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6 Roadblocks Keeping You from Building the Right Personas

Written by Leslie Nienaber Content Manager

Businesses can’t go far in their marketing endeavors before the topic of personas comes up. With so many data sources competing with a demand to offer highly-personalized, relevant messaging, determining your true customer base is more important than ever.

What is a Persona Exactly?

According to Hubspot, a buyer persona is “a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers.” By giving a face and name to your target customers, you gain the ability to create more strategic marketing plans, boost engagement and foster loyalty. You also are assured your time and money are being spent on the right audience.

Personas can be as simple or detailed as you want, but they typically include information such as:

  • Name, age, and current job role
  • Company size and industry
  • Geographic information
  • Hobbies, interests, and entertainment
  • Goals or challenges
  • Motivations and inhibitors to buy

The most important thing you can do when building your personas is to primarily rely on data, in addition to internal insights and beliefs. Whether you’re in marketing, finance, sales or business development, it’s natural to think you have the best idea of who your ideal customer is. The challenge is to set aside opinions that can block you from finding your right personas and put trust in your data.

Most companies use a combination of sales data and metrics from Google Analytics to create their buyer personas. Despite your best efforts, however, you may run into a few roadblocks that keep you from building your best personas. Here are the most common ones:

#1: Not Starting With a Clean CRM

When building buyer personas, most businesses are quick to adjust their Google Analytics filters to ensure they are capturing accurate, external web data. They tend to avoid giving their CRM a good cleanup, however. According to an Integrate survey, 60% of businesses rate the overall health of their data as unreliable. If you predict your business may be in the same boat, a good data cleanup prior to creating your personas is a must.

Ideally, a data cleanup should be performed as routinely as an oil change – once a year at the very least. The longer your CRM goes without a cleanup, the more likely you are to gather data that is inaccurate, duplicated or missing important details. This impacts the quality of several data points needed to really grasp your true personas, including: average revenue, average transactions, new vs. repeat customers, customer frequency, product purchase patterns, location, and more.

By performing a cleanup on your CRM, you’ll notice benefits that go far beyond creating accurate buyer personas: it will improve segmentation results, pull accurate field information for personalized campaigns and potentially reduce returned mail.

#2: Setting Paper Forms and Surveys Aside

Gathering and analyzing qualitative data is an important step to take when building out your personas. Without it, your persona isn’t exactly human – it’s just numbers. Finding out the motivations, thoughts, and feelings behind your current customers plays a large role in ensuring your new personas accurately represent the emotional aspects involved in the buyer’s journey. Qualitative data is also important for needs-based segmentation, one of several popular methods for building personas that represent the dynamic needs of customers in a fast-paced marketplace.

While many forms and surveys are collected online, many industries continue to have their fair share of paper versions. These documents are typically completed on-site or sent back in the mail, but they may never be entered back into a CRM.

Prior to building your personas, take stock of the paper forms and surveys you may have lying around and make it a priority to enter them into your CRM. If resources are limited, consider outsourcing the task – make sure you are clear on field names and destinations to ensure a seamless migration.

#3: Creating a Single, All-Seasons Persona

Building a single persona is time-consuming enough, but does it really capture your sales cycles? Even if your business isn’t in the travel, outdoor sports or landscaping industries, it’s a question you may want to ask while building or even revisiting your buyer personas. If you spot significant seasonal trends in your data, you may be setting your marketing efforts back if you do not create a seasonal persona, too.

Look at sales data, social media traffic and website search queries to begin creating your seasonal buyer persona, and identify patterns that may cause certain customers to only purchase once or twice a year. Optimove does a great job going in-depth on how to really engage with seasonal personas by focusing on revenue trends and product affinities.

By taking a close look at these customers, you can create personas that will you allow your business to better cater to that seasonal customer months before they start getting ready to make a purchase. It will also allow you to brainstorm ways to better nurture this customer throughout the year and promote other services and products that may help them outside of their typical purchasing cycles.

#4: Failing to Find the “Unicorns”

If you are marketing to a local business or startup, particularly one with low web traffic or a CRM full of purchased lists, you may struggle to feel confident about the metrics-based decisions you’re making when building your buyer personas. Making assumptions based on the lists and limited web metrics you have can prevent your business from finding the “unicorn” customers that will take your business to the next level.

To find these unicorns, consider running a demographic overlay. To begin, you’ll need six months’ worth of clean sales data. A demographic overlay will take your information, eliminate outliers and provide insight into significant demographics, including the age, income, and length of residence of your current customer base.

By analyzing the nuances of all the different demographic relationships, you may find that you need two different personas, for example, to represent four store locations. Even if you operate strictly online or only have one brick and mortar store, you will have the right information in front of you to ensure you are not building out a persona with incorrect demographics. These insights can also extend beyond persona-building and into other business decisions, including determining what new locations to advertise to or where to open a second or third location.

#5: Forgoing a Cart Analysis

One of the hardest parts of building buyer personas is determining what product pairings, or categories, match your ideal customers. Simply looking at sales data isn’t enough – after all, most product purchases are made on impulse, and it may be hard to make sense of everything if your business has multiple product lines and SKUs. Performing a market cart analysis is a crucial step towards figuring out common product combinations and purchasing frequencies.

A cart analysis uses two years’ worth of clean sales data to run predictive models on the crossover between product categories, product pairing frequencies and average product ranges per customer. It also can be used to assign propensity-to-buy scores and calculate the average yearly product purchases per customer. If you want to take it one step further, consider running a differential analysis as well – this will compare results across customers of different demographic groups, as well as different seasons or stores, to really hone in on the information that will benefit persona-building.

Cart analysis findings can help you determine the buying habits of your best customers and identify formerly undiscovered opportunities for nurturing and cross-promotion, all of which should be considered when building your persona’s customer journey, motivations, preferences, and interests. While performing these analyses can be complicated, it’s well worth the time or budget spend to outsource it.

#6: Not Staying Loyal to Your Lead Scoring System

Every customer goes through a different journey before they make a purchase with your company. Their drivers, engagement levels and preferences are too complex to boil down into a single persona. So, how do you develop a series of buyer personas to represent so many variations? This is when creating – and sticking with – a lead scoring system in your CRM becomes extremely important.

Ideally, a lead scoring system should give you the ability to match your prospects to several buyer personas. Tagging leads properly can help you identify the most successful conversion paths, your main target markets, how they prefer to be nurtured, and what marketing messages they respond to best.

Following a lead scoring system is kind of like going on a diet: you may be dedicated for the first two weeks, but it takes significant effort and commitment to stick with it long-term. If you do stick with it, however, you will find it easier to not only create the right personas but also to revisit and revise them when needed. 

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