Gartner Blog Network

Positioning, Persona Overload, and the Consensus Buy

by Hank Barnes  |  September 15, 2015  |  Submit a Comment

Last week, I shared some information from the new book, The Challenger Customer from CEB, and how their story reflects what I believe has been a key driver of SaaS adoption–the ability to avoid the need for broad consensus based decision making to get started.  That was one of my key observations after reading the book.  Here is another.

Modern marketing is awash with personas.  While not generally a bad thing, some get fixated on this and create very different messages for each persona involved in the buying process.   Often, when I work with clients they want to start at the individual buyer level.  While buying is done by people, as the new book illustrates and our research has shown (and frankly something that we all probably understood but took for granted a bit too much), in B2B buying is done by teams.   And you need, as CEB points out, the team to come together v. diverge.

Business briefing

This presents a bit of a quandary for persona driven marketing and messaging.  An overemphasis on different stories and value statements for individuals involved in a consensus buy can be a big problem.  If two members of the same buying team have widely varied perspectives on a product/solution/service, then gaining consensus becomes more challenging.  Appealling too much to the individual can hide the value for others.

But there is a solution.  And it starts with a reminder of the difference between positioning and messaging.

Positioning is, effectively, the strategic intent of your business.  It starts with your target customer.  In B2B, that is an organization, not an individual–not a persona.   You create different positioning statements only when the target customer (organization) and the need you are addressing changes (if you target different types of enterprises to address the same need, you probably don’t need multiple positioning statements).

Great positioning is not easy, but when applying the Crossing the Chasm framework, it looks an awful lot like the idea of “commercial insights” cited by CEB.

Once you have positioning, you have the central story that everything else revolves around.    You then can develop specific messages and stories that are aimed at specific individuals on the buying team.   The story and the message may be different, but it should all come back to positioning.

For example, if your positioning (and this is a gross oversimplification) uncovers that the essence of your story is that you accelerate great decision making by putting analytical results right in the hands of the people that need it (v. providing to “analysts” who are gatekeepers), then that is core to every story.   But your messages may be different:

  • For a CFO, it could be about “how putting analytical results in the hands of the people that need it” saves money
  • For the business unit leader, it could be about “how putting analytical results in the hands of the people that need it” makes them more agile
  • For the IT leader, it could be about “how putting analytical results in the hands of the people that need it” lets their people focus on things other than query and report design
  • And for the user, it could be about “how putting analytical results in the hands of the people that need it” frees them to excel in their jobs

Yes, every persona has a different message or story, but all reinforce the same theme.   When the team comes together, they are bringing their perspective to the same fundamental story.  It helps build toward consensus by linking the central idea to individual wants and needs.

Personas are fine, valuable and useful.  But don’t start there.  Start with positioning for the organizations you sell to.   Identify what the organization needs/wants and how you deliver it better than anyone else.   Then use personas to personalize that one idea to each of the buying team.

Enabling consensus buying starts–where everything starts (IMHO)–with great positioning.



Additional Resources

View Free, Relevant Gartner Research

Gartner's research helps you cut through the complexity and deliver the knowledge you need to make the right decisions quickly, and with confidence.

Read Free Gartner Research

Category: future-of-sales  go-to-market  

Tags: b2b  challenger  messaging  personas  positioning  

Hank Barnes
VP Distinguished Analyst
6+ years at Gartner
30+ years IT Industry

Hank Barnes explores the dynamics, challenges, and frustrations enterprises face when buying technology products and services. Using that customer-centric lens, he advises those responsible for marketing technology products and services, general managers responsible for product portfolios, and startup CEOs on next practices to drive success for their customers and their business. Read Full Bio

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments or opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors only, and do not necessarily represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management. Readers may copy and redistribute blog postings on other blogs, or otherwise for private, non-commercial or journalistic purposes, with attribution to Gartner. This content may not be used for any other purposes in any other formats or media. The content on this blog is provided on an "as-is" basis. Gartner shall not be liable for any damages whatsoever arising out of the content or use of this blog.