Whether you think it, believe it, or discard it... the truth is that buyer personas are the start of every successful campaign. Every marketer knows that understanding your buyer is key, but every smart marketer knows that standard demographics just won't cut it anymore.

The best way to start the process of getting to know your buyer—intimately—is to go through a persona exercise. Here are some tried and true tips for tackling the buyer persona beast.

Give the targets an identity

If you were thinking that labeling your targets "C-level execs of midsize companies who experience generic problem X, Y, or Z" is akin to truly knowing them... be prepared to completely overhaul your mindset. That information doesn't actually tell you anything about how to really reach your prospect.

Buying habits are only as powerful as the psychology behind them, so you need to figure out motivations. Stop here: Did that statement tempt you to defiantly respond, "Not in my industry"? Well, to put it as nicely as possible, you're wrong. This approach is applicable to every company in every industry.

Gather buying experiences that epitomize your key buyer and describe them—the personality traits, not the overly generalized tidbits you'd usually whip out. Did this person climb the corporate ladder linearly and respect the chain of command? Is she a Gen X or a Boomer? Does he prefer to interact with vendors personally and does he still believe in the good-old-fashioned phone call?

You get the idea. Do this methodically with your targets—and voila: You'll narrow down to 3-5 personas.

Map out their workflow

Use communication and online observations to determine your buyers' habits and motivations. Do they spend their days in meetings? Are they on the road a lot? Do they live online? Take the time to do some detective work and dig down to the ways this person works.

Then, consider the reasons. Do this person's emails have a hurried and brusque tone, or are they thoughtful and positive? You may be surprised at how much information you can glean about someone's personality and priorities by studying their workflow and communication patterns.

If the buyer is a slow and steady type of worker, meet them in kind. Someone who has the proverbial tortoise mentality will not respond well to someone who hurries him along like the rash hare. On the flip side, if your buyer only has five free minutes a day to skim emails, you need to hit hard and fast. That person will react well only to those who give her the barest details in the brief pocket of time she has to spare.

Workflow habits offer much wisdom.

Nail down their pain

Getting into your buyers' challenges and pain points tells you exactly what kind of content to feed to them.

At the most elementary level, people won't spend their limited time on anything that doesn't make their lives easier or better. Your product or service most likely meets your customers' needs, so make it known how you solve their problems.

Within one or two interactions with your brand, your prospects should have no doubt about how your solution can improve some aspect of their lives, businesses, or relationships. Take their pain and turn it into content. Address their challenges head-on, and offer insight and resources to confront and conquer it.

You already know to keep your content educational, so the next step is to segment that further. If one target is obsessed with numbers, he needs infographics and short emails that are number-rich. If one prospect just wants more time in the day, the emails sent to her will be full of tips on how your solution saves time.

Thinking about their pain will guide your content road map and reinforce the idea that you have their best interests at heart.

Anticipate the questions, then answer them

Challenge yourself to think proactively, and anticipate the questions that will bubble up from your customers. Initially, though you may think you know what buyers want to ask, you're probably still viewing them through your own self-interested lens. Until you've walked through the other pieces of building buyer personas, you won't have a solid grasp on who these buyers are or the real questions burning within them.

When you do anticipate customers' questions and answer them pre-emptively, you gain a strong advantage and significant mindshare with the buyer. Strike with thoughtful, complete answers before they have time to finish formulating their concerns, and you'll decrease the possibility for frustration while increasing the possibility of retaining a loyal customer.

* * *

Buyer personas are often met with opposition because they're a lot of work to assemble, and once assembled they are living, evolving things and must be maintained. Like people, buyer personas change over time with the market, the times, the ebbs and flows of products and services.

They absolutely require work, but they are entirely worth it. If you adopt these tips, and throw your focus on the people behind the personas, you will see a steady progression toward happier buyers and maybe even an increase in revenue. Trust me.

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Four Tips for Building Fail-Proof Buyer Personas

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image of Justin Gray

Justin Gray is the CEO of LeadMD. He founded the company with a vision to transform marketing via the use of marketing automation and CRM solutions. Reach him via jgray@leadmd.com.

LinkedIn: Justin Gray

Twitter: @jgraymatter