Personas generate some controversy

There’s an interesting discussion going on in the blogosphere about the merits of personas. In late January the Cranky PMdid a rant about the “crap detail” in personas, complaining that they don’t “include the facts that really matter.” A few days later, Saeed Khan jumped into the fray with a post at On Product Management. Like the Cranky PM, Saeed expressed disdain for the prevalence of so much useless, irrelevant information.

Now this week’s post from Kristin Zhivago says that personas can create trouble. Her concern -- that sales people might use personas to forget everything they were ever taught about consultative selling. It appears that she’s also seen websites with misguided persona practices, since she references web copy that describes a persona rather than answering her questions. From those two vantage points, it’s no wonder that Kristin's raising a red flag.

Those of us who do understand personas need to know that there is a lot of misinformation going around. Before we launch a persona project internally, we need to be familiar with these concerns and make sure we don't do anything to
reinforce them.

The first step is to make sure that our personas accurately reflect the real needs of a target set of buyers. I did a webinar last week that outlines seven ways to gather good persona information. If you want a refresher, or if you are new to persona development, you can view the webinar here.

Then we need to consider the needs of each of our internal audience personas and deliver only the information that makes sense. If I want to communicate with a developer about the capabilities that drive buying decisions, I'm careful to stick to the facts. Developers want Data. Anything that could conceivably be perceived as fluff will only discredit everything else I have to say.

When I talk to sales people about a new persona I want them to reach, I tell them a story about the process the buyer will go through to make a decision. Sales people want Stories. I make sure that my story illustrates the sales tools we built to answer each persona’s questions throughout the stages of the buying process.
I don’t generally use the "persona" word when I talk to sales people. Instead I talk about someone with a specific job title in a target industry. I tell them who I talked to in a particular role, and what I learned from theseconversations. Here’s a recent post I wrote on this subject.

If my target is a web designer, I tell them to use the persona information to think about who will visit the site, which stages in the buying process they are completing online, and what questions we need to answer if we want to move the process forward. In most cases, it should not be apparent to the web visitor that personas were utilized by the designer. The persona simply communicates the needs of the buyer(s) so that the developer knows how to enable a satisfying  buying process.

And if the internal audience is an executive, read yesterday’s post on the Tuned In Blog by Phil Myers at Pragmatic Marketing. Phil talks about using personas to distribute leadership responsibilities and align different parts of the company around the needs and concerns of the market. You might also think about whether your senior executive is really a developer or sales person at heart, and utilize the ideas in the relevant paragraph above.

The good news is that personas are generating a lot of discussion and notoriety. But fame often exposes an idea to criticism, so we all need to stay grounded in the facts and the importance of the problem we’re trying to solve. Keep reminding everyone that market-driven companies need to implement practices to understand and communicate internally about the needs of different segments of the market. Tell them that we will use personas to avoid all of the wasted effort on messages, programs and tactics that speak to no one. Those are goals that won't generate any controversy.

Topics: Buyer Personas, Good Use of Personas, Positioning & Messaging, Sales people

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