The Gist

  • Cross-functional collaboration. Form a council to manage persona development across teams.
  • Data prioritization. Focus on collecting insights from essential customer groups.
  • Persona familiarity. Make organization-wide understanding of personas a priority.

Consider the question: Who is your customer? Simple in theory, but harder in practice as organizations continue to build their customer personas in siloes.

It's hard for marketing leaders to admit they might not fully know the answer to this question. Everyone has an idea of who their customer is, but that idea isn't shared. The most important customer to the larger organization often differs depending on which function you're talking to.

For instance, a sales leader may have three buyer personas to understand buying behavior, their IT counterpart another five to develop more engaging website features, and marketing could have four different personas to create content and customer journey maps.

This leads to confusion and a messy, tangled web of understanding who the customer is and what they may want. Sure, organizations have a lot of different data about the customer that may share some crossover between functions, but it’s only so useful. Each set of data helps attach understanding to a specific goal, like buyer or website behaviors, but they remain separate from each other — almost as if we are talking about different customers.

Without the connecting factor of how all the data works together, brands will be left without an understanding of who their customer is — and struggle with inconsistent CX and reduced customer acquisition, retention, loyalty and advocacy.

To avoid all of this, those taking the lead on creating personas must form a cross-functional customer understanding council with their peers, focus on collecting insights data to develop the right personas and familiarize the organization with personas and their purpose.

Formalize How to Manage Persona Development

When it comes to the most useful sources for creating personas, Gartner data shows voice of the customer data (VoC), data from CRM or customer care platforms, social media, purchase or transactional data and web or mobile analytics are often cited first.

But, ownership and access are often a mystery. Even if a marketing leader knows who owns what data and has access to it, it can take a lot of effort to ultimately leverage it.

One of the main reasons that organizations struggle with personas is that they lack structure for how to leverage data across teams. This further fuels a fragmented picture of who the customers really are.

Combat this by establishing a cross-functional committee that:

  • Defines clear objectives of what needs to be learned. This will help recruit members who own the required resources and lead those who can support the objectives across the customer journey.
  • Creates a charter that scopes out the parameters and expectations for the shared effort. This will also help launch a plan for how to share data among cross functional teams: What business questions do you have about the customer? What do you need to learn from them to effectively build personas?
  • Agrees on metrics for accountability. They should support the reality that personas are not a one-time deliverable but rather a long-term capability. One that requires continual collaboration and commitment to generating insights that signal what your customers need and expect and whether you are able to deliver upon them.

Related Article: How Customer Personas Fuel Good Content

Focus on Collecting Insights to Develop the Right Personas

The inputs needed to build an effective persona are an aggregation of the “minimum viable” amount of data that enables marketers to understand a valued subset of customer groups in a more humanized way. Persona development shouldn’t be pursued for all customers. Rather, prioritize the focus on which groups are the most essential for the organization to understand.

In order to identify the most useful customer attributes, insights must be collected across touchpoints in the customer’s journey where customers make decisions. A formalized schedule must be utilized for regularly collecting that data with specific goals in mind. Remember that some of this data comes directly from customers, so treat it as a value exchange.

Learning Opportunities

The methods for gathering these insights normally fall within three buckets:

  • Customer voice: This includes surveys, interviews, focus groups and VoC research.
  • Customer behaviors: Observation techniques can be utilized, such as mystery shopping, customer mirroring and empathy maps.
  • Customer analytics: These techniques map cognitive response of customers and are more resource intensive and require greater expertise. Big data analytics and geo-location targeting are two examples.

Together, these methods offer a way to organize a brand’s data based on the characteristics that are most valuable to the business and to the customer.

Related Article: Personas and Analytics: Unlocking What Motivates Your Customers

Familiarize the Organization With Personas and their Purpose

Even the most well designed personas will not provide value to the organization unless a point is made to familiarize an organization with personas and how they will help accomplish shared goals.

Personas should not be a “one and done” deliverable that are occasionally dusted off and then updated and never referenced or used. Personas are most successful when they are a shared asset that is updated regularly as organizations detect meaningful shifts in customer needs, expectations and behaviors.

In fact, Gartner found that companies that have invested in persona development for three years or more exceed both customer and management expectations, so there is a proper way to manage these personas once an enterprise truly commits over time.

In addition to adopting a strategic mindset about how personas are created, it’s equally important to outline how they could affect a company overall. Stakeholders are more likely to prioritize customer-centricity when the strategy clearly helps them achieve their own functional and financial goals.

If organizations keep these steps in mind and have customer and commercial needs overlap, a more unified picture of personas becomes present and a difference in the bottom line will definitely be noticed.

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