“Give someone a fish, and they can eat for a day. Teach someone to fish, and they’ll never go hungry again.”

-Ancient Proverb

Thus, unfolds the story of the product marketing-sales relationship: Product marketing imparts on sales its most versatile tool (the buyer persona) to which sales responds with a brief “thank you,” followed two days later by a request for an updated deck. Everyone ends up in a perpetual cycle of frustration and hunger. Buyer personas represent a perfect opportunity for product marketers to become more involved in the sales enablement process. But for buyer personas to serve a sales enablement purpose they must take more sales-friendly form: They must present a buyer-oriented business case.

What’s wrong with buyer personas?

“Give someone a rod and reel, with neither context nor instruction, and they’ll return frustrated and hungry (and still asking for a fish).”

-Me, 2020

Enter, the product marketer’s number one rule: Don’t make the audience think more than necessary. As sales enablement materials, most buyer personas are flagrant violations. The “buyer” is left wondering how this “human interest” story fits into the product narrative they’ve been delivering, in the way they’ve been delivering it. Rarely is the answer obvious, so it’s ultimately easier for them to just ask product marketing for another deck…

What form should buyer personas take?

“It’s fascinating to have a world-class sales organization as our biggest internal “customer” because of how it’s forced us to consider the “product” we’re providing them, how we position it, and how they derive value from it. Ultimately it’s made us more versatile and empathetic as a team.”

-Maggie McCann Radtke, Director of Product Marketing, Centro

The persona is product marketing’s product, and like any product, it should be presented in different ways to different audiences. Instead of demographic profiles, buyer personas for sales teams should appear as a series of stakeholder-specific business cases. The same questions, research and information go into these business cases, but they are no longer about the buyer, they are about the sale to the buyer. Now that will integrate well into a company’s sales enablement process and, ultimately, a salesperson’s pitch development.

Great, so what does that look like?

First things first, let’s start by replacing “buyer” with “stakeholder.” Not all relevant stakeholders are economic buyers, but all relevant stakeholders must have buy-in. Chances are, key stakeholders have already been identified and segmented (buyers, champions, enablers, gatekeepers, etc.). Each should have a distinct set of business cases, and each set should cover three things:

  1. A comprehensive, stakeholder-specific value proposition.
  2. The (two or three) things the stakeholder thinks most about, including the associated pain points.
  3. How your product relates specifically to each of those pain points (one by one).

The value proposition serves as a headline, but may in fact be what you write last. To best understand this stakeholder, let each of the two or three things they think most about serve as a section header. Each section can then be divided into two subsections, the first listing the relevant pain points, the second how your product remedies them.

The finished product is no longer a profile of an individual, it is instead a collection of ties between an individual and a product. Whether the perfect pitch template exists or not, the guesswork has been eliminated; a salesperson now knows (or should know) the strongest ties between the product they’re selling and the stakeholder they’re trying to win over. Which combination to draw on for any given pitch will come down to more specific prospect research, a topic for a different day.

Yeah, but how do I actually do that?

To begin, think about each stakeholder completely independent of your product (as hard as this may be to do!), and ask four questions:

  1. What opportunities or threats keep this person up at night?
  2. To what incentives is this person responding on a day-to-day, quarter-to-quarter, basis?
  3. How does this person’s self-interest align with, or diverge from, that of their employer and colleagues?
  4. What is this person’s threshold for behavior change?

These four questions should underpin any persona. Yes, this is an opinion being presented as fact, but let’s just go with it for a moment as we consider what to do with the answers. Now we can get more product-specific, by asking ourselves:

  1. How does the product contribute, directly or indirectly, to the opportunities a stakeholder is pursuing or threats they are defending against?
  2. How does the product relate to this person’s individual incentives and how can we draw attention to that?
  3. How can we position this product as directly relevant to this person’s self-interest in a way that still reconciles with the overall value proposition?
  4. How do we ensure that the product is presented such that the associated behavior change (and switching costs) are justifiable?

What you will walk away with is a complete (but not overly dense) picture of a stakeholder in the context of the best potential reasons they have for buying, or recommending, this (or any) product. In other words, business cases.

Ok, but what’s in it for me?

Finally, we come to the question product marketers spend their days answering, but rarely get to pose themselves! To be effective, product marketing must be an active contributor to revenue generation, regardless of the revenue strategy implemented. Sales enablement provides one avenue for doing so. Any organization can benefit from this, but especially sales-led organizations, where marketing is seen primarily through the lens of its technical functions (content, demand generation, events, etc.).

Reimagining personas as business cases creates an opportunity for product marketing to become an integral part of a sales-centric revenue strategy. No longer will the product marketing contribution oscillate between rods and reels sitting in a closet (personas) and fileted fish that only last a day (decks).