How To Make The Best Out Of Your Buyer Persona Interviews

To be successful with inbound marketing (or any kind of marketing, for that matter), you need strong, well-researched buyer personas.

Buyer personas can be built in a number of ways: market research, observation, educated guesses and interviews with actual clients. Today, we're going to talk about this last technique.

Why conduct client interviews for personas?

Since your buyer persona is a representation of your ideal client, it makes sense to conduct interviews with actual clients to help you build them. Clients can tell you more about their habits, their work, their pain points, their process for choosing your business and what they need from you.

Conducting your persona interviews by phone (rather than by email or through an online survey) has many advantages:

  • It makes your client feel valued
  • You get to probe deeper if something interesting comes up in conversation
  • The answers are more candid; your clients are more likely to say what they want to say rather than what they think you want to hear

Also, as you get new clients, integrate the persona interview within your client onboarding process. This will give you constant fresh data to help you update and modify your personas as your business grows and changes.

Here's why I personally enjoy making these calls (and I have been making quite a bit lately): I get to know our clients better (and speak for the first time to some of them) and I get to practice my networking skills at the same time. I listen for the thrill in my interviewee's voice to indentify areas of interest and to ask them more questions that can help me down the line.

How to request interviews for buyer personas

Depending on the size of your company and your relationship with your clients, there are several ways you can request a buyer persona interview. The first one is to be straight up and simply say you want to ask them a few questions for your marketing research. I use this approach with clients I interact with on a regular basis and who know who I am and what I do at North Studio.

If you don't have a working relationship with the person you wish to interview, it's preferable to ask someone in the company who does to introduce you. Give your colleague all the information he or she needs: who you are, what the research is for, how long it will take (no more than 30 minutes), and how your desire to interview them reflects their value to you as a client. A little flattery (just a little!) can go a long way to convice busier or C-suite contacts to agree to speak with you.

Obviously, having a good relationship with your client is primordial. I had one interviewee tell me that he only agreed to do this with me because he highly valued his partnership with us. Making your clients happy is the best introduction!

How to prepare for your interview

Now that you have some interviews lined up, you need to prepare for them. Here are a few things to know ahead of time:

  • Your interviewee's title and position
  • Your interviewee's company and its industry
  • The work your company does with this client
  • The current status of the project

Your sales people or account managers probably have all that information handy--it would be a waste of time to ask these questions during the interview.

When I organize interviews, I first thank the person for agreeing to talk with me. Then I ask them what time is best for contacting them; keep in mind time differences if your client is in another time zone. As the requester, you should be flexible and work within your interviewee's schedule as much as possible.

When the time is set, I send them an appointment request through my calendar so they can reserve the time on their calendar as well. Giving them a calendar reminder is more effective than relying on their memory alone, and you're less likely to meet with a "Oh my, I forgot about this interview! Can we reschedule?" when you call.

Have your questions already prepared in front of you (I use a particular Evernote notebook for this purpose) when you call so you're ready to get started right away.

Last-minute cancellations and rescheduling

Unfortunately, sometimes things come up. I've had it happen to me more than once. I usually leave a message to request a call-back and mention that I will call again in 10 minutes or so. If I get a voicemail the second time, I simply tell them to get in touch so we can reschedule. 

Introducing your interview

When I have my interviewee on the phone, I don't just start asking questions. I usually begin by thanking them for their time (very important!). I always explain the purpose of the interview and tell them that their answers to my questions are confidential; I keep the specific interview data to myself and NEVER link specific traits of my personas to client names. My colleagues only see the finished personas. This can make some interviewees more comfortable. 

I always ask them if they have questions before we start. 

What kinds of questions to ask during the interview

I base my persona research on 5 elements:

  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Daily life (including interests, habits, etc.)
  • Challenges and pain points
  • Needs
  • Buying process

I won't share my specific questions (trade secret!), but these categories give you an idea of what you can ask. There's plenty of resources with question examples elsewhere, too. 

As you conduct more interviews, you'll find that some questions fit some personas better, or that you need to change their order to lead the conversation more effectively. That's fine. One of the rules of marketing is to constantly change and adapt. 

Refine your buyer personas with each new client

Persona interviews are the best tools in a marketer's research toolbox. Sure, you can get a general idea of your audience's habits and needs through surveys, statistical research and other techniques, but nothing beats the depth of information you get through a one-on-one chat with those who trust your business.

If you have a larger company or are in the retail business, interviewing each new client is probably not feasible. However, constantly interviewing a few every year will help you keep your personas current and refined.

Do you conduct interviews for your buyer personas? Do you have any tips on how to make these interviews more effective for you and more pleasant for your clients?