In the game of chess, there are three fundamental elements to how world-class champions play. Two of these, strategy and tactics, are grounded in the mechanics of the game itself. Solid chess players must have a firm understanding of the overarching ebb and flow of the game, coupled with the ability to seize every conceivable opportunity for positional advantage. The third element, psychology, is also vital, especially for top tier match play. According to one expert marketer, while not psychologists, can "use psychology legally, ethically, and respectfully to attract and engage consumers, and compel them to buy" by creating buyer personas. In the same way, chess players often leverage psychology to their advantage.
For instance, World Chess Champion Emanuel Lasker, while a skilled tactician and a deep strategist in his own right, was primarily known for weaponizing his keen understanding of the opposing player's psychological makeup, and leveraging his insights into victory after victory. Even in today's computerized world, a match between Grandmasters often hinges upon which player has the clearer perception of his opponent's mind.
In this case, as in so many others, chess reflects life. Business enterprises often encompass a staggering number of moving parts, far more intricate and complex in their motion than any board game bounded by 64 squares. Yet, the three basic elements of successful chess apply with even greater force to the inner workings of any B2B or B2C company. A sound business plan, solid operational processes, and a keen understanding of the customer are all essential drivers for sustainable growth.
One major area in which this holds true is the organizational alignment between sales and marketing. How exactly should these two departments work together?
Combining Strategy and Tactics to Create Buyer Personas
On certain levels of small business, there is very little, if any division between sales and marketing. For example, think of the sole proprietor of a startup commercial cleaning company. He wants to promote his services to a certain type of client (marketing) while meeting a minimum profit threshold (sales). He wants to craft a message that appeals to his consumer base (marketing) and also win bids against competitors without bidding too low (sales). In this scenario, the list of marketing- and sales-related tasks centralized in one person could go on and on.
Of course, when talking about enterprise-level organizations, there usually has to be a delineation between the sales and marketing departments. But should there also be a strict separation of processes and goals? Is it productive for these two "teams" to view each other as competitors instead of collaborators? The answer must be a resounding No!
Marketers could be considered the "strategists" of a company, while salespeople are the "tacticians." But as in chess, the combination of both elements is required for optimal results.
A common mistake made in larger business organisations is to compartmentalise marketing and sales operations in mutually exclusive "boxes". More often than not, this results in friction and even hostility between the two teams. Marketers complain that the salespeople lose customers by deviating from the script so carefully prepared for them; salespeople counter that the marketers aren't generating enough quality leads for them to meet their quota!
This organisational misalignment is counterproductive. Are not the ultimate goals of the sales and marketing departments (to gain customers and close sales) exactly the same? Absolutely! A company that successfully harmonises marketing strategy with sales tactics can move forward with the same unity of purpose enjoyed by that sole proprietor of the cleaning company.
So the question becomes: How can sales and marketing come into alignment to reach those objectives? This is where psychology comes into play, in the form of buyer personas.
Creating Effective Buyer Personas
Buyer personas has been defined as "a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers". The process of creating and implementing buyer personas can unite a company's sales and marketing departments at the very start. For instance, a collaborative approach to crafting a buyer persona for an individual client can ensure that marketers and salespeople are on the same page with regards to content, tone, and objectives.
Buyer personas provide both departments with an overarching narrative or a "buyer's journey". This helps to understand where the client is in the sales funnel, and what the next step needs to be. Collaboration between sales and marketing also ensures that there is a streamlined process in place for the transition from MQL to SQL, a hand-off which can be confusing and frustrating without clear guidelines in place.
What makes a buyer persona truly effective? There are 3 essential elements that form a buyer persona, each of which must be carefully deconstructed:
Demographics are the foundational element and are almost always the easiest to assess. Indeed, they include basic information about a company's target audience. This includes age, gender, income level, education level, and so forth.
Occupation adds a layer of nuance to the bare bones of demographics. To illustrate: in a B2B setting, besides the obvious factors of industry and job description, occupation-related questions often involve the target company's culture and organisational structure and could include the following:
- Is the company culture founded in collaboration, or informed by hierarchical decision making?
- Is the company product a long-established staple, or a newer innovation?
- Do the target prospects work at company headquarters, or in a newly established branch?
- Which company leaders need to be involved in the decision-making process?
Finally, psychographics seeks to delve into the deep-seated attitudes, desires, goals, hopes, and fears of the target customer(s). To further our B2B scenario, psychographics for a Chief Information Officer may seek answers to such questions as:
- Attitude towards change?
- Professional goals?
- Where does he want himself to be in one, five, or 10 years?
- Current problems he faces on the job?
Learn More About Buyer Personas
When the aforementioned factors are thoroughly deconstructed into a buyer persona, the odds of successful conversion increase.
A masterful chess player weaves strategy, positional tactics, and a keen understanding of his opponent's nature into a victory. In the same way, a company that aligns smart marketing strategy with effective sales tactics, and leverages that collaboration by means of an insightful buyer persona, will enjoy increased revenue, higher conversion rates, and sustainable business growth.