If you've ever been involved in setting a B2B marketing plan, you've probably spent time developing who your targets are. There are various ways to do this, but in an inbound approach, we focus on developing target personas. What are personas? In inbound marketing and sales, personas include the set of personal characterizations that represent the influencers and decision-makers that you believe will be important to your prospect companies' buying process.
In our B2B practice, the development of target personas usually starts with the idea that there are one or two key influencers and one main decision-maker who should be considered in prospect-focused editorial and content plans. But these days, business decisions aren't so simple.
Especially when a prospect company is considering a large capital spend or a long-term critical service commitment, the buyer journey today is probably better represented as either a formal task force or committee, or even more likely, as an informal collection of influencers and decision-contributors that make the journey more complicated than ever. There are no strong-man decision makers in today's business environment; most major decisions are team decisions.
Recognizing that the buyer journey might seem more like a flash mob than a carefully orchestrated business process is healthy for inbound marketers and inbound sellers in 2 ways:
- By inspiring content thinking as you consider all the potential different paths and approaches different influencers may take
- By motivating sellers to carefully consider the context represented by the people involved, and consider that the context comes both from the responsibilities people own, and from their personal dominant decision styles
All inbound strategists understand that context is critical, and in this case, it could mean the difference between success and failure for the inbound seller.
Persona Influencer Roles
Businesses that buy big ticket equipment, custom machinery, or expensive long term business services typically create a cross-functional task force when they're considering a purchase as the first step of a process to scope out their needs and begin identifying and vetting potential vendors. Functional areas of the business represented usually include engineering, finance, operations, supply chain, quality assurance, and maybe marketing or sales.
Each functional area has different motivations and interests as they consider what's important. Engineers love to know how something works, and the pedigree of the technology. Is it new, is it proprietary? What are the specific performance metrics in early plant trials?
Finance wants evidence too, but they want to know about total cost of ownership, and payback. What's the ROI, and are the underlying assumptions conservative? Can the seller help finance the purchase, is leasing an option? What are the alternatives?
Supply chain needs to know about productivity; how it fits into future capacity plans and the logistics of bringing the new stuff up to speed. Is the equipment versatile and able to switch over quickly across different product types? When will it be online and producing as promised? What other analogous companies are currently using the same technology or services?
Selling to a task force as complicated as this means finding out what the most important pain drivers are, and who really owns those. If greater efficiency/lower cost is the key goal, finance and supply chain are the critical audience. However, if it's product quality improvements they're after, QA, operations and marketing/sales will have more influence.
Giving prospects early opportunities to signal their most critical challenges through an aggressive conversion form strategy can help shine a spotlight more quickly on the pain points that will ultimately get top priority in their purchase deliberations. Segmentation along pain points should lead to nurturing that's most relevant and compelling, since that gives you the ability to speak within the context they defined.
Learning about the functional areas represented on a buying team is just one way to consider how to write directly to personas. Another way is to think about the different motivational and decision-making styles people and organizations rely on, and consider that by paying attention, and even constructing decision-style indicators as part of your form strategy, lead conversion events could yield important insights into the people leading decision teams, and maybe even the decision culture of organizations.
Whether you place your confidence in well-established and proven tools such as DISC personal assessments or the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), or something more contemporary and focused like StrengthFinder, there's no doubt that across any normal population of effective, successful professionals involved in the buyer journey, you're going to come into contact with an assortment of decision styles.
Here are some of the decision styles inbound sales people should consider when selling to a buying team.
- Driver – Not afraid of risk, enjoys conflict, really loves to challenge ideas as part of the vetting process. This type is direct and enjoys directness in return. Be aggressive and blunt; patience and subtlety aren't necessary. Save the sugar coating. If this type is leading the team, expect the decision process to be quick and relatively transparent. Don't hold back or the process might pass you by.
- Analytic – Wants quantitative evidence, absolutely adores spreadsheets and the methods behind gathering the needed data. They're easy to help, because giving them great evidence both improves your credibility and helps them to complete the analysis. This type wants to process data on their terms, so give them time and don't push too hard or too fast. Best way to advance is to review all the evidence they have, and then close with "Is there anything missing that would keep you from the best solution?"
- Relationship builder – This type wants to feel like they're building vendor friendships as they learn and vet. Myers-Briggs calls this person the Amiable, meaning a check-in call always starts by asking about their weekend plans and family updates. Regular touches are essential, but they need to be soft asks and offers to help. Avoid sudden movements that might be seen as impatient or aggressive. Give them space interspersed with hugs.
- Consensus seeker – This is the classic collaborator, the team builder who loves solving problems but wants to make sure everyone on the team feels at least 80% good about the direction the team takes. This person knows that eliminating barriers is the quickest way to reach consensus, so the best way to help them is to address their objections with solid evidence and reaffirming testimonials. This person is also the most motivated to understand the positions of everyone involved in the team decision, since one strong dissenter can prevent consensus.
- Innovator – Always looking for a new approach, this type loves to invent and discover for the sheer joy it brings them. The best way to engage them is to help them discover your solution as their discovery, and help them visualize the reality of what it could mean to their business. Innovators often don't enjoy process, so showing them that you'll be responsible for implementation of their idea is a great way to win them over.
- Risk Averse, skeptic – This type is the opposite of the innovator, and the bain of consensus builders, since they can find reasons to reject around every corner. Skeptics are deep thinkers, which means don't put them on the spot in a meeting or conference call. Give them time to process with an email that addresses all of their concerns and allows them to consider evidence and logic at their pace. If you don't mind taking time, once the skeptic is converted they can be the best ally of all, because everyone on the team knows they don't agree or support change easily.
Closing With Context
So how does knowing about the different functions and decision styles representing a prospect help an inbound seller? Well, the most important consideration for inbound sellers is getting your arms around context in both the broadest sense of the word, and with exact specificity. In the case of team-buying processes, context means understanding that the team decision dynamic will probably be strongly influenced by one or more distinct decision styles. Which leads us to recommend two approaches that are often overlooked but could be powerful sales effectiveness additives.
1. Landing page form strategy
If you've ever deployed even the most basic inbound plans, you've given some thought to what information fields you'll present at first, second and third conversions. Most of the fields invariably focus on qualifying prospects, both demographically and attitudinally. Your form strategy could also be an ideal place to start understanding a prospect's decision style, and their view of the process they use to make decisions. In other words, ask questions like:
"Which statement most describes the way you approach decision-making?"
"Please describe how your company typically makes descisions about __________ purchases."
"How many people are involved in a typical __________ decision?"
With smart forms this could be a great place to test followup content offers based on the style noted.
2. Lead connection & discovery protocols
Once a lead has been identified and qualified there should be a handoff to sales to make the human connection and commence the discovery process. Anticipating the different styles, structures and decision processes that sales people will face in the leads they manage could help you prepare sales people to be more effective by providing them with tools that extend their style flexibility. This could be accomplished with simple call scripts and email templates organized around dominant decision styles. It's easy to see that a connect conversation with a driver-style prospect would be dramatically different than with an analytic or innovator type. Being properly prepared as a sales person leads to better results, and better attitude about going after connections.
Just as inbound marketing is about attracting and converting with relevant and valuable content, inbound selling is about advancing relationships with qualified prospects using context that builds trust and credibility. By becoming better students of buyer decision styles and practices, all inbound sellers can improve their professional effectiveness, something that will make the buyer journey more enjoyable for everyone involved.
Topics: Inbound Sales
With 18+ years in senior management roles at Fortune 500® and medium-sized companies, Greg has deep marketing and sales experience with CPGs and manufacturing. He leads strategic initiatives with clients and is involved in developing client inbound marketing plans. Greg holds an M.B.A. from Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management and a B.A. in Economics from Lawrence University.