Have you ever tried to buy a blender and a sales person wanted to sell you a toaster instead?
Did you end up frustrated and leave the store without buying anything?
If yes, then you’ll know exactly what it feels like when a business gets their customer personas wrong and talks about the wrong thing.
Whether you’re cold calling or talking to a potential customer face-to-face, drafting outreach emails or tweeting recent news, updating LinkedIn or promoting your business on Facebook, designing marketing collateral or training sales reps, developing new products or prioritising current customer requests, it’s important to understand as much as possible about who your customers are, how they want to be spoken to and what they are looking for you to say and solve.
The risk of not understanding these core facets of your ideal customer mean that you risk not only having a stockpile of unsold blenders on the shelf, but losing those prospects completely so you have no opportunity to upsell blender accessories, cross-sell complementary kitchen appliances or upgrade those customers to a Thermomix (one of the world’s most expensive kitchen appliances) in the future.
How does this relate to the email industry?
As part of our self-reflection this year, we realised that:
1. Our website and marketing collateral (listing our product features and tech stacks) did not deliver what our customers were most looking for (which was, an identification of their problems and our proposed solutions for solving them); and
2. We were trying to speak to ‘everyone’ (which, as they say, means we were effectively speaking to ‘no one’).
Interestingly, when we looked around, we were not alone. Our email industry competitors (such as Roundcube, Zimbra, Axigen, FastMail and Evo) were doing the same thing.
So, what did we do about it?
Our first step was to bring our two decades of email industry experience into a room and brainstorm ‘who’ our ideal customers were, ‘what’ their problems were and ‘how’ we could help them solve problems specific to them.
Hadn’t we been doing this already?
Yes and no. We wanted to do it better. We wanted to do it smarter.
So, we sat down and developed customer personas to help us better understand, speak to and solve the problems of our ideal (telecommunications and hosting provider) customers.
What are customer personas?
Customer personas (also known as buyer personas, user personas or marketing personas) are fictional representations of your ideal customers.
“Built from the real words of real buyers, a buyer persona tells you what prospective customers are thinking and doing as they weigh their options to address a problem that your company resolves. Much more than a one-dimensional profile of the people you need to influence, or a map of their journey, actionable buyer personas reveal insights about your buyers’ decisions — the specific attitudes, concerns and criteria that drive prospective customers to choose you, your competitor or the status quo.” Source
Why are customer personas a good idea?
Customer personas help everyone in your company get on the same page, in terms of which exact customers you are trying to talk to and what your ideal customers are looking for you to say and solve.
That’s not to say that you won’t talk to, sell to, or service customers that fall outside of your persona stereotypes. It just means that rather than trying to target everyone (and then effectively targeting no one), everyone in the company has a clear direction on how to best channel their time and messaging to match their ideal customers’ motivations, pain points, product wish-list and desired level of service.
But aside from articulating who to talk to and how, one of the key (unspoken) benefits of developing customer personas is the array of intra- and inter-department conversations that take place within a company to: discuss current customers; share customer anecdotes; determine customer personas; and decide best next steps forward. If done well, this alone can justify the time and energy invested in creating (or updating) your buyer persona framework.
What’s an example of a customer persona?
Here at atmail, we decided on six personas (Fritz, Jane, Harry, Ursula, Emilio and Jack) for our ideal customer types.
One was for Fritz (above, on the left). Fritz is the Chief Information Officer (CIO) at FastBlueTelco. He is required to maintain his company’s customer-facing email service, but he hates email because he says it’s “old technology that only serves to drain [his] time and budget”. Fritz hates that email management distracts his staff from core business. He is only interested in a conversation about email if it’s about reducing costs and/or offloading the hassle of email altogether. Fritz’s email servers are due for replacement soon, but he tries to avoid that discussion because email is boring and is a low priority for him.
What did we do with our atmail customer personas?
Based on our experience servicing telcos and hosting providers (as well as new conversations with our current prospects), we invested time as a team in articulating the problems that Fritz, Jane, Harry, Ursula, Emilio and Jack needed solving and then working out the best way to talk help them solve their problems.
As an example, to talk to Fritz, we realised that we can’t just show him pretty pictures of our product (even though our product does look pretty). We need to help Fritz see how he can save money with atmail. We need to clearly offer him cost-competitive (cloud or on-premises) email solutions.
If Fritz needs to stay on-premises, we need to offer him both a competitive price for what he needs, plus let him know that he can save additional money by using our object storage plugin (to reduce the number of servers required for his data) and potentially opting for our premium spam management (to rescue his own team from spending hours on spam management).
If Fritz is open to moving his data to the cloud, we need to focus our (online and in-person) conversation with him around how we can save him the headache of in-house email maintenance and spam management, so that he’ll also never need to worry about server maintenance or replacement again. We also need to help Fritz understand that moving to atmail cloud represents a low-risk capital investment for him, because costs (and premium add-ons) are only incurred monthly and there is no significant upfront cost.
Plus, whichever option Fritz chooses, we need to offer to save Fritz from the headache of transition and offer to give him a quote for our professional services team to do the migration for him.
In this way, we’re focussing on solving Fritz’s problems, not just showing Fritz an atmail product feature list.
We’re committed to continuous improvement, so based on our newly articulated customer personas, we’ve started updating our atmail website and we’ll soon be releasing new product cards that better speak to the problems that we can solve, rather than just feature lists (that can easily blur when you’re researching multiple companies with similar feature lists).
We’d love to see our competitors do the same. Because it’s only if everyone in the email provider industry makes a commitment to improve, that our industry as a whole will better speak to the people that we service, in a way that truly delivers what they’re looking for.