The first thing we have to do is make sure we are on the same page about what a patient persona is.
Patient personas are ways of describing who patients are and what’s important to them in relation to whatever is important for you.
For example, in patient acquisition the key insights might be where they go to get health-related questions answered so we can promote ourselves where they are along with the most common problems they are looking to get solved and how they make their buying decision.
When done right, the patient persona is like a jetpack strapped to your sales and marketing funnels and the patient feels as if we can read their mind because our message is THAT specific. When we present them with an offer, they have an objection but we already know exactly what that is and address it as soon as they think it – all automatically because we knew it ahead of time.
Why are patient personas important?
Many people skip the personas because they feel that it’s a boring exercise to do and perhaps they don’t see the value of it.
What usually happens is that someone skips the exercise entirely or answers the persona questions based on how they think that the person would answer, builds their sales funnels and marketing collateral only to realize that it doesn’t perform. Either they’ll get stuck there or they’ll go back to the patient persona exercise and redo it properly until their funnels perform better.
The reason a patient persona is crucial is that it serves as a clear benchmark for what to put in your sales funnels, in the sense that it has to help overcome the challenges the patient has and the objections they will have when presented with an offer.
An example of a patient persona
The most common answer I hear to the question ‘who’s your target patient?’ is ‘everyone’ – or at least most of the market. While that often sounds like a questionable approach for an early-stage startup, even if that’s the case, it’s usually too expensive to market to everyone at the same time since the message will be too watered down.
If your sales funnels are converting but the CAC is too high and they are not performing like you want them to, that is often why. The answer is often using more patient personas – one persona for each segment or type of patient. If they feel too similar, it is usually because we don’t understand each one well enough and we need to dive deeper or that we have segmented them in a way that isn’t useful.
If you are unsure how narrow or broad to make each persona, lean towards making it more narrow as you can always make accumulated personas when you understand each one well enough to consolidate them.
Usually, the point is to improve team efficiency by making it easier for the team to manage all the marketing collateral for each persona but it doesn’t make sense to optimize the efficiency until the sales funnel performance is the way we want it to be.
Let’s start out with the example of Tanya the teacher.
Persona example: Tanya the teacher
As an example, let’s do a persona for a typical middle-class wife who’s the center of the family. Our business and service in this example will be a tech startup offering care consultations and exams on-demand. Similar to heal.com.
An example could be a housewife in her mid-40s with a husband, two children, and working as a teacher in economics. Let’s call her Tanya.
Tanya lives near Paris in a middle-class house and usually takes the metro 30 minutes to work every day.
Background and career path
She has a PhD in economics from the Paris school of economics and grew up in the area in a middle-class family. Her path was traditional, passed school with good grades, and did a gap year abroad traveling South Asia before studying at university.
Tanya is the lead economics teacher at a local, private, high school specializing in business topics. The school isn’t that big and carries around 500 students across different grades and classes.
She’s had this job for a couple of years after being promoted to leading the economics teachers. Before she was a teacher fresh out of school when she landed the job. She reports to the head principal and has two other, younger, teachers in her team.
A typical day in her life
A typical day for her starts at 6am when she wakes up to go for a short jog, which also serves as a workout, to the bakery to buy breakfast for her family before they wake up. Her children are 12 and 14, and go to primary school nearby where they bike there, which means Tanya has more flexibility in the mornings.
After having breakfast with her family, she has to be at the school for the first class at 8.45 and she usually finishes classes by 2 in the afternoon, sometimes with class breaks in between. She then goes to a cafe or at home where she prepares lesson plans or grades homework often until 6pm, where she goes home to prepare dinner for her family.
What does she read?
She likes modern novels but doesn’t have as much reading time as she’d like as her work also includes plenty of reading of papers or homework assignments but she likes audiobooks and podcasts during workouts.
How she interacts with doctors
She doesn’t like to self-diagnose with online articles if she has symptoms because she knows that it will likely be incorrect and stress her out. She prefers consulting with a physician to get peace of mind.
She has a general care physician her family usually goes to and between him and friends, she’ll get recommendations in the rare case that she needs a specialist. Only if that doesn’t work, will she search online for the best care specialist in her area.
What are her biggest (medical) challenges
Tanya is lucky that her family is generally a healthy bunch without any chronic diseases. She spends time thinking about her children and husband’s wellbeing but both she and her husband’s parents are getting older and the signs are starting to show.
The parents are old school and tend to avoid seeing a doctor unless limbs are falling off, with the excuse that things have always worked just fine even though one doesn’t walk as well as he used to and another doesn’t hear that well. In some ways, it’s a polite fight with her trying to get them to do general examinations in order to catch bad symptoms of old age early, but it usually doesn’t amount to anything. It’s the same situation with her husband.
In all of this, she often forgets to take care of herself as she is focused on the rest of the family.
Example questions for your patient personas
The most important thing in the patient persona exercise besides getting the insights correct is to ask the right questions. If we ask the wrong questions, we get the wrong insights and it’s all wasted.
In this chapter, I’ll share some example questions as inspiration depending on what you are looking to use the patient persona for.
- What’s their name?
- How old are they?
- Where do they live?
- Which part of their family do they live with?
- Who is a part of their family?
- Are they married, dating or single?
- What’s their educational background?
- What do they do for a living?
- What are their beliefs, values, and motivations? (About the type of care we provide)
- Describe a day in their life
- What makes them happy, sad, stressed, or frustrated?
- What roles do they play in their home? Or outside of their home?
- What’s their level of physical fitness?
- What’s their health like?
- What are their goals and struggles?
- What do they worry about?
- What have they overcome in their life?
- Who do they go to for advice?
- What are their trusted sources of information?
- What is their experience with technology?
If you struggle to make this ultra concrete for each persona, a great trick is to think of one specific person you know in real life for each persona. It might be a relevant friend or family member – imagine what they would do in each situation or answer each question.
If we don’t get each persona right, it’ll trickle down into the patient journey and sales funnels, and it will be harder to figure what’s wrong if things aren’t performing. We won’t know if it’s because we have the right insights about the right people, if we are targeting the right people at all or if it’s a problem with our marketing collateral.
It’s easier (and faster) to spend extra time aiming and deciding on the right people to target and the right fundamental insights about them upfront. The patient persona, sales funnels, etc. is like a big equation without all the scary math stuff.
We can’t have all parts of it be unknown at the same time because we’ll have to experiment with each one to solve it and grow the business, and then we won’t know what’s wrong. If we know that one thing is likely to be correct, it makes the equation of why our patient acquisition isn’t performing much easier to figure out because it allows us to systematically experiment with the other items that are trackable. That way, we can see how the exact change we made impacts the overall output and performance.
What to do with the patient personas?
Ok, now we’ve created some different personas. Now what?
The personas do little for the business in itself but combined with other projects like patient journey mapping it can be extremely useful in catching incongruencies throughout the sales funnel. An example of this is the payment of choice. In some western markets, bank cards are the only obvious choice but in other markets, there might be a more even distribution of cash vs. card.
The essence of the patient persona is to be able to compare it to each step of the patient journey and visualize how the potential patient might react – will they be confused, excited, have an objection we didn’t answer, or something else?
Personally, I like to map out each step of the sales funnel either by screenshots of each step or with a video recording and then compare it to the key insights I discovered through the patient persona. When we find the specific bottlenecks in the funnel it will usually be obvious why patients aren’t moving forward when we compare it to our persona insights. It’s another one of those exercises that seem unnecessary and easy to skip but makes all the difference if you are looking for strong sales performance.
Next, consider reading about the patient journey.
- Patient personas are often an annoying but crucial exercise. If we get it wrong, our marketing performance will suffer and we’ll have to redo it to get it right
- Specify the questions based on what your goal is. Don’t reuse all the same questions if the purpose isn’t the same e.g. use one set of questions for the patient acquisition and others for retention projects since the insights aren’t always relevant
- The patient persona can make our life much easier when optimizing sales funnels as we’ll be able to compare the persona with each step of the sales funnel to uncover where it’s inconsistent