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Selling to Personas is a Big Mistake

Market to personas but sell to people. If you and/or your company are doing it the other way around, or conflating the two, that’s a big mistake, and heres why….

Marketing deals with the aggregate, the many, the cohort, the average of the huddled masses just yearning for your stuff. This tried and true technique has been around since mass production and mass distribution became possible. For example, the invention of the printing press would have been nothing without the invention of cheap and easily acquired paper. Paper was the big invention, a precursor of the internet back in the early 80s. Nowadays it includes mass and social media. 

Of course in B2B there is no “mass” as in B2C. That’s why B2B marketing targets companies that fit a specific profile based on many criteria such as Geography/Size/FTE/Revenue/Points of Presence/ Vertical/etc. and other readily identifiable characteristics. Market research is simplified, and said companies can then be carpet-bombed with emails, pop-ups, telemarketing, print, and ABM style marketing. Throw enough stuff at the wall and something’s gotta stick, right?

Marketing also targets Personas at various levels of said companies, End Users, Researchers, “Designated Hitters”, Operations folks, Middle Managers, GMs, Owners, and even the C-Suite through many different techniques too numerous for this column.



What are Personas? 

Personas are abstractions, works of fiction derived from the imagination and fact finding of market research in many forms. Personas represent people and their behaviour, yet are not people. They are averages. They are models useful to create a foundation for marketing content, web design, and general messages that conform to the guestimate. This is how marketing works, and that’s ok. 

What’s the problem? 
Sales is about solving the problem of one - to - one company, and many individuals, even across different buying and due diligence teams or workgroups. 
Companies are made of people, not personas. People have unique characteristics, quirks, flaws, excesses, deficits, and often divergent interests. Companies reflect the people who work there, NOT the personas invented for marketing purposes. 

Personas are not people. 
They lack all the stuff that makes us human, including a pulse. Personas lack the following 4 factors we should never forget:

  • Intuition 
  • Emotion
  • Intellect & Thought
  • Physical Being

Sales people need deal with the whole person, each and every one of them along the way, many seen, but with many offstage still to be contended with and considered. You simply cannot influence, persuade, bribe, blackmail, guilt, cajole, educate, or motivate a persona. They are fiction.

While none of this is new, here’s the rub. 
When marketing drives the sales organization by defining the company and persona profiles to be used, using marketing techniques, the sales initiative is lost. In the 1-on-1 interactions that define sales, nobody wants to be treated like an average, a probability, a statistical model. Nobody. Indeed people highly resent it, and resist it.  

Sales interacts with People, not Personas. 
Not only is it a time-honoured tradition, the reality of interpersonal communication requires trust leading to connection leading to insight. It’s more complicated than that, and requires sales people to go much deeper than the marketing models they are provided. That’s sales work. Research about industries, companies, roles, responsibilities, success factors and more are in the purview of sales management to develop with its sales people. 

What marketing starts is truly the top of the funnel. In the middle of the funnel, sales needs refine these models in order to carry on buyer relevant credible conversations, not general market discourse. It’s about what matters to the person in front of you, or the engaged workgroup(s). As before, this includes the person’s Intuitions, Emotions, Thoughts, and Physical senses and reality. People are not abstractions, not Personas. 

Sales and Sales Management must develop and use their own target company and people profiles, and never blithely accept Firmographics and Personas from marketing without further refinement. Sales must accept the responsibility, do the work, reap the benefits. Marketing will thank you when you bring home the proverbial bacon. 
Market to Personas - Sell to People


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