It is Time to Revisit Buyer Personas

Buyer Persona tools are a growing area of focus for sales and marketing teams.  Pragmatic Marketing and other B2B product marketing firms have long promoted the value of personas for product planning and marketing messaging.  They help identify customer needs and features as well as associated positioning.  According to B2B Marketing Strategist Ardath Albee, they help “build relationships based on expertise and authority that helps buyers see your company as a mentor and the best choice to solve their problem or capitalize on an opportunity.”

“Buyer personas are important because they allow us to focus our sales and marketing efforts on people who need our solutions to do their job better, to help their businesses grow, to help their businesses essentially reduce cost, to help the increase efficiencies, to help them realize the goals they are setting out to achieve.  In order for us to do that, we need to understand that buyer intimately,” said Ned Leutz of Zoominfo.  “By doing our homework fully we can better understand these people and then, of course, increase our success rate when we are reaching out to them.”

The problem with personas is that they have historically been high-level tools that quickly fall into caricature and disuse because they are not rigorously defined and maintained.  “Many customer intelligence efforts today are ad hoc, uninformed, and manual projects that are full of assumptions and rarely kept up to date,” says persona vendor Cintell.  “Even if you’ve hired a consultant to develop buyer personas, insights are often trapped in static PDF documents abandoned at the back of a desk drawer leaving critical customer intelligence underutilized.”

Unfortunately, there were few tools available for identifying and researching personas.  Instead B2B marketers focused on building segments that approximated their personas for marketing campaigns while product managers posted persona profiles in meeting rooms during road mapping and feature definition exercises but failed to use these tools beyond the early product definition stage.

Recently, three vendors have begun to address the B2B persona problem.  Zoominfo focuses on  amongst a company’s best customers.  These personas capture enough information about the attributes of their best customers to help identify similar prospects at other companies.  Such a tool operates as a next generation customer cloning tool as it looks at both firmographic and functional information around leads.  The tool can also be used to evaluate attendees at conferences or webinars to help tailor discussions.

ZoomInfo Personas provide a multi-dimensional cluster analysis for identifying persona categories and prospecting against them.
ZoomInfo Personas provide a multi-dimensional cluster analysis for identifying persona categories and prospecting against them.

Avention also recently rolled out its OneSource DataVision platform for enrichment, segmentation analysis, and Look-alike prospecting.

Leutz recommends that the firm ask questions such as

  • Who are your top performing customers?
  • Who are your best leads?
  • What were your biggest deals?
  • Which customers close faster?

This information that can be gathered from the CRM, marketing automation platform, webinar attendees, and trade show lists.  It can also be gathered from your sales reps, the CFO, and customer conversations.

While Zoominfo can assist with answering Who, they fail to provide insights into What or Why.  In short, Zoominfo’s personas are basically the next generation of peer listings;  they are a starting point for the persona process, but they do not assist with identifying persona needs; determining whether the cluster contains economic buyers, influencers, or users; or specifying what kind of content would be of interest to them.  They also do not assist product management in determining product roadmaps and future capabilities.

There are also several vendors that recently launched tools for defining and maintaining buyer and user personas.  Cintell and Akoonu offer marketers tools for defining personas in a centralized platform that collects survey data and research alongside the profiles.  Both of these services were launched about a year ago so will be evolving quickly.  The two services are cloud based hubs for collecting persona information and sharing it with both platforms (e.g. Marketing Automation and CRM) and employees.  They are ongoing intelligence gathering services for continuously refining and updating personas and then disseminating this intelligence to marketing, sales, and product management.

Cintell Personas cover professional insights, social insights, content trends (intent data), and personality data.
Cintell personas cover professional insights, social insights, content trends (intent data), and personality data.

They also promise to immediately map leads to personas, helping inform messaging, campaigns, and targeting within the marketing automation platform and segmentation and analytics in the CRM.  When tied to a well-researched persona, sales reps would have a better understanding of the prospect’s role, needs, and informational requirements.  Personas provide sales reps with a summary of buying habits, preferences, and motivations along with market research reports, customer interviews and surveys, and persona specific articles.  As living documents shared across the organization, they would also assist product management in identifying latent needs and customer pain points and marketing communications in tailoring content for the persona.

“Our new empowered B2B consumer seeks relevancy and empathy,” said Cintell Co-Founder Katie Martell.  “And marketers know this: In a recent ITSMA study, technology marketers  predicted that understanding buyers will soon become their #1 responsibility.  But getting to this insight is not easy. Efforts to research and leverage personas today are highly manual, shallow, very static, and fragmented throughout the business. The opportunity here is to empower B2B organizations with a platform to gather primary research, enhance it with external market and buyer insights, and combine it with data from internal business systems. The new competitive advantage for companies is a richer understanding of buyers through meaningful, ongoing customer intelligence.”

I don’t see these persona definition platforms as long-term standalone offerings as their functionality is a tight fit for marketing automation.  They will likely be folded into marketing automation platforms once the technology has matured.  It is also possible that predictive analytics companies fold these tools into their products as persona assignments would inform lead scoring and messaging.  Furthermore, several of the predictive firms aspire to becoming recommendation engines, a feature that persona platforms could easily support.  Conversely, business signals would be valuable in building out a fuller understanding of personas.

Sales and Marketing Alignment

In a research study titled, “2016 B2B Sales & Marketing Collaboration Study,” Samantha Stone and The Marketing Advisory Network found that the misalignment of sales and marketing objectives remains a key problem for B2B companies.  Although this has been a topic of discussion for several years now, misalignment remains a key stumbling block to meeting revenue objectives.  Finger pointing between sales and marketing has long been a blogging meme.

When asked about whether marketing co-workers were doing a “superb job of supporting sales efforts,” sixty percent of marketers agreed while only twenty percent of sales executives agreed.

Other signs of disconnection between the two parties:

  • Only twenty percent of marketers believe that there is a 95% follow up on marketing generated leads while only half of sales executives believe a 95% follow up rate is maintained within their department.  Overall, 57% of respondents believe that no more than 85% of marketing leads are acted upon by sales.
  • Marketers have little confidence that sales reps are using the tools they develop for sales.  While only 15% of marketers believe their tools are broadly adopted (“virtually 100%”), over half of sales reps believe the tools are being fully deployed.
  • While fewer than twenty percent of marketers believe that sales is rewarded for supporting marketing objectives, 55% of sales teams believe their rewards are aligned with marketing.
  • Firms that did not share key performance indicators between sales and marketing were half as likely to exceed revenue targets.
  • Marketing ownership of pipeline acceleration is critical to meeting revenue targets.  “Organizations that exceeded revenue goals in the last 12 months are 3X as likely as those that miss revenue goals for marketing to “own” pipeline acceleration (not just lead generation),” said Stone.

“It’s common sense that organizations that rally together around shared goals will drive more efficiency than those where different functions are at odds with each other. Yet, most sales and marketing teams struggle with achieving this ideal.  That’s almost terrifying given we know fully integrated companies are more profitable, drive faster growth and make happier customers,” said Stone.  “Sales and marketing leaders are smart, yet almost every organization I walk into has some level of unhealthy tension between the two groups. It doesn’t seem to matter the size of the company, the industry they serve or how fast they are growing. In fact, it’s so common we accept it as inevitable.”

Sales and Marketing SLAs (Source: Marketing Advisory Network)
Sales and Marketing SLAs (Source: Marketing Advisory Network)

The study also found that setting Service Level Agreements (SLAs) between sales and marketing are highly correlated with revenue performance.  Firms that took simple steps such as defining lead scoring criteria and lead follow up timeframes were much more likely to exceed goals than fail to do so.  Of the six SLA goal categories defined by Stone, five were associated with “exceeded revenue goals” more commonly than missing revenue goals by more than ten percent.

The one goal that was not associated with outperformance, agreeing on the “number of new contacts added to the database by sales,” doesn’t address the mix of marketing and sales generated leads.  If we assume that there is an optimal percentage of sales generated leads, then agreeing on a percentage that is significantly above or below the target would be sub-optimal.  Absent a way to determine this optimal mix, setting an SLA on sales generated contacts could easily result in too much or too little time spent on contact identification.  If the number is too high, then reps are likely to add contacts of little value to the CRM so as to reach numeric targets.  A smart SLA would be based upon an analysis of the cost of generating sales contact records against the benefit of adding additional contacts.  As such, setting an analytics-free numeric target is no better than having no SLA at all and allowing each rep to determine their optimal contact discovery level.

Teams that perform best, document more service level agreements between sales and marketing than those teams that simply meet or miss revenue goals,” said Stone.  “Those that exceed revenue goals even collect data points such as win/loss data in a formalized manner.  Perhaps the most simple practice they follow is not only agreeing on lead scoring critical for sales follow up, but on time from lead assignment to follow up. It’s this closed loop accountability that clearly makes a difference.”

Finally, one simple step for improving revenue is for marketing to attend sales meetings.  The study found that B2B organizations which outperform on revenue are twice as likely to have marketers attend customer and prospect meetings than firms that fail to meet revenue targets.  Furthermore, marketing departments should be surveying the sales team on tools.  Stone found that firms “that exceed revenue goals are 3.1X as likely as those that just meet revenue goals to survey buyers when evaluating sales tools and 14X as likely as those that miss revenue goals.”

Tibor Shanto, Principal of Renbor Sales Solutions, calls for improved cooperation between sales and marketing under the leadership of a Chief Revenue Officer:

I have always seen sales and marketing as being on a shared mission and fighting the same battle. Like the military, to succeed, marketing has to provide air cover for the ground troops, namely sales, and this requires complete coordination, planning, execution, and review. This needs to extend from lead generation through all stages of the sale. At each stage, marketing offers up different coverage based on the feedback from sales. And sales needs to be sure to provide that feedback every step of the way or the air cover may miss the mark. While each branch of the military has their command, the overall effort is led by the commander. That’s why I am a fan of companies having a Chief Revenue Officer, rather than a distinct VP Marketing and VP Sales.

It is through a recognition of shared goals subject to shared metrics and feedback loops that firms can obtain improved performance from the two departments that own revenue generation.

The research was sponsored by QuotaFactory.

Account Based Marketing Blog Series

 

Lead Quality Stratification Chart from "I Don’t Want More Leads (and Neither Do You)"
Lead quality stratification chart from “I Don’t Want More Leads (and Neither Do You)”

I was recently commissioned to write a blog series on the subject of Account Based Marketing (ABM) for sales intelligence vendor Avention.  ABM is one of the hottest trends in sales and marketing as firms have realized that blanketing the market with non-personalized messaging is both inefficient and becoming less effective.  ABM provides a structured approach to sales and marketing whereby firms define their best customers and prospects and then focus their energy on these best candidates.  Due to improvements in datasets and technology, firms can now target and personalize their messaging much more effectively.

Here are my recent articles and opening paragraphs:

  • Data Quality Remains Boring, but Ever More Important: Three years ago, I wrote a blog titled, “Data Quality is Boring”.  To be honest, it still is.  Few marketing executives will walk into the job and set data hygiene as their first priority.  But is it more critical than ever due to the increased scope of SalesTech and Martech and the advancement of Account Based Marketing (ABM) and predictive analytics.  None of these tools will achieve their promise without a rigorous process for embedding high quality data into your leads, contacts, and accounts.  Marketers need to build data quality into the front-end of their data acquisition process and then maintain data quality over time.  Likewise, data quality needs to be maintained within CRMs due to the rapid rate of contact decay.
  • Demand Gen is to Fishing With Nets as ABM is to _____: Account Based Marketing (ABM) is quickly moving up the hype cycle and becoming a best practice at many B2B organizations.  While ABM has been around for decades, it is only in the past two years that the wisdom of B2B targeting combined with focused sales and marketing activities around ideal customers has been revisited.
  • Digital Transformation of Sales & Marketing: In my last blog, I discussed Forrester’s model of Digital Predators, Digital Transformers, and Digital Dinosaurs.  Forrester argues that businesses must quickly become digital with products and services which are either sold or delivered digitally.  According to Forrester, about five percent of business revenue is being converted from traditional to digital each year with nearly half of all revenue being digitally mediated by 2020.  At that point, ninety percent of digital predator revenue will be digitally mediated, and nearly seventy percent of digital transformer revenue will be digital, but only one-third of digital dinosaur revenue will be digital.  Thus, over the next four years, the transformers will quadruple their digital revenue mix while the dinosaurs will merely double it
  • Account Based Marketing & Cloning Best Customers: As sales and marketing teams embrace Account Based Marketing (ABM), they have come to realize that ABM requires that the two departments agree on what constitutes a best customer as well as how to identify them.  Account Based Marketing is a balancing act between extending your target market and retaining strategic focus.  Firms need to direct their energy and investments into a universe of best prospects and customers.  Once this ABM target list is defined, sales and marketing must maintain a laser-like focus on these candidates.
  • Account Based Marketing & Expanding Your Footprint: When assessing vendors for Account Based Marketing (ABM), the initial focus may be on building the ABM target list, but equally important is the ability to sell more broadly across an organization.  Thus, deep contacts and linkage are critical for upselling, cross-selling, and accessing new pockets of potential buyers within firms.  After all, it is easier to sell deeper into your best fit accounts than it is to establish that initial beachhead.  Furthermore, a broader footprint generates both greater income and greater account security.
  • Account Based Marketing & Company Research: Account Based Marketing (ABM) has been re-embraced as a strategy by sales and marketing teams as they have realized that traditional outreach methods (e.g. banner advertising, phone, and email) need to be better targeted towards a set of Ideal Customers.  Simply taking a “spray and pray” approach to marketing is becoming less effective as prospects become less willing to answer calls or read poorly targeted emails.  If the voicemail is generic or the email appears to be generated from a marketing automation platform, it is unlikely that the prospect will do anything beyond hit the delete button.
  • Meet ABM’s Kid Brother: ABSD: In my last few blogs, I’ve discussed Account Based Marketing (ABM) as a targeted approach to strategic B2B marketing, but have yet to broach the subject of how ABM affects sales reps.  Since ABM began at the very top of the funnel as programmatic marketing to anonymous targets at named accounts, it had little process impact further down the funnel; but now that ABM has become a broader marketing strategy for named accounts, the question is much more relevant.
  • MQL and SQL — Why Can’t We Just Agree on Lead Qualification: For too long, sales and marketing have been at loggerheads over what constitutes a qualified lead.  This disagreement on what is an actionable opportunity has been one of the sources of ongoing conflict between sales and marketing.  How many times has marketing crowed about all the leads they generate for the sales team only to be dismissed by sales reps and their managers?
  • I Don’t Want More Leads (and Neither Do You): The headline to my email read, “I don’t need more leads.  Said no marketer ever.”  I guess I’ll be the first to disagree with that statement – as would the marketer who wrote the headline.  You only need to read her subsequent copy which states “When fully integrated into your demand generation efforts, predictive marketing enables B2B marketers to drive deeper buyer engagement and increase revenue opportunities from target accounts.”

Note: I am a former Avention employee (2001 – 20010)

Bill Gates on LinkedIn

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates supports the LinkedIn acquisition and views it as an opportunity to build a Facebook for business professionals.  This perspective is in line with LinkedIn CEO Jeffrey Weiner’s vision of an economic graph that captures the broad scope of business activity.

“This professional feed in LinkedIn, that is how I want to learn about my career, my company, my industry, and I’m going back there,” Gates told Bloomberg last month. “If we can make that as valuable as the Facebook feed in the social world, that’s huge value creation and that’ll happen over a period of years.”

Gates contends that Microsoft and LinkedIn are more valuable together than as separate entities even though Microsoft stock slipped two percent on the announcement.  “I certainly think that the value of the two companies combined is greater than the two by themselves, but I love the idea that the market wants us to show that,” he said.

Gates remains a member of Microsoft’s Board and is formally listed as a Technical Advisor to CEO Satya Nadella.

Dynamics 365 and AppSource

In other news, the firm continues to enhance the Dynamics platform (CRM and ERP) with the introduction of Dynamics 365 and Microsoft AppSource.  “Dynamics 365 provides business users with purpose-built SaaS applications. These applications have intelligence built in. They integrate deeply with communications and collaboration capabilities of Office 365,” said Nadella.  “Dynamics 365 along with AppSource and our rich application platform introduces a disruptive and customer-centric business model so customers can build what they want and use just the capabilities they need.”

The new Dynamics 365 platform will be available this fall.

Merging the Microsoft and LinkedIn graphs to advance the Economic Graph (Slide from Fair Disclosure call on June 13, 2016).
Merging the Microsoft and LinkedIn graphs to advance the Economic Graph (Slide from Fair Disclosure call on June 13, 2016).

Nadella views Office 365, Dynamics 365, AppSource (a newly launched SaaS app ecosystem for businesses), and LinkedIn as all working together to provide “services in the cloud where you can reason about the activity and the data underneath these services to benefit the customers who are using these services. So that’s what this notion of a graph represents.”

Nadella continued, “The professional cloud or the professional network helps usage across all of that professional usage. Whether it’s in Office 365 or whether you’re a salesperson using any application related to sales, you want your professional network there. Of course, it’s relevant in recruiting, it’s relevant in training, it’s relevant in marketing. So that’s really our strategy with LinkedIn as the professional network meeting the professional cloud. And so you were right to point out that these are all part of one overarching strategy, and ultimately it’s about adding value to customers.”

On Microsoft’s Q4 2016 earnings call this week, the firm reiterated their belief that the LinkedIn acquisition will close before the end of the calendar year.

HBR: Digital Exhaust for Sales

Mark Kovac of Bain and Company wrote an interesting piece on the topic of digital exhaust in Harvard Business Review.  The short piece, titled “Using Digital Exhaust to Improve Sales,” provides three examples of how software vendors are combining big data and analytics to provide new tools to sales management.

Kovac defines digital exhaust as “the data generated from the regular activities of a sales force or their customers, to change the behavior of frontline sales representatives in ways that dramatically improve sales productivity and effectiveness” and provides examples from three firms including Lattice Engines.

The first firm, Volometrix, was acquired by Microsoft last year.  Volometrix performs resource analyses to determine where sales reps are spending their time and which behaviors are positively correlated with sales performance.  Unfortunately, the use case Kovac provides is about a firm that realigned company priorities providing more time for selling and therefore “too much sales capacity.”  While efficiency is desirable, if software solutions result in efficiency improvements without much improvement in efficacy (ability to sell), then they will be resisted.  This isn’t too say that Volometrix doesn’t provide efficacy gains (I only know them from the story), but case studies which focus on cost savings (efficiency) over revenue gains (effectiveness) may create situations where sales reps refuse to cooperate.

The second vendor discussed is GoToMeeting which is performing voice-to-text semantic analysis and discerning which phrases and approaches are more effective.  The data gathered is anonymous (though I still see issues with recording calls, particularly in certain jurisdictions) and provides insights in how to more effectively sell.  The software sounds a bit like SalesforceIQ but instead of focusing on email analysis, GoToMeeting is using conversations.

Lattice Engines stratifies leads by probability of closing with the highest probability leads immediately sent to sales and the remainder held for nurturing.
Lattice Engines stratifies leads by probability of closing with the highest probability leads immediately sent to sales and the remainder held for nurturing.

The final case study was predictive analytics company Lattice Engines which helps firms improve “call response rates, close rates and average order value.”  Predictive analytics for sales and marketing is a growing class of recommendation software with a broad set of competitors including Leadspace, Infer, 6Sense, and Mintigo.  Lattice Engines combines first-party and third-party data sets to score leads and recommend sales approaches.  Unfortunately, Kovac focuses on the matched third-party data instead of the digital exhaust captured by the firm (he does mention loyalty scores and product purchase history).

There is a growing set of SalesTech vendors that are applying digital analysis to previously inaccessible datasets.  While sales remains an art, these solutions are shifting the sales profession from a craft to a science.  If vendors are to be successful, they need to focus more on efficacy versus efficiency.  While sales could certainly become more efficient by reducing non-productive administrative activities (and reps are always happy to reduce dead weight time spent tracking problems, navigating contract signatures, and entering data), the focus should be on top-line growth and exceeding quota, not cost reduction.  Otherwise, sales reps will resist their adoption.

ABM: How Many Accounts?

ABM Target

The question of how many accounts to include in an Account Based Marketing (ABM) program was addressed by Jon Miller, CEO of Engagio in a recent blog.  (Engagio uses the term “Account Based Everything,” but it still applies).  Miller proposed a straightforward capacity analysis based upon the hourly requirements to properly manage various categories of accounts.

He also identified variables to include in your estimation:

  • Your expected deal sizes
  • The length of the sales cycle
  • Your available sales resources
  • Your current level of engagement 
with major prospects
  • The intensiveness of your account-based strategy

If your ABM targeting is defined as “we target the Fortune 1000 vendors in the following sectors…”, then you may be missing many opportunities.  Likewise, if it is too broadly defined then you may lack the resources to properly manage a land and expand strategy at each of the targets.  A capacity analysis lets you work backwards based upon the number of global enterprise reps, named accounts (large, medium, and small), and SDRs.  Miller proposes sample capacity numbers for each of these sales rep categories.

“The challenge is to scale your ABM program so that you can address internal requests from the sales team, but at the same time not lose the unique approach of ABM and revert back to the traditional kinds of marketing,” says Jeff Sands of ITSMA, “Salespeople are highly competitive, and when they start to see their peers succeed in implementing a strategy like ABM, they want to jump on that bandwagon really fast. You have to make sure you scale appropriately.”

Your ABM strategy should begin with an understanding of your capacity and then progress into an analysis of revenue goals (revenue maximization, profitability maximization, new market entry, market share growth, etc.).  Only then should you begin identifying your ABM targets.

OutReach Series B: $$ for ABSD

Account Based Sales Development (ABSD) vendor Outreach closed on a $17.5 million Series B VC round led by Trinity Ventures.  Also participating were Microsoft Ventures and previous investors.  The round raised the total funding for Outreach to $29 million.  Trinity General Partner Karan Mehandru was named to the Outreach Board.

“Outreach has developed a platform that actually helps salespeople close deals, not just add another reporting layer for management. It is a platform of action, an operating system for sales, that prompts sales professionals to be the best version of themselves by automating their entire workflow across channels,” said Mehandru. “There is nothing else like it. Outreach is truly pioneering the transformation of the sales tech stack and making heroes out of sales professionals.”

CEO Manuel Medina noted that many sales reps manage over fifty customers and prospects.  “What happens is that all this conversation with different people falls into the cracks,” he said. “Outreach creates a workflow where salespeople know what to do next and automates follow-up.”

"Tile View provides a single place for a sales person to view all of the critical information for an enterprise contact including the best time to contact them, which form of communication they respond to the best, and even what the weather is where they work.”
“Tile View provides a single place for a sales person to view all of the critical information for an enterprise contact including the best time to contact them, which form of communication they respond to the best, and even what the weather is where they work.”

The funds will be dedicated towards an expansion of their engineering  and marketing teams.  Outreach is looking to build out its automation and workflow tools for sales reps and add new analytics capabilities.  The firm’s current headcount of eighty will likely double over the next year.  Engineering will grow from twelve to twenty by the end of the year and then double again next year.

“The environment is very competitive, but this positions us well with a big cash war chest and the ability to bring in more engineers and double down in the parts where we’re strong, which is product and engineering,” said Medina.

Outreach currently supports Salesforce.com and has a Microsoft Dynamics connector in development.  The platform is shifting to Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services for its cloud service.

Outreach, like several other ABSD vendors, recently launched a partner ecosystem to support prospecting and messaging.  Other partners include Datanyze and SendGrid.

Clients include Adobe, CenturyLink, Adroll, AppDynamics, and Zillow.