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Large team or small, generous or limited budget, you want to maximize every last cent you spend on marketing. Scattershot marketing spread across a wide, undifferentiated audience can waste a lot of time and money—that’s where customer personas come in.

A persona is a representation of a segment of your customers, grouped by one or more key characteristics. You might group them by business needs such as goals, concerns, expectations, or pain points. By creating your own personas, you will learn to better understand and address customers’ and prospects’ wants and needs. Use that information to help design the experience journey with all of your customer interaction touch points, like your online presence, and then create valuable content keyed to each persona.

To learn more about how to build and use customer personas, I spoke with Sasha Frljanic, Chief Experience Architect in the Customer & Partner Experience division at Microsoft.

According to Sasha, personas become even more valuable when linked to your customers’ specific customer purchase journey. There are specific “moments of truth” along the journey—points of interaction that can influence a prospect to choose you or to browse to a competitor’s site. For example, knowing a prospect is evaluating options, and that the right information delivered in the right way, right now, could tip their decision to buy from you—that’s powerful, actionable insight.

How to build customer personas

To get started building customer personas, Sasha said, you’ll want to gather information about your current customer base so you can start grouping and prioritizing your customers. You’ll need to know some characteristics about the organization, like industry/vertical, company size and type, and most critically, what their common challenges are. The more you learn, the richer and more insightful your personas can be, and fortunately, you probably already have a lot of the information you need.

Here are some places to look for insight on your customers:

Front-line employees

Sales, business development, customer service, and tech support staff know a lot about your customers, so ask them which customers stay in touch and are likely to reach out when they have new needs.

CRM data

Mine your database to get a richer picture of your customers. How often do you touch base with your highest-value customers? Who is buying subscription managed services and IP rather than one-off projects?

Your customers

Want to know about your customers? Ask them! Short online surveys or in-person interviews can tell you a lot. Which of your offerings is most valuable? What pain points are still unaddressed? Where can they talk with others in their industry?

Social listening

Listen in on conversations in relevant LinkedIn groups or on Twitter and blog comment threads. What questions are prospects asking, and what are they complaining about? If they’re talking about you, what are they saying?

Data capture and site analytics

Your website can be a valuable source of information. Find out where visitors come from, what keywords they searched on to find you, what pages they visited, and how long they spent—these are key to telling you what they were looking for. If they registered to download a whitepaper, for example, mine that for additional insights and contact information so you can reach out.

The more detailed your personas are, the more targeted your messaging can be, but you don’t want to focus too narrowly. If your persona only represents a handful of customers, generating content and campaigns just for them may not give you enough return on your investment.

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How to use customer personas to speak to customers and prospects

Once you know who your customers are, you can begin developing content and marketing around them and where they are on their purchase journey. By matching personas to the customer journey map, Sasha says, you can see the end-to-end customer experience and make sure you’re providing the right content at each moment-of-truth interaction.

For example, if one of your customer personas is “John, a scheduler at a small medical clinic needing to find a cloud-based scheduling tool,” you can begin developing content specific to John’s segment for each stage of the customer journey. For example, if one of John’s wants and needs at the evaluate stage is to find a tool that’s easy to use, create a demo tool starring a medical-clinic scheduler, so he can see how simple your tool is. When he’s on the verge of purchasing, testimonials and case studies from happy medical-clinic schedulers may provide the assurance he needs to choose you and your solution.

You can’t address every prospect, and you wouldn’t want to. Personas can reveal who your best customers are—and can help you identify the times they’re most receptive to your message—so you can target your ideal market with an action plan.

How to get started

Using some of the tactics listed above, create one really solid persona based on a group of your existing customers. Make a list of your customers who fit the profile. Create or aggregate content for them on a landing page on your website, then send an email to your list inviting everyone to visit.

Don’t forget to track your responses, and if it works, do it again. Finally, let your fellow partners and me know how it went on Facebook!

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