Yesterday I was chatting on the phone with a former colleague from my days in San Francisco. We had worked together 15 years ago in B2B sales, and he’s now running the operations of a $40 MM engineering division of a mid-market company. He had called to discuss his new opportunity of taking over as the VP of Sales for the entire company, and to ask for advice regarding a problem that was polarizing the company.

“The biggest problem I see with our sales team,” he commented, “is that they sell and service our general contractor and municipality clients exactly the same way, when they’re actually very different and have unique needs.

“Our general contractor clients already have an existing relationship with us and have completed many of these types of projects. Their main concern is that their materials and workers show up on the job on time so they can complete their projects and get paid. They care about speed and accuracy and they don’t need any hand-holding.

“But the engineers running a municipal project rarely have completed a similar project before and need to be nurtured and guided throughout. Our sales reps provide few details during the bidding phase and are not consulting them during the project. These engineers have daily questions and need to understand specific details about the work we’re performing, as it affects their long-term plans. It’s a major problem – I’m in danger of losing two huge municipal projects to my largest competitor right now because of this.”

He continued by asking for advice on market research resources, thinking that he had two different markets and needed to provide a report to the senior management committee.

The reality is that the general contractors and the municipalities are part of the same market — they are just different segments of a single market.

Buyer Personas to Represent Market Segments

To resolve his problem, we created two fictional people for his buyer personas, or human representations of his two distinct market segments:

  • Gerry the General Contractor
  • Marty the Municipal Engineer

We profiled each in great detail, defining each person’s:

  • Role in the organization
  • Main problem they are tasked with resolving
  • Experience level
  • Department characteristics
  • Age group
  • Needs on a job
  • Personal interests
  • Life stage

Then we mapped out the appropriate marketing and sales messages and service to deliver to each. As it turns out, their current marketing and sales spoke directly to Gerry but not to Marty. It’s surprising that they had won any municipal projects.

And few of the current sales team had the right style and personality to provide the nurturing and consultative sales approach Marty required; my colleague realized that he was going to have to hire different reps to sell to and service this segment.

Creating buyer personas is a nice way to bring your market segments to life, creating a “real” person so you can better understand how to provide the value that they need.

Market segmentation is a standard exercise for MBAs and professional marketers, but it’s common for many mid-market companies to have grown successfully for decades and never put pen to paper to define them. Why? Many mid-market company’s marketing efforts are led by their VP of Sales and the sales team, who typically have little training or experience in marketing strategy, segmentation and competitive positioning.