convert them into loyal, paying customers.

Bottom line — It is all about the customer and her issues. Your business exists because she has issues or challenges that must be resolved not because you had a bright product idea like Archimedes in the tub.


2.2. Creating cost-effective solutions in phases


We talked about the customer empathy map. An extension to that is how you engage with your customer persona.  Here’s what you should do.

  • Present them your entire range of solutions in an ordered manner. Order based on importance & the need for urgency to implement the solution and order by the cost of acquiring the solution. Make your recommendation. Let the persona choose. You will be surprised how often they choose based on urgency rather than cost.

  • Give them a roadmap with milestones. Make it easy for them to decide. Instead of a product/ service provider and customer, build a relationship like that of a teacher and student. Empower them with knowledge, insight, best practices, and market intelligence. First, create trust then seek engagement.

  • Walk them through the various phases of executing small achievable targets instead of adopting a big-bang approach. With each step forward, you will prove your authority and your customer persona will develop confidence in your solutions. Co-create and collaborate for the best results.


3. WHY AM I THE RIGHT FIT TO SERVE THE CUSTOMER AVATARS?


A customer persona is a homogeneous subset of the entire market. These are the people whom you are primed to serve and who are ready to listen to your offer.

You become the right fit as a solution provider for your customer personas if your core competency and business objectives synergize with their pain points and solution metrics.


3.1. It all depends on core competency

To succeed in business, the first thing to do is –

  • Define your core competency. What are you good at? You can always scale-up as your business. One way is to grow by acquiring more resources based on the signals offered by the market. It will widen your competency.

  • What have you trained in? What kind of qualifications do you have? What type of experience have you gained? Whom have you served till now? How do you measure your success? What are your guiding principles at work?

  • Where is your target market located? Can you offer your solutions to anyone — any industry, any size of the business, any geographical location, or language? What about pricing? How will you vary it? What about your team? How much workload can you handle at any given point in time? What kind of resources will you employ and train to handle the customer needs?


Let us take my example. I have more than 15 years of experience in the manufacturing business managing information systems after graduating with a degree in business administration. Working with different businesses has helped me develop the ability to extract information about business processes, critical factors, the value chain, and their ultimate business proposition through series of simple conversations and going thru business documents.

This allows me to help particular customer personas consisting of freelancers, local businesses, and small-scale manufacturing businesses who want to start their digital marketing initiatives and engage with the right prospects across specific segments. The task load is thin but there is a variety which is a win-win proposition. They meet their marketing objectives and I broaden my knowledge base, therefore, increasing my value.

Such kind of exposure and workload makes me a suitable choice for digital marketing agencies when they want to subcontract domain-specific content creation tasks instead of maintaining an expensive full-time in-house resource.

Having a variety of customer personas should be a strategic choice to spread out your risk. The pandemic must have made you aware of why you need a diverse palette of customers. Your customer personas should be diverse and the constituents within each persona too.

3.2. Business Objectives

But what is core competency without solid business objectives? Do you accept that maybe not everyone wants to grow 10x in 1 year or hit $1M revenue in the first 2 months of operation? Anyway, such kind of growth comes with severe risks and the chances of failure are massive.

So I want you to ask yourself -

  • What do you want for your business? Where do you want to be 18 months from now?

  • How will you expand your portfolio?

  • What will help you sustain and grow steadily in the market?

  • Which segments are low-hanging fruits for you so that targeting them would result in reasonably quick business growth and revenue?

  • How will you develop your customer base such that you can do both revenue-centric work and exciting new projects across industries?


Our business is like a living organism. It is a mistake to independently focus on its parts like customer persona, business proposition, marketing strategy, cash flow, etc. Wasn’t it Aristotle who said that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”.

Develop a holistic view. Visualize the interconnection and tugs between the product, processes, customer, market, and revenues. The product and customer are structures influenced by systems like buying and delivery processes. These processes are in turn affected by the market and revenue generation strategies.

If you can comprehend the cumulative effect of a decision/ action/ choice on the entire business, you will be successful in serving your customer personas.


CONCLUSION

I would recommend that you treat this post as an informal case study to strengthen your understanding of your customer personas and its connection to you, your team, and business. That is the motivation to write this is post. 

To help you take your customer personas to the next level and make you effective. If I can do it, so can you. Start small, start somewhere, and soon you will be on a roll.

As you go about defining your customer personas, be mindful of the best practices. But first, get your ducks in a row. Crystallize your product/ service offering. Do not move the other way round by first trying to create your personas. It will be a futile exercise and no significant headway.

  • As you go about defining your customer personas, be mindful of the best practices. But first, get your ducks in a row. Crystallize your product/ service offering. Do not move the other way round by first trying to create your personas. It will be a futile exercise and no significant headway.

  • Invest time in internalizing the empathy map and implement it in your business activities. See the impact.

  • Be empathic towards your customers. Help them realize their goals in phases. Do not let them bite more than they can chew. They might resist but will thank you later.

  • Your core competency is why you are in business. Use that as your pivot.

  • But at the hub of everything is your business objective. As Simon Sinek says — Start with the Why? Focus on finding the answer to your Why and you are sorted.


Try this small exercise to shape up your how and why.



Keep moving. 


Stopping is not a choice.

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