Persona-based marketing is becoming more and more mainstream as companies work hard to attract buying audiences to their Web sites and social channels like a virtual Venus fly trap. The problem with taking a persona-based approach is that the marketing organization – no matter how big – can’t produce enough content to align with every potential buyer persona in every market segment for every offering. Organizations must choose which buyer personas to focus on. Here are some key questions to guide these decisions:

1. Is the buyer persona known to sellers?

When clients tell me that they are considering going after a persona they have never sold to before, I see a football referee’s yellow flag landing on the conference room table in front of me (in my imagination, of course). Choosing an unknown persona without being conscious of the huge sales enablement challenge it poses is a recipe for failure. This does not mean that we advise companies not to go after new personas, as new buyer centers are a lever for growth. Just ensure the budget, resources and executive patience and acceptance of a longer sales adoption curve are established before the persona is selected.

2. Does marketing understand the buyer persona?

Do content originators and campaign leaders have subject-matter expertise on the buyer persona? Can they create tactics and programs tailored to this persona, and can they write in the persona’s language? Does marketing understand the persona well enough to pick the search keywords that will pull people to the content and into the sales funnel? Persona-based marketing will falter if marketers don’t have a deeply internalized knowledge of the buyer persona. So, when selecting personas, consider whether marketing possesses – or can acquire – the necessary knowledge and skills to build the content that will be relevant to the persona.

3. Are marketing and sales on the same page?

When selecting personas, determine whether the persona matches up to the strategy sales is driving. The selection of personas can either align marketing and sales or drive them further apart. Find out about the current sales plays in motion and where sales leadership is trying to get reps to have conversations. Where does sales wish they had better relationships or improved competence in getting a meeting? For example, if sales leadership says that reps need to “sell higher up” or “sell to X buyer,” take this into consideration when prioritizing the personas. One caveat, though: Product strategy may want to go after buyer personas that sales doesn’t even know about yet. So, use sales’ needs as a relative factor – not an overriding factor – in persona selection decisions.

For our Portfolio Marketing clients, please refer to the brief “Prioritizing Buyer Personas”  for a deeper analysis and recommendations on how to use quantitative and qualitative criteria when making the selection. It’s a critical decision, so spend the necessary time and deliberation to choose wisely.