A persona exercise: The Skeptical Futurist

If you are selling to CIOs or IT strategists, you may find this persona example of interest.

Human perception is a tricky thing. Although teams may share a common understanding of their product portfolio, marketing and sales teammates often have a different idea of who they are selling to. And these differences may be slight, or they may be substantial. The Persona Exercise (as described in the book, The Marketing High Ground) is one of the most effective ways to ensure team alignment regarding the target audience.

Don’t try to be all things to all people

I was working with a cross-functional marketing team tasked to launch a new product on a very short timeline. During a meeting to discuss messaging I asked about the the target audience. I got 5 different answers ranging from network engineers to CIOs in various size companies and industries. This was far from helpful. There was no way we could address every target audience nuance. There was no time. And there was not nearly enough budget. We needed to focus.

I called together a small cross-functional team and guided them in a quick persona exercise centered on the following questions, “What target audience subsegment offered the best chance for success? Where will it be easiest to win sales quickly and consistently?” By the end of our meeting, we prioritized the possibilities and illustrated our ideal target segment as represented in a bullseye graphic (i.e. a typical segmentation description).

We started with the traditional approach based on job titles. But we expanded beyond that to include key responsibilities (regardless of job title) our target segment wrestled with.  We focused on their pain point, their business goals, and their personal measures for success. After some debate, we decided to zero in on “senior executives tasked with a primary responsibility for managing their IT network today while also planning for future growth needs.”

Personas go beyond traditional market segmentation

We could have left our segmentation model at that, but we knew there were other details we needed to know. We required a “persona” to bring this segment to life. Our persona brought the following details to life:

  • What is the persona’s pain point?
  • What are the most difficult challenges in their job?
  • What problem is the target persona actually trying to solve?
  • Why might they prefer our product/solution?
  • What is the persona actually buying from us? (We knew what we were selling, but what were they buying? Hint: we knew we wouldn’t find the answer on our itemized price list.)
  • What 3 words best described this person?

By the conclusion of this exercise, we painted a picture of a persona we called the “Skeptical Futurist.” Yes, they were fighting network fires, but their bosses were forcing them to become more strategic by thinking about the future. In every permutation of this segment we found a common thread: they were hesitant to make decisions. They were skeptical of all future claims spouted by  vendors.  The undercurrent was that they were afraid of making the wrong decision when it came to future investments.

In our final persona, we included details about:

  • Their demographics (but only as relevant to their work life).
  • Their company (not only size, industry, projected revenue, but also type of business, type of department he/she worked in, and company culture & organization dynamics).
  • Their psychographics (with emphasis on their values, goals, and preferences in not only their work but also the type of partners they enjoyed working with).

The Skeptical Futurist was summarized in a single slide that we shared broadly throughout the marketing and sales departments. Teammates posted this slide next to their computers. It became the common reference point. We knew we hit pay dirt when the VP of Sales reacted,

Wow! I’ve worked here for 5 years and never seen this written down. This is exactly the guy I’m calling on this afternoon!”

Drafting the Skeptical Futurist was an “Aha!” moment for the team

With the bullseye and persona in hand, we were able to create 10 highly effective sales enablement tools  — from “How-to-sell” presentations, to the corporate pitch, to the Competitive Quick Reference Guides, to the sales simulation training module.

Did we have all the data we would have liked? No. So we built a hypothesis with the best data we had and socialized it with sales reps, product leads, and customer support experts.  They helped us fine tune it into a working model. What we created was far more complete and more compelling than any of the unstructured guesswork we had used before.

This simple exercise united a cross-functional team, drove a compelling set of messages, and resulted in our more than doubling our lead generation conversation rate. All of this was achieved because we took the time to nail down the persona to act as our guide to understanding our target market segment.

For more information on tips, tricks, and templates for working cross-functionally to build an effective Persona, read: The Marketing High Ground.

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