I’m sure you’ve heard it many times before, but I’ll say it again: Buyer personas are the heart of any marketing or sales strategy.
A few years ago, I might have been writing this article to tell you why they’re so important, but today, I think it can be assumed that almost every organization has some format of persona.
Today, we all know we should have buyer personas, but do we all know the most effective way to create them?
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With the amount of information available to us, we can gather facts and statistics about our target audience from all over the place, but the one process that always proves the most successful is actually talking to the person you want to sell to.
There is no other way to truly ensure your product or service is meeting the needs of your clients than by asking them.
However, a successful persona interview doesn’t just happen. It takes a lot of preparation work.
Coming up with a complete, formal list of relevant questions to use in the interview process is imperative, but how do you know what you should be talking about?
Below is a list of recommended questions to ask your target buyer when building your organization’s buyer personas, but before we dive in, let’s review some foundational steps before getting started.
Before your interview…
In preparation for your interviews, you’ll want to make sure you have all your ducks in a row.
Identifying your interviewees
First, create a list of people who fit your ideal customer profile.
Use your current customers, lost opportunities, and desired companies to give yourself an idea of who should be considered “ideal.”
Then, search for similar people on LinkedIn and other social media sites.
Conducting online research before you begin your interview process helps provide background information and basic demographics, such as location, education, career experience, online interests, and more.
Once you have collected the foundational information, it’s time to create your final list of interviewees.
As I mentioned above, go with a mix of your current customers, past customers, lost opportunities, and competitors’ customers.
Having different opinions and feelings about your product or service will give you a full 360° review which you can then break down into what you’re doing well and what you may need to improve.
Scheduling your interviews
For each different persona you’re creating, you should plan to do at least 3-8 unique interviews so you can collect an adequate amount of information.
After you’ve put your list together, it’s time to reach out to the contacts. It helps to create a customizable template so you can easily fill in the information for each person. Here’s an example:
My name is Kaitlyn, and I’m an Account Supervisor at IMPACT Branding & Design, an inbound marketing agency.
I’m reaching out to you because I’m currently doing some research to help aid our marketing efforts, and you fit what we consider our ideal customer. As a result, I would love to ask you some questions to learn more about your buying decisions, how you perceive our company’s product/service, and your online habits.
If you have 15-30 minutes, would you be open to scheduling a virtual meeting with me?
Any day and time within the next two weeks works perfectly. I can send you a calendar invite with information on how to join the meeting.
Thank you in advance, Kaitlyn”
As you can see from the above example, each meeting should be about 15-30 minutes. You could also include some type of incentive or gift for their time (like a gift card to their favorite coffee shop).
When you’ve finally scheduled the interview, it’s time to talk to them!
Some tips to remember include:
Record the call! (You can get it transcribed later, or you can simply listen back.)
Refrain from taking actual notes, as this could be disturbing to the actual conversation.
Use the question bank below for reference and to guide the conversation, but don’t treat it as a script. The conversation should flow naturally, and you may come up with some follow-up questions that aren’t even on your initial list based on things they tell you.
It’s also important to keep track of time so you don’t keep them over the time slot you have allotted, and make sure you keep the goal of the call in mind; during the conversation, constantly ask yourself if the information you are gathering is relevant for your marketing plans or for the content you are planning to create.
If a contact can’t make a meeting or is very tough to connect with, you can also try creating a persona survey with the questions you want to ask using SurveyMonkey or Google Forms.
You won’t be able to work the conversation off of their responses, but you can still collect some helpful information this way.
Buyer persona questions to ask
When interviewing, you need to make sure you establish an open discussion. This is going to help the respondent feel at ease and give you valuable information.
Although you have a list of questions, you don’t have to stick to it the entire time. Have a free flowing conversation where you’re always making sure you seem interested in what they have to say.
Not only can you feel free to skip around the persona questions, but feel free to add any you might come up with during the conversation.
Just keep in mind, you only have 15-30 minutes, so the questions need to be relevant and add to the quality of the overall persona interview.
Lastly, always use open-ended questions when interviewing so your contacts have the opportunity to elaborate on their experiences.
1. How old are you?
2. What is your income?
3. What is your highest level of education completed?
4. Where are you located?
5. What is your gender?
6. What is your current occupation?
7. What is your marital status?
8. Do you have any children? What’s your family structure like?
9. Do you have any hobbies? Are you involved in any activities or organizations?
For the most part, these can easily be assumed from existing knowledge and online research (like what I talked about earlier in this article -- I wouldn’t recommend asking these in an interview), but they are good to double check.
For example, you probably wouldn't openly ask someone what their income is. You can also gain some insight from conducting these interviews (ex. if 5/6 of the interviewees are mothers, we can assume the demographic can be a woman with children).
Doing business with [your company]:
10. Take me back to the day when you first decided to explore your [product/service] options. What was going on in your life that made you think about making this purchase?
11. How did you hear about [your company]?
12. What initially attracted you to us?
13. What was your first impression of us?
14. Were you the main person doing research when you found us? If not, who was?
15. What 3 words would you have used to describe [your company] while you were comparing other companies? (If you don’t mind me asking, what words would you have used to describe the other companies you were evaluating?)
16. What was your biggest concern or reservation (if any) about buying from us?
17. (If a customer) Why did you choose [your company] over another company?
18. (If not a customer) Why did you choose X Company over us?
19. What could make us even better? Whether it be in the buying process you went through or afterwards?
20. What could we do to reach more people just like you?
The goal of asking these types of questions is to gain more information about your persona’s buyer journey -- how they found you online and why they evaluated you.
You want to learn more about what their first impression of your company, your website, and your sales team was like. If they decided to go with a competitor, what did they like better?
You can collect some great pros and cons regarding your company and your structure, while also picking up on what you do well and what you may need to improve on.
21. How often do you check emails on your phone, at home, at work?
22. What type of online or print information articles do you read?
23. What publications, blogs or social media networks do you pay attention to?
24. Which social media networks do you use personally? How often?
25. Which search engine do you use the most? What’s your process for finding something online?
Learning more about your persona’s online behaviors will give you more insight into how you can improve your online presence specifically for them.
Take into consideration how they digest information and how often. You can also apply some of their feedback to your content creation strategy.
26. What is your decision-making process when planning on buying [your product/service]?
27. Was anyone else involved in this process? If so, who? And why or why not?
28. What would you say influences your purchasing decision the most?
29. What is most important to you when selecting a vendor?
30. What are some key factors that would deter you from making a purchase?
By asking questions about the buying process, you can collect extremely helpful information for your marketing and sales teams.
You may find the person you’re talking to is actually an influencer to the actual decision-maker, or that they only go with companies who can provide actual results from past clients.
Dig in deep here, and think about your own company’s processes while talking to each person.
Document your findings and create your persona
Now that you have all of your questions asked and answered, you can summarize the most important parts and create a buyer persona presentation, document, or whatever else works for your team.
Once documented, ensure everyone on your team knows who your persona is and that they’re all aligned on the information you collected. These fictional representations should be at the heart of everything your organization does.
Lastly, once your personas are documented, it’s important to continuously update them to keep them relevant and accurate; I recommend at least once a year.
Being able to conduct productive interviews and translate what you learn into a company-wide document will enable you to attract the most valuable visitors, leads, and customers to your business.