So you’ve identified three buyer personas for your business. You’ve named them, even wallpapered your office walls with their profile printouts. Time to start creating targeted content to meet their very specific needs and wants!
But are you really ready?
What is the No. 1 objective CEO Cody would really like his company to achieve in the next year?
Given the choice between staying late to finish an urgent project and picking up her child after school, what would Eager Esther do?
If you can’t definitively answer these questions — or, worse, if your answers are purely guesses based on your subjective personal experience — then you don’t really know your buyer personas.
Certainly, buyer personas are integral to helping you shape an effective content strategy. But poorly researched buyer personas are about as productive as blogging without a content calendar.
“Okay, I get it,” you say, as you throw your hands up in the air. “You can’t half-ass a buyer persona. So where do I begin?”
Glad you asked.
Before you can flesh out your buyer personas, you’ll need data establishing the actual demographics that are interested in what you’ve got.
Here are some tips on getting started.
Do passive research
First and most importantly, we can’t stress this enough: Passive research cannot replace direct interviews. They just can’t give you the same depth of insight.
But sometimes you’re working against tight deadlines, or you can’t get your interviews scheduled soon, and you just need a basic persona framework to use ASAP.
In those cases, the following 3 methods of passive research will help you to assemble usable information in the short run.
1. Explore your contacts database
Start in your contacts database. It’s a ready-made source of detailed information on your leads and your customers, especially concerning how they find and consume your content.
If you’re using software like HubSpot, your contacts’ demographic data should all be conveniently stored in one location.
Ideally, you’ll also have optimized your forms and landing pages to collect information on your leads’ job role, industry, and company size.
2. Check your analytics for data-driven trends
In addition to landing pages, there are also a variety of free, easy-to-use tools out there which will track your leads’ demographics and behavior — and without needing them to fill in a form first.
For websites, Google Analytics is the preferred platform of choice for many marketers.
These platforms will tell you your visitors’ gender, age range, and even interests. You’ll also be able to quantify much engagement your content is getting, as well as track your visitors’ path through your pages. With this information, you’ll be able to form a big-picture idea of who’s checking out your work and what’s convincing them to click.
3. Leverage your competitors
Competitor research is a great way to get a better idea of your industry’s customer base.
Check out your closest competitors’ social media platforms. Who’s engaging with their content? What types of content are drawing the most attention? What do their visitors hope to gain from social media interactions: information, customer service, or something else?
Where possible, look at a list of competitors’ current clients. What type of customers are they attracting? What type of content are they producing to attract these customers?
If you’re keen on conducting a high-level competitor analysis, but don’t know where to start — we hear you. Competitive analysis is a difficult but necessary step to formulating an effective content strategy, which is why it’s the first thing we’ll do for you in the Sprk’d Foundation Formula™.
Interview real people
After doing passive research, you’ll have a better idea of what your buyer personas might look like. But you’re still missing the most important step in your research process: talking to actual people.
Digital insights are no substitute for personally asking people what keeps them up at night.
Here are four groups of people to tap into for your persona interviews.
1. Existing customers
Your current customers actually stand to gain from offering you feedback. (They hired you for a reason!)
Make it clear from the outset that you are not reaching out to sell them things. If they know you want feedback to improve what you’re offering, chances are they’ll be eager to participate.
2. Current prospects
Reach out to leads in your system who haven’t decided whether your services are right for them.
Find out what first caught their eye, and why they’re hesitating now. Nothing beats getting a real-time glimpse into how your prospects make their buying decisions. After all, to drive the results you want, you first have to really understand the decision-making process.
3. Lost opportunities
It’s tempting to reach out only to customers who will give you rave reviews, but there’s a lot to be learned from experiences that don’t go the way you want.
Former customers, disgruntled customers, and even leads who didn’t convert into customers can offer valuable insights: Why didn’t they choose you? What did they wish you’d provided? What wasn’t working for them?
4. Outside referrals
Don’t have a big database of contacts? Tap into your network to solicit the opinions of people who might eventually develop a relationship with your company.
If your personal network isn’t coming through, you can also use LinkedIn to find profiles of people who might match the demographics you’ve identified through the passive research you conducted earlier.
How many people should you interview?
There’s no formula for determining the optimal ratio of interviewees to actionable information. You’ll know when you have enough information from your interviews.
We recommend starting with three to five interviews for each buyer persona, targeting a healthy mix of current customers, prospects, lost opportunities, and network referrals.
How to convince people to be interviewed
Even if they stand to gain from the exchange, people are taking time out of their day to give you something you need.
First, determine the best way to conduct your interviews, whether face to face, by video chat, or over the phone. Or, depending on your audience, a digital survey may be acceptable (Typeform, SurveyMonkey, and Google forms are all platforms we recommend.)
You may want to offer an incentive for participants — especially prospects and referrals, who do not have a formal business relationship with you yet. Incentives can be as simple as a small gift card to a popular retailer or coffee shop!
Finally, emphasize that your interview is not a sales call. You want to know more about what makes them tick, as real people with real concerns.
21 questions to ask your interviewees
Once you’ve identified who you want to interview and scheduled when you’ll meet with them, you need to structure the actual interview.
Your questions may vary depending on your industry and the dynamics of each interview, but here’s a starter list of categories and questions to ask when tackling each category.
- Demographics: If appropriate, you can ask for specifics like: What’s your gender? How old are you? What’s your marital status? Do you have children? Pets?
- What is your educational background?
- What are your career goals?
- What is your job title with your employer? What are your responsibilities in that role?
- What skills does the job require?
- Who do you supervise? Who is your supervisor?
- What does a typical work day look like?
Your company and its goals
- What industry (or industries) is the company a part of?
- How large is the company? How many employees work there?
- What does success in your job look like to you?
- What are some of your biggest priorities when making decisions for the company?
- What are the company’s short- and long-term objectives?
Your professional challenges
- What are the biggest challenges you’re facing in your role?
- What are the biggest challenges your company hopes to tackle this year?
- Tell us about a challenge you encountered recently. What steps did you take to resolve it?
- How do you prefer to communicate (e.g., by phone, email, in person)?
- Which social networks do you prefer to use (personally and professionally)?
- What websites or publications do you read regularly?
- How do you stay current on developments in your industry?
- If you were to search for a product/service you needed, what search terms would you use?
- Think back on a recent purchase. How did you research the purchase? What factors were most important to you in evaluating your options? What doubts did you have? Did anyone help you make the final decision?
Ready to research?
Are you poised to take that first step in conducting your own buyer persona interviews — but feeling nervous about forgetting an important detail? Our FREE buyer persona interview template will help you keep track of all the questions you need to ask. Download it now!