The buying process has transformed, as our co-founder Mohit Garg notes, “Nearly one-third of technology purchasing power has moved to executives outside of IT. And in some situations, business line managers now control the decision-making process from beginning to end, with little to no involvement from the CIO and/or IT. It is not enough to fit the IT blueprint. Startup sales teams need to create new entry points and doors into the business functions likely to be the biggest beneficiaries or most active users of their offering”.
Easier said than done, I set about researching the best way to identify key decision makers, and here’s a summary of the best advice and tips that I found.
1. Identify the buyer (and anti-buyer) personas
We all know that the starting point for understanding who your customers are is by defining them, and creating buyer personas is one of the best ways to do this. Sam Kusinitz defines a buyer persona as “a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers.”
I found this list of questions to help create buyer personas by Aaron Agius particularly useful. We got our sales and service team, as well as marketing and technology teams, involved so that we could create a complete picture of each buyer persona. Focus groups with potential buyers are also invaluable in this process, so you can hear the answers direct from the horse’s mouth.
One thing that I’ve found important to remember when putting together buyer personas, is to be clear about what part of the buying process each individual participates in. The person who signs the check may not be the one who really chooses the product that will be purchased. Sean McPheat has identified 5 different roles in the purchasing process:
- The Initiator – the person who decides to start the buying process.
- The Influencer – the person who tries to convince others they need the product.
- The Decider – the person who makes the final decision to purchase.
- The Buyer – the person who is going to write you the check.
- The User – the person who ends up using your product, whether he had a say in the buying process or not.
These aren’t always 5 different people. For example, we’ve found that in some instances the Sales Enablement Manager may be the Initiator and Influencer when it comes to purchasing a sales enablement platform like MindTickle, and while they may make the recommendation of what to buy, it’s their boss that usually gives the final approval.
He argues that you should also speak directly to your anti-buyer persona, “the prospect will never buy from us because we frankly are not the best option for them. But in the process of verbalizing that we’re not the ideal fit for so many prospects we in-turn generate trust with the folks that we are a good fit for.” Having this clarity is a win/win for everyone.
2. Mapping the buyer experience
Once the buyer personas have been created, the next stage is mapping their journey. This is to ensure that you and your content reaches the right audience. Michael King has put together a great example of mapping the buyer journey for Moz. He points out:
“Some portions of the user journey is online, some is off. All of these need states that are relevant to the business can be mapped to the consumer decision journey and your funnel for better measurement and optimization, but what’s important is understanding user needs and how to support them at all relevant stages in order to meet the business objectives….”
3. Incorporating buyer personas into sales training
Once you’ve created your buyer personas, mapped their experience and have content that helps guide them through their buying process, the next stage is making sure that your sales people understand the buyer personas. As Mohit Garg says, “Your rep should be able to understand and articulate what the different customer personas are, how they differ, and how to recognize them. They should also understand how the product satisfies their needs, and articulate the value proposition clearly, along with its competitive advantage.” This is where marketing and sales come together for the benefit of the customer.
4. Keep it fresh
Just as we change the way we work and how we approach things, so do our customers. So Anna Ritchie of the Content Market Institute suggests that buyer personas are revisited regularly to ensure they’re still relevant. We’ve taken on board one of her ideas at MindTickle, “before you start your next content project, try going back to the drawing board with your personas, looking closely at whether each one still accurately reflects your target audience’s current life situation and purchasing needs….start by carefully considering how this persona’s needs have changed, and how you may want to adjust your messaging, content formats, and content delivery strategies, as a result.”