When we create products, it's important that they help specific users with their issues, not generic users. It's easy to create a list of features, all of which sound good, but don't provide a compelling solution to a specific problem for a specific user. Without that, people won't buy your product. If you make one user happy, then you can make a sale, and then expand out from there.
User personas (or personae) are a way of getting into the mind of your users and figuring out what they need. We define the users and then describe their background in what may initially seem like excessive detail. But by defining this background, we can get at their motivations and the emotions associated with their decisions.
There is a lot of overlap between user personas for product definition and user personas for marketing. Once you have defined your users, you know how to talk to them, where they hang out, and what messages will attract them to your product.
Say we are working to define a product for the accounting needs of small businesses, similar to QuickBooks or Xero. We have identified a few personas to help us understand people's needs, skills and motivations.
Bob is the manager of a small contracting company with four employees that mainly does kitchen renovations. He is 45 years old, and has been running his own business for about 15 years.
He is ok with a PC. He mainly uses Excel to keep track of expenses and manage the books for his company. He doesn't spend much time in the office, though, as he makes his money working at customer sites.
He understands the business side of invoices, and has the scars to prove it. He has a big stack of paper on his desk. He has unnecessary cash flow problems because he pays for materials before getting reimbursed by his customers, but his records are disorganized and he doesn't know what people owe him or what they have paid. He doesn't have any formal training in accounting.
He hates to do admin stuff, as it takes time away from being with his family.
He was recently fined by the IRS for failing to get his taxes done on time. This is motivating him to "get organized" and get a "real accounting system" in place.
He decided to hire his niece, Alice, part time to help organize things. He is a bit embarrassed to let her see how bad things are.
Alice is a 17 year old senior in high school. She is a "digital native", who has been using computers all her life, and uses her phone for hours a day. She doesn't know much about business, and certainly not accounting. She had a class in high school in Microsoft Office.
Her mother told her she needs to help Bob. She doesn't really know what she is supposed to do, but having a bit of money is nice. She wants to show that she is independent and can get the job done so her mom will stop treating her like a child.
Nancy is Bob's bookkeeper. She is 40 years old. She used to work as an accountant at an auto parts wholesaler, then quit to have kids. She started doing the books for small businesses on the side about five years ago. She charges $100/month, fixed price. She has 20 customers now. The money is OK, but she wishes she didn't have to deal with so much chaos. She doesn't like having to chase people to give her what she needs to do her job, it takes up as much of her time as the actual accounting.
Bob has the real pain points: he needs something to help him get organized and improve the way his business works without spending too much time or money on it. Ideally he would be able to see reports about who owes him money, easily create invoices and figure out if he is making money on different projects. He needs to be able to keep track of expenses paid for by him and by his team. He recently got a store credit card at Home Depot so he can track expenses, but he still needs to match them to the job. Having the ability to take pictures of receipts from his phone to get them into the system would be nice, sometimes he loses receipts and it causes him a lot of trouble.
Alice is responsible for tracking expenses and payments. She gets the bank statements and matches money received to outstanding invoices and money paid to other expenses like the truck, the rent and electricity. Some bills are paid from the bank, others via check, others via credit card. She needs to enter paper receipts and checks received.
She doesn't really know what these words mean, though. She needs the software to walk her through the process. Bob will be there sometimes, but she needs to be able to do things by herself if possible. She will be working after school and on weekends when Bob may not be around. If she could do it from home instead of his office, that would be even better.
Nancy mainly wants to get her job done as quickly as possible, since she doesn't make any more money by having it take longer. If she didn't have to visit Bob or have to call him on the phone, so much the better. She needs to have all the data in the system, then generate the reports for the IRS. She doesn't need hand holding from an accounting perspective. She doesn't want to know who Bob's customers are, they are just names on accounts to her.
We could define some other people in this scenario, e.g. members of Bob's team, his customers, his suppliers. We could also think about how the software could help Nancy's business run better and get more business herself. For example, she would like to have something to keep track of her customers and help her follow up on what they should give her and other important deadlines.
We can define users from some other small businesses, e.g. a restaurant with part time staff, a retail operation that has lots of transactions, inventory accounting, etc.
Ultimately, the most interesting insight may be that Bob doesn't actually want accounting software, he wants his accounting to be done. This is a trend that I call "Software As A Service plus Service". We could provide a software platform plus the people to run it for our customers. This is particularly useful for SMEs, where a key problem they have is that they don't need (and can't afford) a full time person to handle a task like accounting, unlike a bigger company which may have a whole accounting department.