About the author

Hi, my name is Adria Fischer, and I'm the Director of Customer Marketing at Sovos, a leader in the tax and regulatory compliance industry. I've been working in marketing for over 15 years, and I've had the good fortune to work at some great companies including Time Warner Cable, Comcast, WGBH, which is the Boston PBS station, as well as Kronos, which is now UKG, before joining Sovos half a year ago.

I held a variety of roles in marketing, including program management, customer reference management, competitive intelligence, and product marketing before joining the ranks of customer marketing about four years ago. I enjoyed all of those roles thoroughly, but I found my place when I joined customer marketing.

It's been a wonderful journey in my career so far, and I'm loving the growth that's happening in this field. There are so many opportunities, and it's a really exciting time for anybody who wants to learn more or pursue this area.

I believe that it’s the role of the customer marketer to gather insights and extrapolate on why each persona matters because they all do, whether that persona is an end user or a decision maker.

Knowing your personas and continuously researching, interviewing, and validating your personas is essential to developing meaningful and relevant multi-channel content. It also ensures that the content you create resonates, and you're delivering the right message to the right person at the right time using the right tactics.

One of the first projects I undertook when I transitioned to customer marketing was developing my company's customer personas. I didn't know it at the time, but it would become a pivotal project in my career. As time went by, my name became increasingly associated with the customer persona work that I'd done.

I was often brought into conversations to provide guidance on how to use personas and approached by other customer-facing teams who wanted to learn more. Ultimately, I was called in as the subject matter expert on the organization's customer personas.

Moreover, doing the research and analysis to develop the customer personas laid the groundwork for future decisions around release readiness, event strategies, and many other programs.

A solid understanding of customer personas enabled my team to create segmented programs, compelling delighters, and more tailored learning paths and user events. All this enabled us to provide greater value and more relevant content for our customers.


On today's agenda, first, I want to break down what probably drew you to this article in the first place – personas. We're gonna get into what personas are, the different types, how they’re used, and – most importantly – why they matter.

Next, I'll share how you can get started on creating your own customer personas, and we'll discuss how you can embed them into the customer journey and lifecycle. Then we'll wrap up with some tips on how to ensure your customer personas stay relevant and become a priority at your organization.

I hope you walk away from this article with an understanding of the types of personas as well as how customer, buyer, and user personas differ. Additionally, you should leave with a plan for how to get started on either creating customer personas from scratch, or keeping your customer personas relevant and a priority. Finally, I hope you start thinking of new ideas for how to leverage personas across the customer lifecycle.

Alt: image showing the 3 takeaways from the article as described in the above paragraph.

Personas 101

A persona is defined as a fictional character created to represent a user type that might use a site, brand, or product in a similar way. Personas are used to consider the goals, desires, and limitations of buyers and users to help guide decisions about a business's service, product, or interaction. Simply put, the purpose of any persona – be it buyer, user, or customer – is to help you understand that persona's needs, experiences, behaviors, and goals.

Additionally, I advocate for making the distinction between all three types of personas within your organization because they each serve their own purpose. Buyer personas are focused on pain points or daily frustrations and challenges, as well as what type of information they lean on during the buying process. And of course, buyer personas are an important tool for how to effectively position your solution or service during the buying stage of the life cycle.

Of course, once a buyer purchases the product or service, they become a customer. I've seen confusion around user and customer personas. After all, a customer uses the solution or service so why would they not simply be a user persona?

Generally, user personas are created by user experience or user research teams for design and engineering purposes, whereas customer personas are a tool that should be created and employed by marketing, specifically customer marketing.

User personas often get into demographic details like age, level of education, income, hobbies, interests, etc. As one director of UX explained to me, the details matter for user personas because they're a tool for engineers, who benefit from a better understanding of the person who is going to be on the receiving end of their coding and design. Simply put, user personas are a means to humanize why feature X matters, or why button A should be where it is.

Then we have customer personas, which focus on how customers interact with the solution, the product, or even the business, as well as how they engage, what they need, and most importantly, why they matter to your company or organization.

Customer personas matter because a lot of customer marketing is focused on communicating the right information to the right person at the right time in the right way. To properly share relevant information with the appropriate audience, we need to first identify who that audience is, what information they need to consume, why they need to consume it, and when is the best time to communicate that information to them.

Customer personas help us align the correct information with the correct person so communications and content are meaningful, tailored, and timely. Well-developed personas are foundational for creating segmented and personalized communications, programs, and content that resonate and are impactful.

Getting started with personas

Let’s assume that I’ve convinced you that you need to create and develop customer personas. Perhaps you've been using the buyer personas that product marketing created, and within the last few minutes, you slammed your fists down and said, “No more! I’m not gonna stand for this! I need the right tools to be the best customer marketer I can be, and I'm going to start by developing a set of customer personas!” Great. Let’s look at how you get started.

Generally speaking, there are four steps to get started with any project: identify, research, analyze, then turn your work into a usable tool. Here’s how that looks when it comes to building customer personas:

Step one: Identify

Start by identifying your customer personas. If you're starting from scratch, I highly recommend partnering with someone on your operations team who has full access to your customer database and knows how to create or pull reports – even better if they're an Excel wizard and can help you categorize and segment the various data points. A good place to start is by pulling job titles and functions.

Another place to start is by having a conversation with your sales engineering or sales teams to find out who they present to during demonstrations. Sales engineers and pre-sales often use demo scripts based on the role and user type they're presenting to during the buying cycle. These teams are a great resource to better understand which departments and job functions matter during that buying decision stage.

Another way to start is to pull together all the personas that exist across your organization, including buyer and user personas. From there, you can categorize and start identifying.

It's equally important to look for the gaps. There may be a persona that hasn't been accounted for because they only interact with one department or are only involved in one stage of the life cycle.

You might identify some personas that are overlays. At my last company, we had a persona that one of my wonderful colleagues coined “the data ninja.” This persona could just as easily have been a manager, a system administrator, or even a decision-maker. The persona was somebody who loved data and reporting, and it had very little to do with their day-to-day role or how they interacted with the solution.

Step two: Research

By this time, you should have a good idea of how many personas you have, as well as who your customer personas are. But what do you know about them? It's time to do the research, and interviewing is a great way to do this.

Start by listing all the questions you want to ask. These are some of the questions that I start with when I interview customers at Sovos:

  • How do you interact with your Sovos solution?
  • How do you engage with or consume content from Sovos?
  • What do you need to learn to become a better user of your Sovos solution?
  • How do you like to engage in your professional life?
  • What kind of information and communications do you need from Sovos?
  • What are your priorities when interacting with Sovos and your solution?

If your list of interview questions adds up to 20 or more, it's a good idea to start by interviewing someone you know, someone who's going to patiently accommodate your long list.

If you can find one of your personas within your organization or your inner circle, this is a perfect entry point to test your interview questions. Moreover, starting with peers or colleagues helps you refine that list of interview questions. It’s better to learn which questions don't garner that much information or even feel redundant with a person who's going to be patient with you, rather than a customer whose time you might want to use more wisely.

In my last role, we identified the IT administrator as a customer persona. I happen to be married to someone who has worked in IT his entire career, so he was my first interviewee. That interview helped me figure out the best way to phrase questions to gather the most insight and information.

I also reached out to coworkers who worked in the same departments as our customer personas. For example, if your customer is in payroll, human resources, finance, or the legal department, there's a good chance you have a colleague you can interview. And I bet they're going to give you a lot of great information and insight because it might be one of the few times that someone asks them what they want to know from their vendors.

Here are some additional words of wisdom from my college journalism professor: “Never underestimate the power of being silent during an interview.” Interviews are about the person you seek information from. They’re an opportunity for them to share their story and experience. Listen carefully and let them speak. Resist the urge to complete their sentence or jump in when they pause. A pause just means they want to give you the most thoughtful response possible.

Also, I highly recommend creating an interview template so you're consistent with each interview. That way, if others on your team are handling interviews, everyone is working off the same script. You'll also want to save your interview notes in a shared repository. Trust me when I tell you that you'll want to reference them from time to time.

Step three: Analyze

At this point, you have the skeleton of your persona. Now it's time to start adding the guts. Having multiple complete interviews for each persona is going to be critical to creating a thoughtful and comprehensive analysis.

During your interviews, you're going to start to see trends and similarities in how your distinct customer personas interact with your products or services, how they prefer to receive and consume information, as well as what kind of information they care about.

You know you'll have distinct and well-developed customer personas when you can answer these questions: how does this persona interact with our product or solution? How does this persona prefer to engage with us? What does this persona need to know? If you can answer all of those questions, you're on your way to knowing and understanding why that persona matters.

Step four: Convert your work into a usable tool

You’ve done all of this fantastic research and analysis; now it’s time to make your customer personas tangible by turning them into a tool that you can reference.

Give them the same treatment that's been given to your buyer and user personas in terms of presentation quality, and create a visually appealing and well-organized template.

The first document I created for our customer personas held five boxes:

  1. I am
  2. How I interact
  3. How I engage
  4. What I need
  5. Why I matter

You can find templates galore with a search on the web, or you can partner with your creative team to build a unique PowerPoint template.

For customer personas, it's always been my preference to not add a picture. I believe that customer personas are representative of hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people. You care about what's on the inside and how they interact with your solution. Limiting your persona to a single face or gender may create unintentional bias.

Here's an example of a really basic template that addresses each of the key components you need to know about each of your customer personas:

Alt: example of a basic template with sections: Who am I?, What I need, How I interact, How I engage, and why I matter.

In summary, start by identifying your customer personas; next, research your personas using interviews, then analyze your findings to start building out your personas, and then turn your work into a tool that can be used by you, your team, or – even better – all the customer facing teams at your organization.

Persona mapping

With your customer personas developed, the next step is to map them along the customer journey or lifecycle. To begin mapping, you need to know what's happening in each stage or phase. You need to understand what's happening to each persona across the lifecycle to create compelling persona-based messaging and engagement programs.

I highly recommend going through the journey mapping exercise one persona at a time. For example, the chart below is one that I put together years ago for the administrator persona. Everything I know about how the administrative persona is involved and what's happening with them is through research and interviews.

Alt: Persona mapping example for an administrator. Has four stages: onboarding, adoption, maintenance and expansion, renew and advocacy.

Only when you have a clear understanding of what needs to be communicated to that persona during each life cycle stage can you can begin to strategize how to best engage them. For me, that's the fun part.

Let's take this a step further. During the onboarding stage, one of your touchpoints is a welcome message to your new customers to express enthusiasm and optimism for a successful partnership.

With your customer persona work mapped to the customer lifecycle, you know that both a decision maker and administrator can play a role during onboarding, yet how you engage and what you communicate to those personas is likely to differ significantly.

The welcome message to the decision maker may want to emphasize the trust built during the buying and consideration stage. You know that your decision maker is very likely to be at an executive level and not directly involved in the implementation of the product or solution – in that case, a personal letter from the VP of sales or general manager is an appropriate tactic.

On the other hand, your administrator persona is going to play a critical role during implementation and throughout onboarding, so you need to set expectations with an overview of the project timeline. You might also want to provide resources to get the project team ready, or present a checklist of things to do in advance of that first project kickoff meeting.

Putting the persona first

Embedding customer personas into your customer lifecycle is how you go from good to great. It's one thing to understand the touchpoints throughout the journey, but knowing which personas fit into each stage along the lifecycle, what you need to communicate to them, and the optimal way to deliver that message is how you become great. Taking it to that level of detail ensures that you are sending the right message to the right person at the right time and in the right way.

It’s time to focus on how to engage your personas. The more you know about your personas and what makes them tick, the more capable you are of delivering a great experience. You'll be able to elevate the moments that matter and the milestones that mean something to them.

Knowing what matters to your personas and how they prefer to be engaged is critical as it helps determine the elements and tactics for your customer programs. It also helps you decide where to allocate budget and resources. The how can be a fun process too, where new ideas are explored, and new ways to present information are brainstormed.

Remember: it's not just about your product or service. When you prioritize personas in your customer marketing engagement, planning, and strategy, you become better positioned to celebrate the significant but elusive key moments that delight your customers.

Maybe you’re recognizing an obscure holiday that only that persona knows about, perhaps you’re sending best wishes for an event specific to that persona, or you might just be sending your thanks and appreciation during a busy time of year. However you choose to do it, you can make a difference and become memorable.

Here are five more ways you can prioritize persona marketing:

  1. Identify the intended persona before you plan, strategize, or design a program, campaign, or event.
  2. Add persona as a field to your content briefs.
  3. Design content and craft communications with a specific persona in mind.
  4. Partner with other customer-facing teams to develop a communication strategy centered on the persona.
  5. Work with your operations team to embed personas as a field in your customer database. This makes creating segmented lists infinitely easier.

Keep your personas current

All your hard work shouldn't be left to sit on a shelf and get dusty. You want to keep your personas current with continuous research and interviews, and you can do this by creating a goal to conduct a certain number of interviews, possibly even making it a quarterly goal.

Then you're going to want to validate your hypotheses to ensure you're hitting the mark with each persona. For example, does one form of communication perform better than another? Do you receive higher response rates during a certain time of year, day, or week?

Be sure to update your research and documentation routinely so that your personas stay relevant and current. And finally, good luck on your persona journey!

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