How Useful are Personas For Complex Sales?

There is a debate in some B2B circles about the value of personas. So, are they useful in complex sales?

It depends.

(And I apologize for giving the ultimate consulting firm answer here)

Problems with Personas in B2B Complex Sales

I have been using personas for twenty years. In my B2C experience, personas were very useful in helping align the team about whom we were selling to and how to change their behavior. As the persona is the buyer in most cases, you may only need three or four personas, tops in B2C.

In B2B sales, creating useful personas is more challenging.

In complex sales, you most likely sell to multiple market segments (Ideal Customer Profiles or ICPs). Each segment has a buyer collective with multiple stakeholders, including champions, influencers, and decision-makers. The average number of stakeholders is 5.4, according to the book the Challenger Customer. In healthcare, it’s an even larger group.

And then the champion is not always in the same role from one prospect account to another. In the last article about buyer collectives, I described four buyer collectives that we sold to when I ran a software company. Each had a different champion, set of influencers, and decision-makers.

You can go wrong with B2B personas by oversimplifying how your customers buy. There’s a reason why they are called Complex Sales.

It’s All About the Buyer Journey

In our work with clients to develop ABM strategies, we focus on creating buyer journeys that reflect what the buyer collective goes through to decide on a new solution. We try to understand how the buyer collective thinks and acts as a group.

This Slide Share explains the process we use to create buyer journeys. And as you will see, we start with personas, focusing on the champions. This is just the start. We spend 90% of the time on how the buyer collective buys.

Also, note that we don’t use the traditional Awareness/Interest/Decision/Model model. We feel that this does not reflect how buyer collectives think. We believe that it is better to translate this into Problem Definition, Solution Definition, Vendor Evaluation, and Decision-making. This is more reflective of a Buyer Collective’s process.

Start with The Problem That Triggers The Buyer Collective

We spend the most time analyzing the problems that the buyers are trying to solve. Early on, buyers spend more time thinking about problems and very little time thinking about who can help them. We want to know what questions they are discussing, how they define their problems, and what issues contribute to that problems.

And most important of all, what triggers a buying process.

We also analyze what they might search for online and what intent topics might help identify in-market prospects.

Lastly, we consider the sources they trust for information and the types of information they seek.

Next, What Solution Will the Buyer Collective Consider

When Buyer Collectives form, they will spend much time discussing the problems. Once aligned on the problem, they get hung up on how they will solve it. Research shows that the solution definition stage is usually the hardest for them to align. It’s where they can most use your help. The problem is that they aren’t ready to speak with you yet.

Here again, we focus on what questions the buyers wrestle with at this stage, what areas they will investigate, and what options they will consider.

Then the Buyer Collective Evaluate Vendors and Decide

Once the buyer decides what solution approach to take, they will start evaluating vendors. According to the research referenced above, this is the most straightforward issue for the buyer collective to resolve.

Eventually, they will go through a decision-making process to pick their vendor.

The output of this work is a detailed document that includes the Buyer Collective, high-level personas of the champions, what questions the buyer collective at every stage in the journey, what triggers the decision to start looking for solutions, their trusted sources, intent topics and search terms they might use.

We use these to create content plans and engagement strategies. These are the basis of the marketing plan. We reviewed this in a post last year on creating a buyer-driven marketing plan.

In a future post, I will go into the types of research you can use to get this insight.

Adam Turinas

Adam Turinas is a long-time technology marketing leader and entrepreneur. He is the co-author of the Total Customer Growth book and founder of Total Customer Growth LLC. Adam spent two decades marketing for Dell, IBM, Bank of America, and dozens of other major marketers. In 2012 he founded, grew, and eventually sold a healthcare technology software business and then created healthlaunchpad, a leading healthtech marketing firm that teaches clients how to use ABM.