Evolving Personas

Blog Post By:Rob Hawse

If your manufacturing company has undertaken a website refresh in the past five years or so, your developer likely asked you to provide some customer “personas”.

The website personas are intended to bring customer data and demographics to life to you and provide you with a way to pre-test the relevance of your website content strategy and website design.

Personas also serve to remind you that when it comes to communicating with customers, it’s not about you. It’s about them.

Our feeling is that you are on the right track but have some work to do. We would argue that – now more than ever – we need to ask a lot more of personas. That’s because to complete the first leg of the customer journey (awareness to sale) we need to do more than prove our relevance to prospects; we also must generate trust by confirming our competence and ultimately close the sale by reaffirming the logic and validity of the buying decision with everyone who has something at stake.

It’s hard to do that without knowing a whole lot about each role in the buying process, particularly what propels them toward the relationship – and what stops them in their tracks!

First you have to decide what roles really matter and then you have to figure out how they interact, what their priorities are, how they are aligned or how they conflict. No one operates in a vacuum.

Imagine the conversations that might take place between these roles at the “water cooler” and then back into what is going on behind the scenes of each one to flesh out a matrix of what each role is thinking, feeling, hearing, seeing, doing, and saying when it comes to your product, the need for it, and what is in the way of the deal. It can be very illuminating!

For example, if there is a design engineer and a purchasing agent involved, map out what their individual priorities and obstacles are and then compare them. The messaging each will require to move forward likely will be very different. You also will want to ask the same question many times in a different way and over time because you will find out different things as that conversation evolves.

To that end, it is no longer enough to provide one message in one format and expect each role to extract what they need from it because they won’t.

The manufacturer that takes the time to understand what they really need to move forward and provides the customer with a smorgasbord of ways to consume that information will win. Period.

Your sales and customer service leaders should be able to provide you with a lot of this information but when it comes to this kind of customer research, there really is no substitute for talking directly to, well, the customers. There are a few ways to go about this, each with pros and cons. In our Workshop, we typically ask to talk directly to a cross section of customers, and the results are always revealing. On the other hand, conducting this research yourself provides you with an opportunity to strengthen existing relationships. And there is always the option of combining the two.

Caveat: Not everyone may see the value in this exercise.

Some also may be threatened because the process is designed to call into question everything you think you know about your prospects and customers. Our feeling is that it’s much better to voluntarily humble oneself sooner and be open to seeing what is really going on with your prospects and customers than to be proven wrong more publicly later by losing the market.

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