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Building Buyer Personas for Your MSP: Our Experience

Posted by Irina Kavchik

MSP Marketing tips: Building Buyer Personas

In this post, we want to share our experience of building buyer persona profiles, aka target audience profiles; also, what we learned during this process, what worked well and what did not.  Building personas mainly consist of interviewing your customers, ideally by having a 30 minute in-depth conversation with them.If possible, you need to arrange conversations with prospects and churned customers too. To start with, we focused on our current customers, as it is easier to reach them.

There are different reasons why you may need to build buyer personas. Here are a few examples:

  1. Develop a better product and service.
  2. Build a better value proposition.
  3. Create highly-targeted content (as well as relevant and helpful).
  4. Help your team understand the customers they serve.

Whatever the reason, building persona profiles will help you to understand your customers better and discover new perspectives. At the same time, it will make your customers happier.

The process

First, we had to select who would want to participate in our project.

Initially, we determined that we have three main decision makers in the MSP:

  1. Business Owner or General Manager
  2. IT Manager or IT Service Manager
  3. Engineer or Tech

The goal was to interview at least three engineers, three business owners and three IT managers.

We identified and built a list of 30 individuals, who we thought would be interested in participating in our project. Creating a list was not random, as we wanted to customize each email invitation. We looked through the database to identify who had previously subscribed to any feedback groups. We also talked to our support team to find out if there were any potentially interested customers. If you have some information upfront you can always customize your message when asking for something. A bit more work, but it's worth it.

TIP: Try not to focus entirely on customers you have the best relationship with. Think broader. You want to talk to those who you haven’t managed to build strong relationships with yet.

Second, we had to ask people to participate.

When we started, the idea of building buyer personas was new to us. Besides this, we wanted to collect opinions on product performance too. As a result, we named the project “Your Opinion Matters”. We clearly outlined what we were going to ask in the interview, as well as outlining the purpose.

Here is an example of the email we sent to one of our customers:

MSP tips: invitation letter example

In the following week or two, we had 10 interviews booked. We were super excited!

Third, we had to prepare right questions.

This is something you need to start thinking about early in the process. Asking the right questions is a key to build a good audience profiles and eventually getting value for both you and your customers.

First, you need to define the purpose of your buyer persona profiles. What do you want to achieve after you collect this info? Do you want to gain a better understanding of what content they are interested, how they use your product, why they chose to “hire” your product or service, or maybe you want to build a better value proposition?

Almost all templates for building buyer profiles you find on the internet include a huge section on personal background, company and the persona role in the company.

Clayton Christensen‎ in his book “Competing Against Luck” writes that characteristics and attributes that we all have do not cause us to go and do what we do. Maybe there are some correlations between those characteristics and why we may choose to do a certain thing over another, but they will not cause you to do what you do.  

You will need to take a scientific approach to get those correlations right.

TIP 1: If you can’t think how you can use this info, take those questions out. 

We followed instructions and the template provided in this article “20 Questions to Ask when creating Buyer Personas”. It is a good starting point, but I would recommend building your own list of questions.

If I would do it again, I would skip everything up to Questions 12. This means skipping all the demographic section - characteristics and attributes.

If you still think this info is important, you can do your own research. Most of this info can be found on LinkedIn or Facebook. You can also ask those who work closely with clients to help you out.

But remember, you don’t want to end up with a profile that gives you a description of the persona, you want to know what caused people to make a certain decision.

TIP 2: Do your own homework, research your personas in your own time, and do not waste their time.

Questions we asked about DeskDirector:

  1. What motivated you to buy our product?
  2. How did you learn or find out about DD the first time?
  3. If you would look for other solutions, what would you look at?
  4. How has DD made your day-to-day work better?
  5. What did you like about DD instantly, and what did you not like?
  6. What were your main concerns before you made a decision to sign up for DD?
  7. When did you go to the pricing page - what were your first thoughts?
  8. How would you describe us to your friends?
  9. What would you want us to improve in the near future?

Even though we did not have a clear goal in mind for this interview, those questions actually helped a lot in terms of understanding our customer’s decisions.

Fourth, preparing for the interview.

Make sure you have a device to record your interviews, and do not forget to ask permission. Thus, you can focus on the conversation and will not miss any important information.

Conducting great interviews is an art. Don’t worry if you don’t get it right the first time, you will learn. What you need to do is to listen to your recorded interviews, make notes and analyze how you can do better next time.

TIP 1: Because we are in New Zealand and the majority of our customers are in the United States, we had to arrange phone calls. If you have a chance to invite your customers for coffee, you could have a much better interview.
TIP 2: Don’t forget to write a “Thank you” note right after the call.

Fifth, building personas.

You will need to analyze the data you have collected. First, you will have to transcribe your interviews. You can do it yourself or give it to someone on Fiverr.

Second, you will need to set a time to go through all the data, and identify trends.

Remember, personas are not specific individuals with certain job titles; each persona profile is a collective generalization of your ideal prospects.

It may be easy to start with a job position but it won’t tell you why they have those goals or challenges. A job title is an attribute. If you remove the titles and names, you will find that they have nothing to do with goals and motivations. You may end up with more personas than you thought but you will have a way better picture.

This is especially important if you are considering using persona profiles in creating interesting and relevant content.

Six, continue developing your personas.

Persona profiles come from real people, like us, and we grow and change.

It is good to have conversations with your customers from time-to-time to uncover new insights. This may also lead to uncovering new personas which is great but we would not recommend that you focus on more than 3 (maximum 5) personas, as it is not practical.

If you end up with too many personas, it may confuse you. You will end up with so much data that it will be hard to analyze.

Keep in mind that the main priority of developing personas is to add more insights into the current one rather than uncovering a new one.

What have we learned so far?

  • You must set a goal for the buyer persona interviews. These we help you to narrow down your questions and have conversations that are more meaningful.

 

  • Don’t ask any irrelevant or obvious information.

 

  • Skip demographic data if you can’t find how you can get actionable insights from it, or do your own research if you really need it.

 

  • Building personas is not a one-off task in your marketing calendar. You need to keep developing your personas and learn how you can successfully utilize the data in your marketing strategy.

 

  • Avoid using job titles for persona profiles. You may find that “business owner” can have more than one persona. We are all different and we are not acting in a certain way depending on our job title.

 

  • Be clear with the purpose of the interview / conversation. 

 

  • There is still heaps to learn!

Resources that we found helpful:

 

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