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Negative Buyer Personas: What They Are and Why Your Business Needs Them

Dec 1, '17 / by Christina Bockisch

Negative Buyer Personas: What They Are and Why Your Business Needs Them

Regardless of your industry, product or service, all great inbound marketing starts with one thing: knowing your target audience.

Without knowing who you’re targeting, it’s impossible to craft messaging that speaks to your audience, captures their attention or effectively answers their questions.

And while every inbound marketer knows the importance of creating buyer personas, very few talk about the power of negative buyer personas – which are an equally important part of your inbound marketing strategy.

What are negative buyer personas?

To explain what a negative buyer persona is, it’s important to first understand what buyer personas are and how they help your business. A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customers based on market research and real data about your existing customers. Creating buyer personas helps you identify your ideal customers so you can market to them more effectively.

Related Content: The Marketer's Guide to Buyer Personas

Essentially, negative buyer personas – also known as exclusionary personas – do the exact opposite and allow you to identify anyone that’s not a good fit for your company. They help you to weed out the bad apples by proactively identifying the types of prospects that could potentially drain resources or cause huge headaches for your team.

Why are negative buyer personas important?

Just as buyer personas help give you a better idea of who to target, exclusionary personas help you better understand who to shy away from in your messaging and strategy. And when you hand leads over to sales, having documented negative personas will help your sales team spot the signs of a potentially bad customer early on.

Furthermore, negative buyer personas help you:

  • Better understand your ideal customers
    Growing a business is a learning process. Especially in the early stages, your ideal personas are mostly aspirational, and you might not know exactly what a good customer looks like until you start working with some real ones.

    As awful as it is dealing with a bad customer, it’s a valuable experience in shaping your ideal personas. Once you know what you don’t want in a customer, it’s easier to know what you do.

    So, if you go through a bad breakup with one of your customers, use it as an experience to make your buyer personas better.
  • Identify clients who are a bad fit for your company
    Not every client will be a good fit for your organization – and that’s okay. Maybe they don’t have a big enough budget, have a high cost of acquisition, have unrealistic views of what you can do for them or require too much hand-holding. Knowing what types of clients you don’t want can help you spot potential red flags early on (and save you a lot of frustration in the long run).

  • Avoid wasting your marketing budget on the wrong people
    Don’t look at negative buyer personas as losing out on potential customers. Instead, see them as a way to avoid marketing to the wrong people. Trying to market to everyone is the fastest way to drive up the average cost of acquisition and miss out on potentially good leads.

  •  Fine tune your messaging and strategy
    Knowing who you don’t want to target can help you fine tune your messaging and strategy even further so the leads you pull in are more likely to be high-quality. This is beneficial for sales because they won’t have to weed out bad leads nearly as often.

How to create negative buyer personas

The first step in creating negative buyer personas is to nail down your main personas. It may sound obvious, but you can’t accurately depict who you don’t want to target without a clear idea of who you do.

Once you have your buyer personas, the process for creating negative buyer personas is similar – but there are a few key differences.

Start by talking with your team. Sit down with people from all departments to ensure that everyone is on the same page and all opinions are heard. Additionally, each department within your organization brings something unique to the table, which will help you be more comprehensive as you outline customer pain points, goals and common behaviors.

Next, interview leads, customers and even former customers. In fact, former customers are a great place to start because it’ll help you understand why they left you and why they weren’t a good fit for your business.

Once you’ve conducted your buyer persona interviews, it’s time to start building your persona profile. Fill in the basics like demographics, background, sources of information, goals and challenges. Then, move on to what you don’t want. Think about past experiences with clients who weren’t a great fit for your company (and on your interviews), and ask yourself:

  • What were their goals?
  • How aggressive were their goals?
  • How difficult were they to acquire and manage?
  • Why were these clients not profitable?
  • What were their biggest pain points?
  • What were their biggest complaints?
  • What challenges did your team experience when working with these clients?
  • Did you spend more time and/or money servicing these clients?
  • Did they express dissatisfaction with your company? If so, why?
  • What red flags stand out to you from your experience?

As you go through this list of questions, you’ll start to notice some trends among your not-so-ideal clients – and those attributes are what will make up your negative buyer personas.

Although creating negative personas takes time, effort and resources, having them is incredibly beneficial for your entire organization. As a marketer, negative personas not only give you a better idea of prospects that aren’t a good fit for your business, they also provide you with the insights you need to create better content for your ideal buyer – in turn, allowing you to understand your target audience even better.

Now that you know who you want to target (and don’t want to target), it’s time to start documenting these personas. To help you get started, we've created a Buyer Persona Template for you. Use this template, complete with samples already included, to finish fleshing out the targeted personas that will drive your marketing decisions!

Download Your Template

Topics: Strategy

Christina Bockisch
Written by Christina Bockisch

I’m passionate about helping my clients achieve their goals – whether that involves helping them show up in search engines, generate more of the right leads or nurture existing customers into brand evangelists.

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