Savvy marketing leaders build and deploy buyer personas across their firms, but not all marketing leaders are seeing the full potential of an effectively executed buyer persona. A buyer persona guides messaging, positioning, processes, and service delivery throughout the duration of a client journey.
Potent tools when deployed well, the majority of personas begin as interesting exercises that ultimately fail to impact the organization long-term. Marketers who have successfully deployed personas attract more potential buyers and convert a higher number of prospects into clients. One 50-person practice in the Midwest cut their pursuits 65% while increasing their backlog of work 30% in the first year after deploying buyer personas as part of their broader Client Experience (CX) strategy.
To achieve these results, effective personas must achieve three objectives:
- Align with the firm’s Ideal Client Profiles to target the right buyers
- Provide clear insight and empathy into the targeted buyer
- Remain memorable for quick recall by all staff involved in the sales cycle
Ideal Client Profiles
The first step, aligning with an Ideal Client Profile (ICP), is perhaps the most overlooked step in developing buyer personas. Not all clients are created equal, and we do not want to attract or pursue clients that are not well-suited to succeed with us.
As a CX professional myself, I have the utmost admiration for Disney’s ability to design and deliver incredible and memorable experiences. They excel at their mission to be the “happiest place on earth.” And I hate it. Disney is not for me! It is all a façade. The rides are not exciting. The lines are long. The food is boring. For the same price, I took my kids on an adventure to Costa Rica because that was much more my style.
Why tell this story? Because even a well-designed and executed experience will not be right for all buyers. An Ideal Client Profile helps assure you know what a great client really is so you do not try to market your Disney experience to a Scrooge McDuck like me.
Collaborate with your front-line professionals when developing an ICP. Ask questions like:
- Who do you love to work with?
- What kind of work makes you excited to come to work every day?
- What attributes make a client or project most profitable?
- What kind of clients or projects can we serve better than anyone else?
- What does our client feedback reveal? Who loves us the most?
Make sure you include both subjective and objective criteria when developing your ICP. The subjective criteria ensures your professionals will be eager to support the initiative. After all, marketing is asking how to bring in more of the clients and projects the partners love! And by matching that to real client feedback, you can find the IDEAL clients that love your firm in return. Start with win/win buyers, and the rest will be so much easier.
Empathetic Persona Development
Now armed with one (or more) Ideal Client Profiles, you can start developing a buyer persona for each. The team that helped develop your ICP can continue the work of building the persona – in fact, you will need them. Personas require insight and empathy to be effective, and your front-line professionals are closest to the clients.
The persona enables you to position your firm in such a way as to seem perfectly tailored to the buyer’s wants, needs, and expectations. Personas range in complexity, from simple bullet points to detailed dossiers. Start simple. The persona should enable you to make the buyer feel understood. I will say that again: after reading a marketing piece, reviewing a proposal, or interacting with one of your professionals, the buyer should feel understood. Therefore, the persona should enable you to anticipate the buyer’s wants, needs, values, pains, perspectives, and context. A simple persona might include:
- Demographics (age, gender, income, job title, life events, culture)
- Organization (company, size, industry, geography)
- Role in the company / process
- Goals (individual and corporate)
- Common challenges
- Decision-making process
- News and hangouts, associations, sources of information
Understanding, for example, how a specific persona makes a decision can lead you to craft a proposal or contract in a tailored way for easy decision-making (especially if the decision is made by some committee/process).
Putting Personas to Work
Finally, all this work developing an ICP and a persona must be memorable and impactful to the professionals within your organization. Without quick recall and the immediate actionability of that recall, your personas become relics on the long shelf of good ideas poorly executed.
A 700-person firm headquartered in the northeast was able to distill their personas into two core caricatures: Corporate Cathy and Holly Household. Cathy personifies their institutional client, typically a VP of a regional/national retailer. Cathy is careful, busy, and more focused on her career than any individual project. On the other hand, Holly Household personifies the local real estate broker. She is family business, all hustle, focused on “the deal” and specific, local information. She will take risks and play the game.
A total of 120 person-hours when into the research to develop and craft the personas. But within five minutes, every front-line professional in the organization nods their head. They know Corporate Cathy. They know Holly Household. The personas are intuitive. And, with memorable names, they have become ready tools in the conversational toolkit.
Two years later, cross-functional teams can still reference “this is a Corporate Cathy,” and the room nods knowingly. With this perspective, the team narrows their focus and crafts messages, proposals, contracts, and deliverables that make Cathy feel thoroughly known. And their growth since then proves it. Yes, marketing maintains detailed artifacts from the persona-development workshops they hosted, and they are referenced carefully when developing website content and other foundational assets. And the front line uses the personas daily because they are authentic, memorable, and represent the kind of clients and work the professionals want to win. By aligning the Ideal Client Profile with the Buyer Personas, your staff can steer away from non-ideal clients, avoiding clients that drain resources, lower profitability, and are difficult to satisfy.
Marketing leaders who build personas aligned with ideal clients have useful tools. Marketers who then make those tools compelling, memorable, and relatable will find the impact of their work is multiplied many times over as a broader swath of the organization puts the insights and intelligence to work every day. Ideal, robust personas enable marketing teams to align marketing tactics with the audience. You know who to write to, what topics to cover, and what industry challenges to discuss. Rather than generic messaging, you develop a range of diverse, targeted pieces of content that helps your audience feel (and believe) that you really know them.
About Ryan Suydam
Ryan Suydam co-founded Client Savvy in 2004, to help firms create fierce client loyalty by designing, implementing, and measuring client experiences. He has coached over 300 organizations and over 10,000 professionals on the skills required to be “client savvy.” His clients are twice as likely to be recommended by their clients, three times as likely to realize above-average financial returns, and consistently attract and retain better employees. Based in Raleigh, NC, he welcomes your questions at [email protected]