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What You Need To Know About Buyer Personas with Jim Kraus – Episode #131

“[A buyer persona] is the understanding in detailed terms, of the attitudes, needs, concerns, decision criteria, and buyer’s journey around a specific type of buying decision…it is not a profile of an individual…”

Jim Kraus is the President of Buyer Persona Institute (BPI) and a leading authority on buyer personas and buying insights. In addition to his work at BPI, Jim is an avid blogger, author of the Buyer Persona Buzz newsletter, and is currently working on a second edition of the book Buyer Personas with BPI’s founder, Adele Revella. He also frequently speaks at events and podcasts to advance the thinking around buyer personas and buying insights more broadly.

Questions and topics we covered include:

  • The simplest definition of what a buyer persona actually is and what buyer personas help businesses achieve
  • The differences between customer segments & customer segmentation vs buyer personas
  • The hardest buyer insight to discover
  • How many buyer personas should a business even have?
  • Who owns the creation of buyer personas?
  • Do businesses even need buyer personas?
  • Why it’s actually harder to buy products today than in the past (sellers aren’t the only ones feeling the pain of a new marketplace)
  • What to do after the buyer personas are defined, what’s next?

And more!

You can connect with Jim via LinkedIn –

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Full Episode Transcript:

Jim Kraus  0:00  

Fundamentally what a buyer persona is, is understanding in very detailed terms, the attitudes needs concerns, decision criteria and buyers journey around a specific type of buying decision. We are focused on the buying decision. And that’s a really important distinction because that’s really forms the foundation of just about every marketing and sales decision you’ll make if you understand that buying decision at a very detailed level.


Kenny Soto  0:28  

You just heard a clip from the latest guest on the people through your marketing podcast with your host me, Kenny Soto. And that guest was Jim Krupps. Jim is the president of the buyer persona Institute, and a leading authority on buyer personas and find insights. In addition to his work at the buyer persona Institute. Jim is an avid blogger, author of the buyer persona buzz newsletter, and is currently working on the second edition of the book, buyer personas with BPI founder Adele. He also frequently speaks at events and podcasts to advance the thinking around buyer personas and buying insights more broadly. And this episode is all about buyer personas. As with every other episode of The People’s Digital Marketing Podcast, each topic and guests that I bring on to this show is designed to help you achieve two things. One, impress your boss, Head of Marketing, VP of Marketing, CMO, and number to eventually become your boss. So if that’s something that you’re interested in doing, just like I am, this episodes, definitely a great one for you. Marketers of all functions, whether you’re in brand growth product, or a mixture of one of those, this episode is going to help you because buyer personas affect all of us as marketers. So without further ado, let’s all listen and learn from Jim Krause.

Hi, Jim, how are you? 


Jim Kraus  1:06

Hi, Kenny, great to be here. I love getting opportunities like this on the podcast to learn something new. 


Kenny Soto  1:22

And for most of the listeners, they should have interacted with buyer persona documentshere or there throughout their career, they should have probably created some, but whether or not the listener has created or interacted with a buyer persona, I won’t assume any context. And we’ll go over the basics and some high level stuff as well. But before we go into the world of AR personas, I want to get more context on Ujin as professionals. So my first question for you is, how do you become a marketer in the first place?


Jim Kraus  2:35  

Most of my career has been spent as a marketer in particular marketing research. So my passion and where I spent last couple of decades really is trying to understand the voice of the customer and the voice of the buyer, for that matter, really, to inform a whole variety of marketing sales and product decisions within, you know, very small to very large enterprises. And it’s always been just a passion of mine. So this has always been a natural fit for me.


Kenny Soto  3:01  

Amazing. And can you give more context for the listener as to what is your current role today? And what are you doing at the buyer persona Institute?


Jim Kraus  3:13  

Right, so I’m president of the buyer persona Institute. And we were founded about 15 years ago, by Adele Rivella, who has has retired a little while ago. And our main mission is to really talk to and understand buyers, so that our clients can make more informed marketing and sales decisions. So they can do a much better job not only educating, but influencing buyers in relation to some of the buying decisions that they’re making.


Kenny Soto  3:46  

When we talk about buyer personas, I have this assumption that everyone defines them differently to a certain extent based on the industry that they’re in, or the service or product that they’re selling. There may be some misconceptions that we’re not aware of when it comes to buyer personas. So I’d like to get a general high level overview from from you, Jen, what is a buyer persona?


Jim Kraus  4:15  

I’ll give you the main a main definition around one and we can maybe get into a little bit more detail later in our discussion. But one of the key reasons we started buyer persona Institute was really just trying to was having some frustration with how much marketers and sellers had to literally guess and make up what they thought buyers needed to know and experience in order to have confidence in making a purchase decision in their favor. I’ve been part spaded and counsel countless messaging workshops is an example where people are literally going around the table to try to hypothesize what buyers really want need to feel confident in their buying decisions. So when That is a backdrop fundamentally what a buyer persona is, is understanding in very detailed terms, the attitudes, needs concerns, decision criteria and buyers journey around a specific type of buying decision. It is not a it is not a profile of an individual or role. So a lot of times when folks here buyer persona, they kind of default to fictional avatar of a role of somebody that’s involved in the decision process. So if you’re, you know, if you manufacture some type of technology that you’re selling, you might be selling to the CIO. And you might have a profile of a CIO, you know, their education, average age, top priorities, challenges, information sources they use maybe that’s in our world, that’s a buyer profile, we are focused on the buying decision. And that’s a really important distinction, because that’s really forms the foundation of just about every marketing and sales decision you’ll make if you understand that buying decision at a very detailed level,


Kenny Soto  6:00  

I asked this question just to get a little bit more context, are customer segments and customer segmentation the same as buyer personas?


Jim Kraus  6:12  

No, they’re not. You can have a segmented buyer persona. But a buyer persona is let me describe what a buyer persona is in a little more detail, because then I’ll be able to compare that to a segmentation. So buyer persona, the best way to think about it is, you know, whoever’s listening to this, think about the product or service, our products or services that you’re selling, just pick one of them and put them in your mind. What we want to do is we want to go out and understand for people making that exact buying decision, we want to understand five different things. We call them the five rings of buying insight, that’s just a name. But these five things are really important. If you’re a market or seller, number one is what we call priority initiatives. Think of priority initiatives as the triggers, you know, these are the things that literally cause your prospective buyers to start looking for a particular solution at this moment in time, right. So think about your product or service, a prospective buyer may have had that need for quite a while what was the thing that really got them moving and start to search? Right? And that’s important because you’re really trying to understand, where do you best meet your buyers. And when you think about top of the funnel type messaging, I gives you a lot of insights in that area. The second major component is what we call success factors. And success factors a way to think about them as benefits or outcomes. This is where your buyers, they’re making this investment, it’s important to them, what outcome and results are they need as a result of it. The third component is called perceived barriers. And one of the things is our buyer personas are more focused on more high consideration buying decisions, multiple decision influencers probably have significant investment, a lot of upside downside potential making the wrong choice. perceived barriers is important because buyers will have concerns and trepidations about not just who they select, but also just making the investment at all versus the status quo. So you want to understand what those fears and concerns are ahead of time so you can proactively address them. The fourth component of your buyer persona is decision criteria. And decision criteria is literally all the questions that your buyers are going to have as they consider their options. So not only questions they’ll have for who they may initially consider, but also the questions they’re going to be asking to help them winnow down their options. And then the fifth and final component of a buyer persona is what we call buyers journey. And buyers journey is literally for that specific buying decision. What is the typical steps in the buying process? What are the information sources that your your buyers go to and rely on and trust who’s involved in the decision process and makes the final decision. So if you think about those five things, if you think about the product or service that you may be focused on, think about if you had in real insight in each of those five areas, how much that would inform a whole host of marketing and sales activities that you’re involved in so that you can really connect with buyers in a more meaningful way.


Kenny Soto  9:14  

Out of those five buyer insights, which one and it doesn’t need to be a particular one, it can be all five, it is the answer. But which one? Have you found your clients and brands in general having the most difficulty discovering?


Jim Kraus  9:31  

I would say the priority initiatives which are the triggers and success factors, which are the benefits that they want or their desired outcomes are the ones that they’re usually the most attuned to, particularly if they’re working in a market that’s fairly mature where a kind of a you have a pretty good understanding about buyers want. So those you a lot of times things that will that we’ll uncover will be nuances of those. The areas that really I think have the most helpful and are is really more when you get into the actual decision process. So this is more than middle bottom of the funnel type stuff. When buyers have already, you know, they’re all looking at probably benefit statements from different providers that are probably similar, but they’re getting really into the nitty gritty. So once you start getting into their perceived barriers and actual decision criteria, those are incredibly useful. Because now one of the struggles with that marketers have, which is completely understandable is you trying to prioritize where do you where do you focus? What messaging Do you focus on? What assets do you focus on? You know, there’s a whole, there’s a number of different things you could be doing. But understanding what fears and concerns are, what decision criteria lets you really laser focus in on the things that ultimately your buyers care about the most. 


Kenny Soto  10:45  

And that’s a great, great insights to have, when going through these buyer insights and discovering each one of the five, when you’re doing this exercise. Is it something where it it layers on top of multiple buyer personas? Or do you have to discover these insights for each type of buyer that purchases your product or service? Yeah,


Jim Kraus  11:09  

I’m glad you asked that question, because one of the things that we often see is that when organizations are focused on buyer personas that are profiling individuals, two things tend to happen. One is they don’t have enough insights to really develop, you know, nail, the nail their communication strategy, when, where and how, because they don’t have the insights about that particular buying decision. The other thing that we see is organizations that just have too many buyer personas, right, they’re trying to message to everybody, which just becomes overly complex and not realistic. So what we do is we develop our buyer personas, is we actually go out and talk to recent buyers of that exact buying decision that you’re trying to influence. So as an example, if, let’s say you’re trying to create a buyer persona for a CRM solution, again, single buyer persona, what we do is you would go out, and you would talk to recent buyers that have made that exact same decision. Now these aren’t your current clients, they you may talk to some customers that happened to have purchase your solution, but you want to go out and talk to people that have made that buying decision in the last 12 months. So it’s timely and relevant. And you want to interview them interviews typically takes 30 or 40 minutes, and these are in depth conversations, right? They’re not surveys, where you’re rating and ranking things, you’re literally asking them, you know, take me back to the day when you first decided you needed CRM solution, they use the same example. And what was the first thing that you did, right, and then you just literally walk them through the entire purchase journey from the beginning all the way until the final decision to identify those five areas that we had talked about earlier. So what you’ll end up with is you will have a buyer persona again, using the same example, for a CRM buying decision. The only time that we would segment a buyer persona going back to another earlier question you had is, if you said Well, we know there’s there’s likely differences because we’re looking, you know, we market to two different enterprise size categories as an example. And we really think there’s some major differences or at least significant enough differences, well, then what you would do is you would interview a certain number of buyers in each one of those segments so that you can identify some of the commonalities and then some of the differences between them. But the nice thing about this approach is not only does it give you the insights you need for a lot organizations, it really simplifies our whole approach to buyer personas. And it just it just makes prioritization and focus so much easier. And it the other nice thing about it aligns marketing sales and product around the same set of facts, right, because you’re actually going out and talking to the source. 


Kenny Soto  13:48  

And I can assume that there’s, there’s a layer of complexity here, especially when a business becomes more mature over time, you have to face the fact that you’re growing, ideally, your product portfolio, your service portfolio, and certain buyers will purchase certain sectors and sectors, a certain portion of your portfolio versus others. So does that also inform the number of buyer personas that you’re creating? What is the magic number to have? If there is one for the number of buyer personas that a business should have?


Jim Kraus  14:26  

Yeah, there’s no magic number. But it really all depends on the number of offerings you have, and how differentiated they are. Right? So you know, we’ve had occasions where we’ve worked with organizations where they feel like they need to do six separate buyer personas because they have six separate solutions in their mind. And then we start talking through it a little bit and we find out well, it’s not really it’s six, yes, you’re offering them six, but we can get away with two or three as an example, because there’s a lot of commonalities between some of them. So that’s some of the things you can do. But it really it really depends. So what you want the buyer persona for so if you have a pretty mature industry that you’ve been focused on it a while and not a lot has been changing about it, you’ve got your marketing and sales activities and messaging, pretty much set, things are working, okay. Those aren’t usually the best candidates for buyer personas, because usually not learning anything terribly new, that’s gonna move the needle, we see the biggest impact with buyer personas, when either somebody has a new a new offering in the market, then they just don’t know anything about the buyers. So they know very little they’re guessing at it. Or it’s something where it’s a market that’s really changing, right? So you’ve got to set a buyer needs, where there’s now solutions out there that are fulfilling these needs in a way that hasn’t been before. And maybe in a way that you’re not yet fulfilling. And you need to really understand that. So the answer is it depends. But those are the key things to be thinking about.


Kenny Soto  15:52  

Who should own creating the buyer persona? Is it marketing, because this affects both sales and product. So could it be those teams that are supposed to be creating the buyer persona document? Is it more collaborative in nature?


Jim Kraus  16:07  

It can be any, any of the three or even another area for that matter? We love it when marketing owns it. Okay. The reason for that is because if you think about the marketing role, right sales has the luxury of interacting with prospective customers day in and day out. Right, they develop a sixth sense they develop, you know, a recent and relevant understanding of what buyers are concerned about, what do they care about? What are their concerns? What are alternatives are they looking at so they they have the voice of the customer, the buyer every day in their ear? Marketing does not right marketing is trying to come up with marketing, successful marketing motions and strategy. A lot of times with one hand tied behind their back so it’s nice when marketing owns is because then they can come back and really represent the voice of the buyer, and bring sales and product along for the ride, so to speak. So you know, one of my favorite meetings to have is doing readouts of buyer personas where we have marketing sales product, maybe even some other functions in the room. And we’re going through all the insights. And it’s amazing what happens in those conversations, because what ends up happening is certainly some head nodding like yep, we thought we knew that. But gosh, it’s great to hear that what we were thinking is correct. And also we’re getting see how the buyers actually talk about it. But that the other thing you hear is like on the fly different ideas going by, you know, as far as aligning marketing and sales and making sure that hey, this thing that we thought was important, we really, it’s really important, we really need to figure out how we’re going to how we’re going to approach this, or maybe something that wasn’t even on the radar. But it comes out is really critical. And the decision process needs some attention. And it’s just a way to bring everybody together. So there’s no right answer. I think when marketing owns it, it’s just a nice way to bring value from the marketing function to the to the whole organization.


Kenny Soto  17:57  

We started off by defining buyer personas. And then we took a deeper dive into how to create them who should be interviewed and the complexities around the buyer persona. However, we haven’t touched on, why are they important in the first place? Are buyer personas more or less important than they were five, maybe even 10 years ago,


Jim Kraus  18:18  

I’m probably biased, but I would say they’re every bit as important or even more important. And there’s two reasons I say that, you know, number one, protect particularly in today’s you know, a tougher economy right now, but really, at any time, but really, particularly now, there’s any number of things that talented marketers could be doing to help their organizations, better educated fluence buyers. buyer personas help you really focus and prioritize, right, it helps you get away from the I need this, I need that right kind of, you know, reacting all the time, it helps you be a little bit more proactive and focused and bringing people along with with a great deal of alignment. So that’s one reason the other reason that they’re they’re so important right now is because, you know, buyers don’t have a long attention span, you know, they’re they’re looking at a number of different options. The other thing you have to think about is a lot of people comment about how hard it is to sell, you know, it’s pretty hard to buy these days to particularly more complex products or high consideration products and services. You’ve got buyers that may have never really considered this particular solution before or certainly it’s not something they think about daily. So they’re trying to get educated on a market they don’t think about all that much. They’ve got an enormous amount of information coming at them and at their disposal. And we know from doing these studies that they are looking at a whole host of sources online and not and you know, word of mouth reading type sources. So for you to do a buyer persona, the thing that it allows you to do is it allows you to cut through all of that and get to the heart of the matter. And buyers will appreciate that because it gives them two things a it makes them feel like hey, This organization really gets me. And number two, they respect me enough to really give me the interest the information that I really need, and not the superfluous stuff.


Kenny Soto  20:08  

And do you dabble in creating anti personas where you’re defining who isn’t the best fit for a product or service that’s been sold?


Jim Kraus  20:19  

We don’t I mean, for typically for us is where we were focused on, you know, your ICP your ideal ideal customer profile, if that’s what you’re trying to sell to, if you want to do a buyer persona that’s focused on maybe a market you haven’t really sold to, or maybe that’s not your ideal customer, per se. But you’re starting to really develop a strategy to go after that, you know, segment of the market, if you will, you could absolutely do a buyer persona around that.


Kenny Soto  20:49  

Let’s say ideally, someone was able to rally the troops set up, the interviews with their recent buyers stay locked in to these interviews. And with both product and sales, being part of the conversation, we were able to create a buyer persona that tackles and captures all five buyer insights. We’ve created a nice set of documents. And there’s a sense of achievement here. However, a document doesn’t bring in revenue. So when we define the buyer persona or buyer personas, what do we do next?


Jim Kraus  21:25  

Yeah, the thing that we recommend to do is, once you have so if you think about this, the easiest way I can describe this is if you think about a simple Venn diagram, and you’ve got two intersecting circles, one of the circles is everything that your prospective buyers want, want to know and experience to have confidence in their investment and in you as the provider, right? So you have all those insights, that’s your buyer persona. So you’ve got those. Now, the other circle on the right hand side is your capabilities. Right? So just because you’ve got a, you know, this nice list of everything buyers, one expect doesn’t mean that you should just go out and start, you know, messaging to everything in your buyer persona, or develop, you know, trying to reach out in all the places that buyers are, what a better approach is map what your capabilities are to each one of those buyer persona insights. Two things you want to be looking for one is how important each one of those are. And there’s going to be some subject subjectivity to that, but your buyer persona was informed that and even more important than that is, do you have some unique advantage or differentiation on some of those points. Because if you do that mapping exercise between the two, that middle ground is your sweet spot. Because now what you found is, you found you can have a lot of confidence that this is what buyers want and need. You’ve done the work to objectively assess where you’re strong, strongest in and where you can differentiate. And you can use that intersection and develop value proposition themes. I mean, you could probably get four or five, six core value proposition themes, fighting that intersection. And those themes could be used for a whole host of things. On the marketing side, as well as the sales side. I mean, one of the biggest challenges sellers have sometimes is trying to figure out, you know, if I’m knocking on a door, or I have an opportunity with new prospect, what should I talk to them about, right? You know, you do this exercise, you’re gonna give them five or six things, along with developing proof points of those things while you’re at it, that they can go talk and feel really capable about that this is something that’s going to matter to buyers, and that they’ve got a good story to tell as far as what their organization could do.


Kenny Soto  23:40  

One challenge, I suspect, and this is one thing that I’m I’m saying this knowing that it’s a challenge I will be facing, but I’m assuming that some of the listeners will also be facing this challenge as well. So I have a sense of the importance of buyer personas. And through his conversation you’ve explained as well, the importance of buyer personas, however, some people may have a challenge of communicating the importance of doing this exercise to their managers to their leadership. And leadership might be wondering, what’s the point of doing this in the first place? Let’s say that we do do this, what are we going to achieve? So what are the results that organizations typically achieve when they leverage more modern buyer personas in their marketing and sales?


Jim Kraus  24:32  

I’ll answer that two ways. From a quality from a qualitative perspective. The results that they will you’re you’re typically going to get is you’re going to get alignment across marketing sales and product in a way that you may not have had before or if you have it, it’s just going to be improved. Number two is you’re gonna have insights are gonna inform your messaging strategy, top middle bottom of the funnel, there’s no question about that. Three is you’re going to have real insight about what are the features of your particular product or service that you should be focused on? Right instead of messaging to everything, focus on the things that buyers really care about the most when they’re making their buying decision. And then the fourth thing I would say, from a qualitative perspective is, you’re going to be able to prioritize a lot more, right? Rather than saying, We got to do everything or not not being really sure, is this the best thing we could be doing versus the other options, you’re gonna have a lot more confidence in terms of the investment and the time that you’re putting into certain things. As far as the result you can expect, it all depends really, with what you do with the results. But we’ve had organizations that have tripled the amount of leads they’ve had, I always think increasing leads is great. That’s a great metric, one of the metrics that I love to see. And we’ve seen organizations that use this approach double triple their conversion rates. And the reason I think that’s great is because, as I mentioned earlier, typically, when you get into the perceived barriers and decision criteria, you’re really figuring out, how do I move them through the through the sales funnel, right? And those type of insights really help you do that. So you should be seeing improvements at the top of the funnel, but also on your conversion rates as well.


Kenny Soto  26:14  

Two more questions for you. My next one is one of my favorite ones to ask because I feel like everyone is facing marketing challenges at all times, even the guests on the show. What are some of the marketing challenges your organization is facing this year?


Jim Kraus  26:30  

I think the biggest one for us is a common one that all marketing organizations face. And it’s an ongoing one for us. But it’s one that was one of the reasons that you know, we’d like to participate in these podcasts. And it’s really a to take the time to articulate and educate a market about a particular framework, methodology, product service, what have you, so that they really understand the value of it. So our challenge really is always how do we explain as clearly as we can, you know, what a buyer persona is and what it isn’t, and how there is May there may be another thought about a framework for buyer personas that you haven’t considered before, that could be even more impactful for your business in a positive way. So I think that’s the ongoing challenge for us. It’s just continuing to get be out there and continue to try to communicate the differences and more importantly, some of the advantages.


Kenny Soto  27:23  

Yeah. And sometimes it’s the unscalable things like joining a podcast that ends up helping you out maybe six 810 months into the future. My last my last question for you, Jim is hypothetical, because time machines do not exist. But if one did, and you can go back into the past about 10 years doing everything, you know, right now, how would you specifically accelerate the speed of your career?


Jim Kraus  27:49  

That’s a good one? That’s a great question. Um, I don’t know, if I would do anything fundamentally different. You know, I think the biggest thing I would say or advice I would give to somebody is really just to stay open minded, as far as new approaches and new ways of doing things. And not to get too bogged down in, you know, the way that you’re doing something now is the way that’s going to work 510 years from now, it doesn’t mean you have to have all the answers, but it just means to be opening to certain things. So if you’re focused on a particularly particular way of marketing, right, that maybe has worked for you in the past, just make sure you have a healthy dose of curiosity about some of the things that are going on and start thinking about how you can use those to improve, you know, your business even more. I mean, AI is the one that’s, you know, the the one that everybody’s talking about right now, I guess the example would be not to be afraid of it. But to really just say, hey, you know, this could be fun, you know, I’m going to learn this, see what it’s all about. Keep a positive outlook and realize that, you know, if you do that you’re not going to be behind, and you don’t have to panic, right? You can just kind of start thinking through how does this really impact what I’m doing in my career, and also what I’m doing for organizations that I work for organizations that I start?


Kenny Soto  29:07  

Absolutely, I listen to Professor Scott Galloway a lot on YouTube. And he’s mentioned this like four or five times already on his property markets, podcast. AI is not going to replace you. Person using AI is going to replace you. And that’s the most important thing to remember. You have to stay at that. Well put. So Jim, if anyone wanted to say hello to you online, where can they go to say hi.


Jim Kraus  29:33  

The two places I would recommend is if you have an interest in learning more about buyer personas as we’ve been talking about them today. Please visit buyer That is our website, buyer persona Institute. We’ve got all different types of free resources and thought pieces on the website. We also have a master class. If you want to take the class to learn how to do this yourself. And then also on LinkedIn, Jim Krause, feel free to connect with me We’d love to hear from you. And we’re always trying to put out material around buyer personas and buying insights more broadly. So love to connect with you out there as well.


Kenny Soto  30:08  

Thanks, Jim. And I’ll put all those links in the show notes when this podcast goes live. And as always, I hope everyone has a great day. And if you haven’t done so, please subscribe and share this with one co worker, because that’s the best way for this podcast to grow. And as always, I hope everyone has a great day. Bye. Thanks again for listening to Episode 131 of the people Digital Marketing podcast. On the next episode, we will have Dan bow kowski. On the show, he’s going to be talking about a subset of Product Marketing, pricing, and how pricing can greatly affect a business and how marketers can have a say, and an input in the conversation around pricing products and services. So if you’re interested in that, definitely subscribe if you haven’t done so, share this podcast with a co worker. And as always, I hope you have a great day. Thanks for listening


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