SaaS Marketing – How to Create Customer Personas That Work

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One of the biggest SaaS marketing mistakes that I see companies routinely make is targeting too broad of an audience. 

While this may seem obvious, if you try to speak to everyone, you end up resonating with no one.
Instead, you need to focus on the people that are most likely to convert into sales.

This is where customer personas – a.k.a. buyer personas – can come in handy. Creating a customer (buyer) persona can help you understand what your prospect values, their top pain points and concerns, and how they find and consume information. 

Unfortunately, many companies either skip this step altogether or they spend months agonizing over perfecting them instead of you know doing any marketing.

Pro Tip: Your buyer personas will evolve as your company grows. So if you are spending weeks on end conducting market research and writing the “perfect personas,” you are likely wasting valuable time that you could be getting in front of potential customers. 

In this post, I’ll explain what a buyer persona is, how to conduct persona research, and how to use this in your marketing strategy.  

What is a customer persona? 

A customer persona is a fictional profile made to represent a brand’s ideal customer. 

These profiles are designed to keep your marketing efforts on track. Understanding your ideal customer will let you focus your time and budget on reaching the right audience with targeted messages. 

Personas can be customized to suit your company’s needs, but generally they should include demographic and psychographic information about your ideal customers.

The more detailed, the better, but you don’t need a buyer persona to represent every target customer. For example, there’s no need to create different male and female personas if your offering is not gender-specific.

For example, let’s suppose that you’re a SaaS startup that provides IT security software, and you want to generate more inbound marketing-qualified leads (MQLs). 

Here a few examples of customers that might be interested in your product. 

  • Option 1: Any IT Director
  • Option 2: Any IT directors with above average incomes
  • Option 3: A list of top IT Directors between 35-50 at companies doing more than $1M in revenue and have paid for IT-related services in the past 12 months 

The first option makes a weak customer persona. It’s too broad, and there are far too many non-prospects in this group. 

The second option is better, although we don’t know if these people would be interested in IT software or not.

The last option not only narrows down the target prospects to people who probably have the means to buy this service but also have purchased similar services recently. They are going to be the most likely to respond to your marketing messages and become users of the SaaS product you offer.

Once you’ve determined the subject of your persona, you can flesh out the profile. Continuing with our example above, here’s a basic buyer persona using Option 3. You can use this template and fill out the details for your own customer personas:

Name Sarah the IT Director 
Age 41
Career or job title IT Director of a fast-growing SaaS startup (accounting)
Income $130,000
Interests Hiking, yoga, blogging, travel
Buying behavior Selective with her purchases, but willing to spend extra on products that help her business grow.
Pain points As her team expands, she is worried about the security of the website. She has had negative experiences with IT services in the past and has little time to research new IT security software. 
Goals She wants to find a security service that she feels comfortable with and won’t have to be involved in.

When thinking of pain points and goals, look at how your product could solve her problems or help her achieve her goals. With this buyer persona, you can picture and speak directly to her problems and goals with your marketing message.

What should be included in your buyer personas?

As you can see from the example above, your buyer personas should include a range of information from demographics and psychographics to their specific goals and pain points.

Demographics

Demographics explain who your buyer is with information like gender, income, and age. This is a good starting point, and it provides a solid foundation for your buyer personas. 

  • What’s their age range? Where do they live? What’s their annual household income? 
  • What’s their educational background? Religious belief? Social networks or associations they belong to? 
  • What’s their job title or job function? What does their career trajectory look like? 
  • How big is their company? How long has the company been in business? 
  • Are they married? Do they have kids? 

Psychographics

Psychographics explain why they buy or do what they do. This would include their hobbies, spending, and values. Since your end goal is to market and sell to these personas, understanding their consumption habits is important.

  • How do they acquire and consume information? Blogs? Social media? TV, etc.? 
  • What’s their trusted source of information? Family and friends, coworkers, celebrities, search engines, etc.?
  • How to they typically purchase a product or service that’s similar to yours? How do they make decisions? 

Conducting buyer persona research 

This starts with learning as much as you can about your target audience with the resources available to you. Understanding who your customer is will help you build a persona, so you can market directly to them.

Too many marketers overthink this and forget to utilize one of their best resources – their own team members, particularly anyone in sales and customer support. Sales and support are on the front lines talking to prospects and customers. 

One of my favorite places to start is to get to know some of the salespeople and listen in on sales calls. This allows you to hear the benefits of your service as well as the objections from real prospects in their own words. 

You can also dig into your sales CRM, support ticketing platform, and Google Analytics data to mine additional insights into your customers and prospects. 

Then, you can supplement what you learned with the help of Google, forums, online review sites such as Capterra, Getapp, Software Advice, Yelp, and TrustPilot, and social media. You can take this a step further by creating some market research surveys. (I’ll cover that in more detail in its own post.) 

One underrated resource for conducting persona research is Reddit. In this post for SEMrush, I shared a detailed break-down of this process. 

Mapping out the buyer’s journey 

Mapping out a journey based on your personas allows you to meet your buyers where they are at with the right content. 

A buyer’s journey can be boiled down to three stages: 

  1. Top of Funnel (TOFU) – i.e. awareness
  2. Middle of Funnel (MOFU) –  i.e. consideration
  3. Bottom of Funnel (BOFU) – the decision phase 

Awareness 

Your main goal is to educate prospects about you and start to establish some credibility.  At this stage, the buyer may not have clearly defined their problem. Let alone know that your solution exists. For example, an IT Director may notice that her company’s website and infrastructure is under attack, but he’s not sure why or what to do about it.

Strong TOFU content puts themselves in the prospect’s shoes and answers the questions they are likely to ask through content. Be it video, blog posts, social media posts, etc. 

Pro Tip: You’ll want to create content in the format and style that your prospects are already used to consuming content in. You could create the best, most informative blog posts in the world, but if you are target audience wants to consume this content in podcast form as they are commuting to/from work, it will fall flat. 

Consideration

In the consideration stage, your prospect has defined their problem, knows you exist and may have given you their email address to download a lead magnet or see a demo of your software.

Let’s continue with the example I used earlier. The IT Director now realizes that a phishing email with malicious links was spreading in his employees’ inboxes. Once someone clicks on the link, they would become a target for cyber attacks. In this stage, she’s now trying to figure out what solutions can help detect phishing emails and remove them before they reach an inbox. She’s not fixated on a specific solution and is instead comparing multiple options. 

As a marketer, you need to deliver content to convince her that IT security software – not necessarily your software – can fix the problem effectively. Although your content needs to focus on a solution, it doesn’t need to be pushing your product or sounding overly salesy as that could turn her away. Touching on the benefits of your solution in your content is sufficient. 

Decision 

This is the final stage of a buyer’s journey as it signals a purchase. Buyers in this stage are on the lookout for the best solution. They may be comparing features and prices from a short list of vendors they are likely to buy from. At this point, you need to demonstrate that your solution is the best fit. 

Using my example from earlier, the IT Director now realized that an A-Z IT security software is the best way to detect common cybercrimes and reduces his chances of being a target. 

This is where you should surface your customer success stories, case studies, and testimonials – anything that surfaces that your software is the best solution to solve their problem. 

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After developing these customer personas, you’ll have a clearer understanding of your potential customers’ different goals and pain points and how to map content to where they are in the buying journey.

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About the author

Jessica Malnik

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