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Challenges of building a persona at a new start-up

Saurabh Wani
Nov 2, 2021 11:52:46 AM

When many people dream up the idea of starting a new business venture or a company, they do so with a lot of fear and agitation and it is natural to feel so.

They do their due diligence, but in most SaaS-based startups it is done in a minimalistic way.

Does a market exist for said business/product?

What is the turnover for a start-up in a similar field?

How difficult is it to find employees to fill the positions?

These are often the questions and topics of research that people focus on.

But oftentimes they forget the most important questions:

Who are our customers?

What do they need?

What do they expect out of a product or a service?

These are some of the more important questions that need to be answered before actually starting a company. The reason for this is simple: Without the product actually resonating with the customer’s needs, or not having a customer-centric approach, the startup would just lose money.

Did you know the top-performing companies have mapped 90% or more of their customer’s database by persona?

And if you are wondering why they do this, let us answer that question with the help of the latest research data found by studying the market trends;

  • 56% of companies developed higher quality leads using buyer personas.
  • 24% of companies gained more leads using personas.
  • 36% of companies have achieved a shorter sales cycle using personas.

Businesses need to develop (buyer/user) personas to help them make the right decisions as they start, grow, and advertise their business. But before we can get into why a startup needs a buyer persona and how you can develop one, let us first understand what exactly it means.

But what is a buyer persona?

A buyer persona can be defined as almost a fictional representation of the ideal customer/user. It usually covers their demographic, job profile, pain points among various other data points. And it is always ideal to create multiple personas, as in any business just one profile is not the key decision-maker or user of your solution.

For example, if your startup is a chatbot based company, the only people you will be reaching out to is not just a marketing head, but a product like a chatbot can be even pitched to a customer success leader, a sales leader, a customer support head and even an HR head.

The persona is created based on data acquired from market research, information regarding existing customers, and some educated guesses. Begin buyer persona research with customer segmentation data. Understanding the various segments within your customer base will allow you to break your audience into more manageable sections. This process tells us who your customers are and how they behave. In this manual Adrienne Barnes defends the use of audience segmentation to help create buyer persona.

You can use multiple buyer’s persona templates available on the internet to get started. Here are a few templates to get you started.

While it is easy to define – and even explain to a certain extent – what a persona is and what it is used for, creating a usable persona, and then implementing it effectively can be very tricky and complicated, especially for a new start-up.

6 challenges faced by companies while creating a buyer’s persona

1. Not reviewing and updating the persona regularly

Personas are not meant to be created once and then followed blindly or put on a wall and forgotten about. Personas are based on research data about customers, and just like customers, they must also go through changes and evolutions. That is why it is important to revamp your personas regularly.

2. Incorrect or misidentified personas

One of the biggest issues faced by a new start-up is the fact that sometimes it is very difficult to determine who exactly the customer is and what they want/need. If a persona is created based on the wrong data, then the business is effectively ruined.

The best way to avoid this is by actually collaborating with your sales team, customer success team and customer support team to truly understand the customers that respond well to your products. These people are your targeted customers. With their help, you can create the best possible persona that would actually help you target your messaging resonating with your customer’s voice.

3. Too many personas

Another issue that start-ups face is creating too many personas. While it may seem to be a good idea to have more ideal customer types already defined, it is actually detrimental to the overall health of the company and its marketing strategy, as trying to bag too many types of customers, may cause the company to lose out on a lot of actual customers. But it does not mean, you create just one. You need to have at least 4-5 persona, based on your business function and targeted industry for the best possible business strategizing.

4. Not creating a negative persona

While the concept of a persona is to come up with the most ideal customer, it is also possible to create the very opposite type of customer as well. This can be useful to the marketing and sales team to help them to avoid certain types of customers. This can also help save time and resources.

5. Just focusing on Demographics

Another blunder that the businesses make is they just focus on the demographic when in reality the demographic is a small part of the buyer’s persona. They need to even add their pain points, job functions, general queries, their likes, dislikes, etc.

Many marketers now actually search LinkedIn to narrow down a few profiles to understand their likes, dislikes for creating a buyer persona.

For example, if you have observed the overall overuse of memes; now even in SaaS companies marketing or using animal avatars for business to approach customers. This is because most people love memes and animals. It becomes easier for customers to relate to the messaging and increase the inbound rate.

6. Making Assumptions

Another major mistake that the marketers end up making is basing their buyer’s persona on assumptions. Just taking anecdotes from your customer-facing team is not enough. But rather research your customers on LinkedIn, other social media channels and even leverage social data tools to create personas. Not asking you to be Edward Cullen and stalk your customers, but rather for 10-12 people who are ideal prospects for your business and based on their profile create the personas.

And of course, you cannot forget your existing customer. Interview your existing customers about their likes, dislikes, pain points and ask for their feedback. It helps create a more well-rounded buyer’s persona.

Having now understood what a persona is, and the challenges faced in creating a good one, it is also quite important to see what the common problems facing personas themselves are:

  1. Once created, they are not used: When creating a persona or personas, the company may do many things right – brainstorm with different departments, ask for feedback from their targeted segment, and use actual data – but they then throw away all of this good work by never using the created persona(s). These personas aren’t just for show and can have a very noticeable impact on a company and its bottom line. This is because, at every step during marketing and sales activities, the main person in mind has to be the customer, who can more or less be represented by the created persona.
  2. Persona not based on research: The ideal scenario is to interview potential and/or existing customers and acquire real data, but many startups for various reasons end up not doing this. Either they are short of resources, or they simply don’t bother to. As a result, the personas are created on assumptions, and will not be representative of the people/customers the business is trying to target.
  3. They are stereotypes: This is another common problem with the personas created. They are either made up of or are made up of stereotypes. This happens when the company focuses on blank assumptions and job titles, rather than actual behaviour and numbers by researching with the help of the customer-facing teams, to create a persona.

Oftentimes, a created persona is unrealistic. A persona by its very definitions is the representation of the idyllic customer, but this customer needs to be realistic. Creating a persona doesn’t need to be hard or complicated. Some simple steps can be followed to create a user persona.

Some of the basic components of a persona are:

  • A name: giving the persona a name makes it seem far more real.
  • Their background: includes the professional and personal background of the intended persona.
  • Demography: Age, gender, ethnicity, family, education.
  • Environment: Social, physical, technological.
  • Past buying behaviour: Brand loyalty, single purchase, repeated buying.

While it may seem complicated and a waste of time to create a hypothetical and ideal customer, it will pay huge dividends in the future. After all, there’s a saying, “Knowing is half the battle.”

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