Buyer and user personas are research-based profiles that can offer key insights into developing new products. It is the ability to unearth unique insights that separate profitable businesses from the rest
Three out of four new products fail in the business-to-business (B2B) market. There sure has to be a better way to develop new products. We outline a model that may look trivial but is very effective and powerful.
When companies attempt to design new products, the difficulty is to get the marketing and development teams to agree. Poor decisions result in sub-optimal products that are either too expensive for the customers or useless in terms of value addition. Poor products destroy resources, brands, companies and careers. The use of personas is a new way to keep customers in mind throughout the development process.
A persona is a hypothetical archetype of a real person. They are defined by their “job to be done” (JTBD); essentially, we define them by their objectives. The persona will represent the individuals within a market who seek to accomplish the same job. They seek to accomplish the same task, solve the same problem, or achieve the same goal but rather than labelling them as “soccer moms”, “metrosexual” or some such, we assign them an identity. This makes them seem real to the team so that they can empathise with them.
As an example, rather than solving a problem for the oil drilling industry, we are solving a problem for Gautam. He is a fracking technician from Jamnagar. He spends 70 percent of his time on the road, travelling to remote corners–trying to coax stingy oil reserves out of their prehistoric hutches. He lives and breathes within our imagination—living the pain and frustration that actual customers experience.
We created Gautam. We began with his “job to be done”, which was opening oil wells via fracking- and then we continued his development with demographic descriptors (age,race,appearance,etc),and of cource, with his name.
Here are four best practices that can help trigger growth:
1 Design for just one person
Think about breakfast cereals. Samir, the jogger, is male, 41 and active. His JTBD for his breakfast is to maintain energy throughout long runs each day.
Meanwhile, Hetal, the busy mom is 34, she struggles with her weight and barely has time to get the kids off to school each morning. Her JTBD is to lose a few kilos.
If we were going to create a breakfast cereal for a generic “user”, we would average these objectives somehow. Combining the high-energy needs of Samir with the low-calorie requirements of Hetal, we end up with a result that neither wants. Trying to please everyone, but will end up pleasing none.
2 Be specific (to be credible)
After defining the JTBD, assign names, races, gender, nationalities, etc to the personas to make them as believable as possible.
Consider a common B2B scenario in healthcare. If we were doing a project for a new medical device, we might have Deshmukh the doctor and Mary the nurse as personas since they both might use the device.
By listing these genders, should we be concerned about stereotyping? From Alan Cooper’s treatise on personas within The Inmates are Running the Asylum, “My goal here is not to be politically correct but to get everyone to believe that my personas are real.”
3 Precision is more important than accuracy
Precision reduces uncertainty during development. It keeps the design team aligned – working towards the same outcome. A sub-optimal decision in which a team acts cohesively is preferred to the perfect decision executed with doubt and vacillation.
In the recently concluded Fifa World Cup, we have seen enough instances of precision football focused on offence to score goals. What is important is that all 10 team members, barring the goalkeeper, execute the same play.
When we say “precision” we mean a precisely defined person and a precisely defined job. No wiggle room. No opportunity for confusion. We call a play—and we execute it together—as a team.
4 Separate user personas from buyer personas
Imagine that you are in the business of developing chemical pesticides and you want to better understand landscape contractors. For this market, you create personas for the worker who applies the chemicals as well as the supervisor who is responsible for the results. These are the main users.
Realistically, in B2B, you know you have other purchase influencers as well. And so, you will also create buyer personas. In this case, you can create one for the company owner who purchases the chemicals. Though, for larger customers, you may also have personas for safety managers, procurement folks, quality managers, etc.
Should all types of B2B companies use the persona model? Buyer and user personas are research-based profiles that represent the target audience and can help to unearth key insights on developing new products.
If there is one thing that separates profitable businesses from the rest, it is the ability to unearth unique insights. Getting clarity on the types of customers, who benefit from your offerings and the challenges you solve for them, is critical to growing your business profitably.
Arising from customer advocates within software development, the technique found allies with design-thinking pioneers and finally, the broader research and product development community. Despite differences between cultures of product development across industries, all have customer needs to address.
By helping a business to develop a common understanding of its customers, the personas technique has broad application.
Created from qualitative and quantitative insights, the personas will live on through development and even product launches.
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