Buyer Personas And User Personas

buyer personauser persona

A lot of people stand up a variation of “If you build it, he will come” (from Field of Dreams) as a copy-writing hook for whatever they are about to tell you about creating products/services/whatever.  We’re no better.  We’re going to tell you that there is a big difference between the people who buy your product and the people who use your product.

If you build what he thinks he wants, he will come.

Actually, we need two catchy quotes.

If you build what he actually needs, he will come back.

For good measure, let’s plug my recent article in The Pragmatic Marketer, Maximize Your Word of Mouth Marketing: Turning Users Into Fans with a gratuitous quote.

If you build it right, he’ll bring his friends.

These quotes (the first two) highlight the differences between buyer personas and user personas.

Personas Are Not Personas

It can be incredibly confusing to anyone not already entrenched in product management or marketing, to hear someone talk about personas.  The buyer persona is a very different person than a user persona.  Understanding one influences how you sell a product, understanding the other is key to getting insights about how people will use your product.  There’s a bit of a catch-22 here – you have to sell the product (even free products have to be “sold”) before anyone ever uses the product.  And if you sell someone a product they hate, you’re worse off than if you never made the sale.

If you want to “test out” of the rest of this article, here’s the crux:

  • A buyer wants a product that has capabilities that match his mental model of what is required to solve valuable problems.
  • A user needs a product that solves her valuable problems.

Peony Problem


You are part of a booming florist business that has a problem.  Your profitability is too low on the flowers you sell.

One of your store managers, Eunice, looks at what you pay for flowers (very little), and what you sell them for (a lot).  She also determines that overhead (rent, salaries, etc) costs are reasonable.  However, Eunice notices that you throw away half of the flowers you buy.

florist problem ishikawa

[Note: Check out our article on defining problems to see how and why to create an Ishikawa diagram like this one.]

Your company policy is to throw away flowers after you’ve had them for 2 days, because they wilt as soon as your customers get them home if you don’t.

problem to be solved ishikawa diagram

Amaranth Analysis

Eunice also reviews orders and purchases of flowers – there’s no regularity in ordering.  The average number of flowers purchased every day is about the same, but the individual amounts vary wildly.  If you ordered fewer flowers, you would save on waste, but you would lose out on some sales, and risk damaging relationships with loyal customers.  She decides that the solution isn’t to just order fewer flowers (you need that inventory on hand), but to make the inventory last longer, so that you can have the same amount on hand, but order fewer flowers.  Eunice gets approval from the owner of the florist to purchase a walk-in cooler for storing the inventory, and then asks Fiona, the head of operations, to make it happen.

Brenda runs operations.  She handles accounting, and ordering of supplies, payroll, all the things that keep the business running.  She doesn’t know flowers, but she knows the flower business.  Brenda now has a problem – she needs to purchase a walk-in cooler.

Eunice is your user.

Brenda is your buyer.

This is the important distinction.  Eunice has a problem that is solved by using your product.  Brenda has a problem that is solved by purchasing your product.

Helping The User

If you’re a product manager, you already know how to help Eunice the user.  You define a user persona and her problems and goals.  You prioritize those problems, build a product roadmap, and make sure your software process benefits from the user persona you’ve defined.  Of course, don’t overdo your persona development.

But what do you do with a buyer persona?  If you apply product management first principles, you recognize that the buyer has a problem (Brenda needs to buy a solution for Eunice’s problem).  So, create a solution for that problem.  Marketing experts might not think about it that way, but that’s what they do.  They understand the perceptions in the minds of buyers, and design marketing campaigns – and influence product development – to make sure there is both a product and a campaign that addresses the buyer persona’s problems.

Helping The Buyer

Shaun Connolly sums up his approach with two quotes from a recent article:

For both proprietary and commercial open source software, the Product Manager needs to focus on creating a product that people will actually buy! Plain and simple.

For any new product offering, one of the first places I focus is on understanding and documenting the Buyer Personas. After all, how the heck are you going to create real value for customers if you don’t know who’s buying? User personas, while not the same, are also useful to understand.

Product Managers: Chief *Holes or Value Creators?, Shaun Connolly

Shaun is definitely stressing the importance of one side of our catch-22, getting that initial sale.  Note that Shaun also links to a good article by Gopal Shenoy, Build Products That Customers Will Buy…

OK, so what is a buyer persona?  Adele Revella has an entire blog dedicated to buyer personas (and an article devoted to answering the question “what is a buyer persona?

Don’t Confuse The Buyers With The Users

Adele has a great article lambasting some marketing work that Microsoft has done for their CRM product – apparently posting videos of their buyer personas, and treating them as if they are user personas.  Adele is being gracious, I think, in suggesting that the mistake was merely in sharing the buyer personas externally, when they should be for internal use only.  I suspect that this team has mixed the concepts, since the “buyer persona” Adele uses as an example is describing her problems as a user.

In any case, it is disheartening to see anyone have (and share!) such a disparaging and condescending idea of who their users and/or buyers are.

When Your Buyers ARE Your Users?

David Meerman Scott just posted an article, How well do you know your buyer personas?, where he shines the spotlight on Kadient, a SaaS (software as a service) company.  Kadient helps sales people manage their sales collateral (RFPs, white papers, proposals, etc).  David’s article is the latest in his theme of the importance of focusing on buyer personas.  He and Kadient share a couple buyer persona examples for us.  As it turns out, the personas they shared happen to be both buyers and users.  There are probably also buyer-only personas that they could have picked, but this choice is great.  It acknowledges for us that your buyer can also be your user.

Considering that Adele’s article just warned us not to mix them up, consider this as a corrolary to the maxim – Don’t confuse buyers and users, except when they are the same person.

One of Kadient’s combination buyer + user personas is Anya.  Check out David’s article for the full details.  One thing David shares with us is Anya’s goals.  Remember from our example with Eunice and Brenda – Eunice (the user) has goals to solve problems with her work, and Brenda has the goal of solving Eunice’s problem.  With Anya, she has both user-goals and buyer-goals.

David’s example captures both, but it might be tricky to tease them apart.  As a buyer, Anya is trying to match a mental model of what will work.  As a user, she has specific objectives.  Here’s the goal section from Kadient’s persona:

Anya needs to bring in the numbers every quarter, to remain secure in her position at the top of the sales performance chart. To do this, she knows that if she can spend less time doing administrative duties and looking for information and creating materials for her buyers, she can work more opportunities and maximize her face-time with customers. The service offerings she sells change frequently, and she knows she needs to be armed with the latest, most accurate messaging and content.

Breaking it down into two goals, half-buyer and half-user:

  • Buyer Goal: “she knows that if she can spend less time doing administrative duties and looking for information and creating materials for her buyers”
  • User Goal: “she can work more opportunities and maximize her face-time with customers”


  • Buyer Goal: “she knows she needs to be armed with the latest, most accurate messaging and content”
  • User Goal: “The service offerings she sells change frequently”

This is a buyer persona example, and the buyer goals are explicit – “She knows..” is a clear indicator of her mental model of what she believes she needs to solve her problems.  That is the key information for properly marketing to Anya.

The user goals are not crisply defined, but support a statement from Anya’s “bio” – “Anya wants to ensure she always remains at the top of the team.”  One way she could do that is by maximizing face time with customers and working more opportunities (as a means to close more sales).  Anya also acknowledges a nuanced goal – her service offerings change frequently – and those changes presumably can negatively impact her ability to sell.  It is ok, for a buyer persona, that the user goals need a little more inference.  But that’s ok – the team at Kadient will be using this persona primarily to sell their services to Anya, not to design them.

Ideally, your buyer’s mental model of the needed solution will align well with the user’s problems.  That isn’t guaranteed, even when the buyer and the user are the same person.


  • Buyer personas make purchases when products appear to address their internal view of what the problems are.
  • User personas love products when those products solve the real problems.
  • Don’t confuse buyers (who need to buy products to solve user problems) with users (who need to solve their own problems).
  • When buyers and users are the same people, acknowledge the buyer-goals distinctly from the user-goals.

16 thoughts on “Buyer Personas And User Personas

  1. Nice article covering the differences between buyer and user personas.

    I updated my “Product Managers: Chief *Holes or Value Creators?” posting to link to this article, since I didn’t do justice to describing the differences.

    Thanks for taking the time to clarify the topic.

    – Shaun Connolly

  2. This is a very interesting analysis, Scott. I’ve never heard the differences between buyer personas and user personas explained in such detail. I’m glad that you included the idea that a single persona can have two roles with respect to any given product, and that a persona could be both a buyer and a user. For instance, when I choose an iPhone, I am satisfying what you describe as my mental model for this type of purchase — that aspect would be included in my buyer persona. But Apple needed to also satisfy my user problem — being able to download at acceptable speeds — before I was willing to make the purchase. That insight would be captured in my user persona.

    For B2B products (or any complex sale involving multiple buyers), I find it helpful to build buyer personas for each of the people who will influence the buying decision — for example, there is typically an economic buyer, a technology buyer, and, frequently but not always, a user buyer who will be included in a committee of buyers. We would describe the factors that influence the buying decision as “buying criteria” and capture these insights (and communicate them internally) in buyer persona documents — one for each of these roles. It is easy to see that economic buyers have far different buying criteria than user buyers or technology buyers. If one of these personas is also a user, their “using criteria” would generally be captured in a separate document, if only to facilitate internal communications and prevent confusion for the internal users of those documents.

    I think that the Microsoft campaign that I reviewed in my post intended to treat Lisa as both a buyer and a user of their CRM solution. They’re probably right about her roles, but they should never have tried to explain either her buying or using criteria in an external campaign. Plus it is completely unclear why they decided to make her out to be such an idiot.

  3. Thanks Adele, for your articles and thoughtful comments, and welcome to Tyner Blain!

    After thinking about it some more, I can only hope that the characters in the CRM advertisement were intended to be entertaining and tongue-in-cheek. Maybe they didn’t represent buyer personas or user personas, but were just intended to be engaging caricatures of people in those roles.

    That at least would just represent poor execution. The messages that were delivered did not seem to be compellingly targeted at a buyer persona’s goals, nor did they express the value of the user persona problems that the product is intended to solve. Also, if the actors were instructed to be self-mocking, they did it with such a dry and understated sense of humor that I missed the joke. Maybe if Jane had said “imaginary aribitrary future spend” instead of “fictional spend”, then it would have attracted some buzz as a witty commentary buried in an ad.

    Thanks again!

  4. Hi Scott,

    Very compelling post, great points on user versus buyer. At Kadient we are focused on the entire sales organization so a sales person is a user and buyer, VP of Sales is the Buyer and Knowledge Manager is the User.

    We use these personas not only in our sales and marketing activities but in development as well. When our development team is working on a launch or product feature there is a lot of discussion around “what would Anya do”, “What would Luke want?”.

    David Meerman Scott’s most recent book “Tuned In” discusses just that Focus on your buyers and users to ensure what you are building will fill a need or solve a problem.

    Keeping our buyers and users in mind (and as pictures in our kitchen and cardboard cut-outs in our conference rooms!) keeps us focused on them and their needs at all times.

  5. Thanks Heather, and welcome to Tyner Blain!

    Your dev team is doing exactly the right thing, and I love that Kadient’s culture promotes persona use with the pictures and cut-outs. Must be a blast to work there.

    I’m in the middle of Tuned In right now and loving it.

  6. Hi Scott,

    Awesome analysis. You, Adele and the others commenting here are more experienced than me on the subtleties of buyer personas vs. user personas.

    I’m an outbound marketing guy so I focus nearly all of my efforts (writing, speaking, blogging) on buyer personas. While I was responsible for product management when I was Asia Marketing Director for Knight-Ridder ages ago (I left that job in 1995), I’ve focused my career on the topics I write about in “The New Rules of Marketing” — specifically related to buyer personas.

    Note that much of the product development parts of our new book “Tuned In” came from Craig Stull, the founder and CEO of Pragmatic Marketing.

    I’m a simple guy. And I like simple examples. On the speaking circuit, when this sort of question comes up I talk about tricycles. The buyer personas are Moms, Dads, and Grandparents. The user personas are toddlers.

    Take care, David

  7. Whoops – Hit the submit button too fast and I forgot to finish my analysis.

    For KIDS tricycles the buyer and user are different. However for those ADULT tricycles that you see at retirement communities, the buyer and user are the same.


  8. Hi Scott,

    I want to say thanks for a very neat article. There has been much discussion in this arena of late and your post helps to clarify the distinction that should be made between user and buyer personas. My partner, Angela Quail, and I are former Cooperistas as we like to say and lived in the realm of user personas. For the past six years we’ve dealt with B2B complexity and expanding upon the notion that buyer personas for B2B can be very different than user personas. What is important, is the “bleeding” into each persona area as you note whereby sometimes the user and buyer persona can be one in the same role. The emphasis then becomes on a detailed depiction of the many interactions that are taking place to evaluate and reach a decision. Knowing the user’s and buyer’s goals is critical for it targets not only the product development effort but the marketing and sales efforts. You eloquently make this distinction. I like that you note the importance of mental models because most people miss this element of persona development and have a difficult time picking up how to recognize and characterize mental models. There is much room for growth in this area whereas some of the fundamentals applied to user personas need to be expanded upon for buyer personas to make them valuable. All in all Scott, a great post!

    Tony Zambito

  9. Thanks Tony, and welcome to Tyner Blain!

    On the UX-front, I’m a disciple of Cooper’s work too, although I’ve never had the opportunity on a project to be solely a UX guy. I have, however, been fortunate to be able to champion the importance of personas, personal goals, and incorporating user-centric interface design into several projects.

    Thanks for calling out mental models, I think that is the crux of it, and your comment will help people catch that, where I probably didn’t stress it enough. The other interesting dynamic is that not-yet-customers will probably have a mental model that is different than the mental model formed by a typical current customer / user.

    Our current customers are already building models on top of a world-view that incorporates our products. It is natural for our current customers / users to build on the implicit model of our software for “what would be better?” analysis. This leads to incremental improvements, usually. Or it at least encourages inside-the-box thinking.

    Our not-yet-customers are either unaware of our products, or have reviewed and discounted them. Tapping into that view of the world is a great way to grow the effectiveness – and by extension, the market successes – of our products.

    Thanks again for the kind words, and welcome aboard!

  10. Thank you for diffentiating between these two. Many people tend to confuse between these two and sell or taget their product towards the mixed personality of user and buyer in their mind.
    But what needs to be done is the product should be made to taget user
    but it should marketed according to Buyer.

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