Multiple Persona Disorder: You, Your User, and Your Buyer

When designing, building, and marketing their product, too many software companies believe there’s such thing as an objectively good product that will appeal to everyone.

There isn’t.

A product is only valuable if it solves a problem or fulfills a need, and since each person’s problems and needs are different, a product can’t be everything to everyone. A user interface that you, as a developer, like to use may be too complicated for your user, or it may emphasize the wrong tasks. As a salesperson, the pitch that would sell you, or even your user, may not resonate at all to your buyer.

The fact is you, your user, and your buyer are three completely different people, and of the three, your opinion is by far the least important. Companies built around what their employees (you) think usually fail. Swiftly.

Here’s why:

  1. You are not your user. Usually, if you work at a software company, you’re more technologically sophisticated than your customer but you also have, at best, a sketchy understanding of how they use your product. Your closeness to the software may also make you overlook UE problems that are incredibly obvious to someone using it for the first time. The common cliché is a developer laboring over advanced customization options while the user is stumped trying to figure out the login page.
  2. You aren’t your buyer, either. Most sales people begin their pitch by extolling the virtues of their product. That’s great, except your buyer doesn’t care what your product does well. They only care about how your product solves their problems. In fact, if the deal is at all competitive they don’t even care how it solves their problems — they simply care about how it’s better at solving their problems than your competitor’s solution.
  3. Your buyer isn’t always your user. In B2B products, the final decision maker is often a few levels above the person using your product. Why? Because the people who have graduated to management status and are in charge of budgets don’t want to be doing ground-level ops anymore. The buyer listens to the user’s opinion, but they’re usually more concerned with the big picture ROI than the intricate details of the UI.

Obviously these are generalizations, and don’t always hold true. In smaller organizations, the buyer is sometimes also the user, and if your product is designed for software companies, you might, in fact, be very similar to your user. In the beginning, it’s sometimes OK to use your viewpoint as an approximation for someone else’s.

Still, it’s important to be sensitive to the fact that some people don’t agree with you. You may like to search while your user usually likes to browse. You may think a competitive statement, such as “our product is twice as fast as the competition” is convincing, while your buyer finds it sleazy.

As your company enters the expansion stage and begins to get traction in the marketplace, your understanding of your users and buyers will have to mature beyond what you think and veer closer towards their reality. If it doesn’t, you’ll find yourself selling a bad product the wrong way.

Stay ahead of this potential problem by doing primary research early and often. Usability testing is a must in order to understand how users actually think, and interviews with your buyers are equally crucial when designing your go-to-market strategy.

Remember, in the end, your opinion really doesn’t matter. Unless you plan on buying a few thousand subscriptions, yourself, learn what your buyer and user think, and build your company around them, instead.


Editor’s Note: For more great advice and strategy for guiding your business through the expansion stage, sign up for the OpenView newsletter.


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