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The persona is dead

Updated: Nov 18, 2019

Customer and user personas are the foundation of Agile methodology and marketing. Having a laser focus on your customers and users, what their perfect day looks like, their reward system, and what keeps them up at night is core to building products and services they will use and creating branding and messaging that will pop. Unless you provide breathable air to your target market, merely documenting your user and customer personas are no longer enough.

The cloud has enabled entrepreneurs to create like never before, filling in ever-smaller segments. The challenge that companies face as they grow is rising above the noise all this fragmentation creates. It simply isn't enough to market broadly to your personas to enable standing out in the forest. Even if you're in a greenfield niche, others will copy you if they see a broader opportunity. When you're standing on the top of the hill, don't give up the high ground! Additionally, to be successful, sales and marketing need to partner together more than ever.

Standing in the red corner wearing black and gold trunks, weighing in at 800 pounds, it's account-based marketing!

Account-based marketing is personas on steroids. The persona isn't dead (click-bait headline, sorry), but it is evolving. Account-based marketing takes your customer and user personas and connects them in a flow to build an even more detailed picture of whom you are targeting. You not only understand the who, but how they interact, how they use your solution, and what the ideal company/customer looks like to build long-term success.

In a simple example, a company broke up their target accounts into four segments. They understood their personas for both customer and user but layered in what these target companies do, their estimated annual revenue, how they serve their customers, connect to their suppliers, and how many employees they have.

After the analysis, they decided not to target one of the four segments because it cost more to onboard and support those accounts than the estimated lifetime value they provided. They then created a target list of 250 accounts for the fiscal year. The result? Over 100 wins and all of them competitive takeaways. Interesting?

To achieved these results, marketing and sales partnered tightly together. An analysis of existing customers provided the blueprint of what ideal accounts looked like - accounts that provide the best annual recurring revenue and the most lifetime value. This formed the foundation of the target list of 250 customers. Three different campaigns aligned with the targeted segments.

The sales team was provided resources to apply as key contacts entered and exited the funnel. Sales could tweak differentiated messaging as needed, but the context remained the same. Sales and marketing worked together in win/loss analysis in weekly meetings, and marketing made campaign adjustments as the picture of the ideal accounts came into sharper focus.

To have an effective account-based marketing program, you still need customer and user personas, so breathe easy, they aren't dead. As an added benefit, moving to account-based marketing if appropriate for your business, can reveal if your niche is too small and help guide how to evolve your product/service offers to grow your base.

To be successful, ideally, there is tight alignment between sales and marketing. That includes objective win/loss analysis in realtime with marketing, enabling sales to make adjustments to content as specific targeted accounts require, and frequent review of your target accounts and the personas within.

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