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7 min read

Who should be involved in the persona process?

Personas | Product Marketing Strategy

Personas create alignment across the organization and galvanize various teams around a customer-focused vision. Because of that, personas should never be built in a product marketing vacuum.

Yes, product marketing should lead the process, but it’s essential to bring in other teams - like product, sales, marketing, engineering, and customer success - as extra layers to that process, and each of those departments will have different uses for your personas.

In this article, we’re going to take a closer look at:

Why should different teams be involved in the personas process?

Personas have different uses for different teams. Sales will use them to personalize their pitches, customer success might use them during their conversations, and product might use them to shape their roadmaps, and then there are your marketing - including content and growth marketing - and account executive teams, too.

If you don’t bring these teams into the process you run the risk of creating personas that are hyper-relevant to you, but miss the mark and important details for other people to get the most out of them. And, if they’ve not got the right information in, driving uptake is going to be very much an uphill battle.

How to decide who should be involved.

Now what this looks like for you will vary depending on your company as different companies have different structures. If you’re in a startup, you might not have defined teams for all of the above functions, whereas if you’re in an established organization, you more than likely do.

So, to work out who needs to be involved, we recommend sitting down with your product marketing counterparts - if you have any - and brainstorming who actually needs to be brought into the process to a) enhance the quality of your personas, and b) ensure the end results are fully optimized for whoever will be using them.

When you’re setting about this, remember, that too many cooks spoil the broth, so don’t be afraid to be selective. If you end up with 25 heads around a table you’re going to be in for a pretty slow ride, where everyone’s competing for what they want, and that’s just not conducive for anyone. Basically, if an individual or team doesn’t touch the end result of your persona work, generally speaking, don’t invite them to the meeting.

Sales teams

Using sales in the persona-building process has mixed feedback. Some product marketers are all for it - after all, they’re talking to tons of prospects on a daily basis. However, others choose to treat sales more just as users of personas. They double-check their personas with sales before they roll them out, but they don’t validate buying decisions with sales for fear of it not being an honest conversation. There really isn’t a right or wrong for this, we just thought we’d share both sides with you!

How do these teams need to be involved?

So, once you’ve narrowed down who needs to be involved in the process, you need to think about how they need to be involved. Some people might be involved for purely knowledge-sharing reasons, and others to help shape the finished product.

For example, your sales and customer success folks are talking to your prospects and customers every day of the week, and so it’d be remiss not to utilize that information throughout the persona process by simply asking, when you’re talking to persona X, Y or Z, do you have any specifics on them? Or any extra information that could be helpful for us? All these tidbits of knowledge help to form the most robust and accurate personas possible.

So, that’s them getting involved from a knowledge-sharing perspective, but then you also want these teams to be actively involved in shaping your persona documents because they’ll be using them on the front line day in, day out.

As well as asking them what information they already have, you want to be asking them what information they’d like to have in order to sell better, have better customer conversations, or make more informed products and features. And this is where you have to be careful and not afraid of saying no.

Here’s a top tip

Personas aren’t supposed to be pages and pages long. You have a finite amount of space, which means everything that’s in there has to be valuable, and some people might think knowing the persona’s age, for example, is essential, but when it boils down to it that might not actually be the case. So, during these conversations, take tons of notes - but don’t promise anything.

Go away, re-evaluate all the requests you’ve got, and then use your product marketing knowledge to whittle down what will and won’t make the cut in order to create the most effective persona. And remember, just because something doesn’t make sense to be included in the persona, doesn’t mean you can’t still ask the questions - knowledge is power wherever that knowledge lives, persona or not.

It really isn’t rocket science, but to help decide what does and doesn’t actually need to be included in your persona work, follow every request up with a simple question: Why? Why does this piece of information need to be included in the persona document? And how will you use it in practice? If the person doesn’t have an answer to these questions, you’ve probably got valid grounds to exclude it.

It’s always a good idea to include regional individuals in case there are variations in the personas in various geographies. You should ask each team if personas have already been created by them, and you may discover different teams are using different personas. In that case, you want to align those different sets of personas.

Why is team input important?

Getting the input of different teams and reaching an agreement upon a common set of personas will improve the communication between different teams. Let’s say the development team refers to one of their user personas as “Mary”, their counterpart in the marketing team will know whom they’re referring to. Once people in your organization understand the personas involved, it’ll improve your product development and user experience, as well as your sales, marketing, and customer support.

One other thing to consider in this phase is other data you already have at your disposal. Depending on how mature your company is and what kind of activities have already been completed, you may fall into the inside out or outside in model. Now, we’re not suggesting you use the following approach instead of sitting down with other internal teams like we just spoke about, but rather in tandem to create the most complete picture possible.

Inside out model

With the inside out model, you start by getting the results from all the data points at your disposal - so your case studies, your win-loss interviews, your customer feedback calls, and so on - get a feel for who you’re speaking to, and see if there are any key personas that stick out. From this process, you should be able to get a pretty good assumption about who your main personas are - and we can’t stress the assumption side of that enough.

This stage of your persona work is all about assumptions and every single internal assumption you make must be validated with research with real customers. Anyway, more often than not, when you’re out there validating these personas, you’ll actually realize there are a few personas you hadn’t considered yourself. Those conversations will help you unpack those top-line personas and identify new groups that were previously unnoticed.

To a degree, it’s fair to say the inside out model is slightly easier than the outside in model, and that’s because, in many ways, you have a bit of a headstart. This is really your conversation starter with the outside-in model. If you present your data, you can provide a ground for your stakeholders to discuss openly.

Outside inside model

However, if you don’t have things like case studies, win-loss interviews, or data from the likes of Forrester or Gartner to get you off the ground, you won’t have much of a choice to do anything but the outside inside model. In a nutshell, this approach involves starting from a pretty blank canvas and working backward from your persona interviews. So, instead of creating mini personas based on internal assumptions and then validating them, you’re speaking to lots of prospects and customers alike, and mapping out your core personas from there.

If you fall into the outside in bucket though, there are some other internal leg-ups you might be able to get. If your company’s been around a good few years and there are employees who’ve been with the company since the get-go, odds are, they’re sitting on a wealth of knowledge. If they’ve been around since day one they’ll have been involved in the scrappy startup days where everyone does a bit of everything, and they’re likely to know an awful lot about your prospects and customers, so use these people as your first interviewees.

Of course, some of this information might now be outdated, but picking their brains for an hour or so is sure to put you in a better position than you were before, and every little nugget you learn is a step in the right direction. To add to this, I’d also recommend you interview more than one person, separately, to ensure objectivity in their answers. If you speak to people at the same time, you run the risk of everyone agreeing on everything, even if they feel differently.

So, to summarize, with the inside out model, you start with the analysis and then move on to the interviews, and with the outside-in model, you start with the interviews and end with the analysis.

Want to learn more?

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By the end of this course, you’ll be able to:

  • Create, build, and deliver personas that work.
  • Streamline the persona process by focussing only on extracting and mining data that drive bottom-line impact.
  • Take your entire company’s product, marketing, sales, and customer-focussed efforts to the next level.
  • Get everyone in your org rallied around your personas and demonstrate the tangible value they deliver.
  • Understand where and when personas should be used and provide clear use cases to key stakeholders across the business.
  • Show off your shiny new certificate to everyone in your network.
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Written by:

Bryony Pearce

Bryony Pearce

Bryony's the CMO for Product Marketing Alliance. She's been with the company since day dot and leads our marketing, courses, content, community, and customer success teams

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Who should be involved in the persona process?