The challenges and power of personas for the enterprise

Obstacles for enterprise personas.

In the world of UX design and market strategy, individual personas have been around for a long time. However, In the B2B enterprise personas, their uses are often misunderstood, overrated, or under-utilized. According to a recent Gartner white paper, "an enterprise persona — a profile of the ideal customer organization — is a critical focus area for technology product marketing leaders to apply segmentation effectively."

While internal politics, tight deadlines, and conflicting or shifting priorities are familiar with any team project, in the enterprise world, these challenges are present at a much more significant scale. This is why enterprise personas can be so useful. Because they tend to be based on roles, and organizations are made up of different roles, they map pretty well to personas.

In an article for Forbes, Louis Columbus , a marketing and sales industry analyst, outlines some real-world implementations of enterprise personas.

How Software Companies Are Using Personas To Better Understand Customers

Microsoft is an extensive developer and user of personas, using them across the entire spectrum of their applications.  Here is an example of their Office365 personas that Microsoft has provided for the public to view.  Note how Microsoft uses personas to also target competitors as well, with one persona dedicated just to Google.  Their personas on Dynamics AX are the most complete I've ever seen for an enterprise application.

A persona, first introduced by Alan Cooper, defines an archetypical user of a system, an example of the kind of person who would interact with it. The idea is that if you want to design effective software, then it needs to be designed for a specific person.

For example, in a banking application, we would have actors such as Customer and Credit Card Processor. Actors are often documented by a sentence or two describing the role. For example, the description for Customer might read "A person or organization which does business with the bank."

Personas are often used when building publicly accessed web-based software, such as the Amazon or eBay systems, as well as shrink-wrapped software. In fact, personas and usage scenarios are very popular at Microsoft and are one of the artifacts described in their Agile MSF process. In short, personas are one of a range of modeling techniques which you want to have in your intellectual toolkit.

In The Inmates Are Running the Asylum, Alan Cooper suggests the following techniques for writing effective personas:

According to HubSpot, "after trying many different approaches on our own and with our customers, we’ve found that the most effective way to segment is by looking at personas and lifecycle together. In other words, we define segments based on buying stage and stakeholder role. This approach looks at who an individual is (their goals, interests, demographics) and how they expect to interact with your organization (through lifecycle stage)."

There is a wealth of information online on how to use personas to bring greater acuity, empathy, immediacy and relevance into new product development and marketing.   One of the best sources of information on this topic is Pragmatic Marketing who has a wealth of information on how to develop and use personas.  An index of search results from their site can be found hereMarketingProfs has 22,300 items on their website matching the term “personas”, which gives you an indication of how thorough the research is on this site. Their insights into creating and using personas for content and product development are worth looking into.  Marketing Sherpa also has a wealth of persona-related research and insights, including case studies of how personas can be used for managing content strategies.  If you are in product management, product marketing, corporate marketing or communications, consider subscribing to MarketingProfs and Marketing Sherpa.   HubSpot also covers personas from a content strategy perspective as well.

 Bottom line: Personas are the future of enterprise application development and marketing due to their ability to bring greater acuity, focus and empathy into the development process.

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