Start up School: Customers personas and profiles or building the foundation for your pitch

5 mins read

Every year before we start our weeklong entrepreneurial crash course at SP Jain I ask my audience two questions

  1. What is holding them back from following their dreams?
  2. What is the one question that they would like to know the answer to after they are done with the course?

The most common answers to the two questions above (more questions) are:

  1. How do I know this is the right idea and this is the right time?
  2. How do I know I am ready?

This year it wasn’t any different. Starting in early July I ran two back to back groups of students through the entrepreneurial crash course. Out of a hundred student polled, about 60 said that they felt that this was not the right time or they were not ready or confident enough to take that bet. Another 20 mentioned that they didn’t know if their idea was a good idea or the right idea to start up with?

And then the inevitable happened. They asked me how would you know that you were ready or your idea was a great idea? Of all the businesses that I have sunk and the down cycles I have weathered the common theme has always been my inability to sell. The inability to sell was linked to not understanding what drives the sales process for my products and the mindset of my customers.

So my answer after two weeks of working with a 100 bright and driven kids (some with fully grown up kids of their own) was this.

You know that it’s the right time and you have the right idea when you can write 10 pages about your customer’s persona. Then link that persona to a product, service, attribute combination that gives you some idea of the pricing power of (ideally) each feature or at least the product in total.

Till you get to that point you are not ready. So get those customer personas out.

Obviously the next question that followed from the group was how and where do we start with these customer personas? Do you have a simpler name and an even simpler process? Why don’t we start with you building one in front of us?

The first persona we built was for the investment advisory business. This is work that I have been doing with InvestCap over the last 18 months and the idea was to figure out how to pitch or who to pitch the advisory business to within an organization. The pitch is simple, we run money for employee benefit funds without taking custody of the funds. Our advice allows customers to earn a higher return than the market benchmark. The primary decision maker is either the CEO or the CFO who is also the Chairman of the board of trustees of the benefit fund trust.

I picked up someone I had pitched risk solutions to in another life who was also a great candidate for the Investment advisory pitch. The profiled picture was important because it allows you to put a face on the segment.

The first question we asked ourselves was if you found yourself in the same room with this individual what topics would you touch upon as part of your social chit chat? The list started off with schools for kids, the state of the economy and markets, politics, our mutual peer group and friends within our network, the central bank stand on common issues and travel plans for summer and winter vacations.

But to get to common interests we had to build a more detailed profile that covered education, professional experience, personality and demographic of the individual involved.

We then had to figure out why would this person buy the product we were selling. What drove the purchase decision and what were the primary pain points he wanted addresses via/through this purchase.

The first profile was easy because this was a product I have been working with for the last few years.

The second was more interesting. One of my students was all set to explore the concept of a recruitment practice. With him we looked at setting up a high quality talent acquisition firm in the Middle East .To start with we had to figure out what do heads of HR look for when selecting a firm to represent them in the hiring process.

The initial list included the following core pain points. That were described and became the basis of the product attributes used to sell the product to the customer.

Talent Management – Quality of candidate

Ensuring that the right guy gets the right offer, not because we are out of time and need to fill the position. Shortcuts may be taken that we may end up paying for later

Product attributes: Process, Checklist, Assessments that test fit, Background, Compliance with local immigration regulation

Recruitment – Time Management

Conflict with existing mandates and positions. May not get the right priority in search or execution

Product attributes: One stop shop. Does everything with one relationship

Cross checks – Hassle of the process of hiring

Managing a complex process of approvals, paperworks, processing that may derail the process of visas and offers permanently

Product attributes: One stop shop. Does everything with one relationship

Times a wasting – Opportunity Cost

Can’t launch a business with out the right team, may lose market share

Product attributes: Guaranteed delivery of 10 resumes within 7 days. Turnaround times based on seniority level of candidates

Exploding offers – Competition for Talent

Closing the deal in face of competing offers, requires the right approach and mindset and is an art that cannot be executed by everyone.

Product attributes: Market based benchmarks for existing or similar offers, Market value assessment based on profile of candidate. Negotiation team dedicated to closing an offer within 3 working days

Focused Search

Specialized talent needs specialized networks

Product attribute: 10 years in recruiting within the financial services segment in the ME. Personal account manager, team of specialized recruiters, database of available candidates with profiles, existing network established after 20 years in banking across 4 different markets

Fast and Furious 4 – Experienced with Process

Hunt, Kill, Offer, Close within 4 weeks

Product attribute: 10 years in recruiting within the financial services segment in the ME. Personal account manager, team of specialized recruiters, database of available candidates with profiles, existing network established after 20 years in banking across 4 different markets

The only thing missing now was a detailed profile of the customer which we filled in piece by piece.

Title and Role: Head of HR


Currently recruiting for 10 Plus strategic positions and roles

8 am leaves 9pm

Lives in new Dubai, in or around Marina Walk

Compensation is 300,000 US$ a year excluding bonus

With the bank for the last 10 years

Good power base, knows the Chairman, the CEO and the board

Knows the business plan of the plan and its execution

Part of the strategic team and a Key Decision maker

Chain Smoker with Blood Pressure and Over weight

Very active socially and extremely extrovert and very approachable

Strong opinions – is always right

Travels very frequently

Reports to the CEO

3 kids

Day starts at 6:30 am and end at 11:30 pm at night

No exercise and no secretary

Well connected within your network

Plays Golf every alternate Saturday excluding the summer months.

Now that we have all the pieces, it’s a simple extension to go out and create a pitch that works in the best elements of the above profile, the pain points and the product attributes.