Understanding personas in SaaS marketing

Adithya Venkatesan
6 min readJun 18, 2024


When selling SaaS products, marketing teams obsess over the different ‘personas’ to be targeted. I categorize these under four buckets:

  1. Buyer Persona — The person who controls budgets and decisions to buy a product or reject it.
  2. User Persona — The one who actually uses the product, and experiences its boon and banes.
  3. Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) — The types of people in an org who best suit your solution.
  4. The evangelist — The one who understands your roadmap, and evangelizes the product for you in an org.

These are the 4 personas as I understand them. The first 3 are routine, and have been spoken about in length. The 4th is ignored mostly because once the sale is done, folks move on.

The 4th persona is critical product retention and gives data-driven direction to companies to build great products. More on this later.

Buyer Personas

To me, the Buyer persona is a: ‘good to know, great to articulate, terrible to break your head over’. Because these folks aren’t good for product retention. They’re merely influenced by the User persona. They don’t use the product much, and care for outcomes. Those outcomes are driven by User personas.

A good product naturally stands the test of time, and builds resilience as you focus on points 2 & 3.

The Buyer persona focuses on the brand they want to be associated with. They focus on costs. For these personas, marketing teams should focus on events, roundtables, and talks. Influence Don’t do the major chunk of your bidding here. A layer of brand marketing rubs off on this persona.

Sidenote: The buyer persona has the illusion of power in startups. In most startups, the ‘doer’, the one who faces problems routinely exercises more power than the ‘manager’. The Users influence the buyers, and if marketing can convince enough User personas, they’ve won the battle to make the sale.

The problem is the lack of ‘product-oriented’ marketing around User personas, and converting them into evangelists. This is the gaping hole for marketers, because it involves understanding the ambitions and beliefs of a niche persona. More below 👇

User Personas

User personas are hard to sell to. They want documentation, proofs, case studies, and a track record of efficacy. This is the org that sales can’t penetrate. They’re developers who want to talk to developers.

Any attempt to make a sale is met with disdain. Only one layer plays a role in this space — Marketing. (Apart from time from leadership — which is not something marketing should consistently rely on)

Your job as a marketer is therefore three-fold:

  • To bring awareness of your product.
  • To build the brand perception of a product your persona wants to be associated with.
  • Use the lever of product marketing to showcase differentiation, comparisons, and how superior your product is from the rest.

The first two points are driven by brand and performance. The last is driven by an engineer in conjunction with a product marketer. If the product marketer is dictating the tempo of conversations, you will fail. This is an engineering conversation, and therefore, needs to be driven and seeded by an engineer.

A product marketer facilitates and packages this intent. For example: An engineer can enunciate that developers hate spending time writing PromQL queries. A product marketer packages how one saves time using a solution that helps automate writing these queries.

SaaS orgs don’t take this persona seriously enough, and end up giving marketing too much control to steer the messaging of the product. This is the primary reason products don’t get enough traction.

A marketer cannot influence an engineer. A perception can be built over time, but the mainstay is always driven by engineers for engineers.

Orgs that don’t hire engineers to influence product marketing narratives will fail.

Ideal Customer Profile

The ICP has a lot of definitions on the internet, and folks have different takes on it. The simple way I understand the ICP — The archetypical customer you want the product to be used by, in a way that helps the problem you’re solving.

Let’s understand this with an example:
I use Notion to write down random thoughts.
My friend uses Notion to document dish recipes.
Both are user personas, both find value in using Notion.

For a marketer working with Notion, the ICP would be someone who uses Notion to…
Publish websites, evangelize the product in an organization, plan sprint tasks, use the calendar for meetings, track progress of work with multiple teams, etc…

Notice how the ICP differs from the User persona?

The ICP is important because it helps marketers direct marketing messaging to existing, and potentially new users. It signals how you want folks to behave in your ecosystem of products. This is critical if you want to improve retention and support the product team in feature velocity.

At some point, orgs eventually start obsessing over this:
- What is our Ideal Customer Profile?
- How can we target them correctly?
- What should we do to nail them?

The answer to all of this is fairly binary imo: Explain the problem you’re solving from the prism of the persona who uses your product, or from the organization that stands to benefit from using your product.

Yet, orgs chase some mysterious fact they’ve left out while targeting these personas. A pet peeve is how we also fail to understand how people make irrational and whimsical decisions. This quote from Taleb explains how people think, act, and make decisions:

“I am, at the Fed level, libertarian; at the state level, Republican; at the local level, Democrat; and at the family and friends level, a socialist. And with my dog, I’m a Marxist”

And yet, we want to nail down the traits of an Ideal Customer Profile. This is an exercise in futility. If anything, a reasonably good product does not fit into the box of an ICP. Your audience is varied, talented, and demands more from a good product. Anyway, that’s a story for another day.

What you should be doing as a marketer: serve your audience with crisp meaningful problem statements, and how you product solves them.

The evangelist

Marketers don’t focus on the evangelist really. Mostly because they don’t talk enough to users who use the product. (Colour me guilty AF) Uncovering an evangelist is the flywheel marketers dream of.

The evangelist is an advocate for the product. They help with stickiness across teams after a sale is already closed. They improve adoption, demand features, and capabilities.

The evangelist is the real unpaid marketer you dream of.

Usually, the Customer Support teams deal with the evangelist and marketers seldom hear about them. As a marketer, talk to your Customer-facing teams. They have tonnes of stories — mostly bad, but every once in a while you’ll hear a gem you can sell. 😛

If you unleash an engineer on the evangelist, you can chalk out dozens of stories that will help your product marketing efforts. If it were to me, I’d coerce the product marketer to squat in the office of the customers who use the product. It’s the surest way to unearth stories on how your product solves a problem.

These personas need to be harvested, and once you do, they will do your bidding.

Invite the evangelists for talks, get them on community meetups, get your product teams to converse with them, and build close relationships with these folks. Every quarter, the marketing team should have a ‘meet-and-greet’ style event for these evangelists.

There are tonnes of ideas here, and marketing should drive these initiatives to win people over as evangelists.

Wrote this after a loooong conversation discussing user personas. Wrote down a few thoughts here. Hopefully, it’s handy to steer marketing initiatives for SaaS orgs. It’s not as exhaustive as I intended it, but hopefully has enough fodder to think. Good luck!



Adithya Venkatesan

Brand Marketer. Twitter: @adadithya. Travel fanatic. Wildlife lover. Voracious reader. Cenosillicaphobic. Logophile. Past: @gojektech @reuters @ACJIndia