User Personas with Empathy – How to Drive Growth and Improve Product Experience by Better Understanding User Motivations

User Personas with Empathy - How to Drive Growth and Improve Product Experience by Better Understanding User Motivations

User personas are often misunderstood and overgeneralized by SaaS businesses, which impacts the product experience of SaaS customers. Jon Gatrell, a Product Management coach with over two decades of experience in product, sales, and marketing roles, tells us how to address this problem.

Which User? User Personas Drive Context and Enable Empathy

Over the last several years of working with software organizations I have seen some amazing teams and processes which have set folks apart, but even where the teams are delivering on target for date and content, there is a common theme impacting design and successful prioritization of delivery.

They understand what users do, but they don’t fully understand why they’re doing it. Let’s have a look at better understanding drivers of user behavior.

There Isn’t a Generic User Persona

user persona


For most cloud and SaaS offerings, there are a number of user types. Different preferences and different contexts drive different solution needs. B2C apps may have one type of user with a single set of goals, while in B2B you may have 3-5 types of users each with different goals.

The workflows and preferences for these are likely quite different, and yet when documenting requirements, folks mash them together as a single user with a job to be done. Remember: Even though the job may appear the same, the goal may differ.

Who Do You Care About?

It may sound a bit harsh but let’s face it: Not all users are created equal and not all users consume your products in the same fashion.

Thus, when the generic requirements speak of “A” user, we simply inflate what it is that one user needs and wants. Essentially, we’re making one user more complex instead of recognizing that it’s time to separately recognize different use cases for different folks.

The unfortunate reality is many product teams don’t track users by separate personas and don’t know what drives each of those personas. Often because no differentiation is made in the first place. The result? A product that doesn’t properly meet the needs of users.

Listening to our users is critical.

User Personas Are Who *and* Why

Personas are commonplace in product teams. For them, personas are the anchor for everyone else in the organization. Personas are targets – targets for prioritization, targets for design, and targets for feature adoption. Personas are not a document hidden away on some Team’s site or a Slack channel, personas are tools to be implemented in our requirement-documentation process.


Every problem you document needs to be tied to a target and that means if you have multiple personas with the same problem, you need to document their scenarios as specific users to provide context and empathy for design and engineering.

With this context, you can prioritize feature delivery relative to the persona’s you care about most, which may even require you to understand your buyers’ needs to focus on the right users.

But in order for this to work, we need to understand what motivates our personas.

It’s not enough anymore to capture simple demographic information. Their age, sex, level of education, etc. will only get you so far and usually leads to inferences about the archetype of someone with similar demographics.

But in order for personas to truly work, we need to codify the motivations of our personas:

  • What do they intend to achieve by using our product?
  • What is driving their usage?
  • What is driving their engagement?
  • In B2B cases, how would our application help them get their bonus?

User Personas Based Approach Accelerates ROI and Drives Better Analytics

With a focus on personas, you can better deliver on your product roadmap and strategy and make better business decisions through analytics. You can segment your users into cohorts/personas to find out which users drive retention. You can understand which users are embracing new features and over time you can inform existing processes and prioritization with facts and metrics on how each target embraces your product.

About the Author

Jon Gatrell brings more than a decade of experience instructing Product teams around the world to Market-Driven Business. Prior to joining the team, Jon worked as instructor and course designer for Pragmatic Institute where he trained thousands of Product professionals in the art of outside-in business. Before Pragmatic Institute, Jon held leading roles in product management, marketing, sales, and corporate development. Jon frequently sought after speaker and has presented keynotes on 4 continents and been voted in by peers at over 40 ProductCamps.

Want to create in-app experiences tailored to all your user personas without coding? Jump on a free consultation with our product specialist!

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