Personas Backwards and Forwards

Published on LinkedIn October 30, 2016

persona committee

The longer I navigate large B2B companies, the more I observe the same marketing projects being kicked-off over and over again. New people come in looking for something to champion within that magical first ninety days. After identifying an area of opportunity – say a shortage of buyer personas – the next step is to form a task force and kick off with a large helping of goal-setting, resource-finding and timeline-plotting. But then schedules and priorities get in the way, and it can take weeks, perhaps months, to learn that the files from a similar effort two years ago have been sitting on the server.

Now I’m not saying that such kick-off zeal is misplaced. I’ve done it myself many times in an effort to show value.  I’m just sayin’ that it’s advantageous to work backwards and forwards. After all, building on the shoulders of giants (even if they are co-workers) gives you a better view. So look for previous work (maybe product managers have created user personas) and review previous research (many companies do customer experience surveys). Mine your CRM and marketing automation systems to see what they can tell you via activity histories. THEN, start working forward. Consider internal and external interviews, explicit home-page surveys, and implicit activity-based persona building. Perhaps your inside sales team, customer support group or IVR system can gather useful information. Why not include the people who ran the last project?

As you think backwards and forwards, don’t forget to ask yourself how your work will be most useful. Can you deliver the concepts to the right people right when they need it? Will your personas constantly inform content writers, media buyers, event managers and campaign leaders as they do their work? Not if they’re sitting on a server somewhere. So look before you leap. By demonstrating an ability to synthesize and build on institutional knowledge you will improve your project’s effectiveness and your own reputation.

About Lorena Harris

Lorena Harris has more than 20 years of marketing leadership experience with large business service companies. Her expertise is in designing research-based content marketing programs for brand building and demand generation. Since earning her MBA from Duke, Lorena has built revenue-generating marketing programs for $B+ B2B service companies such as Fiserv, First Data and Vantiv (financial services), ADP (employee benefit services), Convergys (contact center services) and Donnelly (publishing services). More information available on
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