Do you ever overhear couples having a fight in public? We’ve all been there. (Let’s be honest, we’ve all likely been in of those fights before.) It happens. It’s cringeworthy. Dirty laundry is aired, private moments made public, and topics not meant for the glare of the public eye are brought to light.

But sometimes we can learn something from these arguments about our own relationship issues.

In the case of the business relationship between B2B marketing and sales, there are plenty of topics that commonly cause misalignment between the two groups. One such issue came to light recently in an ITSMA newsletter: A sales team, feeling territorial about “their” customers, was preventing marketing from interviewing them for primary buyer persona research.

What would you do in this situation? Read on for advice from the ITSMA:

Q: We’d really like to start building a solid set of buyer personas—based on direct interviews—to drive all of our marketing efforts, but one of the initial obstacles we face is our own sales team. They don’t want to let us near “their” customers. What should we do?

A: If it’s any consolation, this type of problem is anything but uncommon. It does make you wonder how the sales team can expect marketers to be omniscient and omnipresent without ever having a direct conversation with a customer, doesn’t it?

To win sales over on this one, you’ll need to do two things:

  • Build their trust that you won’t mess up any of their dealings through the conversations you have.
  • Show them how this initiative will directly benefit them, mainly by improving value propositions and making their own conversations with buyers more effective.

You’ve really got two options. One is to work incrementally with sales to bring them around as you build your research base. The other is to take an outside approach by recruiting interviewees much like you would for a focus group. These aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, either.

If you try the first approach, take it in small steps. You may have a target of 8 to 12 buyer interviews or more, but make the first objective to gather 3 to 5 of them. Start with one or two account executives with whom you or your marketing team have good relationships. Try to find the “friendlies” who are open to some new thinking and giving this a try. Explain that the objective of your research is to get a better understanding of buyer priority initiatives, success factors, decision criteria, and buying process in order to do a better job of identifying good prospects and to make the sales process easier. Make the point that these are conversations that will yield deep insights, not just a win-loss analysis. The goal is to get better at identifying potential buyers and building strong value propositions that will persuade the buyer to choose you—both activities designed to make the sales job easier.

Once you have a couple of account managers bought in, aim to do two or three interviews at each organization with different people involved in the purchase decision. That helps to build your initial base of research while getting a more refined view of the overall process without having to go to additional accounts.

Although multiple interviews with two accounts will not be enough to support the persona development process, they will be enough to generate some nuggets of insight that should help you win over more of the sales team. You may even get some positive feedback from customers about the research itself, which usually has much more sway with the sales team than marketing’s opinion alone.

The second approach requires that you work with an external partner that specializes in recruiting research participants. Here, you are recruiting interviewees much like you recruit focus group participants. Establish the criteria and have your research partner recruit individuals that match those criteria.

As you begin to get interviews, follow the same approach of identifying amenable account executives and discuss the project and nuggets with them. Even if you aren’t counting on support from sales for the initial research effort, you’ll still need them to buy into the results of the persona project, so this step can help lay the groundwork. Their support also becomes important as you build a process for maintaining and updating your personas. The only way to do this is—you guessed it—more buyer interviews.

How you decide to proceed will likely depend on the timeline you’re working within and the resources you have available, whether internal or external. There’s not really a right or wrong way to do it, as long as you get sales involved in the long-term process.

Originally published at ITSMA