Who is your customer?
Who are you writing for? Who are you building for? Who are you designing for?
Here’s a hint: It’s not you.
Your customer is not your developers or your salespeople or your dealers or your boss. Customers are the ones that buy and use your products.
Yet developers and engineers (and marketers and salespeople) tend to assume they represent the customer. They design and build products for themselves… or their parents.
That’s why user personas are a key deliverable for product managers. Personas define the archetypes of people who use your product—and remind the design team that they are not the customer.
Some teams consider personas a marketing tool but personas are helpful in any design scenario.
An executive read a report that claimed documents for average Americans should be written to an 8th-grade reading level. So she redesigned all customer documents to this standard. But their customers were doctors, not “average Americans. The doctors immediately rejected the new material and requested more detailed documents.
That’s why personas are critical. And personas aren’t imagined; they’re researched.
Your design team needs to know who buys your product and who uses it. What is your customer’s literacy? What are their skills? Are they doctors or students?
Spend some time with the people who buy and use your products. Set up a zoom call; schedule a phone chat. In order to know who your customers are, you’ll need to know them.
If you’re not engaging with customers on a frequent basis, you simply cannot do product management. You cannot know which problems are critical. You cannot prioritize. You cannot tell relevant stories to development.
And unfortunately, many departments in your organization claim to “own” the customer and resist customer access for product managers. But those departments simply don’t know what the product managers need to know.
You want feedback through customer-facing teams, not merely from customer-facing teams.
In order to represent customers—to define personas as well as their stories and their priorities—you’ll need to get to know them. One on one.
After all, you don’t learn to ride a bike from reading analyst reports.
These questions help you better understand your personas and the problems they face.
What should I know about your role?
Tell me about a project you’re working on today.
What problems do you encounter frequently?
How do you solve them today?
Interview three people and start documenting what you’ve learned. Pretty soon, you’ll start hearing similar things again and again. You’ll start seeing a pattern in the problems they’re facing or the goals they’re striving to achieve.
User Persona Template
Describe the people who buy and use your products with this simple persona template from my Fundamentals of Product Management workshop.
User Persona Canvas
Personas have both names and roles. Not just “Teacher” but “Karen the kindergarten teacher.”
Don’t assume roles are the same as titles. In fact, one persona document may reference multiple titles. For example, the president of a university can also be called a provost or a chancellor—these are still the same role, just by a different name.
Use the description as a mini-biography for all the context that doesn’t fit into the other fields.
Describe areas of FRICTION for the persona as it relates to your product. What causes problems in their day?
GOALS AND ASPIRATIONS (GAINS) describe what will improve their performance or benefit them personally or in their business.
ABILITIES are their technical knowledge and expertise including typical products they use. I can assume most product managers know or can learn pivot tables, but I probably shouldn’t assume that for young children or retired consumers.
HOW TO REACH THEM details the most relevant way to communicate or network with the persona such as product camps or Reddit forums or blogs.
Each interview or customer discussion should confirm this information or else will lead you to create a new persona document.
Here’s an example persona document for Sandra the senior citizen.
User Persona Example
Get more free templates for managing products by registering at Quartz Open Framework and learn how you can get a product professional certification based on your lifetime of experience.
What each department wants to know
In order to design solutions, developers need to know the problems your customers face, typical workflows and product usage, their technical abilities and other products they use.
Personas provide guidance to product launch, promotion, and enablement. Marketers need to know demographics, how to reach customers, the problems they face (pains), their aspirations (gains), buyer journeys, and the decision process
Salespeople need to know common job titles of people who buy, their role in the decision process, and budget authority. They want qualifying questions to identify people who are likely to buy and how to win deals.
Each department can benefit from a deep understanding of personas.
How do you know you have a strong persona?
Each persona has a name and role
Each persona is sufficiently different from others to be significant
Little of the information is fabricated or imagined
Demographics are used only to provide relevant context
You know at least three actual people who embody each persona
Most products have three to five user personas. To keep the list short, make sure each persona is significantly different from others.
Validate your personas in every customer engagement. Before and after each discussion, consider how this person maps to one of your personas. Did the discussion provide additional insight or context that you’ll use to revise the persona? Or were you talking with someone who doesn’t map to any of your existing personas and you need to create a new one?
Personas represent typical customers and help orient all teams around the people who buy and use your products.
You might also enjoy our roundup of the Best Blogs for Product Managers and the Product Strategy Framework by Steve [with free template]. Subscribe to our newsletter today for more helpful content for product managers, delivered straight to your inbox.
About the Author
Steve Johnson is an author, speaker, and product coach using modern methods to move products from idea to market. His approach is based on the belief that minimal processes and simple templates result in a nimble product team.
Steve has been a long-time advocate for product management, serving as an executive and advisor to many technical product organizations and industry associations.
Steve is a former instructor and vice president at Pragmatic Institute as well as co-creator of the popular QuartzOpen framework.
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