Creating a buyer persona? Here are 3 common problems and how to avoid them

A new online course from Mike Gospe

How to Build Better Buyer Personas

“I know I’m wasting half of my marketing budget. I just don’t know which half!” Have you or your management team ever expressed this concern? It’s a common one. What if I told you that I know how to know, with certainty, which half of your budget is mis-spent? It’s true. I can help you figure it out. And it all starts with how good your buyer persona is. Let me explain.

NOTE: this article is taken from a new online course I’ve just created entitled, How to Build Better Buyer Personas.

In my 28 years of B2B marketing experience I’ve experienced marketing campaigns that were wildly successful, and more than a few that crashed and burned. And, when I evaluated why, the pattern was clear: better crafted personas led to more-relevant messaging which led to higher connection and conversion rates. Unfortunately, the notion of a “buyer persona” is not as well understood as marketers would like to believe. Here are 3 common problems with most persona exercises, and how to avoid them.

1) The “buyer persona” is represented as merely a segment tag.

I once asked a CMO to tell me what target persona he was aiming at. His response was:

We’re going after CIOs in the global 5000.

Another VP of marketing told me his persona was:

We have 9 segments, each with 9 subsegments.

What?! Both the CMO and VP are very smart people. But, in their haste to get to market they think these short-hand descriptions provide enough guidance to their teams about who they are targeting. Neither of these answers are adequate personas. In fact, they are far from it.

The first response is much to vague. Going after the “global 5000” is the equivalent of saying our target market is “everyone.” Intuitively, we know that CIOs in Germany don’t think the same way as CIOs in the US. We know that CIOs of a $1b company don’t have the exact same concerns as CIO in a $100M company. And this says nothing about industry differences, market trends, and a variety of issues that shape specific buyer behaviors.

The second example is even worse. Could they really be going after 81 market segments? That’s ridiculous. After all, I’m willing to bet that there is not enough money, time, or resources to do justice on more than 3 segments at a time. (Three may be an arbitrary number, but my brain capacity is limited and I can’t juggle more than 3 at any given time.)

Before we go any further let’s define what a persona really is.

What is a buyer persona?

What is a buyer persona?

Yes, we need to know and prioritize our segments, but we must be able to go one step further to understand who lives and breathes within this segment. We must be able to empathize with them and form a personal connection. So, a persona MUST be more than just a “segment tag”. If we assume that the rest of our company will understand what we mean when we mention just the segment tag, we will be surely disappointed because they won’t really understand. (And if you find yourself using this shorthand response, it might mean that you don’t truly understand them either.)

2. The persona is missing some key information (and/or may contain info that is not relevant).

Do a Google search on “persona templates” and you’ll find a lot to choose from. Most of them contain some good demographic information — but that’s where they stop. All personas start with common characteristics such as gender, education, income level, and such. This is not bad. However, we must be sure that the information is relevant. As an example, if you are selling personal items to consumers it may be relevant to include the marital status of your target persona. But, if you are selling to B2B, including marital status info on your persona is likely irrelevant. Don’t waste time including unnecessary information. And so, remember that your company is unique. Thus, your persona will be unique. You’ll need and want to customize whatever template you use.

However, the real problem is that the most B2B buyer personas do NOT include all 3 critical levels of information. Your persona must include all 3 levels of this information.

  1. Who they are. (Demographic information.)
  2. Where they work. (Information about the ideal company profile.)
  3. Why they are good target. (Psychographic information about how they think and why they behave the way they do.)

A world-class persona must have all 3 levels of information because this information provides necessary clues that will inform your product positioning and shape your messaging so it is “customer-ready.” Here’s a simple example of a persona created by a small company that created a cure for jet lag:

A persona template example

A persona template example.

Now, there was a ton of information and data behind this persona. The marketers needed to know everything. But the purpose of the persona tool is to align the marketing team, copywriters, web designers, sales team etc.. Sharing too much information would just confuse them. So, in crafting the persona we simplified the information so it was easy to share internally with others who only need to know the central “truth” about this persona.

3. You developed your persona by yourself (or you failed to share it internally).

I can tell you this with 100% confidence: if you build a persona by yourself you will politicize the outcome.

This is a lesson in internal corporate politics. The role of marketing is to help sales sell. And to do that, marketers need to be savvy about the market, but they also must be carefully tuned to organizational politics so they are able to carefully guide and align marketing/sales/product management. This starts with the persona exercise.

Many marketers believe (incorrectly) that it is easier to go off and throw together a quick persona then build a marketing plan around it. True, the mechanics are not rocket-science. But politics will kill you every time. The sales team will disregard the persona because they didn’t participate in it. Management will view your work as your opinion rather than a true market analysis based on facts, evidence, and supported by other internal thought leaders . To avoid this guaranteed roadblock, marketers can do better by forming a small team of 4 – 6 people to craft the persona. A cross-functional team including a representative from marketing, sales, customer support, and engineering can work well. But, caution is advised. Each representative must have a valued perspective to share. Ideally, they have a unique view of the customer’s experience and the problem the customer is trying to solve. Taken together, these different perspectives will shape a quality 360 degree view of a well-crafter persona.

Then, after the persona is documented (because corporate memory is short), each team member is responsible for SOCIALIZING or SHARING the draft with other internal stakeholders. That way, they become ambassadors of the persona exercise; it’s not just you. Even the best persona will fail to take hold if politics is not addressed properly.


And so, let’s get back to the opening statement of half of your marketing spend being mis-spent. Look back at your company’s market efforts: how many of the marketing activities, messaging, and offers can be linked to a specific persona? If you discover that your messaging is all product-based, as opposed to customer-based, or if you find that your activities don’t reference a persona at all, you may have found the half of your marketing spend that is in question.


This is just a small part of a new online course on personas I created for marketers and product managers. This course includes 90 minutes of video lecture, my persona template, examples, and tips and techniques for conducting the exercise AND managing internal politics so you can become a marketing hero. I invite you to check out, How to Build Better Buyer Personas (available on


One response to “Creating a buyer persona? Here are 3 common problems and how to avoid them

  1. Pingback: Building a demand gen plan? Start with these 6 key ingredients - KickStart Alliance - Customer Success Consulting

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