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The entrepreneur’s guide to buyer personas for online courses [Part 2]

In my last post, we had a look at what a buyer persona is and what it should have in order to work for you. However, a name and a few details are just the beginning or the pretty picture, if you will:

Buyer Persona example: Procrastinating Penny | Entrepreneurs Blog

To actually influence learners to buy your course, your strategy should be focused on their decision-making process. There are two major challenges that knowledge entrepreneurs have to face head on at this point:

  1. you need data that is hard to obtain and
  2. you need to correctly interpret that data.

As an entrepreneur, you don’t have a big marketing machine to back up your strategy. In other words, you need to have a leaner version of the buyer persona process that also drives good results.

That’s why I’ll make you an offer that looks something like this:

  • It costs zero dollars (euros, pounds, you get the idea)
  • It shouldn’t take forever to build
  • You don’t have to unscramble large quantities of data

But how is this possible?

The entrepreneur’s guide to buyer persona interviews

Building buyer personas should be first and foremost about listening to what your learners have to say about your courses. By focusing on the quality of your data, it becomes much easier to know what motivates your learners, what are their goals and what they want out of an online course.

In other words, you’ll want to talk directly to them. If that sounds an awful lot like an interview, well, that’s because it is. An interview is the best way to determine who your ideal customer is without breaking the bank or paying someone else to do it for you.

Read on to find out more about conducting buyer persona interviews, step by step:

Who you should interview?

Ideally, you should interview your current or past learners. If you don’t have that possibility for whatever reason, you could interview people that might fit your buyer persona profile. They’re the ones that are considering taking online courses or are frequent online course shoppers.

So, where to find these people, you might ask? Take my Procrastinating Penny example. I could go to a university to find students to engage in a conversation about their time management habits. If you can’t find people in real life, have a look at online forums such as Reddit or Quora. There are also communities out there that are shaped around a particular interest like Facebook groups.

How many people should you talk to?

There is no magic number as it largely depends on what you want to do and where you are in your knowledge entrepreneurship journey. If you’re already an established course creator, do as many as 15. But really, all you need is around 10 people.

Again, you are doing qualitative research, which implies that the quality of data is more important than having large quantities of data. Ten interviews might seem like it’s not a lot of work, but trust me, if you do them right, it will seem like you’ve put in a lot of effort.

How should you structure an interview?

As you’re only talking to around 10 learners, the structure matters a lot since you want to make the most out of your talks. Try to structure your interview with open ended questions that enable them to talk about their buying habits.

For this, you could have a list of questions ready, but don’t hold on too tightly. Ideally, you would start with a question such as “Could you take me through your course buying process?” and then build on their answers, asking more and more precise questions.

The best question of all is, of course, “why?” - they likely don’t think too much about their online course purchasing habits. By asking “why” they’re more likely to reflect and give you an answer that’s useful to you.

Don’t ask questions such as “So you do your research before buying, right?”. Manipulating them into giving you the answer you want defeats the purpose entirely. The main idea is to get to the bottom of things, which brings us to the next part...

What should you be looking for?

Having demographic data is good. It tells you who buys from you, but unfortunately not much more. You need to find out what makes them buy from you — how, when and why they make that decision.

To answer those questions you’ll most likely need to find out more about a mix of their motivations, mindset, goals and behaviors. Skip the unnecessary questions that don’t help you at all. To do this, here are some helpful tips:

  1. Establish how they make a decision

    What are they thinking of when they’re trying to find a solution to their problem? That could be the need to upskill, find a new hobby, get better habits or a combination of all of these.

    When interviewing people, look for key formulas such as:

    • “I don’t have time for..”
    • “I can’t afford X”
    • “I’ve always wanted to learn Y but…”

    These can be powerful statements that you can use for your advantage. For example, if a person tells me, “I’ve always wanted to learn photography, but couldn’t find the time” I’d make it my priority to stress in my course description just how much this course is for busy people that don’t have a lot of time to learn this skill and grab their attention instantly.

  2. What they see as outcomes of the course

    What do they want to get out of your online course? This is important since you might assume the benefits outright, but really they value something else.

    Even if you have published a course already, you can tweak your marketing strategy a little to better reflect what you learners want. You can ask your learners outright to see what they perceive as major benefits. Also, you can use these benefits to market your course: include them in your title, course description or landing page.

    Read more: How to write the best description for your online course

    Here are some examples of benefits:

    • Quick and easy tips to change my routine
    • Easy to follow because the instructor doesn’t talk down to me
    • A course that addresses my needs as a student, as most time management courses are dedicated to business people
  3. What are the obstacles to taking an online course?

    The obstacles they face before purchasing a course can be true or just perceived as being so. All learners naturally have a few doubts. You have to ask yourself first: what are your credentials and why should they put their confidence in your course? Try to find out what they see as a barrier because it could be things that you’ve never even thought about.

    Here are a few examples that might come up in interviews:

    • I wasted my money on a course that doesn’t work
    • I fear that I won’t see much improvement in my habits
    • I don’t want to drastically change my schedule
    • I fear that the format of the course isn’t for me
  4. What do they look for in a course?

    All courses promise insights and tips that will teach a new skill, change habits, change your life! That’s nothing new or special. What can make you stand out from the competition is the fact that your course best fits their decision-making criteria.

    However, how do you know if you do fit that criteria if you don’t know what they want the most first place? Such as...

    • I want to be able to talk to other learners
    • I don’t want to be given a lot of knowledge - I need tips and tricks that work
    • I expect to find timetables and schedules that I can customize for myself
    • I don’t want it to take longer than promised to complete
    • I want it to offer more value than just searching on Google for the exact same info
  5. The online course buyer’s journey

    The buyer is also the learner in most cases, as people buy online courses for themselves. So you don’t have to go through the complicated steps to find out who makes the final decision. Make your questions specifically about the way they arrive at a decision, how they weigh the pros and cons, how much time does it take and try to steer them in the right direction if they diverge too much.

    What’s interesting though is to find out more about their habits by asking questions such as:

    • How do you decide to purchase a course?
    • Are you impulse buying?
    • Are you weighing all the pros and cons, reading testimonials, looking at credentials?
    • Do you take a course because it’s recommended to you by someone?
    • Do you make a decision only after seeing a preview of the course?

    Read more: 6 Awesome tips to get more customer reviews for your online course [INFOGRAPHIC]

Listen and take notes!

I had Beyoncé’s “Listen” playing in my head the whole time writing this article. Regardless of my song choices, you really should listen to your learners or potential learners first and foremost.

When I was doing interviews for buyer persona profiles, I always made sure to record their answers (with their permission) and take notes whenever possible.

And always remember: people might agree with you out of politeness. It’s up to you to ask for their sincere answers.

It’s up to you to ask the right questions, including the tough ones such as why wouldn’t you choose me? Or, why wouldn’t you take this specific course?

All in all, creating a good buyer persona for online courses shouldn’t cost you anything but time. It should also help create better content for the right learners.

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