Conducting buyer persona interviews
Harold Geneen, a twentieth-century business executive, said, "You read a book from beginning to end. You run a business the opposite way. You start with the end, and then you do everything you must to reach it."
This quote can also describe how to create a buyer persona. Start with your customers or people who have already been through the decision-making process.
As marketers, we want to hear in-depth stories about our buyers' decisions. Our goal is to understand the mindset of buyers as they make the decisions we want to influence. Specifically, things we want to uncover through our research include:
- What are the demographics of our buyers?
- What does success look like to our buyers?
- What are the reasons buyers decide to invest in solutions similar to ours?
- What prevents buyers from considering our solution?
- What influences are involved at each phase of the decision-making process?
There are many ways to get stories from our customers. Some of the most productive means include surveys, forms, your sales team, social media and interviews. Surveys are one of the most popular forms of market research, as they can quickly provide information with predetermined questions and choices. Be careful though, surveys are a great way to validate insights you've already gained, rather than create the actual insights. Forms are a quick way to capture personal information. They work well for learning demographic and basic information, like company size, purchasing needs, how they found you and more.
Your sales team spends the most time talking to buyers, so consider their feedback on the leads they interact with the most. What generalizations can they make about the different types of customers you serve best?
Check out social media. On what platforms do your buyers talk about you? Join social media platforms —Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Reddit and Tik Tok — and use a social media monitoring tool to keep an eye out for keywords related to your solution.
And finally, interviews. We want to interview our customers, but we also want to interview our potential customers and folks who considered our solution but went with a competitor. This is the best way to gain insight to create your buyer persona.
Interviewing customers, or even people who aren't your customers, regardless of your relationship to the interviewee, is a skill to build. Let's break down the interviewing process into three categories:
- Who to interview.
- How to increase the response rate.
- What questions to ask.
Who to interview
When identifying who to interview there are a few main categories to consider.
- Talk to your customers. They'll tell you what stood out to them during the buying process that made them choose you.
- Talk to people who considered your solution but chose a competitor. These are extremely valuable interviews, as most of these people will be able to explain what went wrong.
- Talk to people who considered you but didn't go with any new solution. This might give you insights into the market as a whole.
- Talk to people who never considered you and chose a competitor. Keep in mind that these individuals are the least likely to interview with you, as they've invested very little time with you during the decision-making process.
Most likely, your sales reps have a database that includes people who fit each of these categories, along with their contact information. Start there. But note, never conduct an interview while folks are actively considering your solution. You don't want to inadvertently disrupt the relationship between the sales rep and potential customer.
Scribe top tip: Have your head of marketing talk to the head of sales to give them a heads up that requests might come through. This way, sales folk will already know why you need their information, as they can be protective of their relationships with customers and prospects.
Referrals are another great option for sourcing interviews — especially if working with Sales isn't an option. LinkedIn allows you to search for people who fit your target personas and surfaces profiles that have common connections with you. From there, reach out to your common connections for introductions.
Finally, you can work with professional recruiters who specialize in finding the right people to interview. A search for "qualitative research recruiters" should yield quite a few agencies.
Generally, these third-party agencies are completely separate from your company. Recruiters are particularly beneficial for finding buyers who have never considered your solution. This interview is especially helpful if you're trying to enter a new market, launch a new product or just understand why your solution is excluded from certain people's criteria.
When identifying interview candidates, choose folks who were the most active in the decision-making process, and who made the decision within the last three to six months. If possible, interview these folks before they've interacted with your company as a customer, for instance, before they go through the onboarding process, as these experiences may cloud their judgment about the buying journey.
Increasing response rate
In today's world, email is the most effective strategy to get someone to talk to you. If you're feeling bold, you can always pick up the phone and call someone, although you'll most likely get their voicemail and will have to send an email follow-up anyway. In your email, say something like, "I'm calling because you recently evaluated HubSpot and I'd like a few minutes to talk about your experience."
Make sure they know this isn't another sales call. Additionally, tell them this isn't a survey. People tend to ignore surveys. You can phrase this like, "I'm looking for your candid feedback about what worked and what didn't as you navigated the process." Tell them how much time the interview will take, which is roughly 20 minutes. Be sure to mention if you're offering any incentives; if you have the means, a simple Visa gift card is an easy option. Finally, tell them how to contact you. Take care of everything for your potential interviewee; suggest times but be flexible, and send them a meeting link if you have one.
If you don't get a response from your first communication and have a list of more than 10 options, it's best to move on. If you don't have a decent-sized list, consider hiring a third-party agency. These are folks who specialize in finding the right people for you to interview. The rule of thumb is to complete at least 8 to 10 buyer interviews.
Asking the right questions
Now, let's talk about conducting these interviews. Remember, your goal is to build out a buyer persona by uncovering buyer demographics and buyer insights.
Scribe top tip: The person conducting the interviews should not be involved in the sales process. We want buyers to provide honest feedback about their evaluation process. We want buyers to offer answers free of bias about a particular person.
Prepare for the interview. Research their LinkedIn to learn about their role, company name, when they were evaluating products and what features were of priority. If LinkedIn isn't an option for you, try to find out as much information as you can about them from your sales team. Even if you can't uncover information about the specific person you're talking to, being knowledgeable about their company will make the conversation run smoothly.
When planning for your interview, remember the objective is to uncover information to support the development of your buyer persona. Hone in on questions that provide context about a buyer's demographics, their reasons for investing in your product and what influences each phase of their decision-making. Similarly, identifying what success looks like for your buyer, as well as what might prevent them from considering your solution, will offer insight into the persona you're able to engage most effectively.
To get to these answers, use small talk to get tidbits about their life outside of work, hobbies, and if appropriate, other personal demographics. As you transition to talking about work, collect information on their role. This might include the skills required to do their job, what knowledge and tools they use daily, how success is defined in their role, and more. Ask them how they consume information. What blogs do they read? Which social media platforms do they post on?
Find out their shopping preferences. How do they prefer to interact with vendors? How do they do their research? It's helpful to ask them to describe a recent purchase they made to give you an insight.
Finally, and most importantly, uncover their decision-making process. Questions that give customers space to talk are, "How did you decide...?" Or, "Why did you decide...?" Begin with a question about the moment when your buyer first became aware that a solution was needed. Ask something like, "Take me back to the day when you first decided to evaluate [the category of solution]. What changed or occurred to make it a priority to start looking?"
Keep your interview length to 20-30 minutes. Record the interview with their permission and be curious. If you want to know more about something but it's not in the script, go for it — the best interviewers discover themes by asking follow-up questions.
Applying interview information to your buyer persona
Now, let's talk about what happens after you conduct your interview. As you analyze your notes, parse out key insights for each question. If someone says, "We wanted a really easy solution and we also wanted an autoresponder." The reasons for this buyer to invest are easy setup and automated marketing. Look for patterns as you review all the interview data. These patterns will help you develop your ideal buyer persona.
Once you've analyzed your interviews, create your buyer persona. The free HubSpot tool asks you for the information you've gathered through interviews and presents the information in an easy-to-read and ready-to-present manner. HubSpot's Make My Persona tool allows you to download a document that showcases your persona. Alternatively, many marketers use PowerPoint to create a presentation about their persona (there are plenty of free PowerPoint templates for this purpose). And finally, the last step is to present your findings to the company.
It's important that everyone in the company knows who their buyer persona(s) are. This ensures you're all aligned even as strategies change. Consider presenting your findings at a company meeting or by department. Following up with an email is a great way to reinforce alignment across teams, but email should serve as a supplement not your main mode of communication.
With alignment around your buyer personas, it's time to get to work! There are several different ways your buyer persona affects your marketing, sales and service strategies.
For instance, you can reallocate ad spend. Based on your research, you'll likely know where your buyers spend time online. Audit where you're currently spending resources and ensure it aligns with where your buyers are consuming content.
You can also segment lists based on buyer persona. List segmentation based on buyer persona is the best way to deliver a personalized experience to your buyers. Optimize your web pages. With dynamic content, you can display different messaging to different people based on what persona you have them assigned to.
And finally, create content with your existing persona in mind. Using the demographic and buying insights you've gained, create content specifically tailored to your persona. For example, create a blog post that solves a problem your personas have and ensure that your blog post uses the language your buyers use.
Creating accurate buyer personas opens the door to becoming a customer-first company. Your entire company's strategy will be in alignment, as marketing, sales and service solve for a common goal.
Conducting insightful and relevant interviews takes dedication and creativity. The payoff is developing accurate buyer personas and establishing a customer-first company mindset.
Let's get to work!
About the Author
Adriti is currently an Inbound Professor for HubSpot Academy, focusing on Service Hub. Prior to HubSpot, Adriti worked at a non-profit educational program focusing on getting high school students into colleges and universities.
She is passionate about ensuring education is accessible for all. Outside of work, Adriti can be found at your local Chinese restaurant, or a spin class, trying to work off said Chinese food. Follow Adriti on Twitter.