Blog post

Betting Big on Personalities and Behaviors in B2B

By Hank Barnes | February 02, 2021 | 3 Comments


This week, I caught up with Scott Gillum of Carbon Design.  Scott and I first met at the “Influencer Days” that the CEB Sales and Marketing team (now part of Gartner for Sales Leaders and Gartner for Marketing Leaders) use to hold to introduce the latest research to the community and get added perspectives on what the influencers were seeing and hearing.  Scott had worked with the teams for years providing a deep marketing perspective to shape implementation plans for organization’s embracing  the Challenger model and continuing with the ideas around Challenger Customer.

For me, the Challenger customer was the more compelling story as it focused on the challenges of consensus buying–for both organizations and sellers.  That challenge continues today and is only getting worse.   One of the key ideas of Challenger Customer was to identify “personalities” of individuals involved in buying.   Seven personality types were identified and three were determined as being able to drive progress toward consensus–a collection we called “Mobilizers.”    As soon as I saw the idea I loved it.  This was for individuals very similar to the work you’ve all read me talk about at Gartner.  Our Enterprise Technology Adoption profiles identify attitudes and behaviors of companies —and  they consistently reveal deeper insights to shape sales and marketing approaches than any firmographic segmentation method.

Scott had seen the Webinar I did with Derry Finkeldey titled “The B2B Buying Myths That Are Costing You Business” (link takes you the replay–available to anyone), where I talked (as I almost always do, about some of the ETA insights).   Scott reached out and quickly made the case that marketing needs to be focused on personalities too (he calls it, duh, “Personality Based Marketing“).

His premise is simple.  Titles and roles don’t predict behavior.    Some executives like to engage with sales, some prefer to avoid them.   Some like to research deeply, others want shorter stories.  And this occurs at all levels of the org.   This is a core idea of Mobilizer–different people can drive decisions and it often has little to do with the title and role).    Scott feels marketing is broken and the driver is that we try to market to titles and roles instead of personalities.  Its a big bet.

Now, the challenge with personalities is how do you figure them out.  We experience this with ETAs.  You have to know something about the account.  You have to answer seven questions.   Mobilizer and individual personalities–in a B2B context (how they behave at work, what motivates them at work, how they like to interact with others)–are very hard to predict.   I compare ETAs to Myers-Briggs a lot, but that is also something that is hard to predict.

This predictability is the gap that makes it hard to apply personalities to prospecting–whether for ETAs (to target specific types of companies) or individuals.   The best you could do is  try to write in a way that appeals to the personalities you want; try to use the right form factors, channels, and information–then hope they “raise their hand.”  Then you can learn and tune.

But it is getting better.  AI tools and more sophisticated algorithms show promise to predict the attitudes and behaviors of individuals and organizations.  Scott is doing some interesting things with xIQ–taking their work and then looking for Mobilizer attributes to predict mobilizer behaviors.  Then, rather than target people solely because of their role or title, he targets personalities that are best fit for the information being delivered.   The early results are quite promising—and exciting.

This requires some fundamentally different thinking.  It requires a willingness to try something new.  It has implications across the entire customer life cycle and for everything an organizations does to engage with customers (or try to) for that life cycle.

But I believe it is the right bet to make.   The ideas are not brand new, but the ability to execute on them has always got in the way.  Those barriers seem to be dropping.

I’m excited for what’s next and you can expect more investment by Gartner and others in understanding the implications and opportunities.

Leave a Comment


  • scott gillum says:

    Thanks Hank! Really enjoyed the conversation…and the post even more. Looking forward to continuing to explore this fertile ground.

  • Marketing was already seeing a drastic change. Covid then turned everything upside down. Scott’s method seems like a responsive way to quickly reach the right people.

  • Great Article! “This predictability is the gap that makes it hard to apply personalities to prospecting–whether for ETAs (to target specific types of companies) or individuals.” This is something we like to solve. So happy to see this and thank you for putting it out there.