The 10 Rules for Creating a Buyer Persona: Rule 3


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Did you ever have one of those sleepless nights in a Godforsaken hotel and you find yourself channel flipping?  You 100k miles per year executives know exactly what I am talking about.  You suddenly hit an infomercial promising you earnings twice to three times what you are making now and you only have to work as little as 10 hours per week.  Infomercials are good at this. They are real good at showing you the golf course, the BMW, and the testimonials of people who live the lifestyle of the rich and famous.    As you sit there in your catatonic state your mind screams “- why can’t I have that!”

This next rule has to do with not falling for the promise that you can have just anybody on your team creating high quality buyer personas after they attend a one-hour workshop:

Rule 3: Get the right people with the right attributes and right skill sets

Like any new concept that begins to rise in awareness, you start to see workshops promising that in an hour or half-day you will be creating buyer personas and you will be taking them back with you to the office.  As mentioned before in this series, this approach seriously devalues buyer personas in the eyes of executives.  It takes a certain set of attributes and skill sets to do the qualitative work, distill what you’ve learned, create buyer personas that are reflective of true buyer goals, and are meaningful.  Needless to say, to begin to apply attributes and skill sets to actual experience takes more than an hour or a half-day. 

I’ve seen several buyer persona development initiatives fail because they were simply put in the wrong hands.  It was just a matter of the wrong set of attributes and skill sets compounded by the lack of adequate knowledge.  And as many of you know; this is a recipe for disaster and a failed project.

Adele Revella, who has introduced the need for buyer personas to hundreds of people that came through her Effective Product Marketing course and advocates for buyer personas in her blog Buyer Persona Blog, myself, and Angela Quail had talks about this topic recently.  We discussed the issue of how all of the aspiring product marketers want to learn how to create a buyer persona but the reality is that all may not possess the right attributes and skills to do so or to carry out an in-depth buyer persona development initiative that can last 3 to 4 months.  This poses a real dilemma for senior executives to choose the right people to be involved in buyer persona development efforts with the intent to inform strategy and one they must get right.

The next time a request to approve sending personnel to a one-hour workshop to become an expert in creating a buyer persona, snap out of the catatonic state traveling has you in and come to your senses – say no. 

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Tony Zambito
Tony is the founder and leading authority in buyer insights for B2B Marketing and Sales. In 2001, Tony founded the concept of "buyer persona" and established the first buyer persona development methodology. This innovation has helped leading companies gain a deeper understanding of their buyers resulting in revenue performance. Tony has empowered Fortune 100 organizations with operationalizing buyer personas to communicate deep buyer insights that tell the story of their buyer. He holds a B.S. in Business and an M.B.A. in Marketing Management.


  1. The objective for buyer personas is to make them so real and persuasive that the company is willing to take direction from them, and that isn’t going to happen easily.

    But on your point about a quick version of personas, I often talk about “ad hoc” or “assumption” personas (discussed in The Persona LifeCycle by Pruitt/Adlin). The point of ad hoc personas is that every organization already has assumptions about their buyers, and that articulating those assumptions is a relatively simple, straightforward process that can be done in a few hours without a lot of training.

    Ad hoc personas show the organization that different assumptions exist, and at the very least, help the organization to align on a single version of the persona. However, you’ll need to keep reminding the company that these personas are not data driven, and that very important decisions should not rely on them.

    I’m working with a company now that spent three years researching the personas for their launch. They’re betting a multi-billion dollar business on getting it right. On the other hand, I know a marketer who used an ad hoc persona to shorten the time to develop a user video to a few days instead of a few weeks or months.

    I completely agree that good personas are not easy. The sharpness of the tool needs to match the task at hand.

  2. Adele

    Thank you for your comment. Anglea Quail came up with a scale several years ago that is often used to help companies understand the quality of personas. Which is deriving a persona sketch that then leads to the persona hypothesis for further validation through robust and completed personas. Using provisional personas for non-high stakes efforts can make for speedy efforts. However, as you alluded to, for high stake efforts you need to do it right. The issue is when organizations use non-validated buyer personas on very important decisions. And do we have our work cut out to educate on this point!



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