A customer-centric approach is a business strategy that focuses on providing a positive customer experience, before and after a sale, in order to drive company growth. The main objective a customer-centric approach was supposed to be geared towards—the customer—has yet to actually be tracked and understood. A bold statement, but a true one.

Let’s consider a valuable business question: what is the most requested product enhancement common amongst your highest paying customers who have a renewal date in 90 days and a decision maker with negative NPS?

Probably not something you can find in the next 30 seconds. There’s no doubt the data exists. So why can’t teams easily answer that question?

Today, teams are collectively gathering and holding pieces of the inputs needed to answer that question, but the inputs exist within the individual team that owns it, that originally captures it, and then stores it in a dozen different tools. Sales cares about opportunities; Customer Success cares about accounts; Product cares about priorities; and Support cares about tickets. They each have a piece of the puzzle, it’s just disconnected. And when teams do come together, they all assign their respective inputs (opportunities, tickets, etc.) based on users that are similar to each other in only one way: employed at the same company.

For years, we’ve all been focused on the account. But think about what teams sit around talking about: decision makers, champions, beta testers, users with low NPS scores, users that are super engaged in the product, users that have referred us. These are groups of users that have a lot in common—but none of it is the account they’re in.

Instead, what really matters are the humans behind the account – the individual users, champions, and decision makers, each of whom has a unique relationship with your products and businesses.

The goal is to deeply understand key humans behind the accounts, as well as humans that are deeply similar to each other in the ways that matter to your business. So how are you supposed to actually target individual users to understand their behavior and provide them with a personalized experience to ensure their success? Well, that’s what User Success personas are all about. In this article, we’re going to cover what User Success is as a company strategy and how personas can be used to better track user behavior in support of User Success.

User Success

User Success is a business strategy that focuses on driving deeper user engagement by personalizing the entire customer experience. By viewing users as individual humans instead of accounts, User Success allows your team to deeply understand key users in ways that matter most to your team.

In order to recognize the value of understanding your users from a persona level, it’s important to highlight the difference between the common use of personas and user segmentation now with how we’re classifying personas. Let’s start with the traditional marketing persona.

The Traditional Persona

According to Hubspot, “personas help us all – in marketing, sales, product, and services – internalize the ideal customer we’re trying to attract, and relate to our customers as real humans”.

The idea of customer personas has largely been utilized by marketing and sales teams as a way to create a representation of an “ideal customer” via extensive research and data on existing customers. It’s essentially a proxy for your target audience; a group of people that share the same interest, priorities, and concerns. For the most part, the target audience is a buyer persona.

You may have more than one buyer persona depending on who you’re trying to target. Each persona involves a rough outline of who these customers are—job title, size of their company, and hypotheses around what pain they expect your product to solve.

In the context of marketing, the personas are mostly used for outreach purposes, whether for targeting prospective customers or for engaging existing customers. Now what if we could do the same thing regarding personas for outreach and reporting purposes, but apply them to your existing customer base? You may be thinking, isn’t that just customer segmentation? Not exactly.

Customer Segmentation

Customer segmentation normally applies to two contexts: creating user groups for marketing outreach, like mentioned above, OR creating user cohorts for product feedback.

Teams who do this well tend to take two different approaches to creating their user cohorts:

  1. Form user segments based on type
  2. Form user segments based on usage pattern

Segments based on type would create a customer council either based on a degree of engagement (e.g. ‘Quarterly Users’, ‘Power Users’, etc.), lifecycle stage/subscription tier (e.g. ‘Free’, ‘Highest Paying’, etc.), or some proprietary end-user role (e.g. ‘Designer’ or ‘Admin’). On the other hand, segments based on usage pattern focus on interest in or interaction with specific product functionality. Interestingly, teams who create user segments in this format often refer to them as “product panels”, rather than customer councils. There are five main cohorts that are used across product teams today:

  • Customer Advisory Board—A small number (5-20) of the highest paying customers who are critical to the business. They have high expectations regarding the role their voice should play in the evolution of the product.
  • User Research Council—A larger group of randomly-selected or invited users from the general user population. By design, this group is not highly focused, but represent the larger user population without having to actively engage the entire population.
  • Power Users—A small to medium-sized group of highly engaged or knowledgeable users. They are intrinsically motivated to provide feedback, so they’re the perfect group to engage when trying to work through more nuanced or complex concepts.
  • Beta Testers—A group of friendlies, early adopters, or generally more understanding users. They are a great group to share early ideas with in order to solicit general impressions.
  • Ad hoc, need-specific groups—A short-term, highly focused and flexible group, designed to help address specific point of friction or opportunity.

While both marketing outreach and user cohorts cover an important aspect of business research and activities within a company, they’re missing a key aspect of growth: the ability to target and track user behavior trends, including product usage and experience metrics, while consistently reporting on those trends so you can personalize the user experience. We call this idea of user behavior trends, personas.

User Success Personas

Let’s be honest for a second. When you’re assigned an account, there’s maybe two or three actual people within that account that really matter: the decision maker and your internal champion(s). They’re the ones most likely to be influential when it comes time to renew and upsell.

Yet every tool and workflow for the current Customer Success strategy is still based around this high-level idea of accounts. Do you see the disconnect? We care about different types of individual people within each account for different reasons but only track based on the overarching account.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to just understand how similar users engage with your product based on shared characteristics at different points in their customer journey?

We thought so too. That’s what User Success is all about—understanding users that are similar to each other in the ways that matter to you, through customizable personas and user segmentation.

Think of it like this: accounts are a vertical slice of your customer population, individuals whose only key similarity is that they work at the same company; whereas personas are a horizontal slice of your customer population, individuals who have multiple characteristics in common that are representative of the way they engage with your product.

Persona Characteristics

Personas allow you to target, track, and continuously report on user behavior trends for a segment of users that are similar in ways that matter to your business. There are a number of ways that you could build a persona, so let’s break down some of the basic user characteristics and metrics that apply.

Building a Persona

You can use the above filters, as well as additional account and product filters to build search queries. These queries can be used so that teams can easily answer the most important questions about their customers. Remember that question we asked at the beginning: what is the most requested product common amongst our highest paying customers who have a renewal date in 90 days and a decision maker with negative NPS? Here’s how User Success personas can help you answer that.

While queries can be used to answer specific, one-off questions, you can also build out filters that describe a specific segment of your user population whose behavior you want to track and report on. Users will then move in and out of your saved persona as their individual criteria change, giving you the most up-to-date information on your users’ behavior and engagement with your product.

For example, say you’re a CSM who is in charge of enterprise account renewals. One way to ensure you’re creating the best user experience for those individuals would be to set up an At-Risk Enterprise Decision Maker persona that you can track. Characteristics you might want to include could be enterprise tier, accounts up for renewal, decision makers with risk indicators (low engagement, low perceived satisfaction, renewal risk, feature gap, inactive, etc) or negative NPS. This would give you the information you need to proactively engage with those individual users to determine exactly what they need to be successful and more likely to renew.

Another way that user personas could be utilized is to streamline lifecycle stages. For instance, if you’re a CSM tasked with onboarding new customers, you may want to save a “Stalled Onboarding” persona. Characteristics could include accounts assigned to you, in the onboarding lifecycle stage, who are at risk (stalled, but you could also include low sentiment, feature gap, etc). Using an onboarding persona helps you quickly identify new users that aren’t engaging or perceiving the value of your product, which could lead to customer churn.

Similar to a CSM using an onboarding persona to track individuals with low engagement or who are stalled, product managers could also track newly onboarded admins. You can also assign playbooks with a preconfigured set of tasks to carry out at different lifecycle stages for a persona. One example of an onboarding playbook may be a Salesforce integration required during the onboarding stage. As users move into onboarding, if a playbook step has not yet been scheduled and carried out, this setback is accounted for in the At Risk category. Tracking personas in this case gives you insight into tasks you personally need to carry out to guide users through their product experience.

Conclusion

Personas provide you with a fully customizable way to track how similar users are engaging with your product in the ways that matter to your team. You can use them to solve important business questions or just keep up to date on how different segments of users are doing. Are they engaged, stalled, at risk, have they answered that one survey, are they blocked by a feature request and up for renewal? Understanding the humans behind the accounts and their individual needs allows you to provide them with personalized product experience to drive engagement and satisfaction. If you can do this well and consistently, you’re going to have users that are loyal for life.