Customer Personas and How SaaS CMOs Use Them to Generate Better Sales Leads

Sam Levan

Here's a quiz.The top challenge facing SaaS CMOs is ...A. Improving marketing automation.B. Finding more leads.C. Generating more consistent Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) for inside sales.If you read marketing blogs you probably think 'A' is correct. But if you work with SaaS marketing teams you'll quickly discover that for most of them 'C' is the biggest challenge. The real work starts rather than it ends once you've generated leads.Why? Just follow the money. Most SaaS companies are trying to close bigger accounts. Marketing automation is great for incrementally improving revenue, but winning major accounts still takes sales. Under pressure to close bigger deals, the sales teams are demanding more consistent, higher-quality MQLs from the CMO.So how can CMOs generate better MQLs? Well, we answer that exhaustively in our new course.In this post we cover one part of the answer - how to improve the feedback and communication between sales and marketing teams using Customer Personas. We'll walk you through a step-by-step example using a fictitious company called PR Power!

Meet PR Power!

PR Power! helps media managers in mid-sized businesses do better PR by generating targeted media lists. Customers pay $50-$5,000/month after a free trial.CMO Marketing Mark has been building the company's marketing funnel and automation for 2 years. VP of Sales Selling Sandra just started building the inside sales team and asked Marketing Mark to post qualified leads into Salesforce.

Marketing begins qualifying leads for sales

Marketing Mark and Selling Sandra came up with a workflow which can be simplified as:

Marketing Mark agreed to identify the most promising trial customers (MQLs) and to pass them along to Selling Sandra's inside sales team. Sales agreed to review the leads and accept (SALs) those most likely to buy.Marketing Mark's team spent months developing the business logic to support this process. They added simple scoring rules such as "disqualify any students who sign up with a .edu email address". After a lot of late nights they got the MQL generation process going.

It was a wonderful plan ... until ...

For the first few months everything worked as planned. Selling Sandra's team started engaging the leads and paid conversions grew by 30%. Yipeeeee!Then reality hit......the CEO decided to focus the company on bigger enterprise deals……...the product changed to support larger customers............Marketing Mark's team struggled to keep scoring rules updated…………...and Selling Sandra (under pressure) started generating her own leads.One day Marketing Mark realizes he’s investing a ton of resources generating MQLs that sales teams don’t even use. He doesn’t know why.

The Meeting: "Why isn't sales using the leads from marketing??"

Marketing Mark calls a meeting with sales to discuss.Marketing Mark: "I know inside sales is under a lot of pressure to grow revenue. We want to do our part. Last month we sent you 300 MQLs and you only accepted 3 as SALs. Why?"Selling Sandra: "Wow, 3? That’s 3 more than I expected. Your leads suck and I don't want my team to waste time calling them."Marketing Mark: "Ok … I need a little bit more feedback than 'sucks'. Believe or not we don't have a ‘suckiness’ customer attribute in our database."Selling Sandra: "Last month I called one of the higher scored MQLs you sent me. I spent 3 hours playing phone tag with some guy who turned out to be a student doing a class project. That’s what I mean by ‘sucks’."Marketing Mark thanks everyone for their time and promises to explore the issue further.

If only we had a “suckiness” customer attribute...

Marketing retraced Selling Sandra's ‘student’ lead and discovered the trial customer wasn’t using a .edu email address - so the lead wasn’t scored as a student and became an MQL.Unfortunately the marketing teams feels like they're being blamed. As a joke someone writes on the whiteboard:

Since there is no "suckiness" attribute the team has to figure out ways to identify the attributes and behaviors of poor leads.This is really hard without good collaboration & feedback from sales. This situation is so common because marketing and sales people think about customers differently.

Marketing thinks data. Sales thinks people.

SaaS marketers think in terms of events, attributes, cohorts. Sales teams think in terms of people. They think about customers differently and use different language.Unfortunately this difference can cause the problems like those at PR Power!: Sales has no tools for providing feedback on MQL quality in a way that marketing can translate to data and business logic.Customer personas are one tool for solving this problem.

Customer personas create a common language for sales and marketing

Personas describe a customer in a way that can be mapped to attributes and behaviors. They are simple to make, easy to understand, and easily changed.Here is Customer Persona template we created for use in SaaS sales funnels:

Step-by-Step Example of using personas to generate better mqls

1. identify leads Sales doesn’t accept and group them into common archetypes

Why is Selling Sandra so unhappy with the MQLs? Because top-performing sales people are busy and want fewer, high-quality leads. The fastest way to improve MQL consistency is to eliminate poor leads.Marketing Mark interviewed sales reps and learned that sales didn't want to waste time talking to students, startups or freelancers since these customers - although very active - were unlikely to become larger accounts.

2. Generate personas for each group of leads.

Mark created customer personas for students, startups, and freelancers based on customer attributes and behaviors. Using our template above, here is the "Student Sammy" customer persona:


  • Keep them simple.
  • Silly, descriptive names are easier to remember. e.g. “Student Sammy”, “Startup Steve”, “Freelancer Freddie”.
  • Don’t go for perfect.

3. Update MQL generation rules based on the personas

Instead of using a simplistic business rule like “disqualify leads with .edu addresses”, Mark refines his business logic based on all of Student Sammy's behaviors and attributes.

4. Ask sales reps for immediate feedback using the personas

Marketing Mark asks all of the reps to"let me know if we send you any Student Sammy's". Now Mark is in a position to get contextual feedback.Tips:

  • Inside sales reps often have to be prompted for feedback.
  • Post the customer personas on a wall where sales reps can see them. Funny pictures help.

5. Refine and update the personas over time

Fast-growing SaaS teams update their personas every 6-10 weeks. Often they are too general and need to be sub-divided.When sales reps wanted to contact graduate students Mark split the Student Sammy into “Undergrad Ulf” and “MBA Mickey”.

Want to learn more? Let's talk!

Personals are just the 1st step in creating high-quality MQLs. The CMO’s marketing team will need to analyze data and develop predictive models for attributes and behaviors that map onto the customer personas.Lucky for you … we’re here to help. Sign up here and you’ll be on your way for turning the VP of sales into your best friend.Photo credit:Gabriel Cabral

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