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Buyer personas

How to improve your customer journey mapping with better persona management


Under a third of brands using buyer personas believe they are effective. Yet effective persona management is crucial to journey mapping success. 

25th Aug 2020
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If you have worked in B2B for a while, you have used a derivative form of a buyer persona to segment your buyers.

Tony Zambito, the founder of buyer journey development, defines it as such: “Buyer personas are research-based archetypal (modeled) representations of who buyers are, what they are trying to accomplish, what goals drive their behaviour, how they think, how they buy, and why they make buying decisions. (Today, I now include where they buy as well as when buyers decide to buy.)”

While buyer personas have been rising in popularity, they seem to be getting mixed reviews. According to the State of Buyer Personas, while 72% of survey respondents stated they use buyer personas, only 30% believe they are effective.

What’s more telling is 70% of the respondents didn’t understand what buyer personas were. There is a lot of confusion in the marketplace about what personas are and how they can be used effectively.

Adele Revella, CEO of Buyer Persona Institute, says marketers make three key mistakes about buyer personas:

1. Marketers describe the buyer, not their decision

Revella nails it when she says “if your personas simply profile people, you end up with too many personas and not enough actionable information.”

A customer profile by definition is: “A description of a customer or set of customers that includes demographic, geographic, and psychographic characteristics, as well as buying patterns, creditworthiness, and purchase history.”.

A buyer persona is “a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers.”

A buyer profile doesn’t give you any new information that you can use. More importantly, it doesn’t give you any details on buyer behaviour. How can you influence decisions if you don’t understand buyers’ behaviours?

2. Marketers still make up stuff about buyers

If you’re not speaking with buyers and customers but creating personas based on info from your customer-facing teams, assumptions, or generalisations from surveys or secondary research, you won’t have the insights to be able to improve their experience.

The result is you’ll have an idea about someone without the actual, factual information about someone.

How will you be able to influence your buyers without knowing them and how to influence them? Irrelevant data can cause marketers to lose focus.

3. Marketers develop too many buyer personas

I remember reading somewhere that a brand said it had 14 different personas. I wondered how it was able to effectively manage them. I figured the brand either had a case of analysis paralysis or FOMO (fear of missing out).

Too many personas cause marketers to lose focus.

This happens when marketers create buyer profiles instead of buyer personas. They think they have to create a new persona for each different type of characteristic of a segment instead of finding commonalities within a segment.

Besides the above, I suggest the following:

4. Marketers treat buyer personas statically

Marketers tend to create buyer personas because they believe it's the right thing to do. They then create the personas based on a moment and file them away so they can check the “completed task” box. They don’t update the personas.

How do you know how buyer behaviours change without updating the personas to identify those insights?

Customer experience to the rescue

I believe that customer experience can make personas great again. Here’s why.

Customer experience is on everyone’s mind these days. It better be.

This is because leaders now get that post-purchase engagement drives growth. That means a stronger focus on retention, loyalty and advocacy creates better customer relationships, reduces churn, increases revenues, and builds on competitive advantage (Walker Info says by 2020, customer experience will surpass product and price as the key brand differentiator.).

A recent McKinsey report said a customer’s journey with a company is what you should be measuring customer satisfaction on, not individual interactions.

Personas are not only the starting point in the customer journey conversation, but they also provide actionable insights that are invaluable in filling gaps in the customer journey mapping process that lead to enhanced experiences.

The report also said that maximising satisfaction with customer journeys had the potential not only to increase customer satisfaction by 20% but also to lift revenue by up to 15% while lowering the cost of serving customers by as much as 20%.

To be able to effectively map a customer’s journey, you need to understand a customer on a deeply personal level so you understand what drives and influences their decisions.

Understanding their behaviour and emotions that drive their behaviour is what is going to enhance their experience. This is why accurately developing deeply personal personas is so important.

Personas are not only the starting point in the customer journey conversation, but they also provide actionable insights that are invaluable in filling gaps in the customer journey mapping process that lead to enhanced experiences.

The key components of a sound customer journey mapping strategy are personas, journey map phases, touchpoints, and moments of impact. These components are the legs of the customer journey mapping table. If any leg comes undone, the entire table will fall apart.

It is in the customer journey, and thus the overall customer experience, where personas can be of most value. So, what can organisations do to ensure their personas work for them?

Understand why personas are important and how they fit into your customer journey strategy

Personas are the thoughts, feelings and actions of buyers trying to address a need they have with what you offer. Personas are based on real information from real people. The insights that the personas generate should be used to create and enhance the experience buyers have with you.

Why are personas important to your overall business? What is their purpose? Organisations must answer these questions, first.

Ensure your personas address the complete picture

Your personas should address the following:

  • Who is the buyer?
  • What are their pains/motivators/goals/needs? What resources do they use and what information do they need to make an informed decision about you? What thoughts and feelings do they have about you? What outcomes do buyers expect after they have bought from you?
  • When will they buy?
  • Where will they be so they can see your content?
  • How do they think, feel and act? How can you influence the buyer to buy from you?
  • Why should they buy your products/services?

Don’t get caught up in irrelevant details. In fact, cut extraneous info from your personas.

You should only have actionable information in your personas. Always be on the hunt for new information that you can use to enhance the experience.

When your personas address the complete picture, they accurately tell you what you need to do to persuade buyers to choose you.

Focus on the buyers’ decisions

Don’t confuse a profile with a persona. Focus on personas.

A persona will help you focus in on the buyers’ behaviours, so you will have the intel to know how to influence their decisions.

Don’t fabricate buyer info, talk with them

Focus on having real conversations with buyers.

Have regular (preferably monthly) in-depth conversations with buyers and customers so you can identify actionable insights that you can use to improve your marketing and customer experience initiatives.

While quantitative research - like online behaviour analytics, surveys, analyst reports, social media and web research - should not be overlooked, it should not trump the qualitative research you do in speaking directly with buyers.

Conversations with buyers and customers are the most important activity you can do to enhance your customer experience. Also, emotions are only evident in the direct conversations you have with your buyers and customers.

Focus on key personas

Develop the personas that generate the most revenue. Revella says “ buyer personas must make it easy to know when a different version of your story will result in more business for the company.”

Think of things in terms of the 80-20 rule. For example, if two or three personas account for 80% of your revenues, go with those personas.

Create personas by looking at commonalities across segments.

Conduct regular audits of your personas

Personas are dynamic. They are living, breathing documents. They are subject to change as buyer and customer behaviours change.

Perform solid persona management by continuously and consistently reviewing and updating your personas on a regular basis.

A good rule of thumb is to perform a persona audit at least twice a year. This is necessary so you are in tune with how you can influence buyer and customer behaviours.

Customer journey mapping will help you enhance your customer experience. Investing time in developing and updating personas will help you enjoy customer journey mapping success.


Replies (2)

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By Andrés Vergara
07th Jul 2017 15:43

Hi Sue, what a concise article! I love the tile, I find it very useful with some key points to explore. I come from the innovation based in design sector, so I´ ll have it in mind to apply it to my business. Thanks.

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Replying to Andrés Vergara:
By Sue Duris
26th Jul 2017 17:50

Hi Andres.

Thank you so much for reading and commenting! It means a lot!!

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