In working with a number of product teams, I’ve found that it’s usually difficult to know where to start. One exercise that works well is to draw opposing traits on a spectrum and ask two questions: is this relevant? And if so, where do we think our customer sits on this spectrum? What makes a trait important is how it influences the customer to make decisions. For example, if you believe that your target customer values cash, that conflicts with offering a full-featured product at a premium price. The advantage of the traits spectrum is that it’s visual.
The recommended sketching out on a whiteboard with your entire team and soliciting input as you go. In your experience, doing this helps bring a more diverse set of thinkers into the process. Engineers, designers, and salespeople who might not read a long document will participate in a short whiteboard exercise. The following lists should get you started, and then you can add criteria specific to your industry or vertical.
If you’re targeting consumers, you might want to start with some of these traits as a jumping-off point. Some of you will wonder why you’ve done all this work up front before you start talking to people. Others will wonder why you need to talk to people when it was so easy to come up with very plausible customer profiles on your own!