Buyer personas – understanding purchasing behaviours

You can make your marcoms more effective by using buyer personas to describe the behaviour of people as they go through their purchasing process. People act differently as they move from being vaguely interested in a product to actively considering buying it.


  1. Our cast of four buyer personas
    1. Browser Bill
    2. Interested Iris
    3. Purchasing Paula
    4. Loyal Luke
  2. Buyer personas aren’t linear
  3. Buyer personas aren’t singular
  4. These are not normal buyer personas
  5. Buyer personas and psychographic profiles

Your purchasers might start off with a very short attention span and enough curiosity to watch a short video that doesn’t tax the brain.

When they’re about to purchase, they want to absorb every piece of information about the product they can find. Yes, they want to know how much it costs. But they also want to know how they’ll deploy it in their business. They want to know how it’ll be supported. They want to know how they’ll get their staff to use it. They want to know how long they’ll be up to continue using it.

Buyer personas help you visualise how people behave in the most important phases of their purchase process and in their after sales relationship with you.

We use buyer personas to guide our marcoms activities. They help us overcome the two main limitations of the AIDA model that we discussed in the last post: i) sales don’t work in the linear fashion AIDA describes, and ii) after sales marketing is ignored by AIDA despite its importance to long-term relationships and new business generation.


Our cast of four buyer personas

We use four buyer personas: Browser Bill, Interested Iris, Purchasing Paula and Loyal Luke. We haven’t quite gone to the extent of having cardboard cut-outs made of each of these personas but we’ve been fairly close to it on a couple of occasions.

Buyer personas describe different stages of a purchase process.

Buyer personas describe different stages of a purchase process.


Browser Bill

Browser Bill corresponds to the Awareness stage of the AIDA model. Bill is new to your product. He may even be new to the product category. Imagine trying to sell marketing automation software to a typical managing director. If you get any attention at all from Bill, it’ll only be for a few seconds.

Your job as a marketer is to sell Bill a rosier future. Tell him how much better his life is going to be with your marketing automation software. Tell him how much more efficient his company will be. Tell him how much more money he’ll make. And whatever you do, don’t try to tell him how all that will happen. That’s too much detail for him.

If you’ve been following our posts for a while, you’ll notice this also corresponds to the first step in the Three-Step Bounce model.


Interested Iris

If you’ve successfully got Browser Bill’s attention, he turns into Interested Iris. Iris is a combination of the Interest and Desire stages of the AIDA model. At this stage you’ve got to reinforce Iris’ desire for the product at the same time as explaining how she will get the benefits she seeks.

It’s at this stage that you provide specification comparisons between your marketing automation software and everybody else’s. It’s here where Iris would appreciate watching or reading about other companies like hers who have successfully deployed the software. Now is the time to give Iris an idea of the price of your software.


Purchasing Paula

Once you’ve successfully answered all of Interested Iris’s questions, she becomes Purchasing Paula. By now, she wants your product. In AIDA terms, you’ve developed Interest and matured it into Desire. Now you need Action.

Paula’s interested in how she’s going to move her business from wanting your product to deploying it and then reaping the expected benefits from it. She wants to know about contract and payment terms. She wants to know about deployment, training and support. She wants to know about product development and warranty.

Paula’s all about “due diligence”. She wants your product but you’re not guaranteed the sale until you’ve crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s.

Dealing with Paula isn’t just about producing materials. It’s about processes too. I’ve worked in businesses where sales have been lost just because nobody’s followed up quotations. We had loads of Paulas, ready to buy, if just we’d phoned them up to get the order.


Loyal Luke

After Paula has signed on the dotted line you start dealing with the persona that’s just as important as the preceding three: Loyal Luke. How do you make sure Luke stays with you? How does Loyal Luke reap the benefits that were so intriguing to Browser Bill?

There are two aspects to dealing with Loyal Luke. Firstly, you need to provide the after sales service that will help him use your product to its fullest capabilities. Make sure there are regular communications telling him how to get the best out of it. Put support options in place that can help him and his team get the answers they want in the format they want them.

Secondly, create a way that Luke’s success can be used to draw another generation of Browser Bill and Interested Iris into your fold. Get reviews. Get case studies. Get repeat orders or subscription renewals. Get Luke talking in user groups.


Buyer personas aren’t linear

It’s important to remember the personas are not linear. Purchasers don’t necessarily move from being Bill to Iris to Paula to Luke. People like me always check pricing first. That’s something you’d normally associate with Interested Iris rather than Browser Bill.

Particular buying behaviours can take place in any order.

Particular buying behaviours can take place in any order.

The point of buyer personas is to highlight that you need materials and processes for each persona. You don’t need to (nor can you) dictate when your purchasers choose to view those materials.


Buyer personas aren’t singular

There are very few organisations where a single person governs the entire purchasing process. Tasks are delegated to the people with the expertise to handle them. Your Purchasing Paula may be a completely different person to the Browser Bill who first introduced you to his company.

You may also be faced with several Purchasing Paulas.

  • An IT manager involved in the purchase process might check support options, look at online training, investigate user groups and assess interfaces with other software.
  • A legal executive in the same process might read every word of the fine print in your contract.
  • A finance director might analyse the effect of the purchase on cash flow and request changes accordingly.

These are all activities you’d associate with the Purchasing Paula persona. The point of having a buyer persona is to remind you to create the materials and processes that will satisfy anyone adopting that persona.


These are not normal buyer personas

You may notice that there’s quite a difference between the way we recommend using buyer personas and the way they’re treated by organisations such as HubSpot. They recommend creating something akin to a biographical profile of a specific person: your target persona is a 42-year old married woman who works in retail, has two children, exercises twice a week and earns £35,000 per year from her part-time job.

This might (possibly) work in a B2C environment but it’s not great for B2B. It’s not flexible enough to cope with the reality that people behave differently depending on what stage of the buying process they’re in. It’s not specific enough to tell you what you should be providing to that persona to improve your chances of making the sale. In short, it’s just not useful.

This type of persona also falls into our MFM bucket. MFM stands for “Marketing for Marketers”. It describes the kind of activity marketers do to impress other marketers. These are the types of activities you wouldn’t dare mention to your friends in the pub because they’d assume you got your job by failing the finger-painting exam and getting expelled from window-licking school.


Buyer personas and psychographic profiles

Once you start defining people according to what they do rather than who they are you’ve started your journey towards psychographic profiles. We’ll be coming onto those in our next post.