Buyer Personas and Product Management
December 19, 2013

Buyer Personas and Product Management

by Brian de Haaff

We all build the best products when we instinctively understand the challenges our customers are facing and what they are trying to accomplish. This is easy if we do the same job or know someone really well who does. But that is usually not the case for product managers, marketers, and software developers. This is where building buyer personas can save us and provide the insight and empathy we need to help the team build what matters.

We are often building product and marketing it to folks who do jobs that we do not — and sometimes what they do is just foreign to us.

Personas are examples of real buyers who influence or make decisions about your product or service. In the past, personas were used by consumer brand managers and marketing folks who would create groups from demographic data to describe a “segment” that they wanted to serve. For example, a buyer persona in the past for a packaged goods company might have been: woman between 25-45 with kids, who stays at home and does most of the household cooking and cleaning.

This type of persona provides no insight into what motivates women in this group or what they are looking for in the products they buy. And for software companies, it often led to developer frustration because no one could explain why a feature was needed or mattered.

This lack of insight led product development and go-to-market professionals to expand their thinking and deepen their personas to focus on customer insight. We suggest that if you are a high tech product manager or marketer you follow this best practice and capture and segment your personas in Aha! — the new way to create brilliant roadmaps based on key insights rather than on attributes like location, demographics, or gender.

You can describe the buyers that you serve on the Strategy - Vision screen, add additional documents that you have created, and even images that represent the buyer (see the purple circle in the screenshot below and the purple highlighted section in the table below it).

If you use concise titles for your personas in the strategy section (e.g. Product czar), you can then add a custom field titled “Personas” under Account settings to your features and manually tag personas to features using the same names as you defined above. This will create a tie between your defined personas and the features that are designed to delight them.

If you are thinking about adding this information, it is important not to rely on your colleagues or the sales team for their opinions or simply turn to surveys when creating personas. To gain real insight and make personas as real as possible, you need to speak directly with your customers and prospects and keep asking “why” until you understand their challenges and motivations. Speak to enough customers and patterns will start to emerge and allow you to distill key insights that can be used to characterize each persona.

Consider pursuing and answering these key questions for each persona that you create for your product or service. The first three are critical to distill the essence of the persona and the second two can help you win the heart of the customer and get paid for doing so.
  • What is the customer trying to achieve?

  • Why is the customer trying to achieve that goal?

  • What is the impact to the customer if she cannot achieve the goal?

  • What are the alternatives for the customer to try to reach the goal?

  • What do you need to deliver for the customer to reach the goal?

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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