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As designers and product managers we often build personas to better characterize the customer types we are selling to. There are many articles written about personas. But there is one very important persona that I don’t see too many teams identify. This is the Blocker Persona for a B2B company.

The Blocker Persona is different than the Negative or Exclusionary Persona, which describes the archetype you don’t want as a customer so that you can avoid spending marketing and selling to them. If you’re a B2C company, this archetype describes a person. If you’re B2B company, this archetype often describes organizations. The Blocker Persona describes a person, not an organization. It is one level deeper than the Negative or Exclusionary Persona and is especially relevant to B2B companies. The Blocker Persona blocks your sale within a larger organization. An organization that contains the Blocker Persona often becomes classified as a Negative/Exclusionary Persona, but not always.

Blockers act like goalies, blocking your product sales. You come in to close the sale, but you’re blocked… again.

How does a Blocker Persona work in practice?

For every technology product created, some human’s job is being simplified, modified, improved, and possibly made obsolete.

One example is test automation. A friend of mine who’s a CEO at a Software Test Automation company created a visual and user friendly test automation solution. But his product was unintentionally stepping on toes at customer accounts. As a result, he was unable to close a number of accounts. You see, his test automation product was great for companies doing software testing. But it was perceived as a threat for Test Automaters who work in those companies. It took his team 9 months of research to figure out why they could not close a number of deals that seemed like the perfect fit for the product. They initially identified their personas as follows:

  1. Development Managers — Buyer
  2. QA Managers — Buyer
  3. Developers — User
  4. Test Automaters — User
  5. Manual Testers — User

When in reality, their stats showed that their personas were acting more like this:

  1. Development Managers — Buyer
  2. QA Managers — Buyer
  3. Developers — User
  4. Test Automaters under the age of 35 — Blocker
  5. Test Automaters over the age of 35 — User
  6. Manual Testers — User

Even though the product sped up the work of Test Automaters as a whole, the group under age 35 was blocking product sales. This is because the tool was a visual “drag and drop” rather than traditional coding. This group’s aspiration is to learn to code via the Test automation role, then move into an engineering role. The “drag and drop” tool took away this part of their role. So they were rallying against the adoption of this tool. The group of Test Automaters over 35 were more interested in doing their jobs faster, which the tool enabled. But the ones under 35 had entirely different goals. Over 9 months of failed sales attempts at these accounts could have been reduced if the Blocker Persona could be identified earlier. 

How do you identify the Blocker Persona?

An approach that I take with clients is fully understanding the buying cycle via buyer interviews. As an unbiased third party, it can be easier to gather honest reactions to products. If you don’t have a third party to help you with this, don’t worry, you can still do this yourself.

Steps to identifying the Blocker Personas

  1. Write out all the decision makers and users for your product. Collaborate with your sales and marketing teams on this. Use real examples. You should have 5–10 personas much like the list above.
  2. Now we’re going to do a win/loss analysis. Start with a list of your best won accounts, then make a list of your most regretful loss accounts. You should have 2–5 accounts per list.
  3. For every account on the win/loss list, round up every persona at that company from the persona list. Conduct a 30 min to 1 h interview with each person about their activities during the buying process. This is different from a product usage interview where you understand how they use your product. This one is targeted at understanding the evaluation criteria they each used for your product, and how that information contributes to the buying decision.
  4. Collate your results and watch the patterns emerge. Nine times out of ten you’ll see a pattern. It may be a specific persona blocking your sale. If so, congratulations, you’ve identified the Blocker Persona. You might find multiple blocker personas, but usually there are only 1 or 2 at most. You might also uncover other effects, such as a communication gap at your customer’s account that isn’t your fault but that you need to fix or at least minimize if you want to close with these customers. Be open to the patterns that may emerge.
  5. For bonus points, conduct #3 above with 2–3 accounts that are in evaluation phase. This can be extremely insightful as well.

How does your company identify Blocker Personas? Let us know your strategies and stories on social media using the #FIworldwide hashtag.

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This post was written by Connie Kwan (CEO of Product Maestro, and Mentor in the Founder Institute Silicon Valley chapter), and was originally published on Medium.  

Connie Kwan is a 15-year Product Management veteran with experience spanning enterprise, SaaS, consumer apps, cryptocurrency, AI, health tech, energy and semiconductor industries. She was Chief Product Officer at Carrot, and Head of Product at Atlassians App Marketplace. She has shipped consumer apps at Microsoft, founded 2 software startups, and consulted for ImpactIQ and Sourcemap.com. Prior to software, she managed solar and inverter (OEM) products at SunPower and semiconductor products at Cypress Semiconductor. Currently, Kwan leads workshops on Product Management and offers VP Product as a service to companies who build software.

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