Storytelling and persona stories for industrial marketing

“Will you read me a bedtime story?”

Do you remember asking that question to your parents each night when you were a youngin? Maybe you have little ones of your own who always request to hear a story right before they drift off to sleep.

As a society, we love stories. We spend hours watching Netflix, catching the latest tale from our favorite shows. We read news articles, blog posts… we even listen to stories on podcasts and YouTube videos. Before the world wide web, families and communities gathered together, sharing stories to be passed on from generation to generation.

So, why do we as humans like stories so much?

Stories help us better understand the world around us. Stories take a complicated concept and turn it into an understandable, relatable idea.

Teachers use stories to convey tricky facts, figures, and information to their students. Journalists rely on storytelling to deliver real news to their readers. But, did you know that stories can be useful to marketers too?

Creating personas for industrial marketing

You can take your industrial marketing to the next level by becoming a good storyteller.

How? I’m talking about buyer persona stories.

In marketing, “a buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers”. In other words, a persona has all the right attributes of a customer that you want to sell to and who is likely to buy from you. The information you use to develop these personas is gathered through real data and information.

Where do stories come into play?

Once you do conduct your research, all the demographics, behavior patterns, and motivations of your personas should be compiled into a nice easy-to-read story. That way, your marketing managers, writers, and designers know exactly who they’re talking to.

Your persona story will help you view your potential customers not as faceless buyers, but as individuals with unique challenges that you can work to solve. When you don’t incorporate personas into your marketing efforts, your content isn’t targeted.

We all know that providing valuable content is one of the best ways to delight your customers. But your content is only useful if it’s in the hands of the right people. By developing persona stories, you discover who your “right” buyer is. Then, you can cater your content to address and solve the problems that these customers have.

At Spinstak, we’re pretty gung-ho about persona stories. But before I get too ahead of myself, I’d like to share with you how we developed our own company personas.

Growing up in the industry, I witnessed firsthand the challenges and motivations of industrial suppliers, distributors, workers, and buyers.

I saw my father and grandfather own and operate a manufacturing company, and observed their interactions with suppliers and distributors.

It didn’t take me long to catch on to the fact that our family business had multiple customer segments, each with diverse goals, obstacles, buying patterns, and more. The problems that one customer segment faced varied greatly from those of other buyers.

When I started Safety Marketing Services and delved into the world of digital marketing, I knew that I could use this knowledge to my advantage. If suppliers are looking for different products and solutions than distributors, or wholesalers, or end users, the marketing done by SMS should mimic that.

I knew the company needed to deliver valuable content personalized to the various customer segments we reach, as well as those we wanted to reach. So, I did some research and discovered the usefulness of creating buyer personas. I then set out to develop five stories for five groups of ideal customers. Each group had similar demographic traits, buying habits, lifestyle characteristics, and challenges.

Identifying commonalities between the businesses in our customer base provided a ton of insight to our company. Viewing buyers as real people with unique challenges helped reveal the type of content we should be creating to best combat the obstacles of our clients.

Our first five Spinstak buyer persona stories:

  • Made it easier to know where to focus our time.
  • Helped guide our product and content development.
  • Allowed for a better aligned organization because all team members could be on the same page.
  • Helped us attract the most valuable visitors, leads, and customers.
  • Gave us the ability to make prospects feel understood so our company could make more money.

So, how did we do it? How can you use persona stories in your own business to add structure to your marketing efforts and attract the right buyers? What steps can you take to develop your persona stories and start earning more money for your business?

In this week’s blog, you’ll find a complete guide to creating personas for industrial marketing. We’ll provide you with actionable persona-developing steps from our own experiences, trusted online resources, and tips and tricks from the Spinstak marketing managers.

If you’re talking to everyone, you’re talking to no one.

Keep reading to discover how persona stories can help you pinpoint what your target customers want and how to reach them.

Creating Persona Stories: The Spinstak Experience

When I first began developing personas for our Spinstak internal marketing strategy, I went back to my roots. Growing up in the industrial world did give me a huge advantage in knowing some common struggles of industrial buyers and workers. But, I still needed some more concrete facts and figures. Not to mention, I was still a little fuzzy on how to develop a persona framework that could be easily understood and utilized by the team.

That’s when I turned to some online research. I scoured the web for any and all resources I could find about customer segmentation, targeting, and persona development.

researching personas for industrial marketing

It’s important to note that segmentation and targeting are not the same as creating personas. Yes, they both involve putting your audience into groups based on common traits. But, segmentation relies heavily on comprehensive qualitative research. Some examples of metrics used to segment consumers include: demographics, buying patterns and preferences, and affiliations.

Segmentation is useful for delivering your product or message to the right audience. But, it doesn’t give you much insight on what motivates and challenges your buyers and potential buyers. That’s why we use personas.

Download your own Persona Worksheet Template by clicking the image. 

Persona Sheet.png

Personas take targeting to the next level. Persona development helps you get to know your customers on a more personal level through interviews and research. Your persona research will reveal your customers’ behaviors, attitudes, and buyers’ journey. When done right, personas can help consolidate your segments into fewer target markets. This makes for cheaper and more effective marketing. Ultimately, personas give customers personalities.

As I was attempting to start building our first personas, I found dozens of must-read online resources. Hubspot was a website that provided me with the most structure and assistance. These resources began to show me what types of questions I should be asking when developing our persona stories.

Asking questions of what you already know about your client, as well as gathering information from your client, puts you on the right path to creating an accurate, useful persona story. If you’re starting from square one, asking basic questions about your ideal customer should be your first step.

Here are a few simple persona development questions we love:

  1. Age? Location? Education?
  2. Role/job title? Level of seniority? Industry? Size of company?
  3. Who do they report to? Who reports to them?
  4. What does a day in their life look like?
  5. What are they responsible for?
  6. What knowledge tools do they use?
  7. What does success in their role look like?
  8. What do they value most? What are their goals?
  9. What are their challenges?
  10. What do they do to overcome challenges?
  11. How do they learn new information about their job?
  12. Do they use the internet to research suppliers or products?
  13. How do they prefer to interact with suppliers?
  14. What are their most common objectives to your product or service?
  15. What is the one thing that would make their life easier?

You know what they say: don’t reinvent the wheel.

There is a wide collection of resources online regarding persona development. Methods from sources like Hubspot and Jay Baer have proven successful time and time again when it comes to customer acquisition and retention. That’s why we use these tools each and every day at Spinstak, especially when doing persona research.

advice for personas for industrial distributors

Creating Persona Stories: An Expert Opinion

Hubspot, an inbound marketing and sales platform, boasts dozens of resources about creating personas for your business. This site’s tools make it easy to envision the ideal buyer and relate to customers as real humans. It's never been easier to use online marketing for industrial companies. 

Hubspot says that to develop personas, all you need to do is “ask the right questions to the right people, and present that information in a helpful way so the people in your business can get to know your persona(s) better than the backs of their hands.”

Since buyer personas can be created through researching customers, prospects, and others who may align with your target market, Hubspot recommends beginning this research with interviews. You can interview individuals over the phone or in person to discover what they like or don’t like about your product or service.

Here are some examples of great research subjects:

  • Customers: Customers have already interacted with your company, and there are likely to be some who possess the characteristics or your common persona. It can be helpful to interview “good” and “bad” customers because unsatisfied customers will still show patterns to help you better understand your personas.

  • Prospects: interviewing prospects is a great option because you already have their contact information.

  • Referrals: If you’re entering a new market and don’t have any customers or leads, reach out to your network to find people you’d like to interview. Start by looking on LinkedIn for people who may fit your target market.

  • Third-Party Networks: These resources can be a great tool for quick user testing recruiting.

Want some simple tips for recruiting interviewees?

Provide incentives, clarify that you’re not making a sales call, and make it easy to say yes to the interview.

The number one tip to ensure a successful persona research interview is to ask “why.” People aren’t always the best at conveying their own goals, behaviors, and limitations. Following up each question with “why” will help you get as much information as possible about what drives your customers.

One reason we love using Hubspot for persona research is because they offer a free, downloadable persona template to help you get the right information and keep it organized. We use this template each time we begin development on a new persona.

This template is broken up into ten sections:

  1. Background
  2. Demographics
  3. Identifiers
  4. Goals
  5. Challenges
  6. What Can We Do?
  7. Real Quotes
  8. Common Objectives
  9. Marketing Message
  10. Elevator Pitch

persona demographics for industrial distributors


To find basic demographic information, it can be useful to conduct online surveys.

Knowing certain information like education level and salary can be very beneficial to a marketer, and some customers may not prefer to provide that information over the phone or in person. Noting some Identifiers, such as demeanor and communication preferences, makes it easier for your sales department to recognize different personas when talking to prospects.

Asking “why” will help you complete the Goals, Challenges, and What Can We Do? sections of the template. Write down everything you know about what keeps your customers up at night, who they want to be, and what you can do to help them.

Part of successful marketing involves having a mutually beneficial relationship with your sales team. Help out your sales department by providing real quotes and objections from your prospects. The quotes will reveal what your personas are concerned about and exemplify what your personas are concerned and what they want. Providing possible objections will help the team prepare before they make a sales call.

How can you ensure everyone in your company is speaking the same language when talking to customers and prospects? Your elevator pitch and marketing message will help guarantee that everyone is using a vernacular that resonates with your customers.

This blog post from Hubspot contains in-depth steps and tips on how to complete a buyer persona template. Incorporate it into your own business to streamline your persona research strategy.

A Word from our Marketing Managers

Using a template will enhance the consistency and organization of your persona story development, but there’s no harm in putting your own spin on your persona research. Our Marketing Managers here at Spinstak follow the same general framework when it comes to persona creation. But, each has their own set of tips and tricks to help them better understand the company’s ideal customer.

Our Marketing Managers, Misti and Joe, have had plenty of experience in conducting persona research. Keep reading to gain insight on their methods – you may find a helpful hint you’d like to try in your own organization.

“We don’t want cold, raw biographical information. We’re going for a more holistic approach”—Misti Ferris

Misti recognizes the importance of conducting comprehensive research. When it comes to personas, it’s hard to find too much information about a prospect, especially in the first stages of research. She suggests to get as much information as possible, then sift through what you come up with.

How do you find all this information?

Interviews. Misti recommends to interview your clients, as well as their customers. Interviewing customers can answer questions that the client isn’t asking. You may find that clients have a more narrow view of the products or services they offer. They may be too focused on the features and attributes of their product, rather than the problems their audience need solved. By talking to your clients’ customers (with permission, of course), you can get a better understanding of their pain points.

Talking to clients’ customers can also be beneficial in discovering their lifestyle identifiers. This information includes things such as what car they drive or where they shop. Although this may seem irrelevant, it helps provide a better-rounded story of your target persona.

Misti emphasizes the need to find the balance between personal and professional characteristics when doing research. To find professional information, LinkedIn is your best bet. LinkedIn’s search feature allows you to search by company, industry, job type, and more. This is useful for finding commonalities between those in your target market. LinkedIn also allows you to see individuals’ resumes. This will offer additional insight into your prospects’ skills and experience.

Finding personal information can be a bit trickier. Marketers often have to do some digging to really get to know the folks they’ll be talking to. Facebook can assist in finding this type of information. You can use Facebook to discover what groups your prospects are in, which can reveal basic lifestyle or buying characteristics. Remember, the more information you can find, the better.

Just like people change with time, persona stories are living documents. As you discover more information about your ideal customer, you may need to add or change various elements of your persona story. Keeping your story up-to-date and relevant will ensure you’re always delivering the most valuable content to your customers.

organizing persona information for industrial marketing

How does Misti keep all this information organized?

She loves using spreadsheets. When doing persona research, you’re collecting dozens of data points. Using spreadsheets helps keep all her data neat and focused.

Here are Misti’s top three steps for beginning persona research:

  1. Look at the client on-boarding form. This document has general information about the client, their products and services, and their typical customers.

  2. Meet with the client and have them complete a persona worksheet. Asking the client to fill out a worksheet answering persona questions like the ones above can help you gain insight on how clients view their ideal customer.

  3. Do your own persona research in the meantime. When searching on Facebook or LinkedIn, start with a wide search criteria and then narrow it down. Your goal is to find commonalities and generalizations between the companies and people you’re researching.

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What does Joe know?

Joe Thompson says the most important thing to determine when conducting persona research is the persona’s problems. Knowing the problems and pain points of your ideal customers will allow you to cater your content to meet their needs.

Like Misti, Joe recommends finding commonalities between your current customers. To do this, you can look at your current customer database. Depending on your CRM platform, you’ll be able to tell if a customer or website visitor found your site from a Google search, from social media, or by another way. This may allude to valuable information about how they spend their time online, what they’re searching for on Google, and more.

Another way to find commonalities is to interview salespeople and customer service representatives. Further, your sales team may sometimes add helpful notes to your CRM which you can use during your research. Speaking with your sales team can help you figure out who you don’t want as a customer too.

Joe also has an interesting perspective when it comes to collecting demographic information, especially when gathering seemingly random information such as their education level. Knowing a customer’s education level can be beneficial when creating contact. This information can help your writers know what type of tone or level of professionalism to use in written content.

Both Joe and Misti agree that when conducting persona research, more is more. Although you may not use all the information you collect to develop your persona story, having ample data will help you get an inclusive understanding of your customers’ personalities and motivations.

It may seem silly to know what groups your prospects follow on Facebook or LinkedIn, but this information could lead to valuable knowledge on the challenges your customers face (and what you can do to solve them).

From Hubspot to your friends here at Spinstak, you have a plethora of tools available to you to assist you in developing persona stories.

Looking for some company during your lunch break?

In this episode of our new Facebook Live show, Grow Live, you can learn even more persona research tips from SMS Marketing Manager Misti. Check out the show or read the podcast to discover why the persona story is essential to successful marketing.

If you’re in need of some more in-depth marketing training, our comprehensive video course Industrial Marketing 101 will transform the way you market. As the only complete course for industrial sales and marketing professionals, our five video series will help you gain the skills to create marketing campaigns your prospects and customers will love. Not to mention, it will help you become an expert at writing persona stories.

If stories help society understand the world around them, then persona stories help marketers understand their ideal customers. Understanding your personas is essential for driving content creation, product development, sales follow up, and retaining loyal customers. This understanding makes your prospects feel understood. When your prospects feel more understood, your company makes more dough. What could be better?

So, what are you waiting for? Start writing your story today!

Download the persona worksheet to share with your team!