How Sales & Marketing Can Align Around Their Target Audience

September 5, 2018

Art of Winning

We all know you can’t hit your target if your aim is off. Yet many B2B organizations are far from the mark because their marketing and sales teams are misaligned when it comes to their target audience.

Turns out only 24% of organizations agree to the definition of target segments or accounts. Not surprisingly, shared data on target accounts was tied for #1 as the biggest challenge to sales and marketing alignment in InsideView’s 2018 survey. Interestingly, it was the #4 biggest challenge just two years prior, so it has rapidly gained in importance.

What Is A Target Audience?

First things first. A target audience is the one you’ve set your sights on in your marketing and sales activities. Who is included in that audience depends on your objectives. When it comes to generating revenues, your target audience comprises those accounts and individuals that are most likely to purchase from your company. In a nutshell, it’s a group of promising prospects you want to convert to profitable customers. Most companies define these as buyer personas: a fictionalized, generalized representation of your ideal customer.

Why It Matters for Sales & Marketing Alignment

Aligning around a target audience is step one in better attracting, engaging, and converting the accounts and individuals that matter most to your business. If marketing is chasing down one audience and sales is focused on another, the result is wasted effort and missed opportunities. Plus, both teams need to agree on the ideal customer so everyone understands how and why the target audience chooses to purchase. This understanding ensures everyone is speaking the same language and telling the same story as they interact with prospective customers.

What Gets In The Way of Defining a Target Audience

This all seems pretty straightforward, right? So why is it so difficult for the two groups to arrive at a shared view of the target audience?

Think about how marketing and sales see the same target buyers. Most of the time, sales and marketing don’t even speak the same language in terms of buyer movement. Sales talks about pipelines, while marketing talks about funnels.

But let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. Marketing goes for broad groups like “agribusiness managers in the Midwest” or “CIOs in large manufacturing firms.” Sales thinks in terms of accounts and geography. So, while sales sees John Doe from Des Moines, marketing sees that “agribusiness manager who lives in a small midwestern city.” If his name happens to be John Doe, that’s a complete coincidence as far as marketing is concerned.

Sadly, on average, LinkedIn sees just a 23% overlap between sales’ target audience and marketing’s target audience in the typical B2B organization. How can marketing and sales close more deals faster if they’re not even going after the same audience?

Naturally marketing is going to cast a wider net because it’s charged with generating awareness and leads. But ideally, sales’ target list falls squarely in the middle of marketing’s target list – not somewhere far on the outskirts.

Distinct Systems Lead to Data Disconnects

This disconnect can be traced back to the different foundational systems that marketing and sales use to store and manage critical prospect and customer-related data. Marketing relies on a marketing automation system while sales relies on a sales automation system (i.e., CRM).

Organizations invest plenty of money to integrate these systems. But in the end, this integration only accelerates the lead handoff from marketing to Sales. In other words, it doesn’t make it easier for marketing and sales to share accurate, complete data about buyers – a foundational element of effective marketing and sales collaboration.

How To Align on Your Target Audience

Now that we understand the roadblocks to aligning around the target audience, let’s cover the steps you can take to bust through them.

1. Identify Users, Decision Makers and Influencers

First you need to pinpoint the typical stakeholders involved in purchasing your solution. If you’ve already sold your solution to a significant number of companies, review your customer database to identify who influenced the purchase, who made the ultimate purchase decision, and who is using the solution. Then look for common denominators within each of these key stakeholders, such as title or role, industry, company size, etc. You can also call upon industry analyst reports for these types of insights. Sometimes you can reverse-engineer this understanding by combing competitor press releases, case studies, and annual reports for relevant customer mentions and details.

2. Create Buyer Personas

Marketing and sales should collaborate to develop buyer personas that capture key information about the target audience. Both teams gather important details about prospects as they interact with and observe them. They figure out who’s responding to awareness campaigns, which roles are engaging and when they get engaged in the process. They even see the kind of content each role cares about and how to best sequence it.

By combining and sharing these insights, both groups get a much more complete, realistic understanding of buyers’ behaviors, preferences, interests, pains, and even opinions. In turn, both teams can better identify and engage the most promising potential customers. Tracy Eiler, Chief Marketing Officer of InsideView, underscores the additional value of shared data: figuring out total addressable market (TAM), which is foundational to a modern go-to-market strategy. “A TAM analysis based on your ideal customer segment helps identify all viable targets, not just those in already your CRM system.”

Questions to ask for each buyer persona include:

  • What are their most pressing issues?
  • What does their typical workday look like?
  • What is their decision-making process?
  • What are their purchase motivators?
  • What buying signals do they usually give off?
  • What information do they need at each stage of the buying cycle?
  • Where do they get this information?
  • Who do they consult for advice?
  • What language do they use to describe their challenges and goals?
  • What are their psychographics?
  • What are their specific demographics?

Pro Tip: LinkedIn Website Demographics is our favorite tool for answering the last question!

3. Map Your Product Solutions to Buyer Pain Points

Next, you need to clarify why the target audience should choose your company and product over other options. Start by mapping your ideal customers’ most pressing issues and challenges to how your organization and product can address them.

Once you’ve gone through this exercise, compare your product attributes and value to competitive offerings. Ideally you want to focus on the differentiating features and benefits that set you apart. Don’t forget that sometimes buyers choose to stick with the status quo rather than purchase a solution. Your positioning should address this option, too.

4. Regularly Update Your Target Audience

Aligning around your target audience isn’t a one-time exercise. Your target audience might shift as you release new products, services, and features. The audience makeup could change as new stakeholders get involved and existing ones drop off. There’s no hard-and-fast, one-size-fits-all rule for how frequently you should revisit and update your target audience definitions. Regular discussions between marketing and sales should help identify changes in your target audience. Otherwise, plan to review your target audience definitions every six months to make sure you’re on the right track.

Putting Your Target Audience to Work for Sales & Marketing Alignment

Now imagine injecting all that information about your target audience into the planning process, starting with account propensity modeling. Based on closed deals, sales and marketing know the kinds of companies that respond. Using lookalike algorithms, they can identify more of those companies.

They can next define territories based on the sales pros with connections in those accounts. At the account-planning phase, sales and marketing can apply all the valuable information about personas to come up with a plan to engage those buyer circles in a sophisticated way.

Seeing their target audience in the same way helps marketing and sales understand what will best influence buyers at various stages. They can even pinpoint who to engage on the buying committee and when, to ensure a seamless experience within targeted accounts.

Fortunately, it’s possible to combine and share information and insights this way. By doing so, while also addressing the other B2B sales and marketing structural gaps, your organization can open up the floodgates to business growth.

For the ultimate resource on how to align your sales and marketing efforts for a seamless customer experience, download The Art of Winning eBook.