Selling To Sybil

By Tibor Shanto

I always find it amusing listening to sales people or marketing people talk about buyer persona, seems half have no idea what the word means, and if not for fashion could care less.  I worked with a company that had very clear and detailed outline of the various personas (or is it personae?), they sold to, each based most on their corporate roles.  At the same time, another company equated “persona” to title, a great example of someone using “persona” for fashion.

While the former was better, they still missed the mark in a couple of common ways.  First is the propensity to work with personas based on “Title”, or corporate roles, mostly hierarchical.  There is no doubt that these are important attributes of any given sale, “persona”, a bit of a stretch, a cool one, but a stretch nonetheless.

An individual’s person has more layers than that, and if we ignore some of them, we may find that use of “persona”, ends in a zero-sum gain, as the pluses are canceled out by the negatives.

Public Person

We are all familiar with the expression above, in fact it describes each of us.  We all have a person we share with the world, in fact many personas.  My wife and kids see an entirely different persona than the one I might share with someone in the business world, even in business we will present a different persona, based on who we are dealing with and our role in those dealings.  (Dominant or subservient, as an example). The personas we share, will vary based on who we are interacting with and why.  If evaluate a prospect based on their “public persona”, a veneer they have evolved the years, we may find it works against us in a sale.

Your Buyer – Sybil

There is also an element of arrogance or ignorance at play.  There is an assumption that an individual will present the same persona over the entire buying/selling cycle.  This is just not the case.  People’s personas change throughout the journey, and those changes are driven by variables unique to each deal and set of individuals involved.

Look at your own personal experience with something that takes a few months to unfold. Things rarely unfold in a linear fashion, more importantly how we see things throughout the cycle will change, based on a number of varying inputs, changing priorities, and even moods.  As these changes present themselves, our “persona” will change accordingly.  We have all had buyers who seemingly go through mood swings through the cycle.  One day they are all in, ready to change, the next day, after having spoken to someone in IT or Finance, and they are singing a different tune.

The notion of “a persona”, especially in anything other than a purely transactional sale, is just stupid.  Given the pressures, range of emotions and other things buyers have to balance during a sale, the reality is more like trying to sell to Sybil, and her dozens of personalities, or personae.  Multiple that by the number of buyers involved in a complex buy, 6.4 we’re told, and talking about “persona”, may make one look more unprepared than smart.