SaaS business

Why SaaS Buyer Personas Fail (and How to Get Them Right)


mins to read

Given that you understand your audience, your SaaS company turns into a Bollywood movie where everyone is happy and dancing. 

Customers get exactly what they want, exactly where they're looking for it for the price that is optimal for them. They gladly pay that price, therefore you have no issues with churn, revenue and customers’ lifetime value.

But how can you know the “audience”? It’s a generic term for thousands and millions of potential buyers. It seems also impossible to understand all the individuals hiding under the “audience” term — it's just more than human brains can process.

What is a buyer persona

To move closer to understanding our customers, we need a tool that sits somewhere in between the “audience” that is too generalized to explain anything and “my 1,123,654 buyers” that is too detailed to explain anything. 

what is a buyer persona

That's where segmentation of target audience comes in. It generalizes clusters of your target users who exhibit similar attitudes, goals, and behaviors relating to your product. As a result, you have a manageable number of audience subgroups.

SaaS buyer personas are the next step after the audience segmentation. Made out of complex user data they take the form of real people to highlight specific details and important features of the group. It helps product teams to create empathy with users.

audience segments vs buyer personas

Remember why every Amazon meeting has at least 1 empty chair? 

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos believes that obsessing over customer experience is the only possible competitive advantage. One problem is that customers aren't there at every meeting, so it's easy to forget about their needs. Using his trick with a chair, Bezos makes it impossible for the team to forget about the customer.

Buyer personas serve the same goals — because empathy is really important and really elusive. 

What’s wrong with personas 

Say you start developing personas to understand user needs. You seek a simple buyer persona template and call it  SaaS Sally. You add photos, some demographic data, some assumptions.

And then, the pretty slides you’ve made move to the dustiest digital shelf and never go back. You don’t use them because they don't help you reach buyers.

What's wrong with SaaS buyer personas?

You google more info about personas to find out what went wrong. You read a buyer persona guide that makes fun of your pathetic SaaS Sally and say you need to “go dipper” and feed your personas with more insights and data. 

All right, but making decisions while keeping in mind tens or hundreds of persona features becomes unwieldy. And it's unrealistic to find universal segments of customers with similar motivations, goals, information needs, attitudes, and behaviors across a broad array of situations and scenarios.

How to make personas work? 

Here at Eleken design agency, we’ve got a bunch of people that know the answer. Our designers research user personas every time they need to build multiple user flows (like all the time). And here’s what the masters say:

There’re no one-size-fits-all personas, only situational ones. 

This is worth repeating:

There’re no one-size-fits-all personas, only situational ones. 

Before you make buyer persons, ask yourself, “what are my personas for?” 

How to create personas for marketing

How to build buyer personas for better marketing? Let’s see how with SaaS buyer personas deals Beamer, the marketing tool that helps you to send targeted notifications. They must be good at targeting! 

On its main page, the company pitches itself for three groups of customers — those who need their services for SaaS, ecommerce, or a website. 

SaaS buyer persona example

The three personas apply not only to the main page — Beamer makes targeted landing pages focused on the goals and pain points of each persona so that they resonate with them. 

Moreover, as you sign up, Beamer asks you to specify what is your website for, and makes it

for purpose — after I’ve chosen that I’m writing for a blog, the next screen I see is talking to me as a content writer.

Beamer buyer persona example

To make its offer convincing, Beamer needs to pick its strongest selling points and put those front and center. What information does Beamer need to gather for building customer personas? 

The key is to have insights that reflect customer pains and customer gains. As we collect such data by running a survey or a series of interviews with the customers, we may notice that the answers vary depending on the type of site or app the client is running. 

Website managers want to grab the newcomers’ attention. SaaS owners need in-app messages to increase user engagement and retention when ecommerce guys want to announce special deals and discounts. 

value proposition and customer profile

Thus, Beamer can roughly divide their buyers into three groups according to their needs and build marketing messages that include what is important to each persona.

But when it comes to pricing, we can notice that Beamer slices the audience pie in a completely different way. Here they divide users not by a company type, but by a company size. Why so?

Beamer pricing plans focuses on different buyer personas

How to make buyer personas for product pricing

When you work on pricing, personas will help to figure out what features of a product different groups of people would find most valuable and least valuable, and what they would be ready to pay for them. Thus, you’ll be able to build a pricing grid that contains a satisfying option for each group of users.

Also, since it’s a matter of money, you need to look at some financial KPIs for SaaS companies. If a group of customers is willing to pay less than you spend to acquire that group, the unit economy doesn’t click and you’re going to lose more than you gain.

On the picture below, we can see a starter kit of data you need for developing personas for a SaaS pricing strategy

buyer personas for product pricing example
Image credit: salesbenchmarkindex.com

Having data collected, you’ll notice that it needs to be segmented into personas along another axis, when compared with the marketing personas we reviewed above. 

SaaS and ecommerce startups have more in common with each other when it comes to buying software than an ecommerce startup and Amazon. That’s why marketing and pricing personas can be segmented differently.

How to create personas: UI/UX design 

Once we at Eleken designed a product website for Abode, a security-focused smart home solution. 

how to create personas: I/X design

The security systems market is huge, and to help Abode bite a piece of this market, we needed to understand users’ motivations, needs, barriers and more in the context of how they would use a design to ideate, iterate and usability-test optimal design solutions. 

The goal and the scope of focus for this design task are very granular. Just imagine using Beamer's broad marketing personas mentioned above trying to understand how different users navigate down the site. The information in marketing personas would not be specific enough. It’s just for other purposes.

For Abode, we conducted user interviews to find out what people are looking for as they open the website.

user interviews example to define SaaS buyer personas

We figured out that according to their intents all website users can be divided into four groups:

  • those who want a security solution but no security hassle;
  • people who already have a security system and need some additional devices;
  • users that are looking for an optimal price/quality ratio;
  • and security geeks looking for sophisticated solutions.

With this knowledge, we could understand what information users need to reach their goals and how they want to feel as they move down the page. 

We used personas to explore different user journeys and brainstorm how we could implement a UI/UX design solution to give all 4 types of customers what they're looking for. 

Crafting Useful Buyer Personas

As we remember, there’re no one-size-fits-all personas, only situational ones.

When creating user personas, tailor them to a specific task whether you need to wrap your value proposition in the right way, make a pricing grid, or app redesign. 

Think of the information you need to gather about the audience to complete the task. There’s a ton of data you can get, so it’s vital to figure out what really matters.

If you need a broad bird's-eye view for high-level understanding and decision making, make broad personas, but remember that you can't see the small details flying high. 

If the task requires any specific insight, you need to get closer. Thus, you narrow the view to be able to focus on important details. With a narrow scope, there is less context to consider, so we can get the richer data. 

As you learn what your customers love, what are their gains and pains, the precise design will help you to build a deep empathy with your users into the product you’re making for them. 

So, with that said, craft your buyer personas, and in the meantime, visit our article about the human-centered design — that’s the next milestone on the road to a successful SaaS startup where customers get exactly what they want, exactly where they're looking for it for the price that is optimal for them.

Dana Yatsenko


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SaaS business
min read

A Product Owner's Guide to Managing and Resolving UX Debt

Debt, whether it be financial or technical, is always difficult to handle when left unaddressed, and can cause real trouble later on. A UX debt is no different. You see designers hustling every day to make the user experience better, but UX debts can be a serious obstacle on their way to success.

UX design agencies, Agile teams, and product owners are particularly prone to UX debt as a result of limited resources, strict deadlines, and emerging market trends. As a design agency working mostly with SaaS businesses, we understand that an increasing debt can result in loss of trust among the customers or end-users, resulting in an overall decline in traffic and revenue. 

If you’re one of those UX designers, product owners, or Agile teams who are finding their way out, this guide will help you manage and get rid of your design debt.

More than that, over the years our team has built a major UX expertise and is ready to help you conduct a UX audit. But you can learn more in this regard on our other page, we're dealing with UX debts here.

First of all, let us define what is a UX debt.

What is meant by the term UX debt?

UX debt, or User Experience debt, is similar to technical debt. In tech debt, when a company chooses a deadline over quality, they usually have to face backlash. Then, they have to come back and reiterate or redesign the solution at the cost of extra time and resources, which means the company is "in debt". That’s exactly the case with UX debt.

You see examples of UX debt every other day. Let's say that you go to a website to find a product or service. However, even though you found what you were looking for, you notice that the website isn't as seamless or attractive as you expected.

Inconsistency in user experience on Amazon website as a result of UX debtImage source: Nielsen Norman Group

In the picture above we can see a typical example of UX debt. Although you find the site functional, you’re disappointed by the overall experience and would love to have something better. Congratulations and condolences - you've experienced a classical UX debt.

Image source: AJW Design blog

Users these days are not satisfied with just the solution addressing heir needs; they want more. This includes everything, from experience and aesthetics, to smoother transitions. So, when a website is created, it's considered debt-free as long as the user doesn't criticize the design. But when they do, the debt arises. 

What are the factors leading to increased UX debt?

Before we head on to the factors, let’s discuss the two basic types of UX debt. These are: the intentional or predicted UX debt and the unintentional UX debt that the user indicates. The intentional debts are “intentionally” put on hold as they are considered less important, while unintentional debts are the ones that end-users discover themselves. 

The following factors cause these types of debts: 

Lack of information

Prior to designing the product, the design team is obligated to do user research to know their ideal user’s requirements. The UX design teams have it in their best interest to find all the necessary information, which they can use to design a product or service that will satisfy the end-user.
This is cruial, since market trends change very often and might even change while you’re working on the design. That's why the lack of information can create a gap that would be hard to fill, and the result could be an unsatisfied user. 

Varying inputs

You may have heard the phrase "too many cooks spoil the broth". This can cause UX debt as well. There can be issues and conflicts in cases of large-scale projects that involve multiple UX teams. 
Such conflicts take place when various inputs are coming from different teams. Incorporating all those inputs can be difficult and costly. This not only causes confusion but can also complicate the product and add to UX debt.  
In these cases, the project manager or the person in charge should look at all designs with a critical eye and evaluate which input is valuable and which is invaluable. Creative freedom is important, but not at the cost of resources and design. 

Market needs

At times, the increased market need creates an urgency to deploy the product faster, and the shortage of time causes designers to meet the given deadlines with no focus on quality. This mostly happens when there's a goal to launch the product before your competitors.
Market needs cause an intentional UX debt when the designing team launches the product with its existing flaws on purpose. In these cases, the designer is aware of the fact that there's room for improvement.
After the product is launched, the designer has to come back and make additional changes to increase the design functionality. But the outcome is an added debt into the backlog.

Budget limitations

This is another factor that causes an intentional UX debt. When a UX design firm works on a project, it sometimes faces budget constraints. When that happens, the product team has to prioritize the aspects of design that are more important and fall under the “must-do” category. 
However, oftentimes even less significant aspects add to the user experience, which the team often neglects. This causes a UX debt that is fixed when the budget or other constraints are removed.  

Negative impact of UX debt  

Now that we know what a UX debt is and how it happens, let’s get on to why UX debt is such a big deal. There are multiple reasons why UX debt is a huge problem in product development:

  • It isn't easy to re-open closed projects. Revisiting and reiteration in a project don’t only cost money, but also impact the current ongoing projects. As finding the issues and correcting them entails more research and development, dealing with a UX debt is a time-consuming job.
  • Another reason is a loss of users' trust. When users explore the product for the first time and leave unsatisfied, they won't be eager to try it again. 
  • Once people get used to the original design, even if it is flawed, they will always resist the change. By correcting the old mistakes, your existing users might abandon your product. But if not, you may never get new ones.    

How to manage & resolve UX debt?

Managing and resolving UX debts requires the following steps: 

Step 1: Acknowledge the debts

Identifying and acknowledging the debts is the first step to success. In this step, you create a debt inventory or backlog to find out all the possible incurred debts. This can be done by regular audits, usability testing, and heuristic analysis

In cases of user testing, you either use the product yourself or make the team test it and analyze the product on factors like design persuasiveness, seamless navigation and functions, aesthetics, credibility, clarity of content, and accessibility

Step 2: Track the debts through audits

At times, there are debts that you don't know about, or that are impossible to find at all, due to inefficient tools. Because of this, there's a crucial need to run a proper UX audit to find out all the significant or insignificant debts. But keep in mind that with the right tools for audit it’s much easier to conduct it.  

To track and manage UX debts, it's also important to list all the design cuts intentionally left due to time or budget constraints. These design cuts will be added to the debt backlog along with all the other debts tracked by the audit.

Finally, list all these debts in a spreadsheet for conscious prioritization.

Step 3: Prioritize the UX debt

Now, how do you prioritize?

The design debt spreadsheet or backlog needs to have a section that shows the priority of the debt. Apart from priority, the sheet must contain the impact, criticality, and amount of effort required for the task. 

The urgency can be decided by using a priority matrix. All the debts that cause a high value to the product are catered first, and the ones with low value are left for the next interval.

Graph to plan and prioritize UX Debt 
Graph to plan and prioritize UX Debt

To prioritize UX debt the product team needs to slow down or pause the development of new features. Easier said than done but your product will benefit from such a decision in a long-term game.

Step 4: Plan & resolve the debts

Now, why do you need to plan UX debts? 

This is because once you have a pile of debts ready to fix, you can’t pay all of them off at once. Because if you do, your whole team will get on fixing the debts, and your existing projects will suffer. 

So, dedicate a specific amount of time each month or in fixed intervals in which your team will wipe away the debts. This will not affect your working capacity much, and the issues will be solved one by one.  After this, create success metrics describing how your cleared debt will help in the user experience.

And there you have it — the debt is repaid.  

To Sum Up 

Managing your UX debts can be an intimidating task. However, with professional audits, clear prioritization, and strategic planning, you can get the job done in no time!
Don’t hesitate to contact our team if you want to avoid the misfortune of UX debt or conduct a UX audit. 

SaaS business
min read

Fastest Growing SaaS Companies That Drive Remote Work Revolution

Six years ago HP made a fantasy commercial about their 4G internet that was good enough to run a board meeting from a beach.

Who would have thought this fantasy would become a reality where you can work from Bermuda or Barbados without hiding from your boss, without even wearing an office background imitation on your back — there’s a feature for that in Zoom and Google Meet.

That's how ancient believed remote work looked like meme
That's how ancient believed remote work looked like

Remote work fantasy is rapidly becoming a reality

It’s been over a year since the pandemic hit and the corporate world shifted to remote working. With the vaccination drive, everything seems to go back to normal. Everything except the labor market. 

Most people who have tasted the freedom of working from home want to keep a flexible schedule forever. Saying this on behalf of 90% of Eleken’s team. 

One recent study found that even bosses don’t necessarily want to pull their staff back — nearly 80% of companies plan to keep some degree of remote work post-pandemic. For business, a flexible schedule brings its own pros: greater employee satisfaction, increased productivity, lower operational costs, and a larger pool of global job applicants.

Dozens of tech companies already offer flexible work models. Just to illustrate the point:

  • Jack Dorsey, the dual CEO of both Twitter and Square, said his employees can continue working remotely forever. 
  • Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook people may also work from home. 
  • Ford has recently approved a work-office “hybrid” model for its 30,000 employees.

Sounds like a remote work revolution, and cloud technologies are in the vanguard.

How enterprise SaaS companies saved remote workers

In March 2020, almost overnight, everyone who had a kind of job that could be done remotely started working remotely. 

Locked at homes, people had to somehow communicate with the outside world and defend themselves from scammers looking to cash in on this most miserable of moments in our lives. Needless to say, that on-premise business software, locked away together with offices, couldn’t help.

home office this is fine meme
Distress signals from an unknown home office

Before I tell you how SaaS apps came to the rescue, you should meet Okta. 

Okta is a company that provides 10,000+ enterprises with an SSO gateway — a tool that enables users to securely access multiple apps with just one set of credentials. Simply put, Okta’s line of work allows the company to see what SaaS apps enterprise users prefer. 

That’s perfect optics to see the underlying trends across the entire cloud, and thankfully, this optics is available to everyone through Okta’s yearly reports.

Okta’s reports show that telecommuting was on-trend long before the lockdown. Zoom, for instance, has belonged to the top growing SaaS companies since 2016. But then in March 2020, the normal usage curve of SaaS apps reared up.

What happened to some biggest B2B SaaS companies in March 2020
What happened to some biggest B2B SaaS companies in March 2020

In no time, Zoom rocketed from #10 to #1 fastest growing SaaS company with a mindblowing 110% growth in unique users in March over February 2020. For comparison, Zoom grew only 6% during that same month-over-month period in 2019.

And it wasn’t just Zoom — three of the top seven fastest growing software companies were video conferencing apps. RingCentral ranked at #6 with 39% growth and Cisco Webex took #7 with 37% growth.

Network security was another concern for organizations moving workforces to the cloud, that’s why VPN tools were on fire. GlobalProtect by Palo Alto Networks ranked as #2 fastest growing with the audience broadening by 94% in March over February. Cisco AnyConnect finished close behind with 86% growth. Citrix ADC, a tool that improves application performance and secures apps from attacks, had 56% growth and the #4 spot.

The #5 app also belonged to a wide array of work-from-home security services — it was Security Awareness Training by Proofpoint.

Fastest growing apps, March over February 2020
Fastest growing apps, March over February 2020

Fastest growing B2B SaaS companies after a year of remoting

Once you eliminate your number one problem, number two gets a promotion. We’ve got the most basic remote necessities of security and communication covered just to figure out there are a ton of other issues with working from home:

  • overthinking makes you stir crazy
  • multitasking kills your productivity
  • dining chair kills your back

As new problems arrive, changes happen with the list of top SaaS companies. The first thing you notice in the new Okta’s report summarizing the usage in the year 2020 is that Zoom has dropped down to #15. 

The pandemic has accelerated the life cycle of telecommuting services so that they reached maturity and slowed down their traction. Most people who need an app for video calls already have one. The market is split between a few major players like Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams who are now copying each other's features and poaching each other's customers.

The list of SaaS companies with the fastest growth after a year working remotely differs completely from what we’ve seen at the very early part of the pandemic. If the first wave of Covid-related technology adoption was to support the very possibility of working from home, the second wave came to make remoting easier and more productive.

work from home in 2020 and 2021 meme

The list of high-growth SaaS companies is now dominated by Amazon Business. According to Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom, last year the average worker in the US invested “15 hours of time and $561 in home equipment” to facilitate their workplaces. Looks like dining chairs killing their backs pissed Americans off just enough to spend an astonishing 1% of the annual GDP on better equipment. 

Three hottest SaaS collaboration tools share the spotlight with Amazon Business —  Miro, Figma and Monday take the #2, #3 and #4 spots respectively. 

A people management platform Lattice got ranked as the #6 fastest growing app in 2020, and that’s the first time since 2016 when an HR brand got to the list — looks like companies are more than ever interested in developing teams and keeping employees engaged as they are working remotely. 

During the pandemic, consumers have moved dramatically toward online channels, and companies had to respond by increasing the share of digital products in their portfolios. No wonder that the #9 fastest growing app became Sentry, the service for developers to diagnose, fix, and optimize the performance of their code.

The last thematic cluster is security apps that provide a full range of protection. At #5 appeared Fortinet FortiGate with its firewalls against outside cyber attackers. Spot #8 belongs to the endpoint security service VMware Carbon Black. And rounding out our top ten password manager 1Password.

Fastest growing SaaS companies 2020
Fastest growing SaaS companies 2020

What is the future of SaaS in the work-from-home economy

In just a few months, the pandemic has brought years of change in the way companies do business. The possibility to work from anywhere has taken a quantum leap, thanks to the largest SaaS companies in particular.

The big expansion of fully remote or hybrid work models seems inevitable in the post-Covid era. But mixing remote and on-site work in the long term might be more challenging than it looks, despite its success during lockdowns.

Consider previous experiments in this field. Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, finished the company’s virtual-working attempt in 2013 because the team needed to “become one Yahoo! again”. HP Inc. failed with their remote experiment the same that year, to create a more connected workforce and drive greater collaboration and innovation. 

Specific reasons may vary, but it’s clear that remoting brings both positive and negative effects. Some things simply become more difficult when you are not working altogether. It’s getting hard for newcomers to blend in, to teach and to learn, to build inclusivity and corporate culture.

All those difficulties are coming and we don’t know how to address them yet. So the SaaS startups that will launch to offer worthy solutions will probably ride the following wave of the most successful SaaS startups. 

Except for the stellar problem-solving idea, a successful SaaS startup needs stellar product design. And if the idea is the task for an entrepreneur, in everything related to design you can count on Eleken.

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