Accurate buyer personas are essential for the success of any company following the inbound methodology. Knowing who you’re talking to and servicing will help you ensure you’re always providing value.
Part of the buyer persona creation process is aligning your marketing, sales and service teams around who your target customers should be. There’s a knowledge gap that needs to be overcome because your marketing, sales and service teams will all have different perspectives of your customers based on their roles in the buyer’s journey.
The final buyer persona is a hypothetical representation of the companies or people who will benefit from your company’s product or service based on industry research and employee insight.
But once those personas are finished, you can’t just pass them off to marketing and never look at them again. You need to analyze whether your hypothetical buyer personas are matching up with your actual customers and update your personas based on your findings.
Additionally, changes in technology or relevant industries can cause your personas to become outdated, so maintaining your buyer personas will become just as important as creating them in the first place.
Why You Should Validate Your Buyer Personas
After you’ve started using your buyer personas to inform your marketing and sales strategy, you should regularly examine whether the customers you’re bringing in match the characteristics outlined in your buyer personas.
“That should happen every six months, maybe every nine months once you’ve gathered enough data to really understand what varies from the baseline personas you’ve created in your database,” Karin Krisher, New Breed’s Client Experience Lead says.
If the hypothetical characteristics you think your customers will have don’t line up with your actual customers, that can reveal an issue with your personas, your positioning or your content. Maybe your product isn’t helping who you thought it would or your content is attracting the wrong people. Regardless, validating that your buyer personas are the people your marketers and sales reps should be targeting is essential for your business’s health.
“I think it’s always worth having the conversation within your organization anyway about whether the service department is seeing things play out the same way the sales department did and looking at that deal long-term,” Karin says.
Beyond just helping you attract and convert the right customers, buyer personas can help your product or service delivery team better solve for your customers’ challenges.
“Some people think that who personas are and how they fit into their organization are unimportant post-sale,” says Nick Frigo, a Growth Strategist at New Breed. “It's hard to maintain persona segmentation once they're your customer. But, if you can do that, you not only serve them better — you tee-up customer marketing and retention conversations.”
Additionally, it’s possible that which persona your customers align with will change once they become your customer and start working with you. If that happens, your customer marketing communications and product/service delivery will need to adapt to their changing needs.
“You should have it set up in your marketing automation such that if the company grows and then they fill out a new form or you know that growth is happening, [The company is] going to map to a new persona. It’s not going to stay the same persona,” Karin says.
Your customer behavior will help you retroactively improve your buyer personas so you can focus your marketing and sales efforts on the most qualified leads, and your improved buyer personas will help you better understand and service your customers.
“It’s in the service process that you really understand who that persona is. You can do all that work in marketing to segment and in sales to really figure out who they are, but then once you have a client relationship that’s when you get to know what persona that actually is, and you’ll see these different needs emerge,” Karin says.
Utilizing your service team in your buyer persona validation can help you learn more about how your product or service is actually being utilized so you can ensure your messaging is targeting the right pain points for the right people.
“The real way to validate buyer personas is to follow them all the way through the customer journey and assess all of that,” Karin says.
How to Validate Your Buyer Personas Quantitatively
When you first created your buyer personas, you looked at trends in your database in addition to getting feedback from your marketing and sales teams. To validate your buyer personas quantitatively, you’re going to re-examine the data initially collected.
“You do another contact analysis based on everything you’ve learned up until that point — that’s the re-evaluation process,” Karin says. “Anything that you use to qualify the buyer personas, you should be measuring against that. Is it true that job title majority is Vice President of Ops or are we seeing that 80% of the job titles coming in are CTO instead? If that’s the case, either you have your personas wrong or the content you create isn’t speaking to the right personas.”
Look at the demographic and firmographic information in addition to their digital body language. Were their early touchpoints through the channels you thought were most effective for reaching them? Did they follow the conversion paths you expected them to? Are your customers coming from the locations or industries you expected them to?
Additionally, look at how the changes in your contact database compare to your company's growth goals. Even if you currently have a healthy contact database that matches with your buyer personas, if it isn’t growing the way your company wants to, you’ll have difficulty meeting your goals in the future.
“The analysis of your buyer personas from a quantitative perspective should always map to your broader goals,” Nick says. “The process should be: 'we're going to measure our current contact database growth against the criteria we established for our new market.’”
For example, if your company is hoping to expand in the health care industry, but the percentage of health care contacts decreased, that’s a sign that you’re not targeting the right people even if you’re meeting your conversion rate goals at every stage of the flywheel.
How to Validate Your Buyer Personas Qualitatively
To qualitatively examine your buyer personas, segment your customers from inbound sources by persona type and look at their lead behavior and their success as a customer. Examine that information through the lens of fit.
What’s the opportunity-to-closed-won-rate for each persona? Once they’ve closed, are you retaining and upselling them? Are they referring new business?
“That’s where you learn if that’s really who you should be targeting, not only because they’ll buy it, but because it’s a continued relationship and a successful relationship,” Karin says.
Your service team needs to be part of this qualitative analysis. Your VP of operations will have insight into your clients in a way that your VP of sales couldn’t because of the way they’re going to be interacting with your customers.
Your customer-facing operations employees, service delivery team and product team will be seeing how customers are utilizing and benefiting from your product on a regular basis in addition to being familiar with the weaknesses of your product or service.
“Who is your ideal buyer?’ is not enough to lead to long-term retention or any sort of flywheel growth at all. It’s like a tourist-shop sales process. It’s one-and-done,” Nick says. “So if you actually want to know who the personas are that you can delight long-term and who can really contribute to recurring revenue, I think customer service personas are even better than marketing personas.”
In addition to getting input from your service team and client success managers, you should also try to interview your customers about their experience with your company.
Ask about what they’re gaining from your product or service, how they’re using it, what their buyer’s journey was like, how they first learned about your company and what the challenge they were looking to solve was.
“If you’re doing a customer interview, you want to learn how they bought. You definitely want to learn about their buyer’s journey to understand how that plays into their greater journey with the company and their greater experience,” Karin says.
On top of that, you should try to ask some questions that only the customer themselves can answer.
“If you get to interview a customer, asking ‘what was your process like when you bought this?’ is important, but beyond that ‘what was the most surprising part of implementing this tool?” That’s the thing the company itself will be unable to answer,” Nick says.
Specifically, try to pin-point misalignment between sales and customers. A sales rep might not be able to tell you the weaknesses or failures of your product or service because that’s not how they think about it. Whereas your customers can tell you whether your product or service is accomplishing what they were promised it could.
Conducting these customer interviews as a marketer also helps give you more insight than a sales rep or customer success manager could gain because you’re more distant from the selling process.
“As a writer and persona-developer, end-users tend to open up to me about the real performance of my client's products,” Nick says. “I don't have any ulterior motives because I'm just trying to learn, not sell them something.”
Validate Frequently and Systematically
Buyer persona validation needs to be built into your company’s workflow.
“You need a process built for each of those touchpoints between your service team and your marketing or sales team and everything about the process should be defined,” Karin says.
That process can be re-assessed and improved upon later, but if you don’t build it into your process as a regularly reoccurring task, buyer persona re-evaluation is not going to be prioritized and will probably just pushed off indefinitely.
“Businesses do so many critical things on a cyclical cadence," Nick says. "They audit their books and survey their employees and customers because those things are the lifeblood of how they stay in business.”
Persona validation should become one of those repeated processes that’s essential for your business’s health.
“It’s like cleaning your house. You should do it once a week, but if you’re throwing a dinner party, you should definitely do it. In other words, it should be all the time — but if your growth goals have you changing direction in any way, it's an absolute must to do a persona evaluation that plans for those changes,” Nick says.
Quinn is a writer and copyeditor whose work ranges from journalism to travel writing to inbound marketing content.