How Effective Personas Inspire Customers to Say ‘Yes’

Paul Landon
Salesforce Designer
9 min readJun 8, 2022

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Understanding a customer’s pain points and helping them envision a different future takes deep curiosity and the ability to tell a good story

Stock image of four people of different races and gender gathered in a convivial atmosphere. They’re all dressed professionally as if in an office setting.

When a CEO gets excited and hugs our sales team after a presentation, we know we’ve told a good story. We know the future we’ve envisioned for the company resonates.

People want to be heard and understood. Drawing on a background in psychology, I’ve learned the importance of going beyond jargon to truly put myself in the audience’s perspective: Who are they? What motivates them and keeps them up at night? What’s their world today and how can we help build the bridge to where they want to be tomorrow?

I’m a creative strategist for Q Branch, an in-house agency at Salesforce, and we use personas to represent audience segments. Personas enable us to communicate from a place of empathy — crafting stories that resonate with the audience.

In addition to data, our success is measured by customer reactions. When executives get excited and say, “this is exactly who we are and where we want to go!” We know we our messaging resonated.

Persona Basics

Personas are reliable and realistic representations of key audience segments. They’re used for customer understanding, product decisions, targeting, positioning, messaging, and more. They help focus decisions in sales, marketing, product, design — or just about any discipline — by adding a layer of customer consideration.

Personas are based on qualitative and quantitative data gathered through interviews, surveys, discovery questions, internal data (e.g. CRM, win/loss analysis), external data (e.g. Facebook audience insights, Google Analytics), user profiles, third-party studies, and more.

Those insights translate into details such as segment/group, fictional name, job title and responsibilities, Jobs To Be Done, demographics (age, education, family background), pains the product alleviates, goals the product helps achieve, environmental factors (e.g. physical, social, tech), and quotes that are representative of key insights.

Graphic that includes a cutout image of a woman named Alex and attributes that describe her title and business goals. The background image shows a team collaborating at a conference table.
Personas capture the pains and future goals that resonate with the audience (customer obscured for privacy)

4 Practices for Crafting Effective Personas

Personas are pivotal to just about any role — sales, marketing, product, design, and more. Throughout my experience, I’ve gained insights, tactics, and tips for avoiding common mistakes that can help anyone develop effective personas and messaging:

1. Identify the pain points to get the truth

Common Mistake: identifying the problem, as opposed to the deeper pain, and going straight to the solution.

On the surface, problem and pain may seem like the same. But they’re not.

Problems are relatively unemotional description of challenges. For example, “We need help managing our workflows.” Pain has emotion behind it, and emotion fuels change. A pain is something like, “I’m extremely stressed out that our workflows are causing so much friction.”

An essential goal in research is to uncover the pain — and the powerful emotion behind it. By uncovering the pain, you unlock the real reasons why buying decisions are made.

Working with a customer in banking, I kept hearing problems regarding a recent merger: “We need to be one company…we’re not streamlined.” It wasn’t until after a few more interviews that I uncovered pains. I learned of inter-team and cross-team tension causing stress. Lost revenue was frustrating leadership. This was the key I needed to move forward.

2. Dig deep and then dig some more

Common Mistake: Stopping at the surface level and talking solutions before gaining deep customer understanding.

Keep digging in discovery and research. Ask more questions to understand the customer’s perspective. Look for deeper pains and motivations, how they want to change and impact their customer, and the language they use to communicate. Ask good questions and have a beginner’s mindset.

Develop personas and start solutioning only after understanding the following about the audience:

  • There is a clear emotional pain and you know how much it’s costing them. This is also called the “quantifiable pain” and several can be happening simultaneously in their business.
  • Why is it important they reach their stated goal(s). For example, it’s not enough to know they want to increase revenue by $50M year over year. Why is important to them? Will this help them achieve their burning desire to reach the C-suite? Are there high stakes causing high stress that they want to alleviate?
  • What happens if they don’t reach their goal or solve their pain? What is the emotional and quantifiable cost?
  • They have to want and be motivated to solve their pain and/or reach their goal. Understand factors impacting their want, ability, and degree to which they can acquire the solution.

While conducting a discovery workshop with a utilities company, I uncovered motivations I didn’t expect. Our team was used to hearing metrics around business objectives like revenue and efficiency. The initial discovery yielded similar motivations. However, after we asked deeper questions in our workshop, we learned their top motivation was environmental impact, measured by increasing the percentage of tree canopy in the city. You never know what’s driving the customer until you dig deeper.

3. Meet them where they are and speak their language

Common Mistake: Talking about features and benefits, as opposed to outcomes, and doing so in your language (not the customer’s).

Subtle changes in language can have a huge impact on building trust. Shift thinking from telling prospects what the product does to what it is it will fix. When you start talking about solutions, frame it in their language.

For example, one customer was interested in a solution for employee and client engagement. Rather than talk about features, we researched what the company cares about. In interviews and content, they stressed goals like: “building trust in society” and “solving important problems.” We discovered their talent development and client segment priorities. By incorporating this language into our messaging, it helped close one of Salesforce’s largest deals that year.

This is where it pays to be curious, empathetic, and have diverse perspectives. Do everything you can to put yourself in the customer’s position. Learn their lens for seeing themselves — and how they want to be seen — at both the company-wide and audience (executive) level.

To gain insight for an industry sales play, I followed a friend around his construction site, where he worked as a project manager. I learned the importance of terms like “drawings,” “go/no-go decision,” and “subs.” By physically being there and observing how employees talk, I cultivated the foundation for effective personas and messaging.

Working with a major sports league, my team and I experienced the end-to-end customer journey — from ordering tickets to attending a tournament and post-event marketing. We learned the customer’s language and other insights that informed our personas. Our curiosity paid off: The customer was excited about our future vision for growing their fanbase (and the deal closed).

A group of four workers in safety vests and hard hats walking toward a building frame at a construction site. There’s gravel on the ground and a crane in the background.
Meeting the customer where they are and learning to speak their language can involve first-hand discovery (like surveying a construction site).

4. Help your customer connect with their customers

Common Mistake: Thinking only about how your customer wants to change and missing how they want to help their customers change.

As we craft messaging, it’s pivotal to recognize how your customer wants to transform and help their customers. We use these tactics to bridge companies and their customers:

  • Synthesize and map the journey: After understanding the customer’s deeper pains, goals, and motivation, strategists map out each step of the journey. We synthesize insights throughout discovery, combining business, technical, and human elements.
  • Create the future state vision: We write a clear, compelling vision from the customer’s perspective. The vision shows the journey from current state to future success — unlocked by the solution.
  • Make the customer the hero: Centering your customer means helping them create meaningful connections with their customers. How does your solution make your customer look good to their customers?

Synthesis and Alignment

During discovery — if you’ve uncovered pains, deeper motivations, and recurring themes around how your solution can help — the personas almost write themselves. However, there’s still the challenge of synthesizing and aligning around what’s most important to include. Thus, it’s essential to collaborate and gain diverse perspectives to craft the output.

Determine Key Personas

Decide on the most important audience segments you want represented as a persona. Consider the size and messaging needs of you audience. If your audience is broad, you may want high-level personas that represent larger teams. Audience-specific messaging likely yields personas targeting a specific role within a vertical.

Since Q Branch usually crafts audience-specific messaging, we designate one persona as the hero (often the customer’s customer or a key buyer). This is the transformational journey you want to highlight in the future vision story.

First Draft

There’s no set format to creating personas. We focus on essentials: responsibilities, current pain points, future goals. Using discovery insights, list all ideas in the first draft. Then, continually synthesize as you work toward the final output.

Other persona considerations: demographics (age, education, family background), environmental factors (physical, social, tech), quotes representing key insights, brief description of their day, how they make buying decisions, key influences and collaborators.

Cross-Team Alignment

We run a “Hero Workshop” for team alignment. During the personas exercise, teams refine each persona while creative strategists guide the discussion and whiteboard ideas. This enables us to hear all perspectives, build a unified customer understanding, and create a shared stake in messaging strategy. As a result, the team can align on the most important persona characteristics and how we message them in the future vision.

With help from the Hero6 app and Trail, your team can run a similar exercise. For participants, we recommend including diverse contributors, spanning subject matter experts to front-line roles (e.g. sales and customer success). Aim for synthesizing the top three or so responsibilities, pains, and goals you want highlighted in customer communications.

Image of 5 people around a conference table. One person is at the white board moving sticky notes around.
Team alignment exercises, like Q Branch’s Hero Workshop, help synthesize discovery into impactful personas.

Refine, Create, and Validate Personas

With the team aligned, simplify personas down to the most impactful messaging. Craft visuals with an attention to detail. Show you deeply understand the audience as you bring your persona to life.

Finally, validate personas with relevant stakeholders. Revise as many times as needed. Congratulations, you’ve created the perfect persona!

Future Vision Story

At Q Branch, we use personas to tell the story of our customer’s transformation. This is the “North Star” messaging for all customer-facing assets (e.g. presentations, demos, videos, mockups, microsites, etc.).

Start the story where your persona is today — the big goals they want to achieve and the obstacles in their way. Show how, by adopting your product, they overcome the obstacles and triumph. (For details into our storytelling process, see the Hero6 Trail)

Journey Map

A simple, clear representation of your customer’s successful transformation made possible by your products. Often included at the beginning and end of the story to offer an executive summary.

Image of a screen in a tool for creating personas. On 2/3 of the page is a pane where you can add a persona.
Hero enablement tools detail each step to crafting effective personas and visionary, customer-centric stories.

Personas are a Value Multiplier

The value of crafting perfect personas goes far beyond the output itself. Personas enable customer-centricity throughout the sales and marketing process — deeply understanding the audience, what they most care about, and how to discuss your product in a way that resonates.

Each asset delivered can inspire potential customers and get them to say “yes” to your product.

Acknowledgements: Special thanks to Hsiao-Ching Chou for guiding and publishing my work. Natasha Chan for being a fantastic content partner and teammate. Wayne Hwang and Steve Ecker for their support and Q Branch Advisory leadership.

Salesforce Design is dedicated to elevating design and advocating for its power to create trusted relationships with users, customers, partners, and the community. We share knowledge and best practices that build social and business value. We call this next evolution of design Relationship Design. Join our Design Trailblazers community, become a certified UX designer, or work with us!

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