Does Your Buyer Persona Look Like A Sales Call Plan?

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Tony Zambito

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When she blurted it out, it was so on the mark, I just sat there in silence for a few seconds.  We have all had those moments.  Those moments when we think – “why haven’t I thought of that before?”

I was engaged in a helpful conversation with an Inc. 500 head of sales in response to my article pointing out the differences between buyer profiling and buyer personas.  For this individual, the article hit a nerve.  Here is what she had to say:

“We were approached by marketing to share in a budget for building buyer personas.  So when I asked to see exactly what they meant, I got an example.  Frankly, we have been doing this for a few years.  They looked like our sales call plan!”  VP, Sales

As a former head of sales as well as marketing – did I get this!

Strategic Selling And Account Management Are Staples

Before I became involved in the world of personas in the mid-to-late ‘90’s, my world consisted of leading teams in sales and marketing.  Knowing about strategic selling and sales call planning was a significant part of these roles.  Strategic selling and account management have been the staple underpinnings of B2B go-to-market strategies for many decades.  Despite the hyper-growth of digital technologies, the importance of sales effectiveness remains a strong part of B2B success.

Many of the top selling methodologies and concepts in the last few decades all aspire to help sales teams achieve a noble status with buyers.  To achieve such noble status calls for earning the right to be a trusted advisor or trusted partner according to this common proposition from sales methodology approaches.

The Tools Of The Trade

To be a trusted advisor or partner, sales professionals have had to become very adept at relationship building, advising, and sales call planning.  Many of the sales methodologies focus in on such areas as:

Customer Success Criteria: this area has traditionally focused on how customers define success and what they value.  Various methodologies have developed tools to capture success criteria in solution and conceptual selling environments.  A job every trusted advisor must understand.

Pain Points:  The term “pain points” has been part of sales vernacular for a long time.  Tools have been built around this term also.  For example Sales Performance International has tools such as Pain Sheets and Pain Chains.  I have seen this term also incorrectly applied to buyer personas.  The term is often confused with or used interchangeably with buyer goals.

Buying Process:  Particularly in complex B2B markets, tremendous focused has been given to understanding the complexity of buying and selling.  With many different variations of how to map buying processes.  Including what should be provided during complex RFP processes.

Decision/Buying Criteria:  Depending on the sales methodology, each has a focused component related to understanding the decision or buying criteria of buyers.  As far back as the late 1980’s, sales methodologies have included weighting and valuing decision or buying criteria.  Several sales methodologies, such as those associated with SPI, PMI, Forum, and others have this component.

Needs Assessment:  When consultative selling first hit the sales scene, this is an area where the focus shifted from presenting to uncovering the needs and priorities of prospects.  Ranging from lightweight to rigorous, sales methodologies included needs assessments as an aspect of engaging buyers in reviews of their strategic initiatives, priorities, plans, and outcomes.  Mack Hanan introduced and coined the term “consultative selling” in the 1970’s.  To this day, it is still very powerful and results in buyers who may even share profit and loss statements as an example.

Probing/Intelligent Questioning:  Over the past couple of decades, learning the art of questioning has been introduced into sales methodologies.  Some are very good.  Spin Selling, Consultative Selling, Conceptual Selling, and more became popular for new approaches to uncovering the needs of prospect through questions.  They are designed to help open up prospects and customers to freely exchange details about their initiatives, problems, risks, and etc.  Sometimes these questions are used in win/loss analysis as well.  What shouldn’t be confused here, and often are, is the skill sets and questioning techniques needed for qualitative and ethnographic-based buyer insights research is vastly different.

The tools of the selling trade and profession have become advanced in the B2B sales arena.  With the focus over the past couple of decades on understanding how sales professionals can become trusted advisors or trusted partners.

The Difference Matters

B2B organizations, even despite these advances, are finding themselves having to adapt to changing buying behaviors.  This includes now understanding and gaining deep insights into the goals, emotional values, contextual situations, scenarios, attitudes, perceptions, beliefs, and the story lines of their buyers.  These tenets of persona development often help us to understand the often-unarticulated thinking of buyers.  And, can result in revealing not-so-obvious understanding of buyers.

Buyer insights research can play an important role, through third party qualitative research, in understanding underlying buyer thinking and motivations when vendor sales and marketing is not present.  I have seen very smart CSO’s and CMO’s improve sales effectiveness significantly by enabling their sales forces with profound buyer insights beyond traditional sales intelligence, which were gathered through third party qualitative expertise.

The above highlights important elements of sound opportunity management, sales effectiveness, and sales call planning.  Marketing and sales should certainly be synched up on these crucial elements.  To meet the need to adapt to the rapid changes in buying behaviors, B2B organizations need to now commit to gaining the deeper insights beyond the factual intelligence gathering typically sought in sales and account management.

Sales Call Plan Or Buyer Personas?

As B2B organizations make attempts to deepen their understanding of buyers, knowing the difference between what is traditional capturing of intelligence via selling and account management with that of buyer personas is essential.  It can make all the difference in the world in terms of standing out among the pack.  For what is happening today is the elements above are becoming more and more commoditized.  Meaning they are more readily available – even publicly available.    They also serve as a testimonial on how sales is becoming more effective as well.

To gain a greater acceptance on the usefulness of buyer insights research and buyer personas, knowing the difference from profiling as well as well as sales intelligence gathering will matter.  Importantly, acting upon each differently will best serve organizations in truly understanding their customers.

B2B organizations will need to take care in making sure their buyer personas do not look like, as the head of sales mentions at the start of this article states, like a sales call plan.

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