Your SaaS service & Persona work in reality – empathy and speed dating

One of the basic principles in UX is:

Design starts with a deep and empathic understanding of people

Design here means everything: the way you design your product, your marketing, your service/product support, even your SaaS service’s user interface. As mentioned in earlier posts, UX (as in User Experience) applies to all these – the user interface of a product is just one of the artefacts of the UX work. Other artefacts include how you reach your audience, how you package your service or your product, how you let them reach you and so on – these are all critical contributors to your users’ overall experience of you, your company and your service – this is what UX is.

In this post, I’ll share some learnings about doing Persona work and how this exercise works best in reality. For starters, persona work is always the best beginning point of a new SaaS journey. Understanding your target audience, getting to know them better helps you make your service valuable and relevant to them. Knowing that one of your key persona is a 65-year old and did accounting work all her life – you probably better focus your attention to the Excel export features, reports and charts instead of the facebook integration feature in your iPhone app.

Persona work

You imagine yourself into one of your buying personas’ moccasins and magic happens – you immediately start to feel the pain your persona feels and you feel the empathy that’s crucial to deliver the right solution to your persona in the right way. The Persona work is usually done in a group, at a whiteboard and starts with something like this:

Persona work whiteboard photo

Make up as much as possible about your Personas – brainstorm with your team and try to make the person real. Assign a photo, name, age to him or her, guess their status, number of children, pains in life and most importantly – how your service helps them. It is crucial to apply empathy here and be motivated towards helping your personas – and definitely not towards getting money off of them. The result is completely different if you do it that way.

OK, so what’s now?

Long story short – and you can find a lot of guidance on the internet on how to do persona work – you end up with a few key personas:

  • You guessed and felt their pain;
  • You defined your opportunity to help them (the “compelling reason to buy”);
  • You guessed the way they may hear from you (the places they go to or the way they like to be bothered);
  • You guessed how they make decisions;
  • You defined the chain of influence – in case your personas belong to a large enterprise and they influence each other’s decisions.


Next round is to build at least one story per persona. Build a storyboard – something like the photo below (with two stories), where you explain a story that delivers a value to your persona – makes her happy, eases her pain. It’s crucial that you pick a story that’s really meaningful to your persona – have a look at my Professor Naroki Kano post to help you set the right priorities for your stories. A story starts with a problem (pain), guides you through how your service resolves the pain and ends with a happy result.

Storyboard whiteboard photo

Once you are done drawing and choosing the best stories, you are done defining your key priorities for your marketing messages, your development, UX and testing. Your stories will be the key directions for all work you do – how you attract your personas and how you develop your SaaS service to make your promises happen.

How to make this real?

All this is based on your imagination and your knowledge or research of your Customer base. This is a crucial step to tailor your service to your clients. To make this real, you now want to validate all these assumptions with your real personas. This is what I call speed dating.

Speed dating

Speed dating is when you find a few representatives of your key personas (either one-by-one or as a group), invite them for breakfast, check whether your assumptions are right and sit back and prepare yourself for learning something that you would have never dreamed of.

If you do it in small, you go for the breakfast method. The key is to make sure that you ask open questions – i.e. instead of asking “do you face a challenge of running your manual billing process every month?”, ask “what’s your biggest challenge at work?”. The unwanted and unexpected information is the best information. Speed dating helps you make your SaaS service relevant to your personas and potentially, you can even get your first Customers on one of these.

If you do it in large, try the Anecdote Circles process:

The ultimate guide to Anecdote Circles

What to do with all this?

Your persona work, your learnings from your speed dates, the stories which are based on the Kano model – these are your mantra for marketing communications, advertisement, product videos, UX, development priorities, testing and for investment in general.

If you base your service and solution on your empathy towards your personas’ pains, your story goes a long way. Share your thoughts and post any questions you may have in mind – I’d love to hear them!

LinkedinDavid Szabo, Cloud Strategy Advisor, Firestarter and Rulebreaker at Microsoft. Startup-addict, SaaS & Cloud consultant, blogger at and LEGO serious play facilitator. Follow me on Twitter!

This entry was posted in Cloud Business Opportunity, Cloud Strategy, Kindle, Online Marketing and Cloud, Product Strategy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Your SaaS service & Persona work in reality – empathy and speed dating

  1. Pingback: Your SaaS service & Persona work in reality – empathy and speed dating | MSDN Blogs

  2. Lloyd says:

    First principle of UX . . . proof read your text:

    Quote: “Design starts with a deep an empathic understanding of people”

    ‘and’ not ‘an’.

  3. Pingback: Oh No … Another ERP in the Cloud? | The Cloud Strategy Blog

  4. Pingback: Oh No … Another ERP in the Cloud? The Hitchiker’s Guide to Building an ERP in the SaaS Model | Cloud Gazette

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