The idea of buyer personas seems to be sweeping the world of B2B marketing - another example of a business-to-consumer concept being embraced by the business-to-business world. Anticipating how different types of stakeholders are likely to think and behave is clearly helping to improve the quality of marketing messages and initial sales conversations.
But in complex B2B sales, we’re not just selling to individuals, but to teams of people within organisations, and I wonder if we haven’t been missing an important implication that is unique to B2B: those organisations have personas too!
Every company has a personality, and it’s not just restricted to what is conventionally thought of as “company culture”. From a B2B sales and marketing perspective, we also need to understand how they are structured, how they behave, and how they are reacting to the trends and events are currently affecting them.
The death of demographics?
It’s increasingly widely recognised that the traditional dimensions of demographic segmentation - size, sector and geography - are an inadequate and incomplete basis for identifying the organisations that have the potential to be your most valuable prospects and customers.
In fact, their structural, behavioural and situational characteristics are much more important indicators of their current or future revenue potential, and whether they are likely to want to do business with your organisation. Together, these three factors help to define any organisation’s persona - so let’s explore them in a little more detail:
Structural factors can be either internal or external, and are for the most part issues of fact rather than judgement. These factors are concerned with issues like how the potential prospect is organised internally, what internal systems they have in place and how they are positioned within their market.
Here are some common examples of important structural considerations:
- Ultimate ownership - are they independent or a subsidiary of a bigger group?
- Position in market - are they the market leader, the leading challenger, a key player or an also-ran?
- How is the organisation managed - is it highly centralised, or widely decentralised?
- What competitive systems have already been installed?
- What complementary systems have already been installed?
- What is their primary growth strategy - organic or acquisitive?
- Are they committed to key management strategies such as Lean 6 Sigma?
These structural factors tend to change relatively slowly over time, and are therefore good indicators of which types of organisations within your target markets are likely to represent your best long-term prospects. Even if there is no opportunity today, they are the sorts of factors that indicate that there is likely to be potential for the future.
Behavioural factors can also be either internal or external, but are more often issues of judgement, observation or informed supposition rather than hard fact. These factors are concerned with how the organisation behaves when it comes to things like their decision making style, their relationship with vendors, their appetite for innovation and their role in their markets.
Here are some common examples of behavioural factors:
- Decision making process - where does the real power lie - with operations, finance or IT?
- Are they more driven by creating value or by cutting cost?
- How do they measure and reward the performance of their managers and staff?
- Vendor relationships - are they collaborative or confrontational?
- Appetite for technology innovation - are they an early adopter, fast follower, pragmatist or laggard?
- Influence in their market - are they seen as a trendsetter or a follower?
These behavioural factors are often more subtle - and harder to evaluate - than the organisation’s demographic or structural characteristics, but as any top performing sales person will tell you, the cultural alignment between prospect and vendor can make a significant difference to your chances of doing business with the organisation.
Situational factors are events or trends that have an impact on the prospect’s current environment. They reflect important recent changes in circumstance - whether internal or external - that cause the prospect to recognise that the status quo may longer be sustainable, and stimulate the recognition that they need to start evaluating new approaches. They are often referred to as “trigger events”.
Here are some common examples of high-impact trigger events:
- A recent change in senior management
- A recent or upcoming change in corporate ownership (acquiring or being acquired)
- A significant new investment round
- Significant new corporate initiatives, high-profile product launches or change programmes
- Externally imposed legislation or regulation
- Expansion into new product areas, geographies, etc.
- Significant sales recruitment or channel expansion programmes
- Significant recent changes in their market, competitive landscape or go-to-market-strategy
Demographic, structural and behavioural insights can tell you whether an organisation is a worthwhile long-term sales prospect: situational factors can tell you whether that organisation is likely to have an active or latent need that you are in a position to satisfy today.
You already know more than you might think…
Don’t be intimidated: if you tap into the collective experience of your colleagues, you’ll inevitably discover that you know more than you think about these key characteristics. One of the best ways to start is with a list of the organisations that your colleagues believe best represent your “ideal customers”.
You can learn a lot from bringing together the people who best understand these customers and prospects, explaining the difference between demographic, structural, behavioural and situational factors and getting them to brainstorm the common characteristics.
Sales clearly has a key contribution to make here, but don’t forget your senior executives or your pre-sales, consulting or customer support teams - these groups are also capable of coming up with some fascinating insights. Capture everything you hear, but be sure to identify and highlight the most important factors in each category.
Identifying your "sweet spots"
Mastering organisational personas opens the door to a number of important benefits: first, you can target your demand generation and prospecting activities towards the “sweet spot” organisations that are most likely to want to do business with you. Second, they can help you more accurately qualify potential sales opportunities. Third, once an opportunity has been qualified, awareness of an organisation’s persona can help you adjust your sales tactics to fit.
Want to learn more?
If you’d like to learn more about understanding organisational personas, I recommend that you read our latest Blueprint for Breakthrough on “Identifying your key target organisations”. You can download your copy here. Please let me know what you think of the concept.