Crafting Great Personas Helps to Win Customers

Closing sales requires the ability to develop trust and personalize the way you communicate. The most persuasive proposals win over business prospects by demonstrating empathy for an organization’s needs and goals. 

I’m a creative strategist for Q Branch, an in-house agency at Salesforce. The way we connect with potential customers is by crafting personas and developing stories that help them envision a better future. 

Need creative inspiration?

It takes practice to craft stories that sell a vision to potential customers. Learn how one creative strategist gets inspiration from a role-playing board game.

What’s a persona?

Personas are realistic characters who represent key audience segments. We craft personas by doing research and using qualitative and quantitative data that we gather through: interviews, surveys, discovery questions, internal data (e.g. CRM, win/loss analysis), external data (e.g. Facebook audience insights, Google Analytics), user profiles, third-party studies, and more.

These insights translate into details such as:

  • segment or group
  • fictional name, job title, and responsibilities
  • Jobs To Be Done
  • demographics (age, education, family background)
  • how the product solves for pain points
  • goals the product helps achieve
  • environmental factors (e.g. physical, social, tech)
  • quotes that represent key insights

We use personas and storytelling to help potential customers understand the products we sell and how they might serve as solutions. Also, we can share values and marketing messages through personas. Ultimately, the personas and stories we create help prospective customers make purchasing decisions.

How do you research personas? 

Personas are crucial to just about any role—sales, marketing, product, design, and more. Throughout my experience, I’ve gained insights, tactics, and tips for avoiding common mistakes that can help anyone develop effective personas and messaging:

1. Identify the pain points to get the truth

On the surface, problems and pain points may seem the same. They’re different.

Problems are relatively unemotional descriptions of challenges. For example, “We need help managing our workflows.” Pain has emotion tied behind it, and this emotion fuels change. A pain is something like, “I’m extremely stressed out that our workflows are causing so much friction.”

An essential goal in research is to uncover the pain – and the powerful emotion behind it. By uncovering the pain, you unlock the real reasons why buying decisions are made.

2. Keep digging

A common research mistake is stopping at the surface level. To understand a prospect’s perspective, look for deeper pains and motivations for how they want to change, and the language they use to communicate. Ask questions that uncover: 

  • The emotional pain and  how much it’s costing them. This is also called the “quantifiable pain.” There can be several issues happening.
  • Why it’s important they reach their stated goal(s). For example, it’s not enough to know they want to increase revenue by $50M year over year. Why is it important to them? Will this help them achieve their burning desire to reach the C-suite? Are there high stakes causing high stress that they want to alleviate?
  • What happens if they don’t reach their goal or solve their pain? What is the emotional and quantifiable cost?
  • They have to be motivated to solve their pain and/or reach their goal. Understand factors impacting their want, ability, and degree to which they can acquire the solution.

3. Meet them where they are and speak their language

Subtle changes in language can have a huge impact in building trust. Shift thinking from telling prospects about the features and benefits of a product to talking about outcomes. Frame the solutions in the language of the prospect’s business.

For example, one customer was interested in a solution for employee and client engagement. Rather than talk about features, we researched what the company cares about. In interviews and content, they stressed goals like: “building trust in society” and “solving important problems.” We discovered their talent development and client segment priorities. By incorporating this language into our messaging, it helped close one of Salesforce’s largest deals that year.

This is where it pays to be curious, empathetic, and have diverse perspectives. Do everything you can to put yourself in the customer’s position. Learn their lens for seeing themselves—and how they want to be seen—at both the company-wide and specific audience (executive) level.

4. Help your customer connect with their customers

As you craft messaging, it’s pivotal to recognize how your customer wants to transform and help their customers. We use these tactics to bridge companies and their customers:

  • Synthesize and map the journey: After understanding the customer’s deeper pains, goals, and motivation, strategists map the journey. We synthesize insights throughout discovery, combining business, technical, and human elements.
  • Create the future state vision: We write a clear, compelling vision from the customer’s perspective. The vision shows the journey from current state to future success—unlocked by the solution.
  • Make the customer the hero: Centering your customer means helping them create meaningful connections with their customers. How does your solution make your customer look good to their customers?

Creating the Personas

If you do the research, the personas almost write themselves. However, there’s still the work of putting it all together and deciding what’s most important to include. Collaboration and including diverse perspectives is important to crafting personas.

Determine Key Personas

Decide the most important audience segments you want the persona to represent. Consider the size and messaging needs of you audience. For example, if your audience is broad, you may want high-level personas that represent larger teams. Audience-specific messaging likely yields personas that target a specific role within that vertical.

Since Q Branch usually crafts audience-specific messaging, we designate one persona as the hero (often the customer’s customer or a key buyer). This is the transformational journey you want to highlight in the future vision story.

Image of a woman holding a tablet. The text surrounding her describes persona attributes. The background image shows several people at a group of desks.
A sample persona. [Image source: Salesforce Q Branch]

First Draft

There’s no set format to creating personas. Instead, we focus on essentials: responsibilities, current pain points, future goals. Other persona considerations include: demographics (age, education, family background), environmental factors (physical, social, tech), quotes representing key insights, brief description of their day, how they make buying decisions, key influences and collaborators. Using discovery insights, we list all ideas in the first draft and streamline as we go. 

Cross-Team Alignment

We run a “hero workshop” to align the team on the key persona characteristics and messaging. For participants, we recommend including diverse contributors. This includes subject matter experts, sales agents, customer success teams, and others. Aim for the top three responsibilities, pains, and goals you want to highlighted. During the personas exercise, teams refine each persona while creative strategists guide the discussion and whiteboard ideas. This enables us to consider all perspectives, build a unified customer understanding, and create a shared stake in messaging strategy. 

Refine and Validate Personas

Simplify the personas down to the most impactful messaging. Craft visuals with an attention to detail. Show you deeply understand the audience as you bring your persona to life. Finally, validate personas with relevant stakeholders. Revise as many times as needed. Congratulations, you’ve created the perfect persona!

Future Vision Story

At Q Branch, we use personas to tell the story of our customer’s transformation. This is the “North Star” messaging for all customer-facing assets (e.g. presentations, demos, videos, mockups, microsites, etc.). Start the story where your persona is today—the big goals they want to achieve and the obstacles in their way. Show how, by adopting your product, they overcome the obstacles and triumph. 

Journey Map

A simple, clear representation of your customer’s successful transformation made possible by your products. Often included at the beginning and end of the story to offer an executive summary.  

How crafting personas increases value? 

The value of using personas goes far beyond the output itself. Personas enable customer-centricity throughout the sales and marketing process—deeply knowing the audience, what they most care about, and how to discuss your product in a way that resonates.

Each asset we deliver can inspire potential customers and get them to say “yes” to your product. When a CEO gets excited and hugs our sales team, we know we’ve told a good story. Thanks to the value of personas, we’ve planted the seeds of long-term customer trust.  

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