Do we really have to spend so much time defining customer personas?

The question came up during a recent customer journey mapping workshop with a B2B organization. Some considered the amount of time spent defining one customer persona excessive. 

We had worked with CX leaders prior to the workshop to come up with a skeleton persona. We then invited the 40 workshop participants to ask questions and share feedback about the original outline. For the next hour, we put meat on our persona’s bones, including details of both his professional life and personal life. 

We took a step back when the dialogue died down and reflected on the focused persona in front of us. 

Did we really need all that detail? 

Yes. And here’s why:

Commitment to the Person

In a B2C environment, it’s easy to focus on a single persona. But a B2B environment generally involves several personas within the customer organization, and those personas are generally engaged at different points in the journey for different reasons. 

If we’re unclear which persona or personas we’re trying to understand, we leave ourselves open to conflicting interpretations when we’re workshopping the journey. The process becomes confusing, and we get hung up on what look like inconsistencies across the journey. 

Beyond these practical concerns, collaborating to build a persona that the group buys into and identifies with creates a sense of ownership for this persona’s experience. The group commits to “doing right” by the persona during the mapping exercise. 

In fact, a participant in the workshop changed her name to that of our persona, and remained in character throughout the day — what a great commitment to thinking outside-in!

Understanding Individual Motivations

While the “customer” in a B2B environment is another business entity, it ultimately consists of individuals: real people making business decisions. 

People think and act not only with logic but also — perhaps more so — based on conscious and subconscious emotions. Each individual persona in a journey brings his or her own individual prior experiences, emotions and attitudes to the experience. 

If you don’t define your persona at a detailed individual and personal level, you won’t be able to examine their individual motivations. And without this, you won't be able to understand the logic and emotions driving their decisions — or how to influence him or her to make decisions that ultimately help your business.

Learning Opportunities

Clarity of Customer Roles and How They Relate

Since B2B journeys usually involve multiple personas, you certainly can incorporate multiple personas into your journey mapping work. But your approach must be deliberate and methodical. 

Explore the journey layer by layer, adding on a new and well-defined persona with each pass through the journey. That way, you reduce the risk of making assumptions across personas or missing key details of particular personas. 

In other words, approaching each persona’s journey individually helps you focus. It also helps you clearly define how each persona’s journey affects and is affected by the journeys of the other personas. 

In the workshop example I’ve cited here, participants identified very early on that their primary persona didn’t play a major role in the later stages of the journey, which allowed us to define and leverage secondary and tertiary personas on subsequent passes through the journey. Without such a clearly-defined persona, the teams likely would have blended two or more customer personas, resulting in an inaccurate portrayal of the journey. 

While this error would likely have been corrected in customer validation research, it would have added confusion, time and cost to the process. Instead of spending time gaining a deeper understanding of the moments of truth, we would have spent our time reorganizing and clarifying the basic framework of the customer journey. 

Begin With the End in Mind

Customer journey mapping is a means to an end, and it should be approached as such. 

Invest the time at the outset of your journey mapping effort to identify who you’re focused on, why and what business benefits you will gain by delivering the desired future state for the chosen persona and journey. 

By having these answers going into mapping, you will position yourself for success by structuring your workshop and subsequent customer research to meet your real goals. 

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