One of our teammates had an interesting conversation with the CEO of a SaaS company yesterday.
He asked a thought-provoking question regarding buyer personas saying, "I have about 10 different buyers I could sell to. How many personas should I really create? Doesn't it become kind of pointless after a certain number?"
It was certainly a great question and one that I'm sure many of you are interested in the answer to.
First, our team member assured him that creating buyer personas wouldn't cut off the source of people already interested in his services, but instead would allow his company align sales and marketing more effectively to attract and sell to the right prospects.
It's not about the buyers you could sell to, but instead narrowing it down to the ones you want to sell to.
His reaction inspired this brief article, as well as our buyer persona kit in order to assist more people who had similar questions.
Quantifying Buyer Personas
There's no set amount of buyer personas that works best for all businesses -- this is another case where you really have to figure out what works best for your business.
Most businesses should have at least a couple of buyer personas, but you don't want to have too many, either. I know, I know, this hasn't been very helpful so far -- but hang in there.
Answer the next few questions about your business and that should help you narrow it down to a small window of how many buyer personas you need. Then we'll dig more into the process of actually creating those buyer personas to help you refine that number.
How Many Verticals Do You Serve?
If your business is targeting multiple industries, or verticals, you definitely want to have a unique buyer persona for each one.
There will be cases where two customers from separate industries are actually very similar, but I still suggest creating separate buyer personas.
The reason is that you want to make it as absolutely easy as possible for someone to make the decision to purchase from you and you don't want the question "But is this right for my industry?" to ever enter their minds.
Never rely on your prospects to make the right assumptions about your offer. When they're in research mode, they're going to be analyzing everything and the company that specializes in their industry is going to be the safer option in their mind.
Plus, as you get more advanced with your inbound marketing and you start to incorporate more lead nurturing campaigns and website personalization (smart content), those buyer personas for each industry are going to be very important.
Are You Targeting Different Niches in Each Vertical?
There's a saying: "the riches are in the niches."
That's because niche marketing is very powerful.
Picture a man walking into Walmart or Target 10 years ago in search for hand lotion. He finds the aisle and is quickly bombarded with what seems like hundreds of options.
Which one does he pick? Probably either the cheapest one or the one his girlfriend or mom uses, right?
Fast forward to today. The same guy walks into the same aisle and immediately narrows his choices down to the two or three lotions that say "for men" on them.
He is assured right away that these lotions were made specifically for him.
As marketers, we know that the men's formula and the women's formula from the same brand are identical, but we also know that people are more likely to buy something that speaks to them personally.
Beauty brands make separate products with the exact same ingredients because men's skin care and women's skin care are two separate niches within the beauty industry.
Likewise, if you are targeting multiple niches within one industry or vertical, it could be beneficial tocreate buyer personas for those specific niches.
You don't necessarily need to create separate products, but you should at least create separate content -- which is based around buyer personas.
Who Are Your Best Customers Currently?
As marketers, we're always looking for the next move, the next customer, the next campaign...
Sometimes we need to take a step back and look at what we've already done.
Instead of thinking about who you want to win over next, take some time to analyze who you've already won. Who are your best customers right now?
Businesses will often find a trend among their most loyal customers that doesn't quite match up with their buyer personas -- and in this scenario, those people deserve their own buyer persona.
Let's say you have a SaaS business targeting key decision makers in enterprises. You really want to lock-down those big accounts.
However, for whatever reason, small local IT companies love your service and account for a third of your business. Sure, those accounts aren't as sexy as the Fortune 500 companies and they're only using the lowest tier of your service -- but they bring in a huge chunk of business.
Perhaps you could grow quicker by adding more effort to target those people specifically.
Narrowing Down Your Buyer Personas
After going through the previous section, you should have a rough estimate of how many buyer personas you need. However, there's a good chance you're aiming for a few too many.
Now let's dive deeper into why we create buyer personas and see if you can narrow down that list slightly.
The goal is to serve the most value to your best potential customers while still keeping your primary message focused on your unique value proposition.
Targeting too many people can be distracting at best and, at worst, can lower the value of your offer because it's not honed in enough on the people that really matter.
Think Perfect World
Sure, you may have a varying degree of buyers and prospects.
However, buyer personas aren't about all the customers you could have. It's about the ones you want.
Boil down your customer base to around the top 20% in regards to ones who see the greatest success as well as the ones you love working with.
In a perfect world, wouldn't you love this 20% to make up your entire contact database?
Of course you would.
This is precisely the function buyer personas aim to serve. Which prospects would you ideally love to work with?
This doesn't mean you're cutting off potential prospects who may not meet this criteria. It simply serves both the company – you – and the prospects well, ensuring that you're executing a strategy that resonates with them.
In a perfect world, who are the two or three types of buyers you would prefer to work with most?
Okay, so let's say you realistically, unequivocally have 10 different personas you'd love to sell to.
How are you supposed to boil this down?
So in this case, rather than segmenting your personas based on industry or demographics, think behavioral.
Which tend to work best as customers in your experience?
Consider the behavior of your website visitors. What interests do they have? Which offers or web pages are they looking at?
More importantly, which have become eventual customers?
People will say a lot of things, but what truly matters is what they do. Making a purchase is an action, not a statement.
Remember Why You're Creating Buyer Personas
Just to reiterate, buyer personas aren't about the prospects you could sell to.
They're about the ideal customers you want to sell to and those who are already having great success.
Your ideal customers have to benefit from what you offer, but they also need to be people you enjoy serving or your team will be completely miserable.
Creating accurate buyer personas ensures a better user experience for the prospects who need it most, and more importantly, positions your company and its staff to offer the greatest possible value.
About Bob Ruffolo
Bob is the founder and CEO of IMPACT, an agency he formed in 2009 to help people and their organizations succeed by changing the way they market themselves online. Since its founding, IMPACT has achieved its status as one of HubSpot's Diamond Partner Agencies and secured its place as one of the top inbound marketing agencies in the country.