Hot tip for marketers: Instead of spending time creating client Personas…

Personas, marketing data and analytics

Spend time with your actual clients and your sales teams. They have all the answers you are looking for. Trust me.

In marketing, it has become quite common to create client personas for potential client demographics. These personas, or fictional clients, are also usually named Dan, Mary, Steven, Rachel or any other common name in order to make them more personal. The purpose is basically to figure out who your clients are, what they are interested in and what makes them purchase a product or a service.

In theory, this is great of course, but in reality?
Knowing your clients in-depth and knowing what is interesting (and not interesting) to different buyer types is key in order to market a product effectively. In reality though; it seems as if personas have become yet another reason for marketing teams to dig even deeper into data, analytics and surveys instead of actually meeting with- and speaking to clients, as the personas “provide them with all the answers they need”. Can I get a reality check on aisle 7 please!

There is a never-ending stream of advice online on how to create personas and there are pre-made persona templates that you can download and try to complete in order to try and figure out who your clients are. So, I went ahead and googled ‘what is a marketing persona’ and this beginners guide came up as the top search result.

Let’s check out what the beginners guide has to offer:
“Dan, Mary, Steven, and Rachel are personas, created with a combination of raw data and educated guesses…
…Building personas for your core audience can help improve the way you solve problems for your customers. The process of creating personas is well worth the time.”

– You know what else is well worth the time and can help solve problems for your customers? Spending actual quality time with your actual clients talking about what they actually like about your product or spending time discussing their actual problems and how to best address them and proactively prevent them. The clients themselves know best what they like to see and you wouldn’t have to spend time collection and analyzing raw data or resort to educated guesses.

Ok, moving on to another snippet:
So how many of these “human beings” do you need to create? It is recommended that you make three to five personas to represent your audience; this number is big enough to cover the majority of your customers yet small enough to still carry the value of specificity. Many of these templates include the same basic information. You want to know who the person is, what they value, and how best to speak to them.”

– This, to me, is the core issue for many people within marketing organizations today. Marketing folk seem to duck and cover behind data, anonymous surveys or personas. They are simply not close enough to the business, close enough to their sales teams and the deals that are coming in through the door or close enough to the client issues that arise.

In my day job I work in an extremely sales driven environment where everyone in the office have made it a point to be close to the business. Even the finance manager who has nothing to do with day-to-day client dealings and client relationships can name drop contact persons and what kind of products they have purchased or even suggest what products they should purchase in order to solve a challenge. Care to guess how many client personas we have created in my marketing department over the years? You guessed it! Zero, nil, zilch… because we simply do not need them. We speak to our clients, plain and simple.

Alrighty, scrolling down:
“Here are three places to look:
– Check your site analytics
– Involve your team in creating profiles
– Social media research
– Ask your audience questions.”

– Actually, that’s is four places to look but asking your audience (i.e. your clients) didn’t make the top three cut, I guess? Over the years I have worked with marketing people who have been made responsible for creating sales collaterals from start to finish, obviously including product presentations with USP:s and Features and Benefits – meanwhile these marketing people had never actually met with a client or been involved in any client conversations. Some of these marketing folk had never even spoken to any of their own sales reps. So, the Unique Selling Points etc. that they’d highlight would often be information that the client and/or the sales rep would consider less important in order to solve the client’s challenge.

Let’s wrap this up.

Top 3 reasons why marketing should spend more time with actual clients and less time on educated guesses:

  1. Clients know what they like and don’t like – and they are more than happy to tell you
    Telling you what they need is not a commitment to buy for a client – however if you have a product that matches everything they are asking for, chances are that they will. When you spend time speaking to clients, you will also get a good grasp of what they don’t like in a product or service – which of course is equally important to know.

  2. Clients love meeting with other people from your company besides their sales rep
    By meeting with clients to talk about their wants and needs, not only would you be able to learn the actual facts that a persona would only provide as educated guesses – you are actually improving the client relationship as clients love meeting with other representatives from their vendors besides their sales rep. It makes them feel prioritized and at the same time it gives them a chance to ask other types of questions and address needs that they wouldn’t address with their sales rep. But you wouldn’t know that if you just had the persona as your guide to what makes clients tick, would you?

  3. Build it and they will come
    Or maybe a more accurate header should be: Bundle it right and they will come. Your clients and sales teams can give you invaluable information on how different products should be bundled in order to be appealing and competitive. Oh, and just to be clear: This type of information can’t be gathered through a survey, it’s best collected over a nice cup of coffee and a handshake.
    This is what it all boils down to for a sales driven marketer: Presenting your product portfolio in a compelling, scalable way that highlights exactly the USP:s and product options that the majority of your client base, or desired client base, will consider highly interesting. But again, a persona wouldn’t tell you this. 

So, step out of your marketing office, go speak to a few of your sales reps and tag along to a couple of sales meetings. I guarantee you that you’ll find out more information about your target audience than any survey or persona would ever be able to tell you.

Challenge accepted?

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