December 4, 2019

How Personas’ Pains Can Emerge and Evolve Over the Buyer’s Journey

Who are your buyer personas created for? Your marketing team? Your sales team? Your product or service delivery team? Hopefully all of the above. 

But the pain points each of those groups needs to address are different. 

If your buyer personas include only top-of-the-funnel, awareness stage challenges, then it’ll be difficult for sales to pick up the conversation when marketing hands them a lead. Conversely, if marketers try to use decision stage pains (specific to their product or service) to guide their marketing efforts, they’ll have trouble attracting leads to the top of their funnel. 

Even if you focus on just marketing conversion paths, the pains that marketers need to address slightly vary at each stage and continue past the marketing-to-sales handoff.

Awareness Stage Pains

The pain points you target with awareness stage content are typically broad, high-level challenges. The goal of your marketing content at this point is to educate prospects about their challenges while getting your company’s name in their minds

A prospect at the awareness stage might have challenges like:

  • I don’t know how to measure the effectiveness of my marketing strategy
  • I’m struggling to communicate with other members of my team
  • Our processes are disorganized and there is very little visibility into what everyone is working on

“At the beginning of that person’s journey, they might not have all the pains, or they might not be aware of all the pains,” Client Experience Lead Karin Krisher says. “They might think they have one pain, but really it’s another. Or they might think they have one pain and it evolves into another based on what they’re learning.”

As prospects learn more about their challenges, they might identify root causes that they hadn’t previously considered. For example, a prospect whose biggest challenge is a lack of conversions might think that their problem is a poor website strategy. However, as they learn more about conversion optimization, they might realize they also don’t have enough content for their prospects to convert on.

One thing is clear: As companies work to reach prospects at the beginning of their buyer’s journey, it’s important to focus on educational challenges as opposed to product-related challenges. 

“There are things you’re worried about when you’re trying to learn about a topic that you aren’t worried about when you’re searching for a solution,” Karin says. “Most companies will tell you that the pain points they’re exploring with their personas are directly related to their product — but those aren’t pain points people have when identifying their problem, at the top of the funnel. Those are pain points people have when they’re looking for a solution.”

Download our Field Guide to Buyer Personas to start crafting accurate personas  for your business.

Consideration Stage Pains and Triggers for Change

Once a prospect understands their challenges, they start looking for potential solutions. In addition to educational challenges around different options, prospects also have a new layer of pains relative to the buying process. This is also typically where other decision-makers might get involved, so in addition to needing to understand how different solutions will impact their company, prospects will also need to understand what the buying process will look like for each option and who they’ll need to consult before making a decision.

It’s important for companies to keep in mind that the solutions prospects are considering at this stage are not just their company’s product and their competitors’ products. They also might be considering making a process or personnel change, or not doing anything at all.

For example, a sales manager struggling with pipeline visibility might consider purchasing a tool that enables them to do granular reporting and attribution, but they might also consider holding a training on forecasting techniques, hiring a new team member to specifically focus on reporting or bringing on a sales consultant. That manager also might decide that if they’re consistently reaching their goals, increased pipeline visibility isn’t a priority at the moment, and that they can revisit the problem at a later date.

So, for a SaaS attribution tool to effectively market itself to that sales manager at this stage, the company can’t just have content about why their tool is beneficial; they need to make a case for why a tool is more beneficial than the alternatives.

Another type of pain point prospects might be experiencing at the consideration stage is a trigger for change. In that case, prospects haven’t reached the consideration stage after being nurtured from the awareness stage but rather entered the conversion funnel from the middle.

Triggers for change are typically problems prospects have with how they’re currently solving a challenge. In this case, they might be having a product-related pain like “our current marketing automation platform doesn’t integrate well with our other tools” or “our PR firm isn’t very responsive to our communications.”

You can include triggers for change in your buyer personas, but you should separate them from your personas’ main pain points to ensure you’re creating top-of-the-funnel content that doesn’t directly introduce your company’s offering. 

You can separate these two categories by having one category for triggers for change and another for pain points, or you can classify them as “pains that lead to our product as solution” and “product-related pains.”

Decision-Stage Pains

When a prospect reaches the decision stage, they’re looking to better understand how your company’s offering can help them and how it compares to your competitors’ offerings. Additionally, new pains can emerge around their buying authority and the cost of your solution.

Your company can combat pains relating to cost by demonstrating the value of your solution and providing examples of customers who have seen significant ROI. However, some challenges, like current contracts or a lack of decision-making power on the prospect’s end, might seem like they’re beyond the breadth of your company’s solution.

“Your solution isn’t simply this product. It’s also that you offer content that will enable them to source  buy in — buy in that gives them authority to purchase,” Karin says. “The more you can incorporate what pains they are experiencing at that time into your content, the better.”

For instance, “My boss never listens to me” is a pain that might exist the whole time, but your solution doesn’t directly address it. However, to effectively enable your champion, you need to solve that challenge through your content.

“We have to respond to those pains even though they have nothing to do with our solutions,” Karin says. “So, making sure you do that by providing content that responds to pains of the buying process itself is important.”

Content like, “How do I know this solution is right for me?” and “How can I convince my boss that this is worth the investment” can solve those buying process pains and further prove the value of your company.

The Takeaway

“The pains listed in a persona document should be exactly solved by the company, but it doesn’t have to be by the product. It can be by the way the company delivers service,” Karin says.

While every pain point in your persona documentation should be addressed by one of your company’s value propositions, you can have value propositions about your way of operating as a company in addition to your product.

Especially during the evaluation and decision phases, pains like ‘my boss doesn’t listen to me’ won’t be solved by the product, but they need to be solved by your company for the sale to move forward.

“If you’re developing personas for marketing only, you get much more of ‘what are this person’s general pains?’ and you don’t really have to worry about their pains when it comes to buying because sales is going to handle that conversation,” Karin says. “But if you want to enable sales, you have to worry about how the pains change — all the way down the funnel.”

Download the Field Guide to Buyer Personas

Tag(s): Marketing

Quinn Kanner

Quinn is a writer and copyeditor whose work ranges from journalism to travel writing to inbound marketing content.


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