"Know your audience". "Understand the buyer." "Be customer-centric." The key to lead generation and growth has been in MBA 101 textbooks since the dawn of time.
These 101 textbooks also say to capture the relevant information about your target buyer in the forma of a persona. But the vast majority of teams don't actually create personas, or use them in the right way.
Why Everyone Agrees Understanding The Customer is Key But They Still Don't Use Personas
Most people know personas as a photo of a person with a made-up background, to help "personify" the target buyer or user. However:
Leadership might see them as a make-work project. And because they can seem like a lot of work and a nice-to-have, they don't get done.
But You Need Buyer Intel!
It's a shame personas are not used more for so many reasons:
Collecting Objective Data - persona work forces teams to do the appropriate research to understand who their customer is and what their pain points are that the company can solve. The very process of collecting this data from the outside is where you get the "gold", the intelligence that lets you shape your strategy!
Focusing Strategy - not everything about the buyer is truly relevant to the sale. Perhaps knowing that the target persona on average "has two kids" a hidden gem of information that we can use to better connect with the buyer, but it might also be irrelevant. Porter famously said that the essence of strategy is "choosing what not to do". What you choose to document about the persona - and what you don't - is actually a very strategic decision.
Ensuring Alignment - It's surprising how even mature organizations often have wildly varying views on who the customer is, what they care about in the context of your company, and why they would buy your product. Personas, when done correctly, are a clear and concise way of distilling that information so that everyone from the CEO down to individual developers are all singing from the same sheet music.
Qualitative Data - SaaS businesses in particular are too obsessed with quantitative data imho. Understanding that 37.5% of customers landed on your front page but also 12.3% converted to a sign-up is useful, but only qualitative data will tell you why that is happening. Personas force you to balance all those metrics with actually talking to humans to understand why.
A Silicon Valley Facelift?
Silicon Valley and especially the VC community are famous for reviving old concepts with cool new names. "Growth hacking", "product/market fit", and "north star metrics" are all just new names for textbook standards, but hyping them up in this way has reinvigorated a generation of new marketers to get back to basics, without even realizing it! Might I suggest... Product/market personas? North star mental models? Buyer growth ARR-CAC drivers?
Start Small For Big Results - 5 Simple Questions
There are real reasons why personas should be documented in detail, with demographic information, a back story, a photo, etc. But if this is too much to get started, it shouldn't be all-or-nothing, you can start small with answering 5 simple questions:
Even answers to these 5 fundamental questions are often not well understood, aligned, or informed by data, even in mature companies. Start with a simple excel sheet informed by real data from customer interviews, and make sure to use this to align strategy internally. If you don't have this info completely dialed in, then you are just shooting in the dark, and there is really no point to your campaigns, growth experiments, or ARR/CAC/CL-whatever.