A while ago at a conference I had dinner with two people. The first, (we’ll call her Janine) I had known since we worked together six years earlier. The second person (Ed), Janine and I had just met.
Janine described a sales challenge she was facing. She’d been working with two prospects at two different organizations, one for over a year and one for almost two. The typical sales cycle is 6 to 9 months, and these were both well beyond. She felt she was nearing a sale with both, but for all she knew, “nearing” might mean a year or two to go.
This is a fairly common sales challenge: The sale looks good, but it’s taking forever. Janine happened to be facing two at the same time.
As we talked, I asked Janine a number of questions. She believed that in both situations the buyers:
- were the decision makers,
- had the financial ability to buy,
- had a need,
- saw Janine’s company as differentiated and the preferred solution, and
- understood the business impact of buying from Janine to be substantial.
Her typical sale is in the low-six figures and is highly technical in nature and both of these sales were in the mid-six figures.
Janine had a strong relationship with both prospects. It was unlikely they were considering other providers, the solution was crafted jointly and conceptually agreed upon, and they expressed they were likely to move forward. Still, no decisions seemed imminent. Knowing Janine, I didn’t doubt her read on the situations.
When we got to this point in the conversation, Ed said, “If they haven’t bought by now, they’re not buying.” He then advised Janine to have the “fish or cut bait” conversation with each buyer. She might win and she might lose, but either way she can stop wasting her time and get on to other sales.
My reaction: Probably the wrong advice, but I needed to know a bit more.
Janine asked me if I agreed and I asked several other questions.
- Do you think they’re serious about buying? Yes.
- Do you think they’re being honest with you? Yes.
- If they both took another year, but they both closed, would they still be worth the effort? Yes.
- How would you describe what it’s like working with them as prospects?
This is where it got interesting. Janine told me both prospects are tactful and diplomatic, and it’s important to each that their whole team collaborates on the decision.
She also told me they believe in “slow and steady wins the race,” and that’s the way their organizations move. Since implementing her technology could rock the boat and have ramifications across their organizations, they wanted to make sure they took a good hard look at the likely outcomes on various systems and processes before committing.
Now I was sure: Our new friend had given Janine the wrong advice.
I shared my thoughts and gave her a series of ideas for how to move forward. I also told her that while these sales may indeed happen, there’s a right way to proceed. On the other hand, there is no secret to making them happen tomorrow. If, however, she went “fish or cut bait” she was likely to lose both opportunities.
She decided to try an experiment. “At this point, I’m willing to take a risk and try both pieces of advice. One with one prospect, and one with the other.”
Three days later, she had the “fish or cut bait” discussion with one. Two weeks later, she checked in with that decision maker and got no response. Six months later…still no response. He went dark on her and Janine assumed (rightly) that she had lost the sale.
The other sale closed 4 months after our conversation.
I’m not especially prescient – either prospect could have gone the other way – but there are reasons I predicted the sales would work out as they did.
Regardless of the business or emotional reasons why people buy, every buyer has personal preferences for how they like to buy.
There are multiple buying styles and preferences to consider, but the number is not infinite.
There are six distinct buyer personas to get to know, learn to identify, and learn to help buy.
If you understand all six, can identify which ones your actual prospects resemble, and plan your actions to meet their personal buying styles and criteria, you’ll win more sales.
6 Buyer Personas
We give the six buyer personas names because they have distinct and identifiable personalities. The names will help you remember who’s who.
Decisive Danielle is directive. She solves problems in a decisive, active, and assertive manner. She’s proactive, results driven, and wants to win. If you’re dealing with Danielle, she might seem pushy and overbearing, and may lack tact. She’s probably pretty demanding and wants things to happen her way and in her timeframe.
If you’re selling to Decisive Danielle, you should be decisive as well, and demonstrate willingness to take some risks on your end that can help her succeed. Don’t worry too much about conflict that may arise with Danielle – it doesn’t bother her, and she may even thrive on it. Building consensus is not her natural thing. Not only does she not like the idea of forming a committee, she doesn’t like the word.
Collaborative Claire is the yin to Decisive Danielle’s yang. Collaborative Claire likes to solve problems with other people. She’s deliberative, tactful, diplomatic, and adaptable. In a world where people can be pretty blunt, it’s likely you’ll find her to be respectful of you and everyone else.
If you’re selling to Collaborative Claire, keep in mind how important consensus building will be to her. You’ll have to work with her to understand and include all of the various buying influences. Make sure you facilitate discussions to draw out Claire’s and everyone else’s thoughts, needs, and questions. Don’t get frustrated if things take a while, and if you need to push back, do it tactfully. If she is going to buy, she will buy when she is ready and her team is all on board. Need to make a big decision…let’s form a committee!
Relationship Renee is interactive. Social interaction and engagement are important to her. She’s enthusiastic, a creative problem solver, a team player, and (of course) a relationship-builder. She likes the big picture, and she’s not shy about taking up a lot of air time in discussions. A question or two will really get her going.
If you’re selling to Renee, you might want to keep technical details to a minimum. Make sure you hear her ideas, and share (and stoke) her enthusiasm with your own. Renee probably weaves fairly seamlessly between talking about business and personal matters. You might find the talk about her recent vacation or your son’s basketball team goes on for a bit. When discussing ideas, don’t overdo being the “voice of reason” or reality. What you might see as realism, she’ll see as a downer.
Skeptical Steve is the yin to Relationship Renee’s yang. Steve is introspective. He’s a reserved critical thinker. Skeptical Steve won’t embellish and doesn’t want you to do so either. It takes a while for Steve to develop trust with people, which can be great for you if you put in the time and effort. (By the way, Steve doesn’t mind being called a skeptic. He’s proud of the realism he brings to the table.)
If you’re selling to Skeptical Steve, don’t be surprised if he’s not super comfortable on the phone, and prefers email to communicate. Don’t be unnerved by lack of gestures or “feedback”; he tends not to be demonstrative one way or the other. Don’t try to be too personal or friendly too fast. And know that Steve might not share much at meetings, but you still need to make sure his needs are met or he could quietly block your sale. And you might never even know it.
Past success is an indicator of future success. The way it’s been done, established methods, and data are important to Analytical Al. This doesn’t mean he won’t lead the pack and do something new, it just takes a lot of processing for Al to take a leap of faith. Al’s cautious. He follows rules, procedures, and established standards. He’s a comprehensive problem solver because he examines from all the different angles.
If you’re selling to Analytical Al, provide the backup and data that will help him make a decision. Appropriate detail will be important (and “appropriate” to him is more than most). At some point, because he can sometimes leave the data gate open longer than it needs to be, you might need to push back. But take special care not to criticize as he might take that more personally than most. If you push him too hard to move before he has completed his analysis, you can find yourself and your sale blocked.
6. Innovator Irene – Code name “Maverick”
Innovator Irene is the yin to Analytical Al’s yang. When it comes to rules, procedures, and how things were done before, Irene couldn’t care less. While Al might say, “Past success is an indicator of future success.” Irene would say, “What got us here won’t get us there.” Innovator Irene develops ideas and strategies independent of rules. She’s informal and solves problems creatively. Boundaries are for testing, pushing, and crossing…that’s what Irene says. (Anyone who has a 3 year old has met this side of Irene.)
If you’re selling to Innovator Irene, brainstorm with her. Stoke ideas for new ways of doing things. When you help set the agenda, allow it to become Irene’s agenda, not yours. Don’t shut down creative talk, but keep it moving forward as Irene can be on the disorganized side. Don’t give Irene the sense that she, personally, will have to do much detail work if she buys from you as details put her off. Instead, show how working with you will bring those ideas into reality.
There’s so much more to learn about each buyer type, from their characteristics to how to identify them to how to work best with them, but these are the highlights.
Now that you’re aware of the different buyer personas, keep in mind that, while some personas may be better suited to buying what you sell than others, there are no “bad” buyer personas, just different styles and preferences which you will need to learn to match to increase your success.
Also note that while there’s usually a dominant persona that bubbles to the top, often one or two others influence and inform the buyer’s buying style and preferences. In our earlier example, the buyer was mostly Gradual Greg, with healthy doses of Analytical Al and Collaborative Claire. Since both sales could have been big, and a lot of indicators pointed to each sale being a strong win possibility, my advice was to understand the buying styles in play and facilitate a path forward that would work for them.
A core part of the RAIN Selling method is the 10 Rainmaker Principles. Rainmaker Principle #4 is “Think buying first, selling second.” Get to know the 6 buying personas, and you can give yourself and your team advice to win more sales in the right way for each type of buyer.
RAIN Group developed the 6 Buyer Personas to help sales people recognize different buying styles and preferences, and learn the skills to facilitate success with each of the personas. Descriptions of the 6 Buyer Personas were informed by advanced research around trait theory
and business ambitions, proprietary algorithms, and innovative technologies from Talent Analytics. Validation was conducted on 50,000 completed profiles in conjunction with MIT and Harvard trained statisticians.
Contact RAIN Group for more information and training for your team on the 6 Buyer Personas.
This article will become a RainToday classic. Anyone who has sold professional services will recognize the buyers you describe, but may not know how to adapt to meet the expectations of the different types of people.
The challenge becomes even greater if you are selling to a group made up of a cross section of the eight types. Then, of course, you have to decide who is the decision maker and who are the influencers.
January 26, 2011, 12:02 PM Mike Schultz said.
Thanks for the kind words, Ruth. Very much appreciated.
Yes, helping a group of diverse personas to make a decision is never simple, but it starts with understanding what's going on, who's who in terms of role, and who's who in terms of persona.
Once you know that, you can plan the best way to help the client succeed.
January 27, 2011, 2:14 PM GODWIN ONOKPACHERE said.
This article is great if one is selling to a single buyer.
Perhaps a more realistic scenario is you are selling to one or more persona who have to reach a joint decision.Suppose you encounter a situation where you make a sales presentation to a panel consisting of SKEPTICAL STEVE,GRADUAL GREG and RELATION RENEE. This calls for a lot more creativity particularly if there is no hierachical differences among them.
Nonetheless your persona classification provides a code of conduct to sellers to help them increase their sales.
February 7, 2011, 11:44 AM Steve Davis said.
Great article and the illustrations really capture the different personalities. I imagine a lot of salespeople have a natural affinity toward some personas and really have to work hard to learn to connect with the others. I appreciate not only your descriptions of the different buyer types, but also the suggested strategies for selling to them. Thanks!
February 12, 2011, 12:20 AM Jay Olson said.
Mike, I love this post! It's a good reminder that we need to learn the profiles of the audiences we are selling to and to align our sales and marketing strategies accordingly. I suspect that learning based on anecdotal research and visual clues is a critical skill set that needs to be developed. I think too often we fall into the trap of approaching individual decision-making participants as if they were all cut from the same cloth.
February 25, 2011, 12:14 PM Anne said.
I worked for a wonderful man years ago who used to say the the camel is a racehorse that was designed by a committee - a good summary of the difficulty of dealing with many different personas. This article explains the personas so well, it will definitely be easier to recognise and deal with them - and hopefully avoid getting a camel!
March 3, 2011, 4:25 AM Willie Braudaway said.
Wow! When I saw this in my email, I thought it was a tease to buy the actual information about the 8 personas. But you gave it away! I get so tired of being enticed by the appetizers and then being disappointed that the entree isn't much more than common sense -- and I paid for it. Thank you so much for this meat. This satisfied my appetite -- for now.
March 3, 2011, 6:43 AM Etizaz Samman said.
Thanks Mike for sharing this excellent article. The 8 buyer persona are well defined and this article is an eye opener that we need to adapt to meet the expectations of different people.
March 3, 2011, 1:00 PM Mike Schultz said.
Thanks, everyone for the comments.
Jay and Etizaz - Indeed, understanding that different people have different buying styles and preferences, and helping them the way they prefer to be helped, is the key.
Ann - May you be free of travel by camel.
Willie - Glad you liked the meat.
March 3, 2011, 4:11 PM David Morrison said.
Mike, wonderful explanation of persona segmentation by psychological traits, and how to positively influence each particular type.
To Godwin’s comment, there’s more than one way of looking at buyer personas.
As a Rainmaker, you can develop alternative persona characteristics. For example, buyer persona descriptions can also be based upon:
1) stage in the sales cycle (suspect, prospect, lead = research, nurture, customize);
2) functional requirements (biz development vs. finance vs. IT needs/requirements);
3) future planning vs. historical trends (ideal customer profile vs. proven best customers);
4) personal selling or 3rd person selling (Rainmakers or marketing).
Why is this important?
It’s the fastest, most direct way to make a friend with strangers. That’s relationship strengthening and it worked for Janine above. Better than the “fish or cut bait” method.
You can use specific words and phrases in all your personal communications (site, email, tweets) that focus on and harmonize with your buyer personas to better speak with them and be sympathetically understood. That’s getting ‘in step’ with them and moving at their speed. It’s the difference between forcing someone to stop their natural flow, adjust to your thinking and style, and then not be resentful or angry. Think of a restaurant with a sign saying “Nonpoisonous food sold here”:
- it stops you from thinking about what you want for lunch right now;
- it makes you find another restaurant;
- it creates resentment because of the forced delay in satisfying your appetite.
Rainmakers, did you know buyer personas can also richly inform the marketing pipeline and make your job easier?
The web has increased the frequency of communication and number of touch points between business and buyers. It has also fostered ‘community’ and ‘relationships’ which businesses have supposedly embraced. Unfortunately, by ignoring the language, needs and motivations of the people businesses want to communicate with --- they’re more likely talking AT people instead of WITH people.
You can help the marketing pipeline produce better qualified, sales-ready leads (everyone wants that) by sharing your real-life experiences on the front line with marketing. Your experiences will help define real buyer persona needs and goals marketing can ’talk’ to.
The true benefit of employing persona models in your business is to adapt your value proposition and lead with your strongest value --- as defined by the buyer/user, not us. Persona segmentation allows us to confidently customize our presentations to individuals. That way we can match not just the goals of the person we wish to influence, but also match the persons’ predominant business style. (Give them what they want, when they want it, the way they want it.)
Buyer personas are a concept not yet widely accepted in corporate marketing or sales. I think AVOIDING the requisite research to understand individual needs rather than a collective need --- is a dangerous hangover from mass, “push” advertising and marketing. This is one activity where it’s ideal for Rainmakers and Marketers to align themselves and create better messages.
I come from “big-advertising” where Ogilvy really developed persona research for segmenting. However, I’ve first-hand knowledge that personas are repeatedly ignored in favour of a fast-track, lazy, “let’s lump everyone into this pile” process.
IMO, the lack of spending on discovery for buyer personas is crazy, because if you understand who it is you’re talking to, you’re going to have far greater success talking with them effectively. I think it’s a lack of client understanding of how personas positively shorten the selling process --- that has limited the use of personas to a forward-looking few, like yourself :-)
More information for interested readers:
1) I believe the work and research put into developing the persona concept in business is a direct offshoot of a pioneer in this style of business sales logic. His name is Elmer Wheeler. Google him. He’s the inventor of the phrase: “Don’t sell the steak--Sell the sizzle!”. Wheeler pioneered in-the-field sales research that resulted in the famous books “Tested Sentences That Sell”, “Sizzlemanship” and others. He was active in the 30s, 40s, and 50s -- his thinking is relevant today.
2) Software design book describing usefulness of personas:
“The Inmates Are Running The Asylum” by Alan Cooper demonstrates how persona can focus and clarify effort. One example he uses is wheels on a suitcase and the success of the concept. My added note is that we made it to the moon in 1969, but it took about 5,000 years to put wheels on suitcases.
Hope this is useful. Here’s to a wider use of buyer personas.
March 5, 2011, 6:55 PM Danielle Watson said.
One of the things I also watch for is body language. Many people from different parts of the United States have much different body language. Someone from back east usually crosses their arms. This is not a closed minded person, and people might think this when a person crosses their arms, that they are not open to you and your company. Learning peoples body language when meeting them, finding out where they are from, and yes, understanding who you are talking to, might also be an effective sales tool as well.
March 8, 2011, 2:40 PM Eugenia said.
I love this article. It is so informative. I am putting a training session on this type of information. Would you have any suggestions to some great resources I could use for this type of session? Even some great research studies that support this.
March 9, 2011, 1:31 PM Dhana said.
Great article, Mike. I learnt a lot.
March 10, 2011, 9:39 PM Mike Schultz said.
Thanks, David, Danielle, Eugenia and Dhana. Much appreciated thoughts and comments. Great thoughts, David, on everything, and especially personas focusing clarity and effort. That's the idea - if you know who you're dealing with, you can get to the most important things to them quickly.
Eugenia, glad to see you're looking to do training on personas in sales. As you might imagine, we are the only people that have complete training programs on the subject in the way we have it presented. If you're interested in pursuing, contact us as you like.
March 13, 2011, 11:10 AM John D. Allen said.
Your article is really great. I teach in my business about four different personality types and you have one dominate one and possibly some of another type as well.
Your explanation makes it far more simple to explain and easier to understand. Mine came from a university course on psychology.
Thank you for sharing this.
March 28, 2011, 9:46 AM Michelle Wright said.
Thanks for suggesting this article today during the Q & A portion of your Zig Ziglar webcast. I really got a lot out of this! It's nice to see meaningful information that helps us focus on the customer. When we help them, we help our business. Just as Jesus said, doing unto others as you would have them do unto you is the right way to go.
May 25, 2011, 6:05 PM Brian Sung said.
This is a great article to pursue my client,
I was a little confused at times talking to my clients.
Thanx for sharing your ideas :)
April 6, 2012, 11:05 PM Catherine Dylan said.