Article | 14 min read

How to create actionable buyer personas (examples & tips)

Buyer personas are crucial tools for understanding and delighting your prospects and customers. Here’s what you need to know.

By Donny Kelwig, Contributing Writer

Published May 20, 2022
Last updated May 20, 2022

As valuable as it would be to truly know each of our customers on a personal level, that’s just not possible for most businesses. Startups with a few clients might have that luxury, but once your business booms, it takes far too much time to connect with individuals in your target audience.

Yet you can’t generalize your entire audience, either—some personalization is essential. So, what’s a company to do?

Create a buyer persona: a short description of your ideal customer, including their thoughts, emotions, and job roles.

Buyer personas are crucial for any sales team trying to connect with a large customer base. In this article, we’ll explore why buyer personas are valuable, explain how to create them, and provide a few examples and tips that will enable your sales team to use personas to their full potential.

What is a buyer persona?

A buyer persona is a semi-fictional profile of your target customer based on data and market research. Typically, a company will have multiple buyer personas modeled after particular segments of its audience.

Each of your prospects has unique pain points and standards for partnerships. You can’t fully understand their needs just by looking through your sales tech stack (although it’s a great start). Personas take traits from your entire audience and form them into one imaginary person who can represent them.

For example, a company that sells HR management software caters to a range of businesses, all of which need software for different purposes. This software company can’t realistically tailor its marketing and selling strategies to every individual lead. Instead, it can find what key traits the leads share and construct a persona that fits all their needs.

In many cases, however, one persona doesn’t cut it. Smaller companies might only need three or four actionable personas to specialize their marketing efforts. Meanwhile, larger corporations with diverse audiences could need anywhere from 10 to 20.

Why use a buyer persona?

Buyer personas are communication guidelines. They give you a better understanding of what your customers need from your products and services. They can’t give you an exact profile for each buyer, but they can help you understand what’s going through prospects’ minds during the buying process. That knowledge, in turn, will inform how you can leverage the most effective marketing and sales content and tactics.

For example, a persona for an HR manager can tell you the general pain points of all HR managers for different companies. This makes it easy to hop on a call with a real HR manager and come from a place of informed empathy.

They can help you understand what’s going through prospects’ minds during the buying process.

Personas give sales teams an educated glimpse into the minds of their ideal customer through market research, consumer insights, and past data. They give sales reps a leg up from generic sales scripts. They also free up script budgets to be allocated to more personalized sales materials.

“Negative” buyer personas

Positive personas for your target audience are extremely helpful, but not all personas need to be positive.

There are plenty of companies or people that you don’t want as customers. This is why negative personas are also useful sales tools. Businesses build negative buyer personas to learn what types of leads to filter out or ignore with lead generation software and strategies. Negative personas also help companies avoid selling to the competition and giving away trade secrets.

For instance, if your main targets are large corporations, you probably don’t want to sit down with the decision-makers at a startup. Similarly, if you’re targeting small businesses, going after a Fortune 500 company probably doesn’t make sense.

It’s important to note the difference between leads that might need follow-up down the line and leads that fit a negative buyer persona. Negative personas should only cover customers your business never wants to sell to, not prospects that could become customers in a few years.

Creating buyer personas

Now that we know what buyer personas are and why they’re useful, let’s explore how you can build the best personas for your sales team. Here’s a step-by-step approach to follow.

1. Gather information

buyer persona

Before you even start a persona template, you need to collect current client data.

There are a few ways you can gather the right details:

  • Ask for demographic information in online forms to learn more about trends in your client base. For example, if you’re organizing your personas by different industries, you can put an “industry” field in your online forms. Or, if you have sales force automation solutions, you can find this data by looking through your current clients.
  • Consult with your sales team on any common traits they’re seeing in their buyers. Are prospects in similar roles? Do their companies fall in the same size bracket? Are they all operating in a particular geographical region?
  • Review your sales process to see if there are any patterns in your prospects. You can compare converted prospects with sales tracking tools that might illuminate similarities.
  • Set up interviews with your best clients (or send them surveys) to see why they decided to partner with you. You can also reach out to prospects who backed out in the late stages to figure out why they sought another solution.

2. Determine your customers’ motivations

buyer persona

Demographics and characteristics can help your team find client trends, but motivations are the main factor in buyer behavior. Knowing your prospects’ motivations can make all the difference when building a successful sales process.

Put together a list of traits that encompass your buyers’ pain points. What problems are they having in the workplace? What do they need to make their job easier? Are they struggling with specific issues, or are they unaware they could benefit from a solution?

3. Share your findings with your sales team

buyer persona

If you gain important insights, don’t keep that information to yourself. Compile key quotes from interviews that demonstrate what your target audience needs, and give them to your sales team.

If several of your interviewees bring up similar points, incorporate them into the buyer persona. Allow your sales team to prepare for those questions and objections ahead of time. The more you can prep your reps, the better their selling points will be.

4. Add some personality to the persona

buyer persona

Humanizing your buyer persona can help your sales team better visualize their target customer when they’re practicing their selling points.

Name your persona and outline their daily responsibilities. How do they operate in their position? What other roles do they fill within their company? What goals do they have for their career?

If you’re feeling inspired, throw in a picture of what they could look like. By seeing all the details, your team can practice crafting personal sales strategies that cater to your audience’s pain points.

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Tips for buyer persona interviews

Interviewing people for your personas will be more valuable than simply using market trends and sales rep feedback. If you plan on scheduling interviews, here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your efforts.

  • Who to interview

There are four groups of people you should hone in on when you’re gathering details for your buyer personas.

  1. Past and existing clients: The people who best fit your personas are the people who’ve already said yes. Clients know what your company brings to the table. They’ve discussed pricing options, developed relationships with your sales reps, and made a purchase.

    Most importantly, they saw a pressing need for your product or service and followed up on it. That need is critical to unlocking a successful persona. Ensure you go through your contacts in your sales software tools and schedule interviews with your favorite clients.

  2. Current prospects: Anyone who interacts with your created content is interested in your company—even if they don’t end up buying. If you’re building a persona, take time to learn more about the prospects in your sales funnel. Note what industries they’re in, what roles they fill at their companies, and what made them initially reach out to you. If you can pinpoint exactly what sparked their interest in your product or service, you can emphasize that aspect in future marketing materials and sales pitches.
  3. Referrals: If your sales team is breaking into a new market, it can be tough to get started. The smartest thing to do is use the resources you already have: your customers. Ask them for referrals and interview them. If it’s within the budget, you can even offer current clients a referral bonus for any prospects that end up purchasing.
  4. Prospects who went to your competitors: These prospects saw everything you have to offer and still went to a competitor. This means they know something that you don’t. Set up a meeting with them to find out what wasn’t working for them during your sales process and what they needed that you didn’t offer. This group can be especially useful for creating negative buyer personas.

Now that you know who you’re talking to, let’s start the conversation.

  • How to set up interviews

Not everyone is going to say yes to an interview—some people are busy and some people just don’t want to be bothered. Here are a few tips to get references to agree to interviews:

  • Offer the right incentives: You’re getting value out of each interview you have, but what’s in it for the interviewee? They’re taking time out of their day to conduct research for your company. It’s common courtesy to offer the right incentives. It doesn’t have to be an over-the-top offer or a free year of service, but do make the interview worth their time. A gift card or discount is usually enough to motivate them to sit down and talk.
  • Be clear with your intentions: If an interviewee sees a message from a sales leader, their first thought is that you’re trying to sell them something. They might be suspicious and want to avoid a conversation entirely.

    Make it clear from the onset that you’re not making a sales pitch. Bring up the interview at the start of the call. If you’re using email, make sure you mention the interview in the subject line. The more you can separate the interview from a sales pitch, the more open people will be.
  • Make full use of their time: Prepare your questions beforehand and be flexible with your interviewee’s schedule. That way, when they’re ready to begin the interview, you aren’t wasting any time looking for datasheets or notepads. Additionally, try to avoid lulls in the conversation. Any piece of information you can gain from the conversation is valuable, so keep it moving. Remember, you’re taking time out of your day, too.

If you use your interview time wisely, prepare the right questions, and offer incentives, you can use interviews to revolutionize your personas.

  • Questions to ask during the interview

Given all the information you need to build an actionable buyer persona, it can be difficult to craft effective interview questions without being uncomfortable. It’s important to learn as much as possible, but you can’t trap a reference on the phone for hours on end.

Here are a few questions that will uncover the crucial details you need without wasting time:

Job role/industry questions

  • What is your title and what department do you work in?
  • How would you describe your daily responsibilities?
  • If you were hiring someone to take your place, what qualifications would they need to have?
  • What industry is your company in?
  • What quotas do you need to hit each quarter?
  • Do you normally hit those quotas?
    • If yes, what are your best strategies?
    • If not, what do you think is holding your company back?

Personal/company demographic questions

  • How would you describe your company’s demographic?
  • How would you describe your personal demographic in comparison?
  • What is your company’s employee count?
  • On average, how much revenue do you bring in each year?
  • Does your company deal locally or do you have a large geographic range?

Goal questions

  • What does it mean to be successful in your position?
  • What does it mean to be successful at your company?
  • What does a perfect workday look like?
  • What are your concerns when you’re trying to “hit your numbers”?
  • What challenges are you looking to address?
  • What problems are you looking to fix?

Buying questions

  • How do you prefer to communicate with vendors?
  • How would you describe your last three purchases?
  • What was the reasoning behind those purchases?
  • How did you decide to buy it?
  • Were there any competing offers involved? What made you stick with the one you purchased?
  • What might make you hesitant to purchase from a company?

Most importantly, make sure you record your interviews. You don’t want to forget any crucial insights. A simple CRM platform can help you record meetings or organize your notes to ensure you don’t miss anything.

With information gleaned from your interviews, you should have all the details you need to begin building a persona. To help you get started, take a look at the buyer persona examples below.

Buyer persona examples

Buyer personas will look different for each company. What’s universal is their impact on sales teams. With well-constructed personas, sales reps can target their customer base in a more successful, personalized way. Here are B2C and B2B persona examples you can use to inspire your own.

B2B buyer persona

Alan Webster – Marketing Executive

Personal background

  • Alan has been in marketing for over 20 years.
  • He’s in his mid-40s, he’s married, and he has two kids.
  • Even in important meetings, he always takes time to answer a call from his family.
  • He’ll admit he’s headstrong—maybe a bit too much at times.
  • Even after he leaves work for the day, he’ll always be thinking about how he can solve problems at work.

Key responsibilities

  • Oversee all marketing campaigns
  • Constantly develop and implement the next big marketing strategy
  • Manage and coordinate his staff to complete necessary tasks
  • Get in touch with media and advertising agencies to bring in new leads
  • Make sure the messages he’s sending reach the right audience
  • Keep tabs on existing prospects and learn how he can better market to them

What they care about

  • A quick meeting with a direct objective
  • Keeping company growth goals in line with employee capabilities
  • Keeping up-to-date with current trends on blogs and social media
  • Getting his message to the first page of Google

Challenges

  • Attracting the right audience
  • Finding new and useful leads
  • Not enough employees or time to fully manage his inbound marketing
  • Managing his team in a more efficient manner

Possible objections

  • The service is not worth the price tag he has to pay for it
  • No guaranteed ROI
  • The software looks too complicated for his team to learn quickly
  • The software overlaps and hinders different programs his team is currently using

B2C buyer persona

Erin Mckay – Freelance Software Developer

Personal background

  • Single and in her 20s
  • Needs three cups of coffee a day
  • Struggles to write “unique” code in time to meet deadlines
  • Spends free time on solo projects that she’s hoping will take off soon
  • Still working on her degree, but she has taken enough online courses to earn a Master’s
  • Does coding as a hobby but takes jobs for extra income

What they care about

  • Gaining experience to one day leave freelance and work for a larger company
  • Learning how to go beyond copying and pasting code to fully understanding the field
  • Practicing with premium tools to ease into a workplace environment
  • Constantly looking to learn more about code

Challenges

  • Needing to interpret her clients’ needs
  • Writing code on the fly to meet customer needs
  • Spends most of her time organizing and compiling code
  • Has a difficult time finding the errors in her code

Selling strategies

  • Focus on free trials and special offers
  • Reiterate the time she can save with premium developer tools
  • Show how premium tools can make her side projects easier, too
  • Emphasize the creative freedom and specialization of the premium tools

Organize your buyer information with a strong CRM

Buyer personas require a lot of details to be successful tools. Between company data, market trends, and interviews, it can be difficult to organize all the information your team needs to secure a sale.

With Zendesk Sell, you can streamline your persona research and apply it to your sales strategy with ease. With sales prospecting tools, you and your team can stay on top of company information and personas in one convenient place. Zendesk Sell also integrates with hundreds of different business apps and software, making collaboration simple.

Request a demo today to see how a robust CRM can help you learn more about your buyers and bolster your sales process.

Improve your sales process

A good sales process is the foundation of any successful sales organization. Learn how to improve your sales process and close more deals.

Improve your sales process

A good sales process is the foundation of any successful sales organization. Learn how to improve your sales process and close more deals.

Read now