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Start Phase Building Blocks: Personas

This article is part of a resource pack. Want the associated resources, including a PDF guide, sent directly to your inbox? Click here.

Disclaimer: content produced from a webinar ran on September 2023 with Harrison covering Ideal Customer Profiles & Personas. Please click the button below to receive a copy of the webinar, slides (PDF) and article.


Having established your ideal customer profile (ICP), i.e the nature of the companies you wish to service. Our “Start stage building blocks” suggest we next need to acknowledge the users & buyers of your product. 

A deep understanding of these folks is going to be critical in setting you and your teams up for success around who you’re serving, and this understanding will inform a lot of day-to-day decision making that takes place in your organization (just like your ICP!).

There are some repeatable steps we’d encourage you to go through in order to establish & codify your personas for your business..

Start with your value propositions

Start by taking a few steps back and reminding yourself of your high-level value propositions. Note, at this stage I’m assuming you’ve closed an initial batch of customers, and you're evolving beyond founder-led sales. As such, the value your customers are seeing should be crystallizing. 

Ask yourself: 

  • What pains does our product solve?
  • What jobs are we making more efficient in their organization?
  • What is the expected positive impact of using our product in our potential customer’s org?

Most often your value propositions will be about improving the efficiency and/or quality of an existing process or system for a potential customer - similar to the above. Ideally the value you’re delivering is as measurable as possible.

At this stage, I’m hoping the above is information you already have to hand. 

Working example: Kernel

To illustrate how to codify your personas we’ll use the example of “Kernel” a fictitious company in the design automation space. Specifically, this imaginary company offers a product which enables creative teams to design with real-world data.

Our imaginary company Kernel would summarize their value propositions as follows:

  • They help design steams ship faster — through automating the population of data in mockups & prototypes
  • They help design better —  using real data in mockups & prototypes allows for production level testing earlier, resulting in more realistic designs & less rollbacks.

Ultimately they create efficiencies for design teams. If I had to put a dollar value against it would be zeroing in on:

  • By saving their teams time, they’re more efficient
    • Time saved = less money spent
  • Better design = less revision, less-rework
    • Less money spent
    • Putting a dollar value on improved design would be difficult, but I’d try! 

Buyers & User Personas

With clarity on your value propositions the next set of questions are around your personas. To keep things simple for today, we will focus in on your buyer & user personas.

In order to determine who these folks are for your organization, ask yourself: 

  • Who are the users of your product – who interacts with your product on a daily basis and directly benefits from the value described above?
  • Who is the buyer for your product –  who signs-off on the purchase of your product and whose budget line is the purchase coming out of?

To answer these questions, I’d consider mapping your end to end customer journey. Do so from the start of your sales process, through to purchase, onboard, adoption, usage, and renewal. Overlay the individuals from a customer’s company involved at each stage in the process.

This should give you a full picture as to all the folks involved. Each of these individuals are personas, as above we’ll focus on users & buyers for now.

Kernel’s Personas

For our imaginary org Kernel this was relatively simple:

  • The designer is the day to day user of their product - using the tool to input data into their work.
  • The VP Product is the person who owns the budget for design tooling, and signs off on purchase if they see value. They are our buyer.

Super simple. 

How do your value props & personas relate?

Having established your value propositions and personas, you need to consider how these relate to one another. 

  • What is the perspective of your buyer & user on the value you are driving?
  • How close are they to the problem you’re solving?
  • Do they understand the status quo?
  • Do they feel the pain of how things are working today?
  • Do they appreciate the implicit & explicit costs of the current way of working?

The latter is a really important question, especially when it comes to helping folks see ROI of your tool

  • Do they know their explicit costs: current tools, cost of people
  • Do they know implicit costs: how time could be better spent, impact of bad UX …
  • We’ll be comparing our pricing to these costs at some point.


Regularly, your user will be experiencing the pain your product solves each and every day. It’s the user having to endure an inefficient workflow, or poor outcome. Your buyer is typically less acutely aware of the problem at hand. They may understand there is inefficiency, but don’t have to feel the pain in their day-to-day work.

Kernel: Persona Value 

This is absolutely true for Kernel…

In Kernel’s case, our user knows the pain of manually inputting data into mockups & prototypes, re-doing work when rolling out to production, and how many hours p/w are wasted enduring this inefficient process.

Whereas the buyer will likely experience this from a different perspective.

They may see a design team needing to linearly scale with the amount of work that needs to be shipped, they may see the time taken to ship increasing as the product gets more complex.

They’re aware of inefficiency but aren’t experiencing the problems directly.

Having answered these questions, and starting to build a profile of our personas. What are the outcomes? What do we do with this info? 

Persona Outcomes 

We’ll use this knowledge in a few areas…

  • Knowledge of our personas will directly inform our messaging.
  • This work might inform whether you go for a bottoms-up or top-down approach to selling or marketing to these personas, tied to GTM Model.
  • Lastly, this exercise might pull up red flags around willingness to pay.

As founders, we’re very good at spotting a problem, an inefficiency, an itch that needs to be scratched. Regularly, we’ve experienced that problem ourselves and we’re building to solve the problem for ourselves then others.

We’re often solving from the perspective of the person experiencing the problem, not from the perspective of the individual who has to sign off on the expenditure.

If your buyer doesn’t perceive the pain to be as great as your user, or the value you’re driving to be a worthwhile consideration - you will run into issues.

Your solution needs to solve your users’ pain, but be seen as equally valuable to those who need to sign off on purchasing your product. We need to quantify it to them in order to part with their cash.

Kernel: User Messaging Examples

Our imaginary company Kernel focused on the user in their messaging.

To the user, we want to talk about removing an inefficient task from their day-to-day, and how they deliver higher quality work with real-word data in their designs. Better yet, we can use quotes from our users to reflect this value back to potential customers. 

We can get quite emotive with these folks giving they’re feeling the pain. Here are three examples of quotes you may see on their site:

“Live data plays a big role in my design process. Thanks to Kernel I can now use it without any hassle and shorten my process which makes it a key tool for me.”. - HeyGo

“Kernel is a huge timesaver and gives me a better picture of how our designs will look with real content.” - Papier 

“Kernel is an essential part of my daily workflow as a product designer. Viewing my designs with real content is essential for creating the best products possible.” - Tilt

You can see their value props (for the user) reflected in the quotes.

Kernel: Buyer Messaging

If Kernel were messaging to their buyer things would be different. The quotes should reflect their own needs & perspective. In this case when talking to our buyer we may want to talk about…

  • Saving X hours of manual data entry to improve the productivity of the design team
  • Reducing time taken to ship from mockup > production
  • Reduce $$$ spent on contractors performing manual tasks during design workflows today
  • Saving X hours/$$ on designs shipped to production with bugs that need to be rolled back
  • Helping them establish ROI of investing in the tool.

The buyer is looking to make an informed decision on whether to invest in the product. As such, there’s a focus on ROI on the messaging itself. 

Top-down vs. Bottoms Up

Depending on your go-to-market (GTM) motion you may be putting a greater emphasis on your user or buyer at any given time.

If pursuing a product-led growth motion, typically you’re selling at a low price point, to a user (like Kernel’s designer) that can purchase the product on a company card with very low friction.

Thereafter the goal is to expand the number of users using the product.

At some stage, the number of users of a tool in an organization is so great you can begin to direct your attention towards a more strategic buyer or budget holder around the value in rolling up into an annual contract, with the benefit of explicit team plans & team functionality.

With the user as the starting point - you’ll see messaging and value propositions initially targeted at them. The initial versions of the product will also be focused on their needs.

When the company eventually rolls out its team plan, further value will need to be offered to flip those individual users into companies with annual contracts and teams using the product.

What if you’re sales led?

If you are going sales-led as a GTM Motion, you are often selling to multiple stakeholders from day-one - one of whom is typically a buyer.

If anything, not getting access to your budget holder in a sales process is a big red flag. It’s a must.

Given the ability and desire to sell directly to this influential budget holder - this impacts the messaging, even the areas of the product that get the most attention.

A great example of the above is CRMs. Particularly the success Salesforce has had over the years.

Salesforce is the best CRM on the market for sales managers, CROs and those who typically own the budget and buying decision around what CRM is used. The configurability, reporting capabilities, integrations and more that the tool offers have surpassed competition for a long time.

But does the product offer the best experience for the day-to-day users of the CRM (your BDRs, Account Executives, etc) compared to its competitors?

Probably not.

But SFDC has excelled in positioning to the buyers of the CRM and solving their needs, vs. being best-in-class at user experience. In fact, being so good at this has given them huge success.

Here, I’m not necessarily advocating for such an approach, or getting away with poor UX — but you can certainly see how an understanding of your buyers, users, and their perspectives gives great understanding and clarity toward critical decisions. Whether that’s prioritizing a product roadmap, or determining messaging for your site. 


Having established your ICP, turn your attention to personas. A mapping of your full customer journey should help you establish the personas involved with your product. I’d encourage you to start with users & buyers, and ensure you’re delivering enough value to both. 

With your ICP & Personas codified, you can move onto the next phase of “building blocks”. Specially looking to map the market of companies matching the profile you’ve just build out. 

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