Persona marketing

One of the many things I’m enjoying about Xero is learning about marketing. I’ve done technology, learned a lot about business and operations but real marketing is new for me.

For what it’s worth, here’s a few things I’ve been thinking about that may be useful to you.

Small companies soon discover building a global or even national brand is incredibly expensive. I’ve mentioned before that we find traditional advertising ineffective. Advertising may assist with some brand awareness but as this is immeasurable it’s not something we want to put significant effort into.

With enterprise software you can sell your product on the energy of the founders. Get a good founder in the room and they’ll sell a deal. If you’re burning 200k a month and your product is $50 to $100k, the founders will often be able to get out there and do the 3 or 4 deals for the business to keep moving forward.With mass market, low cost products, including SaaS products like Xero, you can’t sell every one. Initially we had to – to ensure we gained customer insights, sales experience and make sure we nailed our early numbers. But to really succeed we have to be good at marketing. And for me that means we need to be able to scale sales using marketing strategy and online selling processes.

Our initial direct sales and marketing efforts were intended to validate the product and were never our long term approach. In our last update to the market we revealed the next phase of our sales and marketing approach is to make small businesses aware of Xero is co-marketing. We have been working on a number of relationships where we partner with significant organisations that already have a relationship with many our potential customers and have large annual marketing budgets. The most recent partnership we announced was Telecom.

As these partnerships kick in we expect they will drive prospects to our front door. We then need to use marketing and online sales techniques to move them through our sales process.  There are other ways to drive leads in like search engine optimisation (SEO) and pay per click (PPC) and we invest there as well.  But this post is more about what happens when your potential customers arrive at the door.

One of the important factors that shaped our thinking in Xero was our belief that small businesses are not scaled down enterprises. They are real people who work hard all day and dislike having to do the books at night.

Look at the MYOB and NetSuite homepages. Who are they designed for? Not the small business owners I’ve met over the years.


These are big corporates trying to communicate with small businesses.  It just doesn’t fit.



Quite different from our last home page campaign.



You may have noticed the most recent change in our home page where we feature customers and partners and deep link into our site.

We’ve been working on this update since my session at the Rackspace SaaS event in London a few weeks ago. I was impressed by James Murfin from Mural Ventures who presented on best practice marketing for SaaS companies. One of the best practice topics he covered was Persona Driven Marketing. The concept of using the perspective of different types of users ties directly to our design led approach so it resonated and got me thinking.

I googled Persona Marketing and found this definition.

Persona-based marketing is part Hollywood and part business analytics. Construct a fictional customer–based on real-life data and intelligence–and then use that character as the touchstone for promotion and selling decisions.

The example James had in his presentation was Course Max.



When we looked a CourseMax we got the concept and understood what James was talking about but the execution didn’t ring true to us. It screamed stock photo.

So in normal Xero fashion we analyzed what others were doing but took it a step further with our own Xero style. We used existing customers and partners, and used the language of small business owners.



We created a series of guides that we could link from our personas to demonstrate that we are passionate about helping our customers grow better businesses. For example: Invoicing tips to improve your cash-flow. (We simply use pages in WordPress to quickly create and edit these guides.)

This persona-driven approach allows us to bring in our other stakeholders like Accountants and Bankers to round out our story. We’ve had trouble trying to get messages for these stakeholders into our home page so we’re delighted that personas allow us to talk about these aspects of Xero on our front page.



I just love this message with Komal.  For me it just nails what small business is all about – the challenge of balancing work and family.

We’ll be watching how this Persona Marketing approach works out over the next month and will report back.  Let us know your thoughts.


Ben Kepes
November 9, 2008 at 7:47 pm

Personas are great (I used to do design strategy consulting where we used personas to design all aspects of a business – from product to marketing to CRM) but I can’t help but think that persona led marketing, without similarly attuned whole-of-business perspective is flawed. (and no – I’m not saying that Xero is guilty of this – just making a point).

Persona driven marketing, without the other business aspects, can end up being not much more than spin. In my experience where personas really start to shine is when they’re used to ideate at every level of the business. I remember facilitating a design strategy group for a manufacturing business and witnessing the magic when the team started looking at their showroom and customer service through the eyes of their personas.

Even better is when the personas can be used to ideate products years (and sometimes decades) out…

Check out this –

SaaS Vendors - Know Thy Customer | CloudAve
November 15, 2008 at 2:44 am

[…] was reminded of personas recently when I read an opinion piece by the CEO of Xero, Rod Drury. Xero is a SaaS accounting company that considers itself to be […]

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