Chapter 5 Working to Understand Who Your Customer Is


  • Developing customer segments
  • Creating and using personas
  • Getting a handle on customer visits

Customers are the lifeblood of a product manager . They give you the information you need to create and market products. However , product managers make decisions on the best kind of customers to target depending on all the attributes of their product including, but not limited to the benefits, the features that support those benefits and the price. In this section, the focus is on defining a customer segment and then sharing that information in an effective way within the company . Key terms that you use are target markets, segmentation, and personas. The goal is to develop a shortcut in communicating both within your teams and outside the company . Accomplishing this work usually involves direct contact with customers, so in addition to the market research section in Chapter 6 , there is additional material here on how to get the most out of each customer visit.

Moving from Markets to Segments

Before diving into a discussion of segments, you need to understand some very basic
marketing terminology that drives the rest of this chapter and is useful throughout this
book. The basic premise is that there is an entire world of potential customers. However , to communicate with and understand customers more effectively , you need to divide them up first into customers that want or need your product and second, of these, into ones that may actually buy your product. This is the core of all market analysis and marketing activity .

Defining markets and segments

Remember Markets are defined simply as customer groupings. Adding more detail to this simple statement, from the perspective of your product, different customers fall into
different choice groups. Each choice group decides to interact with and purchase
products based on a different set of criteria. The official term for each customer
grouping is a market . In a simple example, large households tend to buy milk in
larger quantities than smaller households. From the perspective of the milk supplier ,
these are two different market segments : large and small households. In reality ,
developing market segments involves much larger set of variables. And your job as a
product manager is to determine which market segments exist for your product and
which variables are important to distinguish one segment from another .

The markets that you determine are the most interesting for your product are your target
markets . In the milk example, if you produce gallons of milk, then larger households are
your target market. Smaller households are not your target market.
Deciding on which target markets are valuable is the process of segmentation . To segment your market, you divide your customers into groups depending on the attributes they collectively share. These attributes are common needs, interests, and priorities.

Determining market segments

To begin the process of segmenting your market, the first decision is typically whether the product is oriented toward consumers (B2C) or businesses (B2B).

  • Consumers: If your product is sold primarily to consumers, market segments are divided by the following initial attributes Demographics: Age, sex, and income. Psychographics: Different personality traits (such as outgoing, competitive, or homebody); values (such as family-oriented or live for today); and attitudes,interests, and lifestyles (such as urban, suburban, or rural). Verticals: Interests such as hobbies, expertise, and education.
  • Business: If your product is sold primarily to business, market segments are divided by the following attributes Firmagraphics: You can subdivide companies by their industry , location, size,structure (such as LLC, corporation, or nonprofit), and performance. Verticals: B2B segmenting commonly focuses on the vertical attribute because it’s the core business a company conducts (for example, telecommunication,construction, software development, or insurance). Additional factors that you want to take into account include the following:
  • Geographical segmentation: Where are your customers? What town, state, and even country?
  • Cultural segmentation: Specific cultural and religious behaviors can help you distinguish the actions of one group from another .

Whenever you can distinguish between two groups of customers such that you need to
change the way you market and communicate with them, you have different segments.
To bring segmentation to life, fill in the segmentation worksheet provided in Figure 5-1 fora product that you’re familiar with.

FIGURE 5-1: Segmentation worksheet.

Harnessing the Creativity of Personas

Using segments to group customers who act alike is useful. Creating more of a personality around the segment is helpful because a segment definition can be awfully dry and impersonal. T o add more flavor and depth to the segment, you can create personas . Personas are best defined as an archetype or stand-in for a segment.
Each persona is typically given a name so that they stand in for a group of customers in a
more compelling and real way . As your personas become more lifelike, your product and marketing team members develop better offerings for the persona.
If you define two personas, Aneesh and Susan, you start to hear team members talk about how “ Aneesh wouldn’t buy the product in that way” and “Susan could find the user interface confusing.” With names, the team can develop real empathy for the customer and better understand the design and marketing goals. Importantly , personas help the team avoid imposing its own view of the world over that of the customer .

What is included in a persona description

Persona descriptions include the following information. Use Figure 5-2 to follow along with an example.

  • Goal: What is the persona trying to accomplish? Frame the goal in the language of the customer , not the product: “ Aneesh wants to buy the product as quickly as possible.”
  • Role: What’s the persona’s role as part of the process of selecting a particular product? Flip to the section on persona roles for more details about this topic. For example,“Michael’s role is as a buyer of this product.”
  • Background: Age, education, salary , and family status all may make a difference in how someone perceives products. Remember: Here you’re looking only at the aspects of a persona’s background that matter for your product. For example, the fact that a persona likes having credit cards that accumulate cash back may matter when she buys gas, but her marital status probably doesn’t.
  • Attitude: What attitude does your persona have? Does she consider herself smart? Well read? Clumsy? The attitude should relate to the product in question. For example, clumsy would be an important attitude to track if you are the product manager for roller skates.
  • Behavior: Faced with new technology , is your persona adventurous and able to figure out things on his own, or is he cautious and insistent on reading manuals?
  • Insights: Insights covers the “anything else that matters” category . What other insights about this persona should your team be aware of? For example, if your product deals with sensitive personal information, has your persona had her identity stolen? Is she naïve about passwords, using “Password123” everywhere?
FIGURE 5-2: Sample persona: Steven.

Developing personas

While useful, the process of developing great personas may take an extensive amount of
time. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t a worthwhile effort. Here is a useful process for
getting you going.

Proto personas

If you don’t have a lot of time, your team can use the knowledge that you and your team
know of your customer base to develop a persona. A proto persona isn’t validated or
supported by actual customer data. It represents your beliefs and assumptions, which may be biased or incomplete. For a short-term, low-value project, it may be sufficient to keep your team focused what a typical customer needs.

Developing and validating personas

For more important projects, spend the time and energy to develop a validated persona.

  • Decide what the primary purpose of developing a persona is. In particular , decide which roles are important for you to develop and whether the primary use is for marketing or product development.
  • Conduct user research into actual customers. T able 5-1 has a list of good categories of questions to start with as you begin your research. Providing you a complete list is impossible given the different uses of personas. Do not limit yourself to these categories if it doesn’t address the qualities that you need described in your persona. Notice that the questions used to define personas are an in-depth variation on the attributes you define for segments.
  • Condense and synthesize the data. Look for groupings under each attribute such as age or salary . The questions you ask of your customers naturally filter the groupings.
  • Refine your personas and add appropriate details to make them more real. These small touches bring a persona to life.

TABLE 5-1 Potential market research questions to define personas

Overview questions

  • Where do you live? Would you define this as urban, suburban, or rural?
  • Which age group are you in?
  • What are your interests? (List interests that will highlight and distinguish customer differences.)
  • How do you behave when…?
  • Do you prefer x or y activity?
  • What is your job?
  • How long have you …? (worked, had a hobby , lived somewhere; the rest of the question depends on your product)

Domain knowledge questions

  • What skills do you need to…?
  • How do you approach x task or situation?


  • What do you want to accomplish with your life, your work…?
  • What does success mean to you?
  • What does progress mean to you?

Attitudes and motivation

  • What do you like doing?
  • What motivates you to…?
  • What do you value?


  • Describe your typical (day , week, month, visit to the doctor…).
  • How do you…?
  • How do you change what you do?


  • Describe your (work, home, school…) environment.
  • Does it have any of the following items in it? (List appropriate items for your product.)
  • Is there anything else that is key to your (work, home, school…) environment?

Mental Model

  • What kind of (people, actions, activities) do well in x environment?

Pain Point

  • What is challenging in x environment? (You can ask this question over for different environments that you need to know about.)

Tools and technology

  • What tools/technology do you use to accomplish (work, home, school…)tasks?
  • What doesn’t work well with these tools/technology?

Relationships and organizational structure

  • Who do you work with/report to?
  • Who works for you?

Future vision

  • If you could wave a magic wand, what would you change about…?

Initially , product managers develop many personas for each product. Over time, and with experience and as your team uses them, the number of personas usually decreases to three to six.

Remember When you define a persona, you’re looking for similar characteristics only as
they’re important for your product. Here is a potential persona, T om. Through
research you discover that among his many attributes and characteristics, he is a
college-educated, middle-aged married man who has two teenage children, drives a
Subaru wagon, earns $120,000 per year , and uses Macs and PCs. A very simplified
persona based on the data in this paragraph would be described as follows:

  • College educated, 40, earns $120,000/year
  • Uses Macs and PCs

If your product involves determining car gas usage, you would use the following attributes:

  • College-educated, married, earns $120,000/year
  • Two teenage children
  • Drives a Subaru wagon

Cherry-pick the attributes that make a difference to your product.

Making Sure You Cover All Persona

It’s tempting to think that the main focus of personas is on the user . Instead, you need to develop different kinds of personas depending on what kind of roles are involved in the process of making a purchasing decision. Consider the case of buying a family car . The parents could each have a different role to play; perhaps one will be the primary driver , while the other is there to weigh in on cost matters but will drive the car less. And how about children? Think about their roles as influencers if the parents bring them along to buy a car . Some of the most common roles that you define are as follows:

  • User: A user persona is the person who will actually use the product. In complex B2B sales, you may have two user personas: one persona for the person who does work with the product and the other for the user who monitors the work. Both are considered user personas.

Warning Product managers can spend too much time focused on user personas and forget or pay too little attention to the other personas. Remember that unless you cater to all personas, a sale is much less likely .

  • Buyer: The buyer persona represents the entire class of buyers. Remember to break down the different parts of the buying process. For example, you may have a chief technical officer (CTO) as a buyer along with the manager of a department. You need to take both personas into account, especially if they have different concerns in the buying process.
  • Purchaser: The purchasing persona may have an entirely different set of criteria when deciding between products and offerings. For example, purchasing departments may get bonuses based on the discounts they get from suppliers or insist that the payment terms be longer than the usual 30 days. Y ou need to document this information correctly and prepare your salespeople for the reality of their purchaser persona. Remember too that this persona impacts how you prepare pricing and finance options. Work with your salespeople to develop this persona. In both the B2B and B2C context, the purchaser can also be a channel partner . A channel partner is an organization that sells your product on your behalf . They are the distribution channel for your product. For electronic products, the Best Buy chain is a channel partner for many different manufacturers. If you sell through a particular distribution channel, you have a purchaser at the distributor level and at the retail level. Define each of these purchasers carefully to make sure your product finds its way easily to the end user .
  • Influencer: The role of the influencer is to provide another point of view on large-ticket purchases. People typically buy smaller items without too much concern over the cost; if you buy a ream of paper and it doesn’t meet your needs because it is too flimsy , the cost of making a mistake is minimal. However , many people are more careful about purchasing a high-tech printer without a trusted second opinion, so for this purchase they may ask influencers they know for an opinion. Common influencers are analysts, bloggers who focus on a particular market and even review websites like Trip Advisor .

Visiting Customers

Visiting customers is a great way of internalizing a deep understanding of your customer
In many cases you’re asked to explain what a customer would do in a particular situation. Having a mental image of a customer site and what actually takes place there is very valuable for product managers. Product managers visit customers early on in the product development process to check and see if the product is meeting their needs during development and meet once a product is installed. Sometimes visits are needed because a product isn’t performing as planned. Make visiting customers a regular part of your product management schedule of events.
Product managers are usually welcome at customers’ sites because they’re seen as the
people who can really change the direction of a product. However , the sales department is often in charge of the relationship with a customer with B2B products. Always ask
permission from your salespeople before visiting a customer , and keep the account
relationship owner informed about every interaction with the customer .

Observing customer visit courtesies

Remember Visiting customers means being on your best business behavior . Here are a few simple guidelines to create a good impression for your customer during your visit:

  • Arrive on time. Plan to get there a few minutes early so you can park, find the right building, and, if necessary , be moved to another building for the actual meeting.
  • Dress appropriately . Depending where you work, casual dress may be typical. Even if your customer is wearing shorts, no shoes, and a ripped t-shirt, you should dress up. If the environment is casual, that means a jacket and dressed-down pants are appropriate.In more buttoned-up environments, suits work well. In typical business environments,women often dress one level up from whatever the men on the team are wearing.
  • Be personable. Ask about your contacts as individuals before tackling the subject at hand. Starting with small talk convinces them that you care about them as people as well as customers. The people you’re visiting relax and share more details if you start with pleasantries.
  • Be timely . If you asked for 30 minutes, leave when your time is up.
  • Say thank you. Send an email or a card as soon as possible. (The latter is more memorable.) Outline what you discussed and follow up promptly on any actions you took after the meeting.

Interviewing customers

t’s a good idea to bring others from your team with you on customer visits, such as your
user experience designer or engineers. If you bring engineers, make sure you choose ones who know enough not to talk about future product designs (the customer might assume these are commitments being made about what will be delivered) and who really want to listen to customer feedback.

Use customer visits as a perk for developers who do a great job. It allows them to
travel with funding from the company and it gives them a chance to get a break from
their routine and get out of the building once in a while.

Visiting customers is a great way to get feedback. Doing it well builds long-term benefits
for both the customer and you. Follow these guidelines to get the most out of your

  • Keep a consistent process.

Include these steps:

Goal: What’s your goal in conducting the visit? What are you looking to discover?
Remember that as your discussion proceeds with a customer , new information may
be uncovered. At that point, follow the customer’s lead and explore the new
information without being tied to a rigid line of questions. Y ou are effectively
conducting market research. Read Chapter 6 for more details about market
research guidelines.

Preparation: Prepare a list of guideline questions ahead of time and make sure to
bring them with you. (Check out the nearby sidebar “Great customer interview
questions ” for a few suggestions.) If , during the interview , certain questions don’t
make sense, don’t ask them.

  • Utilize two roles during the interview .

No, we don’t mean good cop/bad cop. Know going in which team member is the
interviewer and which is the observer . If you are unable to source an observer to join you in a customer interview , go anyway .

Interviewer: This person asks the questions. Her job is to keep the conversation
going as naturally as possible.
Observer: This person takes notes as she listens to the conversation. On occasion,
she may notice that the interview has gotten off track and is missing a key question.
The observer can then either bring the question up casually or pass a note to the
interviewer . In general, bringing the question up as an “Oh, by the way…” comment
helps the interview go more smoothly and naturally . After the point is made, the
observer must return to his listening role.

You want interviews to be as close to a natural conversation as possible, albeit with
a goal in mind. Of course, unlike most casual conversations, you also want to have
some tangible record of what you discussed. T o best achieve a balance between these
two desires, take notebooks and, with the permission of the interviewee, possibly
record the conversation. Most customers agree to have the conversation recorded as
long as they know that it is only to share with your team members.

Try not to use a laptop to take notes though: The physical barrier of a screen, not to
mention the sounds of a keyboard or mouse, can be very distracting and get in the way of the interview process.


Trying to get to a customer’s underlying needs is a challenge of digging deep into understanding both what customers say and what they mean to say . Here’s a list of some great questions. Some of them are suitable no matter the circumstances, some are more useful when you’re investigating completely new product opportunities and some make more sense when you’re exploring opportunities to expand and extend an existing product.
When a customer answers your question, follow up with “Why?” at least once or twice to get a more complete answer . “Why?” is a great go-to question under virtually all circumstances. Just be sure to follow the five-why rule: Asking “Why?” more than five times puts you at risk for sounding like a 2-year-old.
Other good words to start questions with to more deeply explore issues are “What” as in “What would having … do for you?” or “How .” Many questions below start with “What” and “How .”

  • How do you do that today?
  • How would your job be different if you had x [our company’s capability , feature,product, service, or solution]?
  • How much money would you save or how much more money would you earn with/because of x?
  • Tell us what kind of problems you face in your day to day work.
  • What’s your favorite thing about using x? What’s your least favorite thing about using x?
  • What’s the most frustrating thing about [doing a certain task, using our product,solving a problem, or whatever]?
  • Give me an example of _. This is a great question for clarifying what people actually do. The more you can have very specific instructions on how a task is completed, the better off you are.Observing people simply doing their work is also a powerful technique. Take notes and, when you’re finished, ask the people why they did what they did.
  • If x were available today would you buy it? How much would you pay for it?
  • How do you measure whether it’s been a successful day/month/year?
  • Of the problems that we’ve discussed today , how would you prioritize solving them?
  • If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about x or how you’re solving problems, what would it be?

These questions are wonderful in everyday life as well. Make a habit of asking versions of these questions at least once a day . You’ll be surprised at how much more you learn about issues at work and at home. And you’ll then be more comfortable using them when you need to in a customer interview situation.

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