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Are your sales, marketing and product departments aligned and synchronized? Or is your organization pulling slightly to the left or the right, creating resistance to optimal market traction and revenue performance?

Leading consultancies and researchers have long documented the benefits of having sales, marketing and product functions working and executing strategies in lockstep. In fact, just a few years ago IDC estimated that the inability of B2B companies to align sales and marketing around processes and technologies could be costing them 10 percent of revenue per year. That’s more than $1 trillion in lost opportunity in the B2B marketplace alone—and for many companies this is the difference between making their numbers or not.

If alignment is so critical, why do companies continue to be frustrated by the friction that results from misalignment of these functions? The mistake some organizations make is taking a “systems first” approach. They believe the latest cloud-marketing platform will finally rally the troops around a common data set that will magically generate a dashboard of actionable metrics, a 10-fold increase in pipeline opportunities and double-digit growth. The truth is, real traction is achieved when all functions work together to define and understand the needs of the people who use what you create and sell.

Enter the user persona workshop. A workshop dials back and resets the team to the root objective. This establishes a common baseline of understanding of your users’ needs, how they can be served by the business and what makes them important to the business. From this understanding, priorities are established and everything else can start to fall into place, and in alignment—from product development, to value-propositions, to content creation, to marketing communications, to lead nurturing, to field engagement.

Understanding user personas is different than the practice of developing customer targets, demographics or market segments to pursue. User personas focus on user needs, and helps your organization be responsive to the jobs and tasks customers need to perform in their workflows and professions.

Here are nine tips for an effective user persona workshop:

  1. Make sure it’s sponsored by a senior executive, so it conveys its importance and “gravitas.”
  2. Consider an outside facilitator to avoid any “grandstanding” by any single function (you know who you are!).
  3. Host it at an offsite location, and make sure everyone is “live” (sorry you can’t dial in to this one).
  4. Be sure departments are represented with equal footing (seniority and number).
  5. Clearly communicate objectives, goals and expectations.
  6. Back up the assumptions about user needs that you gather at the workshop with follow-on research that validates those assumptions (one-on-one interviews, market data and company information are great sources)
  7. Refine and narrow your list of personas and their needs, based on your research.
  8. Once you have your final personas and user needs, roll them out to your entire organization. Having a common vocabulary about personas and user needs is the first step toward alignment.
  9. Revisit and refresh. Consider repeating workshops periodically to keep your team in sync.

You’ll likely be surprised that sales, marketing and product managers come to a user persona workshop with their own unique view of your organization’s users, and inject different priorities, points of view and opinions.

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