“This is Terry the Tech Exec. 54 and married with two kids. Terry hates Twitter, eating at his desk, and traffic jams. But Terry does love a good game of golf, eating Smarties, and hanging out with his two labrador retrievers.”
Newsflash: buyer personas are useless.
First, how does the knowledge that Terry is married and loves eating Smarties help your reps make a sale? And second, where is Terry the tech exec now? Or Mary from marketing? Or any of the other buyer personas you so carefully put together?
Our guess is that poor Polly from purchasing is gathering dust on a noticeboard in the canteen or buried somewhere deep in your internal network of folders.
Now that we’ve got your attention, we can come clean: buyer personas aren’t really useless.
A buyer persona is one of the best tools your sales reps can use to close a deal.
Your business exists solely to satisfy buyers. But to be able to satisfy these buyers you need to understand them. You need to get under the skin of who they are and what they need, right?
Getting to know your buyers by building up semi-fictional representations of who they are will help your sales reps to:
- Establish the best way to approach and communicate with their prospects
- Show their prospects that they understand who they are and what they need
- Perfectly position the product/service to their prospects
- Speak empathetically to their prospects and develop stronger connections as a result
Having a deep, emotional understanding of your customers will inevitably lead to higher win rates.
“Companies that provide an emotional connection with customers outperform the sales growth of their competitors by 85%” – Forbes
Your buyer personas can only help your reps make sales if they contain valuable information and actually get used.
Why your buyer personas aren’t working (and what to do about it)
If you‘re reading this, chances are you’ve already got a set of buyer personas, but if you haven’t, creating one is a good place to start.
As we’ve established, even after you create personas, they aren’t doing anything for your business because they’re lacking useful customer insight and are kept hidden away somewhere.
So where are you going wrong?
1. Your buyer personas are focused on stereotypes
Buyer personas are usually based on assumptions made around job titles, personality traits, and key responsibilities: Peter the Programmer, 45, runs a team of two, wears glasses, loves Star Trek, and has problems with the reliability of his servers.
Just because Peter is a programmer, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t also have the same challenges or needs that HR Harriet or Sam from Sales might have.
Imagine you sell HR software designed to help HR managers run their teams efficiently. You naturally target Harriet from HR because she has a team of 40 and she works in HR. But what if Peter the Programmer has been tasked with building or outsourcing software that increases the efficiency of each key department?
By assuming that Peter the Programmer is only interested in programming or server-related products and services, you’ve missed an opportunity to win a potential customer.
Your buyer personas shouldn’t be based on job roles, functions, or responsibilities. They should be based on key objectives or challenges. Root out the challenging insights that tell you how, when, and why buyers are likely to choose products or services like yours.
2. Your buyer personas are focused on demographics
As we’ve seen, buyer personas are often built-up using basic demographic data. They’re generally assigned a name, an age, a photo, an income, a profession, and a set of pain points and challenges. But how does knowing someone’s age, income, or ethnicity help you make a sale?
“It’s a waste of time to assign a name and photo to obvious pain points or to focus on personal details unrelated to the problems you address.” – BuyerPersona
Emotion drives decisions. While using surface-level demographics to reach your customers and influence their behavior might help you get your foot in the door, it won’t help you connect with them on a deep and meaningful level.
Rather than using demographic data to build up your persona, start collecting psychological information. Discover what their attitudes and aspirations are, learn how they feel about situations, and establish how they do things and why.
Get to know their context, not their character:
- What problems have your customers been experiencing in their life?
- How does it make them feel?
- What are they hoping for?
- What will happen if they fail to find a solution?
- How will they feel if they succeed?
- How are they currently addressing the challenges they face?
- Why do they think what they’re doing is working?
Your personas need to be built on well-researched insights into the priorities, success factors, and decision criteria that factor into your customer’s decision-making.
“The more you can arm reps with key insights they can use to fine-tune their sales radars, the faster they will find real opportunities and weed out time-wasters who just have time to talk.” – BuyerPersona
3. Your buyer personas are inauthentic
Who knows your customers better than anyone? Who’s on the front line speaking to potential buyers every day? Who’s battling objections, negotiating hard, and working on deals? Your sales team.
To get a truly authentic representation of your prospect, you need some true stories. You need the gritty, gory, and raw details.
Customer research, market intelligence, demographics, firmographics, and physiological data are all essential for shaping your persona. But, to add reality, depth, and authenticity to your character, nothing beats real war stories from those on the front line.
Your reps can uncover all sorts of things: unforeseen objections, undiscovered needs, and undetermined pain points.
Not only will this real-life insight add validity to your personas, but it will also achieve buy-in from your reps too because they’ve been involved in the persona building process. This means that when it comes to using persona’s to close sales, your team is already on-board and fully engaged.
As a result, your personas won’t get left to gather dust, they’ll become part of everything your sales reps do. Speaking of which, now we’ve established how to create a useful set of personas, all you have to do now is make sure they’re being used.
2 ways to keep buyer personas working hard for your sales team
The usual deal with personas seems to be they get introduced to the team via a flashy set of slides; they get printed out and handed to each rep; they get laminated and pinned to every noticeboard in the building; and they quickly get forgotten.
Win rates remain the same and all that hard work feels like a waste. Below are two key ways you can stop this cycle and make sure your carefully crafted personas are making sales not lining people’s trash cans.
Use personas to create effective sales materials
Presenting your personas, handing out copies, and sticking them to notice boards are great ways to engage your sales reps and keep persona-based selling at the forefront of their minds, but to keep up the momentum, you need to take it a step further.
You need to use the buyer persona data and information you’ve gathered to create effective sales materials that will equip your team with the tools they need to sell your product or service in the best possible way.
Practical persona-based sales materials will help your reps when they’re in conversation with their customers. They will remind them who they’re talking to, help them get their messaging right, and give them different ways to approach each customer so they can recognize their unique pain points and address them effectively:
- Competitor battle-cards
- Sales scripts
- Product one-sheets
To be truly successful, your personas need to be put to work much sooner than that.
Use personas to create sales enablement materials
Sales enablement materials are assets that are created to communicate with potential customers and encourage them through the sales funnel, from the “Awareness” and “Interest” stages to the “Decision” and “Action” phases.
Good sales enablement materials should effortlessly guide your customers through the buyer’s journey, all the way through to your highly trained sales reps.
“The goal of your entire sales funnel and platform is to solve your customer’s problem. When you know the problem, and you build content to draw them in, then offer them a product or service to solve their problem,” – Hubspot
Sales enablement materials can come in many shapes and forms, including:
- Targeted email campaigns
- Landing pages
- Social media content
- Informative blog posts
- Case studies
- Product reviews
- Post-sales materials
But what have personas got to do with creating good sales enablement materials?
Getting noticed in a crowded marketplace is tough. To stand out from the crowd, you need to work out what will make you attractive to your customer. What will grab their attention? What can you say or do to make them aware of you? What platform can you use to trigger their curiosity?
Use the personas you’ve created to make careful decisions on the type of content you produce, the messages you send, and the platforms you use. An expensive Twitter campaign will do nothing to drive customers to your sales reps if your customer doesn’t use Twitter.
Once you’ve got their attention, you then need to keep them interested. Again, use your personas to figure out what your customers need to hear to keep them engaged. What are their pain points? What are they looking to achieve? What can you offer that no one else can?
Tailor your content so that it speaks directly to your customers. Once you’ve successfully captured their interest, it‘s then over to your team of sales reps to help them make a decision and take action.
Time to warm ’em up
We use personas to shape our sales enablement materials at Process Street. Being a business process management platform, we target several personas that sit within software or services companies.
One of these personas is a Tech Exec. Through research, we’ve established that tech execs are incredibly short on time, they can’t stand waffle, they use Twitter a lot, and company growth and scaling is what keeps them awake at night.
So, everything they see during the awareness and interest stages of their buyer journey is focused on processes, efficiency, growth, and growth metrics. Our messaging is clear, direct, and free of fluff. We attract their attention using Twitter and we keep their interest with relevant case studies, blog posts, and landing pages centered around their pain points and biggest goals.
As we send them down the funnel towards our sales reps, we make sure that the content we’ve created answers the question: “What does this mean for me and the growth of my company? How does this help me scale?”
This means that by the time they reach our sales team who understand who our tech execs are and how to speak to them (i.e. straightforward, no bullsh*t), they’re a nice, warm lead. This makes conversations easier and conversions guaranteed.
There you have it. Three ways to transform your buyer personas from forgotten fictional flops into real-life working characters, and two ways that you can use these personalities to create effective enablement materials that will turn cold customers into warm leads, ready for your sales team to convert.