Buyer Personas: Silver Bullet for Sales/Marketing Alignment?

70% of CEOs are dissatisfied with how marketing and sales are working together. Speculating about the cause is fun, but trying to fix it is a better use of our time and the focus of this post.

The notable differences between what’s expected from a B2B sales and a B2B marketing department are pretty straightforward. Sales is expected to interact with the buyer directly, and to deliver short-term results. Marketing is expected to have almost no interaction with the buyer, and take a long-term strategy. As with any generalization, there are always exceptions but these differences are the core of the problem more often than not.

If we can eliminate the biggest bottleneck, then we’ll see the biggest return and see sales-marketing alignment quickest. The main issue is that marketing and sales don’t share a common vision of the customer’s wants, needs and emotional investment in your product. Salespeople have the benefit of interacting with customers on a daily basis, and are forced to understand the customer’s wants or they won’t get a commission. Marketing hears some of the stories the sale reps tell in their pipeline meetings, but they only get a second-hand understanding of how the customer thinks and behaves during the purchase process. They miss out on the massive learning opportunities rooted in rejected cold calls, failed networking events, and false-start customer meetings. Marketing also misses out on the feeling of anguish when a customer pokes a hole right through the statement you just made about your own product, relative to competitors. They miss out on the water-cooler chatter that you hear as you sit in the lobby waiting to go into a meeting with the decision maker. They miss out on the pictures of the decision maker with friends and family at a sporting event. They miss out on the tone of voice the decision maker’s boss uses when they pop their head in the office during your sales call.

The information that sales reps absorb in these experiences is never communicated to the marketing team. Why would they want to publicly discuss their own failures? Why would they tell you little things like the type of watch the decision maker was wearing, and that the influencer’s shoes were completely worn? Or that they looked like they were under appreciated by their boss? Instead, sales provides marketing with surface-level information about the customer.

Unfortunately the sales team is burdened with meeting their numbers, and so they are forced into a short-term selling mentality. They wonder what they can close today, this week or this month. They don’t have the time to sit down with the marketing department and spell everything out. As a result, everyone starts making a lot of assumptions.

Sales has one image of the customer, marketing has another. And marketing can only support the sales team based on the information they are privy to.

There’s only one way for sales to understand how to integrate marketing into the sales process, and for marketing to understand what marketing collateral will work. Everybody has to get in one room and agree on a written description of what they’re trying to do.
Such is the essence of creating a buyer persona; marketing and sales collaborate to develop a common vision of the buyer’s goals, activities and gaps, then write it down.

Like all  business planning, one of the most valuable aspects of this exercise is creating a shared vision among teams. If you don’t explicitly create a shared vision, you’re making a lot of assumptions about how each individual perceives the customer.

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