How RelateIQ Introduced Design Personas


In many organizations, if you asked your teammates who you’re building your products for, you’d likely get 100 different answers. Or maybe the generic answer: “for our users, obviously.” It’s difficult to get organizations to practice true user-centered design and create delightful and meaningful experiences without understanding who your users really are: What are their motivations? What does their lifestyle look like? What frustrations do they encounter?

CooperU, co — founded by industry giant Alan Cooper and his wife Sue, is a leading user experience and service design consultancy based in San Francisco. The company helps businesses uncover product, service and business opportunities and offers training in topics such as product and service design, brand strategy and leadership

I had the opportunity of attending CooperU’s workshop, Putting Personas to Work. I was inspired to share the experience of how we are implementing design personas within RelateIQ, based off of the learnings from this workshop.

What are Benefits of Design Personas?

Design Personas are a tool constructed from user research that designers use to help inform critical design thinking and decisions. When designing new experiences, having the information of who your user(s) are and how they behave will help you stop making assumptions or designing for yourselves, and instead get in the head of your targeted user. In the workshop we discussed several benefits of having design personas, for example, personas:

  1. Create alignment and help everyone involved in the designing and building of an experience understand, relate to, and remember the end user throughout the entire product development process.
  2. Help build empathy in your organization and allow it to act as the voice of the user.
  3. Communicate and form alignment, defend decisions, and help prioritize features in real-time.
  4. When time and budget does not allow for user testing, you can take well-formed educated guesses by using your design persona(s).
  5. Onboard new employees across your organization to gain perspective through the lens of your users. Not everyone has the time to sift through videos and findings; good source for quickly getting across high level points.

The Need for Personas at RelateIQ

RelateIQ is an intelligent CRM startup that was acquired by Salesforce last August, 2014. Prior to the acquisition, RelateIQ was targeting customers of all shapes and sizes that were in need of a simple and smart CRM. This was working well for a while, but was not a good long term goal. RelateIQ experienced the growing pains of maturing and narrowing our focus. A platform that once catered to many audiences for intelligent relationship tracking, is now the intelligent CRM for SMB sales teams.

We needed to make sure that we understood the needs of SMB sales teams in order to design products that fit their needs, but we didn’t have a lot of existing research to leverage that would help us understand their behaviors and goals. In order to do so, we knew we must set out and interview a sample size audience and uncover as much relevant information as possible.

Getting Stakeholders Buy-In

In order to gain buy-in, we knew as a design team, we needed to demonstrate the value of having these personas in place. During a Hackday project, I and another designer, Catriona, hacked together a set of ‘proto-personas’, as described in the workshop; a set of fictional & representative user archetypes based on your team’s educated guess at types of behaviors, attitudes, and goals of users. We based these proto-personas off of interviews from employees around the organization. These employees were chosen based off of their relationship with our customers; e.g. design, sales, product management, customer support, marketing, etc.

“What does a day in the life looks like for a sales rep?”
What types of frustrations do Sales Managers have with current CRMs today?
How do Account executives work with others on their team?
What other types of tools and products do sales reps use in their workflow? why?
“Mark” was an outcome from the proto-persona interview sessions we held. Applying a visual treatment helped others feel like they could relate more to the artifact.

With little alignment around the organization on our new target audience, the answers ranged across the board. This was a huge wake up call to some, and to others it demonstrated the strong need to invest more in field research. It was clear that we needed to understand our users more and gain support from leadership.


“In skeptical environments, demonstrate, don’t tell, the value of personas.”

— CooperU


The CooperU workshop hugely influenced how we were able to implement the idea of design personas within RelateIQ. Here are some other topics they covered during the workshop:

  • Types of personas
  • How to use empathy maps with personas
  • Making the business case for personas
  • Evaluating personas

Next Steps

Now that we have identified the the need for personas, and gained Stakeholder buy-in by demonstrating value from proto-personas, we are developing a plan for recruiting, planning, and executing the field research to better understand our users to create our design personas.

  1. Identified the Need for Personas within RelateIQ
  2. Gained Buy-In & Support from Leadership
  3. Develop a plan for recruiting, planning, and the logistics to reach our research goals
  4. Conducting the Research
  5. Analyzing the data
  6. Effectively using personas around the organization

Stay tuned to learn how we tackle the next steps of planning our persona research!

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.