Many people ask me how many interviews they should conduct for buyer personas. There are too many dependencies for a simple answer. But I’d happily trade three-to-five highly insightful discussions for several dozen templates filled with data every competitor knows at a glance. If we need high confidence, we can easily quantify the prevalence of the insights with a survey.
Interaction with the participants in last week’s Discovering Persona Insights workshop reminded me that this issue is deeply misunderstood. People seem to think that the goal is to get as many buyers as possible to answer every question on the template.
Here’s how that works out. The interviewer is concerned that the allotted 20 or 30 minutes is barely enough time, so when the buyer says . . .
. . . we chose you because you are the market leader, had the best price, or because your sales person was responsive
. . . we eliminated you from consideration because your product was too expensive, or because it was missing feature “X”
. . . the interviewer simply records the response in the appropriate section of the template, and asks the next question.
The problem is that this buyer just gave us the same throw-away answer she gave the sales rep. This does nothing to inform our marketing strategy. Plus our willingness to keep this interview skin-deep does nothing to engage the buyer in sharing what really happened. I bet she’s reading her email, unwilling to give us more than a fraction of her attention.
This type of interview will capture what the buyer concluded, but that’s all. To create a useful connection between the buyer persona and a product we want to market to them, we also need to capture how buyers arrived at their conclusions, and why the buyer ranked that issue so highly.
A buyer who has rapport with the interviewer and is fully engaged in the conversation will talk for five-to-ten minutes about just one aspect of the decision. When that happens, we know the buyer cares passionately about this topic, which is valuable information in and of itself. And if the interviewer knows how to ask the right follow-up question, the buyer will reveal information that is frankly startling.
On one call we might find a buyer who talks at length about how the competitor’s preferred capability would impact their business, or the trade-offs they made when they chose the less expensive option.
Another buyer will talk in detail about the pain they experienced evaluating each solution’s functionality, how other stakeholders impacted the outcome, and their attitudes towards the final decision.
If we can make the interview truly interesting for buyers, a conversation that was scheduled for 20-minutes is still in progress after as much as an hour. These buyers appreciate that the company was interested in hearing their version of the story. And we have just gained the insights that will literally transform everything we do.