One of the seven ways I start to build buyer personas is to talk to the company’s salespeople. For starters, sales has some insight into which roles will influence the buying decision. Further, the really good reps know quite a bit about the criteria the various influencers use to make a decision. Veteran sales people have discovered that visibility into each of their buyer’s perceptions, success metrics and resistance points could result in a winning account strategy. Gathering this information can kick-start my project.
But I’m also cautious about how I collect and use sales input, which is why it is only one of the seven methods I use. Salespeople may not be calling on the very buyers that I most need to understand, and the nature of the sales job means that salespeople have a relatively narrow view — they think about only a few deals at any given time. Some recent interactions reminded me of another problem — many salespeople think that personas can’t be done — that every single individual is unique. Hmmm. I guess that means that the folks behind the 1992 presidential campaigns were wrong about the “soccer mom” persona. All moms are unique, aren’t they?
So if you think your reps will resist the idea, you don’t need to talk about personas per se. Personas are a tool, and no one really needs to know that much about tools except the experts who use them. Focus instead on the result. My husband is all
excited about the new table saw he bought — an outrageously expensive tool that replaced another table saw that seemed fine to me. He says that he loves the sound it makes and cites all sorts of details about it that I can’t even remember. Seems like the old one also managed to cut boards in half. What would impress me? If he could complete some of the projects on my honey-do-list.
When I want to get a persona project going I look for a new initiative, goal or launch that the sales people and their management really want to make work. It helps if the project is already perceived to be difficult. Examples of this might be a new market segment we need to enter, a competitor we want to overtake, or a merger where cross-sale of the acquired products isn’t happening as anticipated. Then I find a rep who has had some success and I start asking questions – which type of buyers were involved in the deal, what were their priorities, what have you said or done that got
their attention? If this is a new product or service and no one has sold it yet, I find a rep who has been selling to the target buyer and ask the same questions.
If the salespeople are resistant to the idea of personas, there is no need to mention the “p” word. Think of it this way –- buyer personas need a beta test and a success story before we introduce them to people who are suspicious about whether they will work.