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Clariant Creative Blog

Creating Personas: 38 Interview Questions to Get You Started

Sep 7, '17 / by Mark Loehrke

Mark Loehrke

Creating Personas: 22 Interview Questions to Get You Started

Editor's Note: We recently revamped the way we conduct buyer persona interviews, and we've updated this previously published post with some new insights. Enjoy!

Being exceptional at content marketing starts with internalizing who your best customers are.

A lot of companies we work with will say they intuitively understand their customers. But we’re always shocked when clients admit they’ve never formally validated their assumptions.

With today’s complex sales processes that take time and involve many stakeholders, this can be a fatal mistake.

To make sure your content hits all the points it needs to hit in order to overcome buyer obstacles that can prevent a sale, formally creating personas that accurately reflect the goals and concerns of each player in a buying decisions is crucial.

The good news is that this isn’t hard to do. You just need to know where to start.

Below, we share with you the interview process we use to create detailed, true-to-life buyer personas for our clients. But first, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page.

What is a buyer persona?

A buyer persona is a shorthand guide to everything that drives your customer, as well as everything that worries your customer. The buyer persona documents all of this into an easy-to-reference, true-to-life yet fictional representation of your ideal customer.

This puts everyone in your organization on the same page, from marketing to sales, account management and customer service. A well-thought-out buyer persona standardizes your customer profiles, making it easier for everyone to understand these buyers and adapt their approaches accordingly.

This also lets you make sure you’re creating the content and messaging that will best speak to your buyer’s goals and needs.

Creating personas starts here

To create buyer personas that add value to your marketing process, you’re going to need to actually talk to a buyer. Lots of buyers, in fact.

But that’s not where we recommend you start.

We recommend you start with your own company.

Talk with the people within your company who are on the front lines dealing with customers every day.

These are probably account managers, sales reps and even customer service reps. These people have heard it all, and they’ll have a great sense of what makes a great customer great.

Ask them questions that shed light on the mindset of buyers and prospects:

  • What questions do you encounter most frequently?
  • What makes buyers/customers happiest? Why do you think that is?
  • What frustrates buyers/customers? Why do you think that is?

Not only will these internal interviews help you learn more about the business questions and concerns your content needs to address, it also sends a message to your internal teams that they’re critical to the process. This gives everyone a personal stake in the game and drives even better engagement.

The strategy behind great buyer persona interviews

Now you’re ready to talk with some actual customers. They’re going to give you the invaluable, straight-from-the-horse’s-mouth kind of insights that everyone in your company needs to hear.

Who should you interview? Try to talk with a range of customers from different backgrounds, buying situations and target markets. After all, your customers aren’t homogenous, so your buyer personas shouldn’t be either.

Most companies we work with need between three to five buyer personas. That’s enough to distinctions between various audience segments without becoming redundant.

Keep in mind, when you interview your customers you’re not looking for testimonials. You’re looking for the thoughts and motivations that led them to find and choose your company.

This means you need to ask the right questions. Merely scratch the surface, and you risk winding up with thin, generalized sketches that leave you no better off than when you started. Dig too deep, and you may get an overly specific profile that’s difficult to project across more than just that one client.

The strategy behind great buyer persona interviews, then, is to make sure your questions touch upon several key areas, including:

Personal Background

  • How old are you?
  • Tell us about your family life.
  • What city do you live in? Work in?
  • What is your educational background?
  • What do you like to do in your free time?

Industry and Business

  • What industry is your business in?
  • What is the size of your company?
  • What are the most common challenges in your industry?
  • What are the most common objections to your product or service?

Role

  • What is your job title?
  • What are your responsibilities?
  • What is a typical workday like for you?
  • How many years of experience do you have?
  • What is your professional background?
  • How do you measure success in your position?
  • What specialized skills or tools are required in your position?
  • To whom do you report? Who reports to you?
  • What frustrates you the most about your job?
  • What do you enjoy most?

Goals

  • What are the goals you're trying to achieve?
  • Why are these goals important? 
  • What steps are you taking to achieve these goals?

Challenges

  • What are the biggest challenges that prevent you from achieving these goals?
  • What have you done in the past to conquer these challenges? Did it work?
  • If it didn't, what would you do differently next time?

Decision Making

  • Who is involved in the buying process for products or services like ours?
  • Who do you consult with and trust for advice and information?

Objections

  • What are your biggest complaints about our product or service?
  • What must happen for you to overcome these complaints?

Information Sources

  • What publications, blogs or social media networks do you pay attention to?
  • Do you belong to any social, professional or networking groups?
  • Do you attend any industry events, conferences or trade shows?
  • What information formats do you engage with the most?
  • How do you do your research on new products and/or services for your business?
  • How did you find out about our company?

Use these questions as your own launching pad, and don't feel like you need to ask all these questions! Tailor your questions to what you know about each customer going into the interview, and you’ll get more robust answers.


Related Content: The Client as Hero: Crafting Vivid Buyer Personas to Illuminate Your Marketing Strategy

One last thing…

So you’ve conducted a bunch of interviews, and you’ve got some great material to work with. Great job! But you’re not quite done yet.

Round out all that hard work with some external research. Look at close competitors, the general marketplace, and current industry articles and publications. See if you can sniff out any additional, final insights into the hopes and fears of your customers.

Now … finally … you should have a full picture of exactly what motivates your customers to do business with you.

And now … finally … you’re ready to start creating personas that get straight to the heart of the unique goals, challenges, expectations, needs and concerns of each customer segment you need to target.

Once you internalize these elements, your buyers will become the focal point of everything you do. Everyone throughout your organization will tell the same story, and that story will resonate in all the right ways.

On the marketing side, you’ll be able to pinpoint everything about the content you create, including:

  • Which buyers you’re targeting
  • What your content needs to convey
  • Where you should publish your content

Ultimately, great buyer personas are the starting point to building vibrant relationships with the people on whom your company depends: your buyers.

And when this happens, the world is your oyster – and your content marketing gets a little bit easier.

We can help you get started crafting great buyer personas. Contact us today to set up an Inbound Marketing Assessment!

How does your marketing stack up?

Topics: Strategy

Mark Loehrke

Written by Mark Loehrke

Throughout my career, I've covered a huge range of topics – from asset-liability management to up-and-coming jazz artists. I know what it takes to sell an idea, and I write content that informs and entertains in equal measure.