The Infamous Persona!

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As I have navigated the world of product management and product marketing, it’s become very clear to me that if you do not understand your customer personas, you might as well pack up and go home.  Historically, product management was concerned with the user personas, and product marketing was concerned with the buyer personas.  However, both types of personas must be understood by product management.  

What is a Persona?



First, what is a persona?  A persona is a biography based on your product discovery process to describe the relevant characteristics, needs, and goals of the people who will be using and buying your product.  In the world of product discovery, many of these needs can be found during the prototyping process as you start to build, allowing your different users to get their hands on the prototypes.  

Some of the elements around a persona include.

  • Biographical information.  Typical age, education level, hours they typically work, career aspirations.
  • Tactical business needs
  • Strategic business needs
  • What else is going on in the organization and in the industry that frames these business challenges?
  • What is a typical day in the life of each of these personas?
  • What keeps them up at night?
  • What has value to them?  Why does it have value?
  • What drives them?  What makes them successful in their job?


We need to understand not only their business needs but the context of these needs. These needs include their concerns within their jobs as well as how they can be successful in their job.

You also need to understand not just the business needs, but the emotional needs in the context of their work.  For example, I have worked with payroll managers as my users.  The reality is during the payroll cycle, their job is extremely stressful. If they do not do their job correctly, this will impact the ability for employees to pay their mortgage or put food on the table.  This causes a lot of stress and pressure to get things right.  This context is critically important when designing software for payroll users.  

Buyer and User Personas

A buyer persona is the biography of your target customer buyer. The person who is buying your solution.  The buyer personas include the actual decision maker as well as influencers across the organization.  The buyer persona may not be the person using the product.  The buyer personas goals, challenges, and context of working will be different than the user personas.  Let’s use an example, who is the customer for children’s clothing?  Is it the child wearing the clothing or the parent?  In this case, the buyer is the parent.  Ultimately it’s the parent who decides whether to buy a particular piece of children’s clothing.

The user persona is the biography of your target customer user.  The person who is using the product. In this case, the user would be the actual child wearing the clothing.

As the product manager for children’s clothing, you need to understand the needs of both the parents and the child.  For example, if your buyer persona is working parents who typically have little time in the morning to get the kids ready for school, you may want to have an element within your clothing line that makes it easy to mix and match the clothing elements.  If your user is the child, you need to make sure the clothing meets their needs. If the child is a toddler, you need to ensure the clothing is comfortable and easy for them to put on themselves.

One product. Two distinct personas. Two very different sets of strategies, priorities and features needed to develop a product that will appeal to them both.

Product Discovery

Product discovery is the process of understanding the needs of the customer, prototyping, experimenting, adjusting.  When we talk about the needs of the customer, we need to ensure we understand both the buyer and the users of our product.  The buyer will ultimately make the decision whether to buy your product.  The users need to use it.  If the users are not happy, then you will have a customer service issue, and chances are the customer will not continue purchasing your product.  You need to ensure you understand both personas to facilitate the product discovery process.

During product discovery some recommendations to understand needs include:  

  • Meet with the buyers and influencers.  Understand their needs today, tomorrow and their overall organizational strategy.  You may only get 20 minutes of their time so make sure you are asking the most important questions.
  • Research the industries you are selling into to understand trends. For example, if your buyer is the Chief People Officer, do some research via SHRM.  This when, when you get into their office, you have a detailed background and can spend your 20 minutes drilling down into details.
  • Look at win/loss reports.  These will typically outline why buyers did or did not make a decision to buy your product.
  • Get on the road.  Head out with your sales teams to key customer meetings. Even if it’s during the sales process, quietly observe the conversations in order to gain insight into their future needs.
  • Involve product marketing.  Product Marketing can help you build a well-crafted group of questions to these users.  Product Marketing is also very focused on the buyer persona so they can also help you engage with this persona in the organization.

During product discovery, when focusing on the user, some recommendations to understand their needs include:

  • Do your research ahead of time.  Understand the basics of these users by reviewing industry journals,  job descriptions on job posting boards, and talking to sales.
  • Go into your user’s place of work and Do a day of observation. Watch them using your product, or other products.  What they say and don’t say.  Conference calls are not enough. You need to go onsite.
  • Ask them open-ended questions.
  • Don’t lead the witness to the answer you want.  Just ask the question, be comfortable with silence, and let them answer.
  • Let the questions lead to other questions.  It’s okay if you don’t follow your script word for word. Many times answers to questions will lead you to questions and observations you did not consider.


Remember to always…Think Big, Start Small, Go Fast!


1 comments on “The Infamous Persona!”

  1. Good stuff!
    “The buyer personas goals, challenges, and context of working will be different than the user personas.”
    In B2B, customer does not equal user. CX does not equal UX. UCD does not equal CCD. CCD would in fact be terribly inefficient in B2B.


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