Several years ago, Adrienne Barnes noticed that her clients had a common struggle - they didn't know exactly who they were creating content for.
Adrienne is the founder of Best Buyer Persona.
A B2B SaaS content marketer by trade, she focuses on audience research as a means to build out authentic buyer personas and guide content strategy.
Why B2B companies struggle with buyer personas
“When I started writing four years ago with a new client, I would ask for all of their buyer information and most would give me a clear one-liner pitch of their ideal client.
They'd say, well, we sell to C-suite level professionals in the cybersecurity sector, or our ideal client is junior developers. And even though they knew who their audience was, they didn't have anything documented,” said Adrienne.
Some clients had documentation, but it was useless - outdated PowerPoint slides that did nothing to get to the heart of why B2B customers were motivated to buy.
Adrienne knew there had to be a better way. So she set out to create a dedicated service that would provide her clients with an accurate, usable buyer persona document.
As part of our Wynter Games series, Adrienne shared exactly how she does it.
Using Jobs-to-be-Done to understand your customers
A proponent of the popular Jobs to be Done framework, Adrienne clarifies that there are two different branches of the theory.
The camp that she follows is popularized by Clayton Christensen, sometimes known as the “jobs as progress” method.
This framework focuses on understanding what your customers hope to accomplish.
Using the Jobs to be Done method, you can begin to uncover key patterns. These patterns illustrate why your customers buy.
“You'll notice repeated behaviors, repeated emotions, and specific things that your customers are doing with your product,” said Adrienne. “All of those insights become your buyer personas.”
Talking to your customers
According to ProfitWell, “About 99 out of 100 companies we've talked to are unable to describe their buyer personas beyond a few generalities.”
To create personas, you first have to talk to your customers.
While there are many ways of obtaining audience research, one-on-one customer interviews are the most useful for building personas.
“My preferred method for performing audience research for buyer personas is to get on the phone with your customers,” said Adrienne.
“The conversation is going to allow you to really lean into and pull out your customer's story. That's what all this is about, is finding the commonalities in your customer stories.”
How do you decide which customers to interview?
According to Adrienne, there are three types of customers you should target.
For each type of customer, you should aim to talk to 10-15 people. Each type will reveal different insights and result in a well-rounded buyer persona.
“I say 10 to 15 interviews because there comes a point in the interview process where you begin to notice a repetition in answers and responses,” Adrienne said.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you never need to interview customers again.
“This process is never really done,” said Adrienne. “You should be constantly speaking to your customers, learning their insights, and documenting what you learn.”
3 types of customers to interview
Adrienne explained that there are three important customer segments to target. These are: your greatest enemies, your biggest fans, and your “meh” customers.
Not many people will willingly call up their greatest enemies. But in business, it just makes sense to talk to people who believe you failed. Because the goal is to understand, why?
Your greatest enemies are the customers that hate your guts. They leave one-star or zero-star reviews. They demanded a refund.
“This is the segment that not many people will advise you to interview,” said Adrienne.
“But I have found that these interviews can lead to some great insights, and they reveal a lot of miscommunications and copy content and market fit. Because there was a moment when this customer thought your product was going to be exactly what they needed.”
That’s why it’s doubly important to figure out why they bought your product, and why it didn’t work out. This can provide necessary clarity to flesh out your buyer personas.
Your biggest fans are the next group of customers to tap into. This isn’t just about self-validation and an opportunity to feel warm fuzzies.
Your biggest fans will help you ensure that the things they love about you are the things that you are communicating in your messaging.
Their words of praise will also help provide golden nuggets for new copy.
“These are the customers that converted quickly, rave about your product on social media, interact with you on social media, leave positive reviews on G2 or Capterra,” said Adrienne. “Essentially these customers are your longtime customers and they love your product.”
Finally, you want to interview a handful of what Adrienne calls your “meh” customers.
These are customers who are early in their relationship with you. They’ve likely recently converted, and haven’t yet had time to decide if they love you or hate you.
“They are the customers that recently purchased. They converted in a timely fashion. They haven't had any major issues yet,” said Adrienne.
“But the key here is that these are new customers. They've been customers for 3-6 months and they will be able to provide fresh insights into that purchase process.”
This perspective is important, as it allows you to understand the onboarding process or initial use phase from someone who has freshly experienced it.
3 tips for interviewing customers
Once you have a customer on the phone, any questions you ask should be open-ended and invite your customers to freely tell their story.
“The whole point of getting customers on the phone is so that you can hear their story and ask them to share their experience,” said Adrienne.
“The interview questions are designed not to be a script and to get every question in, but rather to give you a guide.”
Now, we’ll dive into Adrienne’s top three tips for ensuring you get the most out of every customer conversation.
1. Listen & shut up
Before every interview, Adrienne reminds herself to listen and shut up.
If your voice and your questions are dominating the interview, you won’t leave any room for the organic, customer-driven insights that you need.
“You can't listen if you're talking,” said Adrienne. “Go into the interview knowing that you were going to be the one to speak as little as possible.”
These interviews are not your opportunity to solve an issue, upsell a product, or provide support. You are simply the recorder of information.
The moment you try to sell something or fix something, you've lost the trust of the interviewee and completely changed the dynamic of the call.
2. Record your call
It’s important to trust and use modern technology to record your customer interviews.
While it can be tempting to have pen and paper in front of you to jot down additional notes, Adrienne advises against it.
“You don't want to be taking notes throughout your entire call. If you do, you'll miss out on the listening,” she said. “You'll likely just follow a script and check the questions off the mark and you'll miss valuable nuggets of information.”
Programs like Zoom can easily record and transcribe your entire conversation. “You can use closed captions on Zoom, and then you can download it afterward,” said Adrienne.
You can also use popular transcription tools like Rev that will quickly and efficiently turn your audio or video assets into transcripts.
3. Ask “why”
If you do interrupt your customer to ask a question, be sure that it’s the most powerful question you can as: why?
Asking why allows you to dig deeper into your customer’s psyche when you ask it at key moments during the conversation.
It’s important to save even this question for the right moments. “Save your why or your follow-up question statement for when they provide that one statement that's really intriguing, or it really spoke to the struggles or the challenges that they were going through,” said Adrienne.
“Sometimes I also like to say, ‘Oh, that's interesting. Can you tell me more about that?’ This helps to add another layer of insights to their experience. I get to go deeper into their core motivations and emotions. And that, my friend, is where the buyer persona goodness lives.”
Organize your interview data
Once you’ve completed your interviews, it’s time for the hardest part - going through your transcripts and turning your raw data into something meaningful.
“Let me encourage you here. This is not the step to quit. I've had many people come to me and say this is the part of the process where they give up,” Adrienne said.
“But in order for this to be valuable and usable information, you have to organize it and make it accessible to everyone in the company.”
Tease out patterns
While this stage of the process is time-consuming, it will allow you to finally begin to tease out the patterns that are hidden within your multiple customer interviews.
Be forewarned that it might take reading through your interview transcripts several times.
“You're looking for commonly repeated phrases, words, and remarks,” said Adrienne. “Start by thinking about the buyer journey. Put the responses in a bucket, according to where they were.”
Put information into buckets
Buckets might include phases like:
- The pre-purchase phase
- The decision phase
- The user phase
For example, you might first pull together all of the “pre-purchase” comments to see if there were common trends between the separate interviews.
In terms of where you organize the data, it can be as simple as using Notion, Excel, or Google Sheets.
“The steps are pretty simple. It's read, highlight, copy, paste over and over and over again. You're looking for answers that show emotion and buying motivation.”
Creating your B2B buyer personas
When creating your B2B buyer personas, Adrienne said that you shouldn’t fixate on creating personas based on things like job title.
“I've created buyer personas by their job roles, by the size of the company they work for, or by their pain points,” she said.
It’s important to look at what the data has revealed, and not what you think should drive the creation of a persona. The answer lies in where customers are struggling with the same problem.
In essence, this means that you are creating buyer personas according to pain points.
“Were they mostly from the same size company? Then perhaps your buyer personas should be based on company size. Or did you find that the common job titles really were how most things were focused? Then create personas according to the job title,” Adrienne said.
Creating your personas should be 100% based on what the actual insights from the data revealed.
5 pointers for creating personas
Now, it’s time for a few extra pointers. Adrienne said that there are five things she keeps in mind when creating buyer personas.
1. Know your 4 R’S
The four R’s for B2B are the roles, responsibilities, rituals, and relationships of your buyers.
Your persona should map out the answers to each of these. It would make clear what their role is, what they are responsible for, what a typical day looks like for them, and who their team members are.
Knowing this information will allow you to reach out and serve your customers better.
2. Leave the pictures out of it
Don’t assign a fake headshot to make your persona feel more human.
“These personas are filled with accurate and intentional information,” said Adrienne.
Adrienne’s experience has also shown that including pictures with personas can introduce bias.
“Not every customer who is a founder or a C-suite executive will look the same,” she said. “Could they have similar pain points? Absolutely. But we don't need to assign a fake stock photo to give us an idea of who we're talking to. We have their words and that's more powerful.”
3. What content would help this persona?
Next, it’s time to think strategically about why types of content would help the individual encapsulated by your buyer persona.
Do they need access to certain types of information? Do they like to consume information in certain types of formats?
“Do they need guides or eBooks or short instructional blog posts or thought leadership content?” asked Adrienne. “Identify that and put it in the buyer personas. This helps sales, your customer success team, and your content marketers.”
4. Never stop iterating
Once you’re done, you might feel like you’ve had an overdose of customer data. Take some time to detox, and then figure out a way to get back to interviewing.
“As I mentioned earlier, this is a continuous process,” Adrienne said. “Commit to speaking with your customers on a regular basis and adding new insights to your buyer personas consistently.”
Customer research is like exercise - the more you can make it a healthy and routine part of your life, the easier it will feel over time and the more your business will thrive as a result.
5. Share with the entire company
Perhaps the most important step of all is to share your personas and valuable interview findings with your company as a whole.
“This information goes beyond helping marketing create their next campaign,” said Adrienne. “This is for your product teams, for your customer success, for sales, for marketing - everyone should have access to this document.”
You don’t want your hard work to end up like those piles of old and worthless customer PowerPoint slides that we described at the beginning.
The more people who can see and understand your findings, the better off you’ll be.
You can watch Adrienne's talk about Creating Buyer Personas here!