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Everything Marketers Need to Research & Create Detailed Buyer Personas

Posted by Ellie Mirman Thu, Aug 23, 2012 @ 08:00 AM
intermediateTo recap Kim Goodwin in Designing for the Digital Age, “personas are archetypes that describe the various goals and observed behavior patterns among your potential users and customers.” Personas help us all — Marketing, Sales, Product — internalize the ideal customer we’re trying to attract, and relate to our customers as real humans. Understanding your buyer persona is critical to driving content creation, product development, sales follow up, and really anythingthat relates to customer acquisition and retention.Okay, so personas are a really important part of your business. Got it. So … how do I actually makeone?That’s the million dollar question. The good news is they aren’t super difficult to put together. You just need to ask the right questions to the right people, and present that information in a helpful way so your company can get to know your persona better than the back of their hand.

How to Find Interviewees

The first step to establishing your buyer persona is finding some people to speak with to suss out, well, who your buyer persona is. That means you’ll have to conduct some interviews to get to know what drives your target audience. But how do you find those interviewees? There are a few groups to tap into:


Your existing customer base is the perfect place to start with your interviews, because they’ve already purchased your product and engaged with your company. At least some of them are likely to exemplify your target persona(s).

Reach out to both “good” and “bad” customers. You don’t just want to talk to people who love your product and want to spend an hour gushing about you (as good as that feels). Customers who are unhappy with your product will show other patterns that will help you form a solid understanding of your personas. For example, you might find that some of these “bad” customers have bigger teams and thus need a collaboration element to the product. Or you may find that “bad” customers find your product too technical and difficult to use. In both cases, you learn something about your product and what your customers’ challenges are.

Another benefit to interviewing customers is that you may not need to offer them an incentive like a gift card (a typical incentive for participating in surveys or interviews). Customers usually like being heard, and interviewing them gives them a chance to tell you about their world, their challenges, and what they think of your product. Customers also like to have an impact on the products they use, so you may find that, as you involve them in interviews like this, they become even more loyal to your company. When you reach out to customers, be clear that your goal is to get their feedback and that it’s highly valued by your team.


You want to balance out your interviews with people who have not purchased your product or know much about your company. Your current prospects and leads are a great option because you already have their contact information. Use the data you do have about them (e.g. anything you’ve collected through lead generation forms or website analytics) to figure out who might fit into your target personas.


You’ll need to rely on some referrals to talk to people who may fit into your target personas, particularly if you’re heading into new markets or don’t have any leads or customers yet. Reach out to your network — coworkers, existing customers, social media contacts — to find people you’d like to interview and get introduced to. It may be tough to get a large volume of people this way, but you’ll likely get some very high quality interviews. If you don’t know where to start, try searching LinkedIn for people who may fit into your target personas and see which results have any connections in common with you. Then reach out to your common connections for introductions.

Third-Party Networks

For interviewees who are completely removed from your company, there are a few third party networks where you can recruit. allows you to post ads for people interested in any kind of job, and allows you to run remote user testing (with some follow-up questions). You’ll have less control over sessions run through, but it’s a great resource for quick user testing recruiting.

3 Tips for Recruiting Interviewees

As you reach out to potential interviewees, here are a few tips for getting a better response rate:

1) Use incentives. While you may not need them in all scenarios (e.g. customers who want to talk to you), incentives give people a reason to participate in an interview if they don’t have a relationship with you. A simple gift card (like an Amazon or Visa credit) is an easy option.

2) Be clear this isn’t a sales call. Especially with non-customers. Be clear that you’re doing research and that you want to learn from them. You are not getting them to commit to a one-hour sales call, you’re getting them to commit to telling you about their lives, jobs, and challenges.

3) Make it easy to say yes. Take care of everything for your potential interviewee — suggest times but be flexible; allow them to pick a time right off the bat; send a calendar invite with a reminder to block off the time.

How Many People Do You Need to Interview?

Unfortunately the answer is, it depends. Start with at least 3-5 interviews. If you already know a lot about your personas, then that may be enough. You may need to do 3-5 interviews in each category of interviewees (customers, prospects, people who don’t know your company).

The rule of thumb is: when you start predicting what your interviewee is going to say, it’s time to stop. Through these interviews, you’ll naturally start to notice patterns. Once you start expecting and predicting what your interviewee is going to say, that means you’ve interviewed enough people to find and internalize these patterns.

20 Questions to Ask in Persona Interviews

Now it’s time to run the interview! After the normal small talk and thank yous, it’s time to jump into your questions. There are a few different types of questions you want to ask to fill out a complete persona profile — these questions are organized into those areas.


1) What is your job role? Your title?

2) How is your job measured?

3) What does a typical day look like?

4) What skills are required to do your job?

5) What knowledge and tools do you use in your job?

6) Who do you report to? Who reports to you?


7) In which industry or industries does your company work?

8) What is the size of your company (revenue, employees)?


9) What are you responsible for?

10) What does it mean to be successful in your role?


11) What are your biggest challenges?

Watering Holes

12) How do you learn about new information for your job?

13) What publications or blogs do you read?

14) What associations and social networks do you belong to?

Personal Background

15) Describe your personal demographics (if appropriate, ask their age, whether they’re married, if they have children).

16) Describe your educational background. What level of education did you complete, which schools did you attend, and what did you study?

17) Describe your career path. How did you end up where you are today?

Shopping Preferences

18) How do you prefer to interact with vendors (email, phone, in person)?

19) Do you use the internet to research vendors or products? If yes, how do you search for information?

20) Describe a recent purchase. Why did you consider a purchase, what was the evaluation process, and how did you decide to purchase that product or service?

#1 Tip for Running a Successful Persona Interview

Ask “Why?” The follow up question to pretty much every question in the above list is “Why?” Through these interviews, you’re trying to understand your customer’s or potential customer’s goals, behaviors, and what drives them. People are not always great at reflecting on their own behaviors to tell you what drives them at their core. You don’t care that they measure the number of hits to their website, for example. What you care about is that they measure this because they need a number they control to show their boss they’re doing a good job. I’ll frequently start with a simple question — one of my favorites is “What is your biggest challenge?” — and then spend a good amount of time diving deeper into that one question to learn more about that person. You learn more by asking “Why?” than by asking more superficial questions.

Using Your Research To Create Your Persona

Once you’ve gone through this process, you’ll have a lot of meaty, raw data about your potential and current customers. But what do you do with it? How do you distill all of that so it’s easy for everyone to understand all of the information you have knockin’ around in your head?

The next step is to identify patterns among the different interviewees, develop at least one primary persona, and share that persona with the rest of the company. Input all of the information you’ve distilled into this persona template so everyone can benefit from the research you’ve done, and have an in-depth understanding of the person they’re targeting every day at work. Here’s what you’ll do:

Fill In Basic Demographic Information:

If you didn’t feel comfortable asking some of these questions on the phone, you can conduct online surveys to discern this information. Some people are more comfortable disclosing things like this over a computer. It’s also helpful to fill in some buzzwords and mannerisms of your persona that you picked up on during your conversations to make it easier for people in Sales to identify personas when they’re talking to prospects.


Share What You’ve Learned About Your Persona’s Motivations

This is where you’ll distill the information you learned from asking “Why” so much during those interviews. What keeps your persona up at night? Who do they want to be? Most importantly, tie that all together by telling people how your company can help them.

persona research questions

Help Your Sales Team Prepare for Conversations With Your Persona

Include some real quotes from your interviews that exemplify what your personas are concerned about, who they are, and what they want. Then bullet out the objections they might raise so your sales team is prepared to address those during their conversations.

persona template

Help With Messaging

Tell people how to talk about your solution with your persona. This includes the nitty gritty vernacular you should use, as well as a more general elevator pitch that positions your solution in a way that resonates with your persona. This will help you ensure everyone in your company is speaking the same language when they’re having conversations with leads and customers.

persona messaging

Finally, make sure you name your persona, and include a real life image of your persona so everyone can truly envision what he or she looks like. Just visit a site like Creative Commons or iStockphoto and search for someone that exemplifies what your persona might look like, and think of a name that makes sense — like Product Polly, or something similarly catchy. It seems silly, but it really helps put a name to a face, so to speak!

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This entry was posted on August 23, 2012 by in Informative, Webtools and tagged , , , .