What was the last movie you watched? Maybe it was Top Gun: Maverick or Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Now, imagine that you’re a cast member on the set of one of these movies. If you have the movie script, you’re going to understand each character’s role in the movie, what their lines are, and what motivates them. In fact, if you understand the story well enough, you might just improvise an iconic scene. However, if you show up to set without a script, you won’t know what the story is, what your lines are, or how you should even respond to the characters around you.
The same idea applies to B2B sales. Fundamentally, you need to understand how the buyers and stakeholders in your target accounts talk to each other and how they embark on and conclude a buying journey. Buyer personas give you a sense of how these conversations start, end, and what type of “dialogue” each character uses. Most importantly, buyer personas give you a broader view of the decision making process.
Don’t Fast Forward Through Your Buyer Personas
One of the most common mistakes salespeople make is the failure to recognize that there are several decision makers involved in the buying process. In fact, Gartner reported that an average of six to 10 people are involved in most buying decisions. Our experience shows that many sales teams struggle to even identify five roles involved in the decision making process.
Moreover, Buying Facilitation author Sharon Drew Morgen calls out a key point about sales when she states, “a seller is in a unique position to serve a buyer by helping them discover the how, what, when, where, and why needed to solve a problem within the parameters of their culture.” She follows a bit later in her book with this key point as well, “[a single] buyer cannot know all of the answers to your questions because the odds are huge that they have a decision team working with them.”
So, how does a seller go from not knowing an organization to understanding their culture? How does a seller go from knowing one member of a buying team to understanding the needs of the entire buying team?
First, sales teams need to slow down and ensure they are meeting the needs of each stakeholder. The best way to do this is to establish some baselines as to what a typical stakeholder for your product or service might want from a vendor.
Secondly, sales teams need to be certain that the messages they are sending align with the needs of the buyers. Similarly, marketing teams need to ensure that any account based marketing (ABM) content or broader based content addresses these needs as well.
Third, marketing and sales teams need to understand how a stakeholder makes decisions over time. In nearly all cases, some members of the buying committee have a role to play at the start of the journey, middle, end, and a limited number will be involved in the project from start to finish.
For example, when a movie starts, we might have some sense of the climactic battle, but we don’t know the role that every actor might play. Is the character we meet in the opening scene going to be with us throughout the entire movie? Or will they “be brief and be gone”? Is the character we meet towards the end the true person our hero has to defeat in the end? Or is there someone lurking in the shadows who is even more powerful?
We see this idea play out in the Hobbit movie trilogy. It might be obvious as the first movie begins that Frodo is going to be with us through the end of the story. But Sam is the real surprise, as without his help, it wouldn’t be possible for Frodo to defeat Sauron.
The key takeaway: If you fast forward through the entire movie, would you really understand the plot (sales process)? You might understand how the battle (or sale) was won or lost, but you wouldn’t really understand how it happened. You wouldn’t understand which actor (or persona) was critical to the story, and you wouldn’t understand who was rooting for the hero (the seller) or against them.
Supporting Actors Need to Understand Everyone’s Role
We once worked with a client who had successfully built relationships with leadership at several universities. This client wanted to develop buyer personas for university c-suite roles to inform their marketing strategy and related materials. The goal was to take a role-based approach rather than leading with a product-first strategy.
To make this pivot successful however, the sales and marketing teams in our client would require a deeper understanding of the needs of key buyer personas. In particular, our client was focused on the needs of a VP of Research and a Chief Academic Officer in a university setting.
In a typical university, a VP of Research and a Chief Academic Officer have different responsibilities. A VP of Research is responsible for directing the university’s mission, focusing on policy issues, and establishing community relations. A Chief Academic Officer ensures academic quality in all departments, programs, and services within the organization.
Our client learned that each persona would need to hear a different message if they were to develop an interest in our client’s solution. The sales team would best be able to develop rapport with the Chief Academic Officer by discussing fundraising in academia. Similarly, the VP of Research might be interested in communicating to the student body about research grants or new partnerships.
The key takeaway: Buyer personas give you an essential look into the motivations and needs of each buyer you’ll meet on the journey to a successful sale.
Buyer Personas Tell You When It’s Time to Say Your Lines
We recently conducted a buyer persona project for a client who sold a SaaS solution of interest to law firms. They learned that law firms rarely make any recommendations to clients about what software to use because they don’t want to be liable for anything.
However, Chief Legal Officers or General Counsels who work for companies about to go public might be interested in the software.
As a salesperson, this discovery shows that you can’t always rely on referrals from every market segment you might touch. Without this information, a sales team’s outreach efforts would be fruitless. This knowledge allowed our client to utilize B2B buyer persona research to create extremely targeted outreach — maximizing the use of their sales and marketing team’s time.
The key takeaway: You can’t always rely on existing clients to evangelize for you. Sometimes, you run into people who aren’t interested in your services whatsoever. But with buyer persona research, you’ll be able to maximize the value of your efforts and minimize wasted opportunities.
Buyer Personas Align Sales and Marketing Teams
Famous movie duos aren’t always in agreement throughout a movie. Take Maverick and Rooster, for example. Throughout the better part of the movie, Rooster resents Maverick after learning that Maverick pulled Rooster’s application to flight school, setting him back from his peers.
However, after Maverick gets shot down in an effort to distract the enemy jets, it’s none other than Rooster who risks his own life to save Maverick. The dynamic duo then steals an old enemy F-14 aircraft and barely makes it back to the base alive.
The beef between Maverick and Rooster created a riff across the entire team. This tension almost cost the entire flight crew their lives as they trained for the dangerous mission.
The same idea holds true for sales and marketing teams. When everyone is clear on what personas you’re going after you can provide unified sales and marketing content without confusion.
The key takeaway: It’s frustrating for a buyer to get different messaging from sales and marketing teams. Being in alignment internally creates a better outcome for your buyers which is the ultimate goal. Aim for cohesion, not confusion.
Be the Hero Your Buyers Deserve
In Top Gun: Maverick, Hangman only gets 35 minutes of screen time. (In contrast, Maverick gets 113 minutes, and Rooster, 66 minutes.) Although Hangman is an integral part of the jet fighter squad at the beginning, he isn’t selected for the death-defying mission. However, just as Maverick and Rooster are about to be shot down, Hangman comes in and saves them in the most heroic way possible.
The moral here for B2B sales teams is clear. Even the characters with the least amount of screen time can make a big impact. It’s easy to focus on the stars and forget that other actors can help you achieve your goals. Like Frodo and Sam, or Maverick and Hangman, you need to understand all the key personas, not just the ones with the biggest titles or the most screen-time if you want to win the deal.
Finally, don’t ask your sales team to win a deal without giving them the knowledge of all the players that matter, especially those folks who seem to be merely a supporting actor at first glance. We can help you get that early first look at the script of the buyer’s journey so you’ll know before anyone else how the story turns out in the end.
With 15 years of experience in B2B tech market research, Cascade Insights understands the value in knowing your buyer personas. Learn more about our sales services here.
Special thanks to Sean Campbell, CEO, for advising on this piece.