Why having a “buyer persona” helps you shorten the sales cycle

Do you have a “buyer persona” to lead you to your target market? If not, your marketing team may be lengthening the sales cycle and not even know it.

We are victims of our own desire to sell to anyone and everyone. Collectively speaking, in our race to help sales make quarterly numbers, marketing teams fall into the trap of casting as wide a net as possible for fear of leaving out a potential audience segment. Unfortunately, this approach of broad inclusiveness leads to a mish-mash of messaging and an ineffective marketing campaign that actually extends the sales cycle. That’s not what we want! Here are 3 practical steps marketers are taking today to hone their go-to-market strategies and shorten the sales cycle.

Step 1: Prioritize your market segments

The task of market segmentation is like aiming for the bull’s eye. Where is the sweet spot: those key folks most likely to buy your product today?

Traditional market segmentation brings to mind an academic, time-consuming, and costly process. It doesn’t have to be. I’ve found that key people within any company have knowledge in their heads that, if shared, would greatly accelerate any segmentation prioritization process.

Bulls Eye Example

Personas and Market Segmentation: 3 dimensions of a bull’s eye marketing segmentation example.

Using a bull’s eye metaphor is an excellent exercise for conducting a cross-functional discussion. This exercise is all about focus. Start by asking the team about whom you want to target. If you get an answer like, ”We want CIO’s of the global 5000“, then you’re being too broad. Consider that all CIOs don’t think alike. Industry, cultural, business-size differences color the way CIOs look at the world. Focus on a subset.

The example summarized in the above graphic is from a real company. While they chose to focus on a horizontal market slice (IT leaders across all industries), notice that they added some specific characteristics. This was not “all IT leaders everywhere.” Or, you may want to focus more deeply on a specific vertical industry. There are many ways to view your market. Just don’t fall into the trap of trying to be “all things to all people.”

While this is a good start, it is not sufficient to ensure we truly understand our target market. We need to delve deeper and turn this bull’s eye example into a full-fledged “buyer persona”.

Step 2: Paint a picture of your target buyer persona

A buyer persona is a fictional representation of a very real set of buyers. The persona allows us to literally paint a picture of who these people are and what they care about. This is the only way we can truly understand them. And with understanding comes empathy. And with empathy comes the ability to tune our messages and offers so they are relevant and meaningful for this audience. Everything else is just noise in the marketplace.

KickStart Alliance buyer persona template

A template for building a buyer persona.

In general, the marketing team has a lot of knowledge and perspective about target buyers. Unfortunately, this information is distributed in pieces and not written down in a format that can be easily referenced and shared.

What I like about this template is that it is a handy one-slide format for summarizing a target market. So handy in fact that you can share it with a peer and they will instantly “get it”. This is so much better than the usual approach of a) giving them a 1-inch thick file and asking them to read it, or b) giving them nothing at all so they have to make up their own persona.

Is this exercise really necessary? You bet. A case in point: After guiding a cross-functional team through this exercise, they socialized the resulting persona with the a regional sales VP. Here was his response:

KickStart Alliance's persona template

An example of a real target buyer persona.

I’ve been selling to this group for 5 years and I’ve never seen the persona written down before. You got it right. This is exactly who I’m meeting with this afternoon.

Talk about a confidence boost to the marketing team!

Step 3: Adopt the 80/20 rule for proactive/reactive marketing spend

There is not enough time, money, or energy to be all things to all people. Therefore, marketers need to determine where the best ROI can be found. While we will all gladly accept money from anyone who wants to purchase our products, what is the easiest target segment to capture first? It is assured that if marketers identify and win a beachhead segment, there will be a halo effect to attract a wider audience.

An example: A company was caught up in the vicious cycle of continuously marketing to everyone, with no distinction between new leads and their prospect database. They treated all prospects the same. In search for a more effective approach, they worked cross-functionally to identify and prioritize two target audience personas that represented entry points for engaging the most-likely-to-buy prospects. Marketing efforts were then split between a new proactive lead generation outreach to these personas with 80% of the marketing budget being applied to developing a meaningful marketing blueprint to engage these folks. Meanwhile, 20% of the budget was saved to allow for flexibility to address reactive market opportunities. The result: lead generation conversion rates jumped 50%.  This heightened focus resulted in crisper, more relevant messaging. Response levels increased, and the sales team was rewarded with more, higher quality leads in less time.

Deciding to prioritize and focus on a sub-segment is risky. After all, what if you guess wrong? However, think about it this way: If you guess correctly, then your marketing ROI is guaranteed to be greatly improved. If you do guess wrong, then you quickly find out what not to do and you can move on to the next segment with confidence. Either way, you win by avoiding wasting precious time and money and unnecessarily lengthening the sales cycle.

How good are your buyer personas?

Alone, any persona template is just a piece of paper. The real advantage comes in knowing how to work with your team (politically and operationally) to engage in the exercise and then apply your persona. For a complete guide on how to do this, check out these resources:

Marketing High Ground

The Marketing High Ground

personas

Personas – a new online course designed specifically for busy B2B marketers and product managers.

Handy “how to” book: The Marketing High Ground — provides a complete guide to personas, positioning statements, and messaging (templates, examples, & techniques).

Online course: Personas — learn how to master the persona technique and template in less than 60 minutes.

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