Using Buyer Personas to Drive Sales and Marketing Alignment

By Masami Middleton on Jul 25, 2018

4 Minute Estimated Read Time

How common is this scenario between Sales and Marketing at companies you’ve worked for?

Sales depends on Marketing to nail down the target customer and deliver leads.
Yet when the leads come in, the vast majority are not qualified.
As a result, the Sales team gripes about needing more help from Marketing.
After all, they’ve got a big budget – what are they spending it on?

Regardless of how marketing allocates budget and resources, I would bet the most common issue behind the conflict and misalignment is a lack of well-defined buyer personas.

Buyer personas create a common language between Sales and Marketing to talk about the real people who represent your ideal customer. The quicker you can relate to these target customers and address their pains and goals (at the top the funnel), the better you can meet their needs in every marketing or sales interaction down the funnel.

Quick Buyer Persona 101

Customer targeting efforts often fall short by simply zeroing in on job titles, a specific company size, or an industry. But are we really just selling to titles and companies? Of course not! We market and sell to people.

Buyer personas are fictionalized, data-driven representations of your ideal customers. To define a buyer persona, we get inside the minds of our best customers and build profiles with elements like:

  • Role: Their job within the company, how are they measured and rewarded, what knowledge and tools do they need to succeed.
  • Challenges: Issues or pains the buyer faces in their daily work (that you can help with).
  • Goals and Motivations: What the buyer wants to achieve, what’s important to them in their role.
  • Demographics: Their age, gender, location, income, education.
  • Watering Holes: How and where they like to network and consume information (e.g., professional associations, social media, email, phone, live chat).
  • What You Can Do for Them: How your business brings a solution to their every-day challenges.


How Buyer Personas Align Sales and Marketing

When Sales and Marketing teams collaborate to define buyer personas, they build a common foundation for how they will identify, qualify, inform, help, and ultimately build "trusted advisor" status with prospects. Buyer persona development should never be a marketing only activity! Excluding sales and other customer-facing stakeholders in this important process means automatic failure.  Sales will perceive your personas as Marketing’s “science experiment”.

"The idea of a highly personalized and segmented go-to-market strategy isn’t just for the benefit of marketers; it is a boon for sellers as well. When sellers understand the particular challenges that a unique buyer is facing, they can better tailor one-to-one conversations, send the correct follow-up content, and ultimately be much more confident in their ability to develop a productive relationship with the buyer. The end result is a more effective and efficient go-to-market engine."
- John Raguin, Chief Marketing Officer, Seismic

Primary research is critical for buyer persona development. Interview customers, prospects and members of every customer-facing organization, including top sellers, inside sales, customer success/service, product management, and anyone else who touches the customer.

Remember that B2B purchase decisions involve more people today than before. You can have multiple buyer personas in a single organization:

“Buyer personas – at their most effective - extend beyond just the traditional 'decision maker'. Understanding all the participants in the process, their roles and individual approaches to the purchase decision, is more important than ever before. When marketing and sales jointly have insight into, and are able to tailor their interactions with, each buyer persona, they significantly increase their ability to influence the decision-making process.”
- Anne Marsden, Principal & Founder, Marsden Marketing

The end result: content and conversations become customer-focused, not “us-focused”. Every campaign, piece of content, or sales call plan addresses what motivates (and irritates) your ideal prospect.

According to Aberdeen, targeting users along the buying process with content that is relevant to their needs yields 72% higher conversion rates.

Buyer Persona Brainstorming as a Team

The sales team provides a critical input for buyer persona definition.  Ask your best sales people to name their top three clients/accounts. They can think about their most successful first meetings over the last 3-6 months. Then ask them to define who the key decision makers and influencers were, what they do, why they took your call/meeting, their titles, education, and gender. Ask them what they gripe about and what their career and business goals are. 

Another way to get the ball rolling is to conduct a buyer persona and content marketing workshop.  Invite a broad cross-section of customer facing people (primarily sales). Customer pains and challenges are a critical component of the workshop.

I like to kick these workshops off with a brainstorming activity:

  1. Each participant thinks of ideal customers and prospects they’ve engaged with and writes down the top three pains of those ideal customers/prospects and posts them on giant sticky notes.
  2. As a team, we group those pains into common themes/buckets.
  3. Then we talk about the “who” behind each of these pains – the roles, goals, demographics and information needs of these people experiencing the pain.

By starting with the pain, we define personas in a true, needs-based manner. When brainstorming these challenges, make sure they are based on what customers actually say, not what your company offers.

Refining and Using Buyer Personas Over Time

With customers, competition, or your company’s offerings constantly changing, buyer personas should be regularly revisited over time. Here are some ways Sales and Marketing teams can work together to validate/refine buyer personas:

  • Have Sales "pressure test" personas in sales conversations and discovery. Confirm that their demographics, primary pains, goals, and information sources are still valid.
  • Use your CRM and marketing automation systems to tag personas to visitors/prospects early based on consumption of digital content or sales reps’ assessments.
  • Track those visitors/prospects over time and compare sales conversion across personas. Which ones are the winners? Do we need to adjust or toss out the losers? Is there a new persona surfacing based on shifts in buyers, needs, or your company’s offerings?


How You Know Buyer Personas Are Working

You know buyer personas are working when they form a common language between sales and marketing teams. Content priorities for marketing become crystal clear. They use buyer personas as lead qualification criteria.  Buyer personas are woven into the sales process and regularly come up in dialog between sales and marketing.

Examples of success:

  • Marketing maps content by persona to stages in the buyers’ journey (tip sheets, point-of-view pieces, case studies, fact sheets, etc.).
  • Marketing regularly collects input and feedback from Sales on their content calendar to address key buyer persona needs
  • Content by buyer persona is known and easily accessible to the sales team. Consider the use of content management platforms (e.g., Seismic) to manage, distribute, and measure the effectiveness of these content assets.
  • Buyer persona-focused campaigns attract and nurture high quality leads for the sales team
  • Sales isn't complaining!

Who are your company’s buyer personas?  Are your sales and marketing teams on the same page? For more thoughts on sales and marketing alignment, see our blog 6 Strategies for Sales and Marketing Alignment.

Download our Guide to Sales Resource Optimization

Masami Middleton

Written by Masami Middleton

As a Principal Consultant with Symmetrics Group, Masami Middleton combines the market focus and execution of a Marketing VP with the critical, data-driven orientation of a seasoned strategist. Masami is passionate about sales and marketing integration and helping organizations take a disciplined approach to defining sales and marketing process and enabling technologies. Over the last 25 years, Masami has served as a strategy consultant and marketing leader from Fortune 500 to start-up environments.

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