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Projects-to-Products: The Three Customer Personas

By Brian Nathanson posted Mar 26, 2020 02:18 PM

One of the most important differences between project and product management (as I outlined in this post) is the relationship with the target customer audience. Maintaining a perpetual & mutually beneficial relationship with customers is critical for products to be considered successful and deliver value (both real and properly perceived). Our group has taken to calling this set of skills and associated programs "customer engagement."

What newly minted product managers may not realize, however -- or at least never given full consideration to -- is that there are typically three main personas in any given customer group. "Customer" here is defined as the target audience for the product, regardless of whether the product is internal or external. It's important to know about these personas because it may change the vehicles that you use to engage them.

Within a given customer:
1) Buyer/Sponsor -- There is an executive who is responsible for funding the product and expects a certain return (whether in real dollars or some other non-monetary benefit) in exchange for that funding. It may be a set of executives that all contribute funds, but there is typically one main sponsor in any given set and the others simply contribute. This persona probably does not use the product herself; she has staff and/or customers of her own that use the product and give her feedback, which she will then use when negotiating with the product manager.
2) Champion/Administrator -- Working for the Buyer/Sponsor are usually one or more product champions (or administrators, if you're more technically inclined). These folks generally have an in-depth knowledge of the product and serve as the 1st line of support for the real end users (the 3rd persona). They use the product everyday, even if it's just to help their customers understand how to do something. It is typically the Champions' responsibility to inform the organization (including the Sponsor) when new product features are available and advocate for their use/adoption in order to increase the perceived value of the product -- as well as the perceived value of their role. Sometimes, the lines might be blurred where there are no distinct Champions, but instead simply "Power Users" that take it upon themselves to learn more about the product than on average. You would then say that those "Power Users" become the defacto product Champions.
3) End User/Customer -- The Buyer and Champion typically serve a customer audience of their own, who you would call the "end users". These are the people actually using the product to accomplish whatever task or outcome the product is intended to do. Any enterprise product will have a LOT of end users relative to the first two personas. Part of the role of the Champion is to serve as a contact point or liaison between the End Users and product management on behalf of the customer.

Engaging with each type of customer persona requires significantly different vehicles since each persona values different things. A conversation that gets into the functional or technical details of the product is likely too low level for a Sponsor (depending on their desired level of detailed product knowledge) but would be perfect for a Champion, while a conversation about the product's industry trends would be appropriate for a Sponsor but not concrete enough to add value for a Champion, who has to answer to the end users day-to-day. Meanwhile, end users probably don't care about any of the above, but you might be able to convince them to share user experience design feedback with you if asked and given an effective way to solicit it.

A successful customer engagement approach insures that you connect with ALL THREE types of customer personas since they all have ways to contribute to your product's success. We'll discuss some of the methods that we use for customer engagement in upcoming posts.