Buyer personas, buying groups, and ICPs are very different things.
Knowing your working definitions - both internal and external - is critical to keeping everyone on the same page.
Your ICP is always shifting.
As you get new data, be proactive in moving your targets. Focus in on the audience that can mean the most for your business.
Buying groups are bigger than ever.
One person that fits your persona can't close your deal. Modern buying groups are between 6-8 people, and you need to get them all on board.
Personas, buying groups, and ICPs, those three things have to work together. It's really hard to get it right the first time, but if you have the right systems and processes in place, you'll have the ability to make adjustments.
As Chief Growth Officer, Monica is responsible for Iron Horse clients’ growth and alignment strategies. Most recently, Monica was the Vice President and Global Group Director of B2B Services at Forrester where she led over 100 advisors and analysts serving B2B sales, marketing, and product executives. Prior to Forrester, Monica led the Marketing Executive practice for SiriusDecisions, where she developed and applied best practice methodologies serving executives across a variety of industries. Before her advisory service roles, Monica held executive positions in AMD, Cisco, and IBM.
Dara is an executive dedicated to helping customers transform and optimize account-based marketing & sales motions. This includes optimization of data workflows, ABM/GTM strategy (best practices, planning, execution, optimization & refinement), alignment of tech vendor and buyer interactions, and strategic content marketing, all with an eye on technology market trends.
Alex Jonathan Brown: It's 11:00 AM on the West Coast, 2:00 PM in New York, and 1:00 PM in Lincoln, Nebraska where a regional coffee franchise that is not sponsoring this show just set the record for the world's largest cake ball at 848 pounds. Wherever you are, put your phone on do not disturb. Treat yourself to a snack and a beverage. It's time for a coffee break.
Hi, I'm Alex Jonathan Brown, I'm a senior copywriter here at Iron Horse. Today, we're talking about buyer groups, buying personas, ICPs, and where all those things fit into your sales process. To help us make sense of it all here on opening day, we've drafted a lineup of a couple of heavy hitters. TechTarget VP, customer enablement and data strategy, Dara Such. Iron Horse chief growth officer, Monica Behncke. Thanks for joining us, everybody.
Dara Such: Thank you.
Monica Behncke: Thanks, Alex. I could see you're already confused about personas buying groups and ICP’s. It's just hard to get out of your mouth.
Alex Jonathan Brown: The words are hard to say. I didn't make them up, it's not my fault. That is actually a really good place to start. I think those terms specifically are things that if you're in marketing, in sales, you've heard them, you throw them around, but it's often really easy just to use them as terms and not really define what we're talking about. Can we start there? Buyer personas, buying groups, what is the real difference?
Dara Such: Monica, you want to take this one?
Alex Jonathan Brown: I was just going to say no pressure.
Monica Behncke: I'm happy to. First of all, these things are not interchangeable. A lot of people use them generically and interchangeably. Before I even start the definitions, I'm going to give you our definitions. Whatever you use in your own company, my advice is write it down and make sure everybody uses it the same way. It's like campaign and program and people use them differently and they mean different things.
If everybody means the same thing, your conversations are going to be so much more robust and things are going to go faster. For me, just to start there, personas are about individuals and it's the way that in B2B. We want to describe an individual and there's lots of ways and lots of dimensions that you can use with describing individuals. It's certainly more than just their title. It's also about their role.
It's also about the most important part, their needs. It's about their watering holes, it's about their language. I had a company I worked for and we made graphics cards also known as video cards. We spent a long time trying to figure out which word and which way people talked about it. If we chose the wrong one, then people would maybe not resonate with what we were saying. All of that is to say that our personas and the value of the personas is very much about how do I talk to people?
How do I make it resonate with them? What's the content? What's the language? Where are they going to find it? Buying groups are a collection of personas that are going to work together in order to solve an internal problem with some kind of solution, or they're going to buy something. Generally, when we think about buying groups, I tend to categorize them in roles. There's the champion role, there's the decision maker role, there's the financial person or ratifier role, there's influencer roles.
You may have different titles and different personas and you may have multiple individual personas playing one role. Think about influencers, it could be an influencer within your company. It's the technical person, it's the procurement person, could be an influencer outside of your company. Maybe it's an OEM or maybe it's an consultant or an analyst. All of these people together make up that buying group.
Now, it gets really, really complicated because if you can't figure out what one person is doing through their buying journey, now you got to figure out what a whole bunch of people are doing through the buying journey. When they come in and when they come out and what influence they have during that part of the buying journey. Dara, what else would you add to that?
Dara Such: I love that. I think your buying group definition is so approachable and as groups of personas because folks are pretty familiar with personas. I always think of personas as an archetype. It's a compilation of what you believe your core buyer may be and multiplying that across all of the constituents that end up being involved in a decision that can start to build out your buying group.
Just because you've built out personas doesn't mean you know all of the members of a buying group. There are quiet personas, silent influencers, there's folks like that who can obviously play a key role. You brought up consultants, OEMs, partners, those are all key areas where I think folks often forget they can play a very key role in steering how decisions are made for tech purchases today.
Monica Behncke: In some cases, they are the decision makers. We're working with a company right now in health insurance. If you know anything about that market, the broker is actually more the buyer than the actual client. It's like you sell to a broker and brokers are very specialized and they're the ones that are going to make a recommendation, but their recommendation is really close to a decision.
If you are going around those people and people in that industry know that. There's a lot of places I worked with clients where they didn't realize how much a partner, an implementation firm, was really behind the decision.
Dara Such: My father actually made a career out of doing that as a consultant and he has been engaged for decades. While things certainly change, often the decision for shortlisting who is ultimately going to be chosen as the vendor of choice is completely outsourced to a group of consultants or individual consultants. It always pains me a little when folks are limiting their focus on specific titles or they're excluding people when they have such an opportunity to influence those folks.
Otherwise, they're just going to go with who they know. It's really hard for disruptive vendors, emerging vendors, folks with new and different technologies to really get a seat at that table.
Monica Behncke: I love the way that you've phrased it like the silent influencer. It reminded me of a client that I worked with where they were targeting chief sales officers, chief revenue officers, pure line of business, but it was a piece of technology that they were targeting at this chief sales officer. They went back and looked at all of the deals that they had done because they were starting to look at who was actually in our buying group.
They found out that in 100% of the deals at the last part of the buying journey IT came in. It's like there wasn't a single deal that you didn't have to have IT as part of it, but they would just ignore it and then all of a sudden these deals would stall and they'd have to get over that hump. Once they recognized that this was part of the buying journey, they went, "Now, to your point, we have to open up the aperture and say how do we include them in our support of buyers going through the journey?"
Whether it's helping the salesperson have the conversation with the IT person or going directly to the IT person or putting it in the language for the IT person, whatever the situation is. It wasn't the person that the salesperson was talking to, it was happening in the background but it was stalling deals. It was amazing, it was 100% of the deals. They looked at a wide swath of their clients.
Dara Such: It really is so dependent on what market or patch of the technology space that you're looking at. I mean, the composition of these personas and buying group members can just be so dramatically different. That's why it's so important to understand and tap into folks who have visibility in what those roles are. I think oftentimes the center of the bullseye is a really great place to focus.
If you're missing those bookend roles, whether it's procurement or the tech folks, if you're really focused on line of business, it's really risky and it can delay revenue, you can be vetoed even if you've gotten to one, I'm trying to make a baseball metaphor in here, but I still have football in the brain. If you're at the one yard line with a deal, it really can disrupt your revenue stream.
Alex Jonathan Brown: I'll take a little pause here to remind people if you have questions for either Dara or Monica, throw them in the chat, we'll get to them. One question that I had, how do we help organizations that we're working for, make the shift from thinking about the target at the end of the buyer's journey, really being a one person versus shifting to that buying group mindset that we've been talking about.
For some people, that's a pretty big shift from the days of we've got one persona with a punny name and that's all we're going to focus on.
Dara Such: Well, here at TechTarget, we feel very strongly about this, and it's funny, we've been doing research among our end user audience who are ultimately the personas and the buying groups that all of the vendors we work with are trying to engage with. We do research to understand purchase priorities and how deals actually and decisions get made on the side of the client, not the vendor. We are just all about educating folks.
Understand that the automation, digital transformation, cloud has just totally shaken up how these decisions get made. Oftentimes, we'll find that the marketers, product marketers have a really high level of awareness here. What's always very hard is to shift sales behavior. We recently did a survey of our customers and it was specific to ABM where a lot of this stuff tends to center, but it's not limited to ABM by any means.
There are two top challenges were identifying members of the buying group and sales behavior changes. While those two go hand in hand, you really need to help educate your sales leaders and sales teams. Personally, I think you have to look at your processes. Everything from Monica, you brought up programs and campaigns, if your program at the outset starts to limit things, and then you've got the behavior on the other end that is already still thinking, you just want to focus on a persona or two personas that change should be end to end.
You really have to look at what could be limiting you. I think from our perspective, it's really about incremental education and bringing proof points and examples to the table where wins have happened by changing that behavior. I have a quick example I can share and then I'll pass it back to you, Monica. We have a client of ours in the identity security space and it's one of my favorite stories to tell because it really speaks to the positive outcomes that can come from changing your behavior.
We had identified a ton of activity within an account and a lot of activity at a prospect level, a person level, and the title was an intern. 99% of the time you're not going to make that phone call, but the BDR did and as it turns out it was a PhD candidate working as an intern in the CIO's office. This person had been tasked with doing the primary research for shortlisting vendors, understanding capabilities because the core team was restricted in doing their day job.
That person brought all of that research to the table for the buying group to be inputting and evaluating it. This intern was actually a silent potentially member of the buying group that I would say 9 out of 10 times no one would pursue. What happened is that phone call allowed them to get a face-to-face meeting with the CIO and it ultimately turned into a $400,000 net new customer.
Find those kinds of deals. That was an extreme example, but there are going to be people who fall outside of that core persona set that are key influencers. Monica, you just brought up an example. You have to prove it out and sometimes it means get one seller, one BDR to try and change their behavior. Get them to earn some credibility on behalf of the rest of the team because sometimes when you're telling sales to do things differently, they're not going to really respond well to that.
Monica Behncke: There's so much in there, to extend your thought, one of the things when you were talking about, geez, it's an intern mean who would've called the intern? We often also sometimes, I want to separate the buying group for a net new purchase, a first time purchase versus the buying group for either a cross sell or a retention, and a retention renewal because the shift happens during that time. Oftentimes, one of the key persona of persona groups that shifts is the users.
We think about who the buyer is and who the user is. We were talking to a company the other day that is in lab equipment and they're like, "We talked to scientists and researchers." I said, "Well, who actually makes a decision?" The lab director does but they are taking their cues from the people that are actually using this equipment. The persona of the lab director and their needs of, "I need lab efficiency and I need to make sure my capacity is there and I need to make sure my staffing is right."
Versus the need of the scientist that's doing the work that wants the right kind of calibration and the right kind of experience and everything. In each situation, what is the weight and what is the influence of each of those on the users? Is it a completely economic decision or is it a user-based decision? I think your example, that's a great example, this is a different flavor of the same kind of thing who is in there as well.
Dara Such: I've personally seen what you just described too, happening specifically in electronic health technology areas where there's typically a liaison who works hand in glove with the users of the technology, doctors, nurses, whoever is in the radiology lab to make sure that whatever gets purchased by the tech department can actually be used by these people in a practical setting.
If it's got too many bells and whistles or is too hard for the folks in the field to really use, they need a seat at the table and they're not going to get that, and that's what that liaison role is. That very similar dynamic to what you're saying here and some of those titles might fall outside of what a persona is defined as and it's a miss. It's such an opportunity miss. I love that, I love that you shared that one because I've also experienced that.
Monica Behncke: I want to dig into the sales piece as well. It's funny because when you said that I started my career as a salesperson. One of the very early lessons that I learned was I had this one buyer and everything I said to the buyer, they said yes. It's like, "You should buy more of this." They're like, "Yes." "You should do this." "Yes." Then, at the very last minute I lost the deal. I lost the deal because I had one contact in that sales and this is way before the internet, I was on the premise of the thing.
I didn't know anybody else. I knew the one guy, so I didn't even have any recourse to go over to the CFO and make my case or over to somebody else, I had one guy I was talking to. That was really early in my career and I learned that lesson so hard that I need to have all of these different contacts in my sales, in my situation, and the deal and the opportunity that I'm working on. I find it funny that salespeople don't intuitively know that or they do intuitively know that, and we're not putting that back into the systems.
We're not closing the loop. Marketing that can then learn from it, here are the other people I'm talking to because salespeople are a great source of that information or just sharing it so we can do something with it, "They're not going to buy this year but maybe next year let's keep them warm." How do you change that? What's your thought and experience in terms of that change management? That's part of your title, right?
Dara Such: No, I love that. It's funny, I too came from a sales background, it's in my blood. I know the behaviors, I did them myself. I think there's a few areas to this and you bring up surrounding buying groups, but at the same time we have to find a happy medium. We don't want to end up calling down a list of 100 contacts that's not effective, that's not efficient. We don't want to put all of our eggs in one basket by only looking at the VP and fill in the blank.
It really is all about, personally, we feel there's a lot of value in prospect level intent, which is something that TechTarget offers. This isn't meant to be about us, but it is an advantage when you have the ability to pinpoint where there's people doing the activity rather than just an account doing the activity. That can help you go from a really wide net to an informed net and that's first and foremost, you're going to be a lot more effective there.
The other thing is an operational optimization. How many individual contacts are typically associated with an opportunity? It's still one. If the buying group is between six and nine people, depending on what kind of deal you're working, we need to start behaving that way in the systems to your point, because it needs to get fed back so you can identify those areas where deals get stalled. Wow, this persona or this title or this individual keeps popping up in these deals and we're either winning them when they're at present or we're losing them when they're present.
It's a lot of intelligence you can unlock from that. Again, it's changing behaviors and it's hard to do because everyone's moving really fast. That's an area that we're always encouraging customers and sellers to do. It's like if you're talking to these people and you're having discussions, hitch them to your opportunities so that you can start learning from that over time.
Monica Behncke: It's a virtuous cycle. I always like to say the first thing that has to go is the notion of a handoff. There's no, "Hey, marketing does stuff and then we hand it off." It is a virtuous cycle between sales and marketing and the insights that one can give the other. Just the more you do it, the better it gets.
Dara Such: I totally agree, we want that kind of feedback loop to happen. In some companies it's working really well. I think it is a give and take and you have to iterate on it and it doesn't happen overnight. As long as you all have shared goals and outcomes like revenue and what the goals are, whether it's retention, cross-sell, upsell, or new customer acquisition, you can build processes and workflows and better optimizations to get to that outcome.
Monica Behncke: Well, do you know what, as a former salesperson, somebody told me you don't have to do cold calls anymore. I literally drove to people's places of business, you're going to have really nice warm accounts and you're going to be able to build relationships and close deals, I would be like, "I'm in."
Alex Jonathan Brown: Also, on the marketer side of things too it is so, to get out of that fear of, "As soon as a lead gets in our system, our salesperson's going to want to call them because they downloaded a PDF one time." To really get that synergy on both sides of everybody slowing down a little bit and making sure we've got all the info that makes sense before there are versions of cold or almost cold calls is helpful for everybody. Everybody should be on board with this.
We have talked a lot about that transition though from thinking of one person as your be all, end all within a prospect to this buying group. From a system standpoint, from a how do we manage this standpoint, I feel like a lot of us are still set up for like, "There's a file that has one person's name on it and we note that file." How do we shift to that bigger picture organizationally?
What systems should we have in place? How should marketing and sales talk to each other to coordinate that and make sure that that happens in a way that works for everybody?
Dara Such: I think I already referenced some of this, but I think shared goals to me is the first step. We see customers all the time who are comped. Our marketers are comped, on net new contact acquisition rather than deepening engagement. Things like that can potentially limit you. It can also help you get more people, but are they the right people?
I do think if a customer or a company is looking to achieve these better outcomes and have a higher win rate by going after buying groups, it really has to be a top to bottom assessment of your programs, your workflows, your campaign limitations. Are your campaigns set up to identify multiple people within an account? In a world where we have intent, even little things like, "We don't want the same name that we may already have in our database."
Well, what if we can tell you what they're researching? What if we can tell you that they're active now? That's more valuable than you having them dormant in your CRM? Things like that can be the system dynamics I think that are important. Then, reporting and feedback to each other. I think one of the roles that I think is really important for all of us that is a key persona that is emerging more and more, is the idea of a sales enablement function.
To act as a liaison between marketing and sales and create a common language and feedback loop between those two. Whether it's a single person or a whole department, it's a little bit of a neutral ground for creating more alignment between sales and marketing.
Monica Behncke: So much there, Sorry.
Alex Jonathan Brown: I was going to say, Monica, do you have anything to add?
Monica Behncke: What I think about and Dara, you alluded to it earlier. I think that there's a lot of systems, a lot of processes, I think the cultural piece is equally important to that. It's like an accordion, it's got to have some play in it. What I mean by that is the other definition we haven't got to yet is the ICP different than personas different than buying groups. ICPs, your demographics, your firmographics, your technographics.
I had a client who didn't care how big you were, how many employees, what your revenue was, they cared about how many servers you had because they attached to the number of servers, so that kind of information. The thing is you start out with a hypothesis of what that is and then you use the insights to make the adjustments. You don't want so much rigidity. It's like, "My accordion is exactly right here." You have to be able to say, "I'm going to use the insights and expand it a little bit or I'm going to use the insights and contract it a little bit."
If we have our triad of personas that feed my content, buying groups that are the people involved in the journey and then ICPs, this is the target demographic, firmographic, technographic, those three things have to work together really hard to get that right the very first time. The great thing is if you set your systems and your processes up to your point Dara, correctly, you're going to have the ability to be that accordion, pull it out a little, push it in a little bit.
Not huge swings, but not so rigid, not starting so rigidly that you miss it. Otherwise, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. I only see people that look like this because that's my hypothesis and I'm missing everybody else.
Dara Such: I love the idea of optimizing and recalibrating because the real world is a lot messier than what we put on paper for ICPs personas and buying groups. Especially right now, there's a lot of disruption. There's some economic challenges right now, and businesses might be behaving slightly differently. They may have resources moving from one department to another. We've seen this for years with the skills challenges in IT, excuse me. Folks would be spending an awful lot of time going after a specific title.
One of my favorite examples is the cloud security architect is at one point it was the number one most in demand persona to go after and there was a finite amount of them in the world. If you go to Indeed or if you go look at the actual LinkedIn to see anyone with those titles, there was a finite amount because there weren't enough people in the world that had the experience both with cybersecurity and cloud.
If you are looking for a needle in a haystack and that's what everything is keyed off of, you can go very wrong and you can miss a lot of opportunities.
Monica Behncke: Keep thinking all the companies that make up titles as well. It's like, "I'm the chief happiness officer."
Dara Such: I had one of my clients, and I will never forget this, she was always very well accessorized. She was chief diva officer and that was on her business card. It was amazing, she worked in marketing.
Alex Jonathan Brown: My go-to example for that because I am old, for the longest time, you could always find someone to email on a website who had the job title of webmaster and we just don't have webmasters anymore. We didn't send out a memo that we were going to stop calling people that, it just faded away. If you're caught still looking for a webmaster toward the end of that phase, eventually, like you said, Dara, they just don't exist anymore someone else is doing that job.
We are coming up on time. I know we didn't touch a whole lot on ICPs. Monica, thanks for bringing that back in. I got very into my buying groups and buyer personas, but is there anything you want to leave people with as we go out? Any closing remarks?
Dara Such: Well first of all, thank you guys for inviting me to, this was a pleasure. I love Monica, what you said about test a hypothesis, have an informed hypothesis, and then iterate off of it. Just going back to the name of this session, you've got tools and resources now to make a more informed decision about how to source, engage, activate, and influence these buying groups. Do your best to leverage it and keep chipping away at the sales behavior changes because that to me feels like the most area of unlocked value.
Monica Behncke: I guess the one thing that I'll hearken to that we didn't spend a ton of time on, but you alluded to it just there, Dara is the title is cast a smart net, not a wide net. How do you measure that? I think that in this cultural change and in this systems change, one of the biggest stumbling blocks or hurdles for companies to get over is this measurement based on volume. It's like, "I need all these people." Well, if all these people and 90% of them aren't really buyers, then you've just got a big huge number.
The smartness is also how do you measure to know that you're casting the smart net and culturally getting everybody comfortable with that. Yes, it's a smaller number, but the probability of them buying is that much higher. That measurement piece of it is the other key into this door of utopia of buying groups so does in ICPs.
Alex Jonathan Brown: Well, thank you both so much for joining us today and everybody who's been watching, thanks for watching. Dara, if people want to learn more about you and what you do, where can they go?
Dara Such: They can go to my LinkedIn. It's just LinkedIn/darasuch or feel free to contact me if my contact information is linked in here. It's a pleasure.
Alex Jonathan Brown: Dara, have I been pronouncing your name wrong this entire time?
Dara Such: That's okay, it's a unique one.
Alex Jonathan Brown: Sorry, Dara. I checked on your last name, I got that right. Monica Behncke, you're an Iron Horse, I'm an Iron Horse. If people want to read your blogs and learn more about why you do, where can people go?
Monica Behncke: Ironhorse.io. We are a dot io.
Alex Jonathan Brown: We are, we're also on Twitter @ironhorse io., no dot that time. If you're interested in learning more about marketing and marketing maturity, we do have a marketing maturity assessment, which through the magic of the internet might be popping up on your screen right now. We can't see it in the call, but the viewers will know it's there. Dara, Monica, thanks again so much for joining us. Did I just do it again, Dara?
Dara Such: That's okay. We're friends now, you can call me what you'd like.
Alex Jonathan Brown: I'm going to fire myself. Dara, Monica, thank you for joining us. Everybody, thanks for watching. Until we do this again next month. Breaks over, let's get back to work.
Dara Such: Thanks, Alex.
Monica Behncke: Take care.
Dara Such: Bye.
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