Questions to Ask for Customer Persona Development

You need to develop customer personas for your marketing strategy. What should you ask?

Customer personas are one of the key tools of any good content marketer. They’re representations of your ideal customer that allow you to get inside your customer’s head and speak their language. Most importantly, they’re essential for building your brand strategy and providing your customers with a meaningful, authentic user experience.

Building a solid customer personas usually requires a few interviews. If you’re building personas for your own company, ask yourself these questions. Also ask other members of your staff, particularly those involved in sales, marketing, and customer outreach. If you can interview some of your key customers, that would also be ideal.

These are questions we usually ask our clients as we develop their personas. By the time we reach the persona development phase, we probably know enough about their business to hone some of these down. But if the question seems relevant and I don’t know the immediate answer, I don’t hesitate to ask—even if it seems obvious.

1. Who are your current customer personas, and who do you want them to be?

Very few B2C clients want to shift their customer base, but it’s common among B2B businesses to hear someone say something like” we have a lot of small businesses right now, but we’d like to start landing larger corporations,” or “we talk to a lot of people from HR, but we’d really like to speak directly to the president.”

Of course, adding a new persona doesn’t mean abandoning a current one. It’s best practice to develop personas for any significant group of target customers.

2. What does your ideal customer do for a living?

For B2B businesses, the answer to this is often “Head of Marketing,” or some other job title. For B2C businesses, their occupation may be less relevant, but it’s still important to note any trends. Also, B2C businesses still often serve specific industries. For instance, if you’re a backpack company, you might target students—or their parents.

3. What are their demographics?

Age? Gender? Race? Religion? Education level? Any one of these will affect how you market your product. Once you begin to identify the demographic profile, you will be better able to speak to their interests. For instance, how might you write to a Millennial as opposed to a Boomer?

4. What does success mean to them?

Your buyer persona wants something, and you can help them achieve it. What is it? Can you help them boost sales? Achieve a raise? Are the turning to your for personal improvement? Or do they simply want to feel better about some aspect of their life? How does your product or service help them win?

5. What’s their biggest pain point?

This strikes at the heart of why someone might want to purchase your product or service. How are you making their life better? Are you saving them time? Money? Helping them improve at work or in their personal life? Entertaining them? Why do they need your business?

6. What’s their biggest fear?

This sometimes coincides with pain points, but not always. For instance, someone’s pain point might be “I need something that will help me save time at work by automating this menial task.” But their biggest pain point might be “I’m worried that if I don’t become more efficient, I’ll lose my job.” Or, “I’m worried that this won’t save me time as promised, and all the work I put in to trying to learn it will be lost time instead.”

7. What are their biggest hesitations?

Again, hesitations are not the same as fears. Someone might be excited about your product and convinced it will help solve their need, but they might still hold back. Maybe they can’t justify the price, or they aren’t sure they’ll use it as much as they think. How might you address and remove these hesitations?

8. What is their knowledge level about your product or industry?

Consumers these days are more informed and knowledgeable than ever. But that doesn’t mean everyone knows everything equally. Maybe your product is completely novel: what do your customers need to learn before they will be convinced to make a purchase? Or maybe they’re already experts in the field. Will they understand and be comfortable with industry jargon?

9. What is the size of their company?

For B2B customers: are they a small business, a giant corporation, or somewhere in between? How big are the departments? When you talk to Head of Sales, are they also the CEO? Or are they the Head of Sales in one department of a local branch of a multinational organization?

10. What’s their budget?

For B2B businesses: how price sensitive are they? Will they debate every line item on the budget? Or is this an easy sell? For B2C customers: how budget conscious are they? What amount of money is essentially “pocket change” versus a major expenditure? Can they drop $20 for lunch without it breaking the bank? Or would they happily spend $200 at dinner without thinking twice?

11. Is this an impulse buy or an investment?

Having a tight budget doesn’t mean someone won’t still be a loyal customer. In fact, if your service has the potential to save them money down the road, a cost-conscious customer might be your ideal. After all, why would a millionaire need to buy your budgeting guide?

12. What does a sales process look like for them?

Sales timelines can be as short as a few seconds (a candy bar) and as long as a few years (a college). What journey does your buyer take during that time? Can they decide all on their own, or will they consult coworkers, friends, or family members? Do they need to go through several rounds of pitching, or will they come to a decision independently? How might you nurture them toward a sale?

13. Where do they go for information?

Think about blogs, buyer’s guides, professional publications, or online influencers. Who might you reach out to for a review of your product? What information will your persona need to know before they can make a purchase?

14. Are they members of an association or social network?

Do they attend conferences or networking events? Are those events you might attend yourself, or are they ones at which you might be able to deliver a presentation? Will you be able to take advantage of word of mouth? Are they on Pinterest, or do they prefer Twitter?

15. Are they the key decision maker?

Your persona may not be in control of the purse strings, but that doesn’t mean they’re not a powerful advocate for your product. Think about toy advertisements: kids rarely have the money to purchase the toys themselves, but that doesn’t mean toy brands are going to start trying to sell toys to parents.

16. Are they loyal to any brands?

Purchasers often follow buying patterns that don’t seem obvious at first, but can still be reliable predictors of purchasing behavior. This is why hipsters are so often associated with PBR and Warby Parker glasses. If you’re trying to reach that audience, that’s where you might advertise. What do you know about your ideal buyer persona’s shopping behavior?

17. What are their hobbies?

One hobby often leads to another, and certain groups of people often share similar pastimes. DIYers, for instance, are often quick to pick up a new craft, and the stereotypes about CEOs and golfing haven’t gone anywhere in decades. What hobbies do your customers have, and is that an effective way to reach them with your brand?

18. What are some of your customer FAQs?

I love getting in touch with the sales department to talk to them about FAQs. There’s so much to learn from them, and yet it’s so easy for a business to overlook them and forget to integrate them into a detailed persona. If you struggle to answer some of the above questions, an FAQ list might help illuminate the answers.

You don’t need to answer every question.

When we go through persona lists, some people have the impression that they need to fill in an answer for every question. It’s OK if some of them aren’t relevant, or if you simply don’t know. Better to skip a question than to start making up answers that may not fit your market.

It’s also OK to intuit an answer, even if you can’t fully back it up. Just make sure you don’t base your entire marketing strategy on a guess.

Published 03/13/18 by Laura Lynch