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How to Use Customer Service to Refine Your Buyer Persona


HubSpot published an article recently advocating that marketing teams leverage customer service to refine buyer personas. Author Pamela Vaughan argued that since service reps talk to customers all day, they possess insights that could help refine these hypothetical target customer profiles.

I thought this was a really interesting concept. The buyer persona defines what the potential customer values, wants, fears, and objects to when they shop for your product. So, Vaughan postulates that behaviors expressed during the usage phase of the customer life cycle — when consumers interact with support — reveal traits relevant to buyer motivation.

Here are three ways I discovered that brands can use frontline customer service employees to refine buyer personas.

Identifying Preferred Communication Channels

Companies develop buyer personas, in part, to tailor marketing content to unique groups of target customers. For example, HubSpot customer Goodbye Crutches created a “Gerry the Great Grandparent” persona.

He is most worried about how easy the company’s scooter–a crutch alternative–is to assemble and carry. So, the company targets Gerry with information about how the scooter sets up in minutes and is lightweight and portable.

Gerry’s concerns were identified through sales interactions and customer interviews, but the company learned one useful point from customer service that was added to his persona: his communication channel of choice. When Gerry needs help, he rarely emails or tries self-service tools. He almost exclusively calls. This told marketing that Gerry prefers personal contact.

This simple insight influences how the company interacts with Gerry in all phases of the customer life cycle, from lead nurturing to post-sale service. “We know that when we follow up with Gerry, we should do it over the phone,” Goodbye Crutches founder and owner Tom Schwab tells me.

Prioritizing Marketing Spend

Schwab says his agents tag every caller with a corresponding persona–Andy the Athlete, Mary the Motivated Mom, and so on.

This allows his team to assess which personas account for the most support calls. How often does each persona call? How long does each call last? Depending on what percent of sales that persona contributes, the company might decrease marketing investments for that profile if spend exceeds customer support costs.

Buyer Persona

Sample buyer persona that HubSpot helped create with Goodbye Crutches. The persona should answer questions about what motivates the customer when they make a purchase.

HubSpot uses the same strategy to prioritize their marketing spend.

“In the early days of HubSpot, we sold everything to everyone. After some analysis of our best customers, and seeing the support load for different types of customers, we identified our best target persona and zeroed in on that one,” says Ellie Mirman, head of marketing for HubSpot’s mid-sized business segment.

Determining Technical Savvy

HubSpot client support reps tag each service interaction with a “question type.” Through this process, the company has learned that small companies tend to call and ask a lot of questions about what they should do with inbound marketing software. In contrast, enterprise buyers typically use the self-service knowledge base for functionality-related questions.

Both of these question types and the mode they used to find the answer reveals the buyer personas’ technical savvy. In response, marketing creates more how-to content and guides for small business customers, and more product documentation for enterprise customers.

Customer Support Helps, But It’s Only Part of the Persona

These examples illustrate how customer service can help refine the way companies communicate with buyer personas. But this is only part of the picture. Essential questions to creating the buyer persona typically arise (and matter) in the evaluation phase of the customer life cycle.

“If you start assuming customer problems revealed during [product] usage are in response to unmet expectations from when they purchased, that can lead you down the wrong path,” says Adele Revella of Buyer Persona Institute Inc. and author of The Buyer Persona Manifesto.

But Revella agreed it’s worth exploring whether customer service can provide some valuable contributions, such as those mentioned above. Have you used customer service to create or refine buyer personas? How? Let us know by commenting here.

Special thanks to the following people who provided valuable insight for this story: Jerry Rackley, Demand Metric chief analyst and executive-in-residence and lecturer at Oklahoma State University; Becky Carroll, president and founder of Petra Consulting Group, author of “The Hidden Power of Your Customers” at Wiley-Blackwell, lecturer of social media marketing at UC San Diego and social media contributor at NBC San Diego; and Shep Hyken, CEO of The Customer Focus, keynote speaker and bestselling author of "The Amazement Revolution: Seven Customer Service Strategies to Create an Amazing Customer Experience.” Thumbnail image created by nicolasnova

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Ashley Verrill

About the Author

Ashley Verrill has spent the last six years reporting and writing business news and strategy features. Her work has been featured or cited in Inc., Forbes, Business Insider, TechCrunch, GigaOM,, Yahoo News, the Upstart Business Journal, the Austin Business Journal and the North Bay Business Journal, among others.

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