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Inbound Marketing

5 Buyer Persona Questions You Absolutely Must Ask

Whether you're solo blogging regularly for your small business or heading the content marketing crew in your organization, the first rule of marketing still applies: You do not create content without knowing your audience.

Some marketers make intuitive guesses by making stuff up about your customer’s preferences. Others resort to statistical data to get into the heart of your prospects. Is one better than the other?

Transitioning to Customer Advocacy

The truth is, humans are complex, and so are their motivations, fears, and reasons behind each buying decision.

Today's best marketing practices have nothing to do with persona research that is driven by your organization's internal objectives. It boils down to being a customer advocate and getting past through the traditional one-way communication of old-school marketing.

Think of it as a transition from:

"Hey, I'd like to know how much you earn annually so I can position my pricing better" to

"Tell me about your current struggles so I can help you deal with it through my products and services."

How do marketers like you make the transition?

In this blog post, you'll learn how to go about this transition by figuring out the following:

  • The real reason you should create buyer personas
  • Five rings of buying insights in developing buyer personas
  • The right questions to ask in buyer persona development that is driven by customer advocacy

What's a Buyer Persona, Anyway?

UXBooth's James Costa defines a persona as:

It is a representation of a client’s customer. They are fictional characters that we create, and they serve as a reminder of who our users are. Like any good fiction, a well-made persona has its own story to tell.

Our persona’s “story” consists of a name and photo, title, byline, and, most importantly, his goals and frustrations (or “pain points”).

Meanwhile, HubSpot has this succinct description of a persona:

It is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers. When creating your buyer persona(s), consider including customer demographics, behavior patterns, motivations, and goals.

Marketing research experts typically employ complex stats or tools to get a more vivid grasp of the concepts highlighted above.

At Lean Labs, we think it’s a waste of time to dwell too much on personas based on stats and assumptions. Instead, we help our clients get out of their marketing rut by identifying how they fit into their target audiences' lives through a set of well-thought-out buyer persona questions.

Formulating these questions is an essential building block of any of our clients' inbound marketing blueprint.

Five Rings of Buying Insight for Better Buyer Persona Questions

To help brands build more effective buyer persona profiles by shifting the focus away from the usual demographics, Buyer Persona Institute founder Adele Revella introduced the five rings of buying insight concept. These rings are good starting points when formulating buyer persona questions that truly deliver.

  • Priority Initiatives
  • Success Factors
  • Perceived Barriers
  • The Buyer's Journey
  • Decision Criteria

Some experts tag the number of buyer persona questions you have to ask at around 20; some go as far as 150. All of these questions are both effective, but we have pared them down to five of the most relevant below by using Revella's framework.

1. Priority Initiatives

What causes certain buyers to invest in a solution like yours, and how are they different from buyers who remain attached to the status quo?

Priority initiatives should not be confused with pain points. Instead, your goal is to understand personal, social, and economic factors that trigger prospects to possibly invest in your product or service.

Q: What pushes your prospect to seek the solution you're providing?

Ask them to list their top 3 reasons why they're willing to dedicate a huge chunk of their time, budget, and other valuable resources to find a solution.

A good example of this is when you want to market your online fitness course. Losing weight is a pain point. Meanwhile, what worries your prospect more is how she's going to lose weight on her best friend's wedding day.

2. Success Factors

What operational or personal results does your buyer persona expect from purchasing this solution?

Revella describes success factors as resembling benefits. However, she wants you to think beyond benefits and focus on the tangible or intangible rewards your prospect considers a success.

Q: How will your prospect measure or recognize success after taking action (e.g. subscribing to your newsletter or joining the beta testing group)?

Consider the example earlier. You assume that your prospect will feel satisfied once she sheds the extra pounds. In fact, success to her is not really about losing weight but rather looking divine in her bridesmaid gown in six weeks.

3. Perceived Barriers

What concerns cause your buyer to believe that your solution or company is not their best option?

In this category, you dig deeper for answers to why your prospect is likely to buy from the competition. Does it have to do with previous experience with your customer support team? Or your negative reviews on social media?

Q: What concerns caused your prospect to believe that your brand is not the most fitting option?

For the bridesmaid who wanted to look divine in her dress in six weeks, she opted for someone else's online fitness course because you included calorie counting on your website as part of the weight loss plan. Unfortunately, your prospect had prior experience with calorie counting and failed to accomplish her fitness goals with it.

4. Buyer's Journey

“…reveals the behind-the-scenes story at each phase of the evaluation.

In inbound marketing, the buyer's journey is split into three:

  • Awareness Stage - your prospect knows it has a problem but unaware of the solution
  • Consideration Stage - your prospect starts considering various solutions
  • Decision Stage - your prospect is ready to make the decision

Q: What or who influences your prospect in evaluating your brand and other alternatives?

For example, what if the bridesmaid's decision to choose a competitor's fitness regimen has nothing to do with your pricing or her fitness goals? What if the bride herself recommended someone else's course because it worked for her in the past?

In this ring, you identify two things: resources and influencers that your prospects trust.

5. Decision Criteria

Which aspects of the competing offerings do your buyers perceive as most critical, and what do they expect from each one?

Lastly, taking decision criteria into account means understanding the factors that are most likely to influence your prospect' purchase decisions. While most marketers immediately associate decision criteria with product or service features, it might not be the case all the time.

Q: How will your prospect assess and evaluate the factors that influence their purchase decisions?

For example, if the bridesmaid prospect wants to find a weight loss solution that only involves home exercise routines (rather than daily trips to the gym), the decision criteria may include the type of exercise you're offering, promised results, and fitness level requirements.

Putting It All Together

Asking better buyer persona questions is a long, arduous exercise. Often, you also need to conduct interviews not just with prospects and customers but also with the sales team. Nevertheless, the rewards are worth it once you've addressed the pain points, motivations, and fears you've gathered through content, social media, and other marketing strategies.

The takeaway is you do not create buyer personas to have a description of your target audience. You develop personas to be able to build trust with your audiences by marketing to them in context of their current pain points and motivations.

Have you been asking these questions to piece together your prospect's story?

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Written by Kyjean Tomboc / February 17, 2016

Kyjean Tomboc finished nursing school but found joy in plucking and stringing words to ​create value-driven content for brands in the health, life sciences, and lean startup niches. She loves everything strategic in creating content -- from CRO to SEO to SMM to UX (the Internet sure loves acronyms!). Her current obsessions include the human gut microbiome, A/B testing, and Benedict Cumberbatch. Kyjean is also a seasoned trekker.

Articles by Kyjean Tomboc