Buyer Personas – A customer making me cry teaches us everything



The first time a customer made me cry, it taught me everything I needed to know about buyer personas, and I didn’t even realise it.

Signing saying thank you for lesson in buyer personas

Looking back now, I’m really grateful for the event and in a minute I’ll tell you how it all happened.

Firstly, what did it teach me? It taught me the benefits of understanding buyer personas to increase marketing results.

I discovered Buyer Personas back at Jacobs Photographic

I was a sales assistant at a shop called Jacobs Photographic. Started working there at the age of 16, straight after leaving school and much to the annoyance of my mum.

Back in 1997, I looked incredibly young which was something that I hated at the time. Not only did I look young my hairstyle took a lot to be desired. My haircut was a centre parting and curtains over the forehead. At least I think that’s how you would describe it.

Jacobs was based just on the outside of Derby city centre. As you walked in, there was a centre column in the shop and an L shaped counter around the outside. At the top end was where people would drop off there 35mm camera film for developing. Along the other side of the counter was where people would come to look at buying cameras and camcorders.

Old style camera with 35 mm film.

When you started working at Jacobs, you would start by serving customers on the film developing side. Merely taking the film in and processing the orders. As you become more experienced and knowledgeable, you would be allowed to help people out on the hardware side.

Well, I’d been there for about a year (i think) and was now starting to help people on the hardware side. I’ve got to admit I loved it because it had everything I loved. The gadgets and helping people.

While I moved on to helping people buy standard cameras I hadn’t ventured as far as helping people camcorders.

It was my ambition to be one of the most knowledgeable and helpful people in the shop, but I remember always being concerned, maybe even anxious about what people thought about me.

On the outside, a bright exterior of confidence would shine through, while on the inside I was shaking with nerves.

As I helped more and more customers and achieved more and more sales my inner confidence grew in line with my exterior, until this one day.

A buyer persona nemesis

The shop was relatively quiet. Myself, Jamie, Martin and Stuart were all stood at the very top of the shop. A couple walked in and approached the bottom counter near the front shop window displays where camcorders were kept.

So that everyone got a fair chance at hitting their sales targets, we generally took it in turns to serve on the hardware counter, and it was my turn to help on this occasion.

I started to walk down the shop with a big smile on my face (always important to smile in sales) and quickly reached where the customers were standing.

“Hi, how can I help?” I asked the couple. At a minimum, I expected a simple hello back, and yes you can help. Not on this occasion, the reply I got back was far from a kind response. I’ve got to admit I can’t remember the exact words the lady said to me, but I can remember the profound stinging effect she had.

It was one of those moments in life where something that actually lasts a few seconds seems to play out in slow motion and last forever.

Tears rolling lesson on buyer personas learnt

The lady looked me up and down with eyes so scolding she could have burned a hole right through me. She then said to be something along the lines of “No, you can’t help, I would like a real assistant.” Of course, I explained that I was a trained assistant and I could help her. This was not good enough, and in a sharp belittling tone she continued to tell how there was no way I could help her and that she wanted to speak with someone who knew what they were talking about.

Inside I was burning up with anger and sadness. The customer stabbed right through my confidence bubble. My self esteem washed away like water down a drain. My face went red with embarrassment, and my eyes filled up. Feeling like I was the problem I finally gave in and agreed to get someone else.

I turned and started the long walk to the back of the shop where all my teammates were standing looking at me trying to figure out what was happening. Can you imagine how I felt? They were all looking at me, red-faced, flustered, upset and ashamed. Trying to remain calm and hold the tears back I walked through a little doorway to the back room.

My manager Martin followed through, knowing that something wasn’t right. He asked me what was up. I really didn’t want to sob, I wanted to let it be water off a duck’s back but really, I was still just a kid, and this was like being picked on at school. Martin was terrific at getting me to calm down and think about how it wasn’t me that was a fault, it was her. He told me to chill out for a bit, and he would go serve them.

During my employed life I’ve been blessed with working for some fantastic managers and Martin was the first.

What did this buyer persona teach me?

The sequence of events taught me a lot about customers and different buyer personas, even if I wasn’t consciously aware of it at the time.

Buyer Persona is a marketing way of saying ‘Horses for Courses’.

One of the easiest ways to uncover and group buyer personas or client profiles (whichever terminology you prefer) is by age. I don’t mean how old they are, I mean using their age to understand what generation they grew up in.

Consider this lady, was she a mean person who came in just to hurt me? No, while that was her impact that wasn’t her intention. You see, she was probably from the ‘traditionalist generation. Sometimes referred to as the forgotten generation. The traditionalist generation value things like adhering to rules, respect for authority and trust in Government.

In other words – age matters to this generation.

Sending the youngest person to serve this lady was in her eyes, respectful. If at the time we had understood buyer personas we would have sent one of the, let’s say more mature looking assistants.

Now, for those of a different generation listening, watching or reading this, your probably thinking that’s wrong, she should take the person on face value and judge them on their skills not their looks.

While this is the more logical approach, values don’t work like that, and that’s why we need to understand buyer personas. It would have been a sound business decision to send a more mature looking member of the team. They would have connected and built rapport quicker, which in turn would have increased the chance of getting a sale.

Now, if someone from ‘generation x’ walked in, I would probably have been better suited. Generation X tend to be sceptical about authority like figures. With my young childish looks and centre parting hair, authority was not a signal I was giving off!

I guess, unconsciously from that day forward I did start to pay attention to how I approached different people.

It is easier to adapt when meeting customers Face to Face though. You can change your language and body language to match theirs.

You can’t do this with online marketing though because you can’t see the customer.

That’s why whenever I start a marketing project for a new client, we look at the primary buyer personas we want to appeal too.

If it’s an existing business, we review all the insights from things like Google Analytics, Facebook and even run a customer research survey.

For new businesses we look at competitors and start with best guess scenario. As more reliable data begins to flow in we review and refine.

You learn so much from uncovering buyer personas. For a start it allows you to understand buyers probable core values and attributes. Just having a little bit of insight like this gives you massive leverage when designing or writing copy.

What if you don’t do buyer persona profiling?

If you don’t take the time to research buyer personas you are probably creating your marketing based on YOUR buyer persona. This is fine if your product or service is designed to appeal to people like you and just you. If you are not appealing to your own buyer persona, you are more than likely trying to appeal to everyone.

Remember what they say – You can please some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time.

Buyer personas are an essential part of any marketing campaign which is why I put together a free guide including a step by step workbook to help anyone easily identify their primary buyer personas or client profile. I actually decided to call the guide a client profile creator.

You can get your copy of the client profile creator by clicking here

If you like help growing your business please reach out using our contact form. We love to hear from you and see how we can help.


More Posts