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3 Mistakes SaaS Companies Make When Defining Buyer Personas

By Ryan Law on Thu, Oct 1, 2015

If you want to sell your SaaS product, you need to understand your buyers. If you want to understand your buyers, you need to develop buyer personas. Simple, right?

For a simple product sold B2C, maybe. But for you, a unique software-as-a-service business, selling B2B? 

Not quite.

Today, we're looking at the 3 biggest oversights SaaS companies make when defining their buyer personas - and showing you how to avoid making the same mistakes.

1) Assuming the Buyer is the User

Typically, buyer personas are created on the assumption that the person purchasing a product is the same as the person using the product. In the B2B (and particularly enterprise) space, this isn't always the case.

When selling to businesses, the buying process isn't always as simple and linear as in the consumer space. Though your product may end up in the hands of a design team or an accounting team, it might be a director of the company, or a purchasing team, that ultimately makes the decision to buy.

Buyer personas are designed to profile your buyers, and reveal insights into the problems and passions that fuel their decision to buy. Whilst understanding the end-user is essential for product development, if they lack purchasing involvement, there's no need to profile them for a buyer persona.

In many businesses, the end-user of a SaaS product has minimal influence over purchasing decisions. Worse still, they're likely to have completely different motivations to the decision makers in their organisation. Tailoring your marketing to the needs of the end-user will only serve to attract the wrong people to your product; and do nothing to appeal to the interests of budget holders and decision makers. 

Instead, your efforts need to be focused on interviewing and understanding these decision makers - even if they don't use your product.

This presents a unique problem for SaaS businesses, and necessitates two distinct strands of research: buyer persona profiling to understand the buyer, and product development research to understand the end-user.

2) Confusing Persona Interviews with Product Interviews

A lack of distinction between buyer and user means that buyer persona interviews are often misappropriated, and turned into product-focused sessions.

Instead of interviewing customers about their reasons for buying, they're asked about the functionality and usability of the product. Instead of using persona interviews to improve  marketing and sales strategies, they end-up bogged down in the minutiae of product development. 

Remember: you're interviewing buyers, not beta testers. Persona interviews need to be focused exclusively on the buying process, providing you with insights into: 

  • The problems that drive your customers to buy.
  • The results they expect from buying your product.
  • The problems that can stop the buying process.
  • The journey the buyer goes through, from initial research through to final product decision.
  • The factors that influence the final decision to buy.

For a great framework for developing buyer personas, check out the Five Rings of Insight from the Buyer Persona Institute.

3) Assuming Current Users are Reflective of Future Users

Early customers play a vital role in shaping the direction of your SaaS product; but there's no guarantee that these formative users are reflective of your ideal buyer.

In many early-stage SaaS businesses, the first few customers are earned by hook or by crook. Favours are called in, friendships are called upon, and a handful of disparate users are assembled to test-out your product. However, it's likely that these users won't match the profile of your target buyer.

Instead of being motivated by the business case for your product, and its perceived value, they were won through other means. They aren't 'true' customers; and interviewing these types of people, in order to shape your marketing, will do little to reveal the motivations of genuine, fully-fledged customers.

Input from your early users can be helpful, but you shouldn't use it as the sole impetus of your persona creation. Even if you lack existing buyers, it's important to secure interviews with the types of people you want to attract to your product.

To learn more about developing buyer personas, and using them to grow your SaaS business, download our free eBook below: Inbound Marketing for SaaS Directors.

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