5 Questions That Help Product Managers Define Customer Personas

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Product managers are the champions of their product. It's their job to take "what if" ideas and turn them into actionable realities. But it is also their responsibility is to ensure that the ideas they choose to act upon map to the needs of customers.

That is why feature prioritization and definitions are integral to the work that product managers do.

Features are where you define items that will be included in a release or sprint. Feature definitions should clearly state the benefit or functionality that will be delivered to target customers.

Each feature should have its own definition. Good feature definitions clearly state the value that the feature will deliver. They should also include the customer benefit and target result.

Before you begin to define each feature, you need to start picturing your product's end user -- not just what they need, but also what they want. What are the problems or frustrations that keep them up at night? What's standing in their path to success? How will your product help them excel at what they do -- and to be happy doing it?

Personas are examples of real-world customers who influence or make decisions about your product or service. Mapping personas to features can help ensure that all features on your product roadmap are tracking against your target customers.

Personas help product managers prioritize and define features. But persona work can be challenging at times, especially for product managers who are at early-stage companies or do not have access to customer demographics.

It's important not to rely on your colleagues or the sales team -- or simply turn to surveys -- when creating personas. To make personas as real as possible, you must find a way to hear directly from your customers. If you speak to enough customers, patterns will start to emerge. These patterns will allow you to distill key insights that can be used to characterize each persona.

Group the findings of your customer research into like categories, based on factors that make sense for your business. Give each persona a name and write a summary of the common patterns that you found in your research. Once you have grouped the findings, you will be ready to start building out your personas.

Product managers should consider these five key questions for each persona:

  1. What goal is the customer trying to achieve?
  2. Why is the customer trying to achieve that goal?
  3. How will the customer be impacted if they cannot achieve the goal?
  4. Are there alternatives that might help the customer reach their goal?
  5. What must you deliver for the customer to reach this goal?
The first three questions distill the essence of each persona. The second two can help you win the heart of the customer -- and get paid for doing so.

Product managers: How do you use personas to help with feature prioritization and roadmap planning?