The most important and valuable piece of knowledge any business can have is the deep understanding of who their customer is. When speaking with sales and marketing organizations across North America, I share that the most important question a business can answer is, “Who do we want to be a hero to?”

It’s not enough to merely talk about it among the senior team and occasionally in sales meetings, nor is it enough to document your buyer personas and then cast them aside with your marketing plan to collect dust.

Your buyer personas should be among the most worn out documents in your sales and marketing arsenal. While there has been a meaningful increase in the adoption and use of personas on the marketing side (as a recent report from CMI and MarketingProfs supports), the sales side of most organizations still seem to be lagging in this area.

While using personas to map content marketing strategies is useful, it provides only a small percentage of the value that it should. If both sides of the organization aren’t fully committed to using personas to guide their day-to-day actions, the fracture between sales and marketing will multiply and sales momentum will stagnate, causing customer acquisition costs (CAC) to skyrocket.

We use personas to guide our actions every day, both in terms of the sales efforts we pursue for Imagine Business Development and to guide the actions we provide for our clients. This not only creates tremendous clarity for everyone, it enables us to materially shorten the sales cycle. Here are the primary means through which mutual clarity and use of buyer personas can help you shorten your sales cycle:

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1) Seek and You Will Find

As the saying goes, seek and you will find. What people often forget, however, is that if you don’t know what you’re seeking, it’s going to be very hard to find.

When I’m working with salespeople (both young and experienced), I see that the greatest amount of time wasted is when they’re spending time with the wrong people, or delivering the wrong message.

When personas are used across the entire organization, salespeople know who to target (so they find them faster), they know what to say, and they know how to navigate the connections between role players.

2) Alignment Between Sales and Marketing

According to MarketingProfs, 61% of B2B marketers send all leads directly to sales, despite only 27% of those leads actually being qualified. Not only does that contribute to significant time wasted (see point 1), it also represents a tremendous waste of resources and opportunity.

Without clearly agreed upon buyer personas, there can be no effective lead triage or scoring mechanism put in place. This not only means that salespeople have less time to focus on their best opportunities (thus decreasing the probability for success), they are also approaching those opportunities with bad messaging and tactics.

I recently got into a debate with the CMO of a SaaS company. He took issue with me in my characterization of the typical conflict between the sales side and marketing side of the business. He claimed that there was no such conflict and that I was overplaying it for my own self-serving purposes.  However, when I asked him (and others in the organization) to describe their best opportunities and the personas within them, there was no clear answer. 

Simply put, it is impossible to have alignment with clarity on who you are trying to attract without defining your buyer personas. Service level agreements are wonderful, but buyer personas are at the center of alignment. 

The impact of this is quite significant. Research from The Aberdeen Group found that companies that had highly aligned sales and marketing organizations achieved, on average, a 32% year-over-year revenue growth, while their less aligned competitors saw a 7% decrease in revenue.

3) Sales Call Planning

My favorite place to use buyer personas is when I’m planning my sales strategy. Clear personas inform my sales development reps (SDRs) who they should be focused on connecting with.

Even more importantly, they guide my actions (and those of my salespeople) when managing specific opportunities. Since buyer personas are a fictional representation of what the best opportunities look like, there’s never a situation where a prospect fits the description completely.

What’s tremendously valuable for me and for my sales team when we’re developing our opportunity strategy is to highlight how the specific prospect is like the description, and how they’re different. For example, I’ll come back from a sales call and share something like this with my opportunity strategy team:

Mary is our Eric Entrepreneur in this opportunity. She’s a lot like him in that she’s very vision-oriented, she started this business and has been the most successful salesperson in her company. She’s different because, well first she’s a she, but more importantly she has a bit more of a formal business background than our typical Eric. 

While my conversations get much deeper than that, they allow all of us to quickly get on the same page and quickly determine the sales tactics we should employ.

This cuts down the analysis time by a factor of 10 and allows us to maintain a proactive posture throughout the sales process, further cutting the sales cycle time.

I should point out that buyer personas should never be considered complete. They are always a work in progress. By ensuring that personas are clearly communicated and utilized throughout the go-to-market process, you also ensure the ability to keep your personas up-to-date, making your marketing and lead generation efforts more effective and further cutting cycle times and sales costs.

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