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Using Buyer Personas to Enable Buyer-Responsive Selling

There is a movement underway to deliver more valuable engagement with buyers. TOPO’s ongoing research on sales organizations shows that sales leaders overwhelmingly rank “improving the quality of engagement with buyers” as their top priority. The key to achieving better quality engagement is to arm the sales reps for buyer-responsive selling.

Buyer-responsive selling is a practice that focuses the efforts of sales reps around who the buyers are, their priorities and the experience they want to have. This approach enables sales to deliver the personalized, relevant, and empathetic engagement that today’s distracted and demanding buyer expects.

The foundation for buyer-responsive selling is a thorough and actionable understanding of the buyer. Buyer personas are a means to this end. A buyer persona is a guide to maximize the relevance of sales activities from prospecting to close. It defines who the buyer is, what they care about, how they behave, and why they buy.

To create buyer personas for sales reps, follow these steps:

  1. Identify the right personas – there are likely a dozen different personas sales reps could talk to, but it’s critical to enable them to focus their conversations around the 3-5 key buyers they should be talking to.
  2. Develop the personas – assign a team of sales reps to identify and document the key components of the persona: their role, psychology, day in the life, purchasing habits, etc. The best reps will interview a customer to get this information. (Note: It’s best practice to involve marketing in persona development, but it’s critical that sales plays an active role in documenting the language that buyers use. Otherwise, personas end up being jargon-heavy and not relevant to sales conversations)
  3. Train sales reps on personas – It is critical that personas are not just another document filed away with other sales content. Rather personas should underlie every sales activity, from internal training sessions to prospect conversations. Reps should be trained and certified on their understanding of each buyer persona.

Here are some examples of the key components of a persona and corresponding questions you can use to build the persona. Keep in mind that you should focus the persona on only the most pertinent information a sales rep should know. To illustrate this, we will consider a sample persona for a ‘Head of Data Infrastructure’.

Key Component: What is this persona’s role?

  • What are this buyer’s high level goals for the quarter/year?
  • How is performance measured for this buyer?
  • What are the typical titles for this role?


  • Focused on both internal and external IT and all software services purchased and used by the company
  • Standardizing technology strategy and ensuring vendors align with that strategy
  • Titles include: CIO, Director of Data Infrastructure, VP of Infrastructure

Key Component: How does this persona think?

  • Describe buyer’s risk tolerance
  • How does his buy normally behave? (conservative, ambitious, early adopter, etc.)
  • What does this buyer value? (personal promotion, department growth, etc)


  • Internal expert on technology, but finds it difficult to keep up-to-data in rapidly changing world
  • Risk-averse regarding unproven technology, preferring to self build or make do with current architecture
  • Distrusting of sales, relying heavily on third party resources for guidance

These are just two out of several important components that underlie a successful buyer persona. Buyer personas enable sales reps to understand a prospect on a deeper level that will not only help them create higher value engagements, but also build stronger connections with prospects. Along those same lines, SDRs use buyer personas to build more consistent and personalized outreach with relevant messaging and buyer-centric language. The most important thing to remember is that personas must be used to be effective – build them, and train reps on how to use them so they become part of the sales foundation and everything sales reps do.

About the Author:
Kristina McMillan leads the research organization behind all of TOPO’s practices. She works with TOPO’s analysts to develop best practice frameworks and actionable research that help clients cultivate world-class demand generation, sales development and sales organizations. She is also one of TOPO’s sales development experts and advises clients on all matters related to sales development. Previously, Kristina spent 12 years as a best practices consultant and practioner helping build sales development and inside sales teams for companies such as Knova, Taleo, Eloqua, Five 9, Zmanda, and more.

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