How to Build Your Buyer Persona: 10 Questions Marketing Should Ask Sales

Sales vs. Marketing

Sales vs. Marketing. Who’s the Ape?

Does your head of sales think your head of marketing is an imbecile — that they just don’t “get it” and aren’t doing the right things to drive qualified leads for the sales team? Or perhaps your head of marketing looks down his nose at those “apes” in the sales department who constantly demand more results but don’t understand the strategic aspects of real marketing, not to mention the time and money it costs. Sheeezh.

You may not be surprised to hear that this tension between sales and marketing is common. The truth is that, by nature, their functions will always be in tension or conflict. One is short-range-focused, with a drive to close qualified leads NOW. The other should be long-range oriented, developing the brand and product offering to meet evolving customer needs in the future – not just this quarter’s targets. That conflict is never going to go away. And the point I’m going to make in this article is that it can be harnessed.

There is an easy way to address the conflict between sales and marketing and make it constructive for both growing sales and building the brand. It does, however, take awareness and discipline to do it well. The solution is to refocus and get alignment between sales and marketing on the most important question every business must answer: Who is your primary customer? You might think this is obvious, yet a surprising number of B2B marketing companies overlook this step. Or don’t do it adequately.

Who is Your Buyer Persona?

A “buyer persona” is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer — the real buyers who influence or make decisions about the products, services or solutions you market. The buyer persona sits at the nexus between sales and marketing. Defining or redefining the buyer persona is a high-leverage activity that takes the strengths and insights of both marketing and sales. It allows them to come together, focus on what’s most important, drop what isn’t, and then get busy driving sales and building the brand.

Why is this? Well, if you can get alignment between sales and marketing on who the primary customer is, then everything else is tactics. The tactics refer to the best approach to reaching this primary customer, and this is open for trial, error, and team learning. The tactics may change, the shared goal remains the same.

If you don’t have clarity and alignment on who the primary customer is, however, there will be rampant disagreement across the board. The sales and marketing teams will fight about the little things because there’s no alignment on the big thing. And even if your current marketing tactics are working relatively well, they won’t be seen as successful because there’s still no true alignment on the real goal: continuing to reach the primary customer while evolving the product to meet their changing needs.

The primary purpose of defining your buyer persona is to “tune” group empathy towards the needs, wants, and aspirations of the customer. If the persona doesn’t help to tune group empathy, then it’s not fulfilling its purpose. It’s just a useless exercise. This isn’t just true for marketing and sales. It’s true for every function in the business. Who do we serve? What is their primary unmet need? How can we delight our customers? A good persona will take an abstract concept and make it easy for everyone to relate to and create a deeper sense of meaning and purpose throughout the entire organization.

If Marketing Has Questions, Sales Has Answers

Top-performing salespeople understand their customers’ conscious and unconscious unmet needs as well as their spending priorities, decision-making processes, and aspirations. Too often average-performing marketing departments will discount sales leaders’ firsthand knowledge of their customers. They erroneously think, “Awww, that’s just sales. What do they know anyway?” Big mistake. A top-performing marketer, on the other hand, takes a different approach. They recognize that top sales people are already spending a lot of time interacting with the same customers that marketing is trying to reach. Duh!

When developing a buyer persona or type, marketing can help sales to clarify who is the primary customer (the one with ultimate authority) as well as the key influencers and gatekeepers in the buying process and how to reach them. Each of these can be a different buyer persona and requires a different approach and collateral than the others. The balancing act in this collaboration is that marketing must meet both the short-term needs of sales and the long-range development needs of the rest of the business.

The specific perspectives that sales can bring to the discussion on the buyer persona are the stated and unstated or unconscious reasons customers buy. The conscious reasons are good to know but the unconscious reasons are priceless. That’s what a good sales team is intimately familiar with.

For instance, let’s say that your business is selling a b2b marketing platform. If you were to ask a customer, “Why did you buy from us?” you might hear the conscious reasons such as “We have a goal to increase leads by 25% and conversion by 10% this year and your customer testimonials were the deciding factor. We liked this widget feature. Your customer support is outstanding…” And so on.

OK, that’s easy enough. But what about the unconscious needs of this buyer – what were those? Was it job security? Confidence? To be part of the in-club? To be able to justify their decision to their peers? To be seen as an innovator? These unconscious or unstated needs are the real reason sales happen.

A great sales person will intuit what a buyer’s unmet needs are and sell to those. A great marketer will incorporate solutions to the unconscious unmet needs in their marketing message and collateral.
Additionally, sales can bring to the table a deep understanding of the buying cycle, customer spending priorities, the competitor’s offerings, your unique differentiator, the customers’ requests and frustrations, and firsthand anecdotes from the trenches.

The 10 Questions Marketing Should Ask Sales

There are 10 basic questions that every great marketer should ask the sales team:

1) Who is the primary customer type?

2) What can you tell me about this primary customer? (e.g., position, age range, educational background, management style, industry experience, information sources, trade shows attended, etc.)

3) What are the customer’s unmet conscious needs? (i.e., what do they say they want?)

4) What are the customer’s unmet unconscious needs? (i.e. what do they really want?)

5) Who are the key influencers within and outside the customer’s organization that impact the buying decision?

6) What is the customer’s typical buying process and how long does it take?

7) What do we do differently or better than anyone else from our customer’s perspective? What do our customers say makes us unique?

8) What do our top competitors do differently or better than us? What makes them unique?

9) What are some of your best stories about when different customers were thrilled with our product or service?

10) What are the top 3 deliverables I can provide you to make your job easier, more fun, or more successful?

Why are these 10 questions important? Because they help a marketer tune his or her own empathy to the needs of the customer and the needs of the sales team. Great marketers understand that it’s not just about “marketing.” It’s really about meeting the needs of those you serve – in this case the end customer and the sales team.

The 3 Things Sales Can Do To Get More Out of Marketing

Harmony between sales and marketing is not just a one-way street. There are three simple things a sales leader can do to help ensure that marketing is supporting your team:

1) Share your customer knowledge. Make sure that marketing has the answers to the top ten questions and do it proactively. You don’t have to wait for marketing to interview you. Take initiative and start the dialogue with marketing. To be effective in sales, you need information transparency with marketing and vice-versa.

2) Bring Data. Great marketers love data, so the more and better data you have to support your reasoning, the more persuasive you will be. Where do you get the data? Industry publications, customer surveys, web site analytics. The data is there. The challenge is turning it into actionable insights. You can help this process by keeping the primary customer’s needs in the forefront of the discussions.

3) Advocate for your customer. Jeff Bezos leaves an empty seat in the Amazon conference room. This empty seat represents the Amazon customer. “Remember,” Jeff is known to say to the management team, “this is why we exist. To meet the needs of this customer.” How can you create a similar awareness and reverence for delighting customers in your own company?

Now, chances are that when sales and marketing attempt to answer questions about who the primary buyer really is, one or more people will say, “I wish we had the data to answer that question. We just don’t (have it, have access to it, know how to make sense of it, etc.)” Don’t fall into this trap! There will never be enough good, clean, accurate data. That’s not an excuse to not make your best effort at defining and creating alignment around the primary buyer persona.

In a well run sales force automation (SFA) system, for example, there’s a ton of available valuable data: Job title of the primary buyer, job title of the initial inquirer, job titles of key influencers, length of time from inquiry to purchase, how they heard about you, customer satisfaction scores, top feature requests, and recorded anecdotes from sales. Similarly, there’s a wealth of data in a well-run website and social media analytics platform.

So by all means, use the data if you’ve got it. Use it to improve your understanding of the primary buyer persona. But don’t use the lack of good data as an excuse to put off the exercise of defining the buyer persona in the first place. Start with what you’ve got. Build on it from there.

The Art is the Discipline

It’s pretty straightforward for sales and marketing to schedule a meeting or two to define the buyer persona. The real breakthroughs occur when you build in the organizational discipline to consistently define and redefine personas, and therefore find ways to improve the effectiveness of both sales and marketing. It’s the classic dynamic between working on the business versus in the business. Crafting the structures, processes, and discipline to step out of the daily work pressures to think strategically about the work itself is what separates the great companies from the average.

A simple best practice is to set a quarterly or bi-annual meeting with marketing and sales and other stakeholders to review the current primary buyer persona, take a fresh look at the top 10 questions, and make adjustments based on new data and new anecdotes from the field.

If everyone in your organization is clear on who you serve and the group empathy is tuned into the needs and aspirations of your customers, sales and marketing can cease viewing each other with suspicion and collaborate to solve your customer’s core business problem. The process always starts with and circles back to the buyer persona.