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March, 2022

Using Data to Understand Buyer Roles

A guide to using product data to recognize buyer roles.

Since rolling out Milestones we’ve seen customers build out a fascinating set of behaviorally-driven sales stages to help them operationalize their business. Beyond obvious stages like onboarded and product-qualified lead (PQL), we’ve seen different companies find incredibly creative ways to understand their customer base using Variance.

One of the more fun (and instructive) uses of Milestones I’ve seen is turning Contact Milestones into a way to understand your buyer personas. If you’re familiar with the Miller Heiman sales methodology, you’ll know about the four typical buyer roles in a sales process:

  • Economic buyer: the person with the money
  • User buyer: the person who will be in the product every day
  • Technical buyer: the person who will make sure your product meets the technical requirements for the organization
  • Coach: the person who helps you navigate the organization and deal

In an old-school buying process, identifying these buyers is relatively easy. You’ll meet them in meetings and on calls as you’re working the deal. But when a customer just signs up for your product, identifying these people is a bit more difficult. You can (and should) use titles from enrichment providers like Clearbit or ZoomInfo, but even that only tells part of the story. The best way to identify these users in a trial/freemium environment is with their behavior. This is where we’ve seen interesting use cases for Contact-based Milestones. 

While you can still manage your Onboarded, PQL, and Expansion-Qualified Lead (EQL) on the account level, creating Contact-level milestones that are all about identifying user roles is a really smart solution to mapping the organization before you’ve had a chance to talk. 

A quick note about proxies

Before we dive into the “how,” let me get one thing out of the way: these buyer roles in the idealized Miller Heiman state may not be in your product. By that I mean your ultimate economic buyer may be the CRO or the CMO and they’ve tasked their team to solve a problem (to drive an outcome in their sales terms). To get the big deal done you may have to build a relationship with the head honcho. But to get there you’ve got to map the organization using the data you have available, and each one of these roles should have a proxy touching your product. In fact, I’d argue if these roles don’t have a proxy in your product early you have a much bigger problem. If you haven’t discovered the technical buyer, for instance, there’s a good chance that the team isn’t looped in yet and any seller knows there’s danger leaving a gatekeeper to the last step.

So as you read on, keep in mind that I’m using these roles as shorthand for someone representing the role, not necessarily the main decision-maker.

Finding your technical buyer

We take each of our buyers and we try to understand the usage pattern that would define them. Let’s start with the easy one: technical buyer. In many products, it should be pretty simple to figure out who this person is: they’re the ones taking the technical steps required to connect your product to other business systems. Since we live in a world where essentially no SaaS tool lives entirely disconnected from the rest of the stack, finding the technical buyer proxy should be as easy as figuring out who has the keys to the other systems you’re integrating with. 

Using our product as an example, here’s the sort of data we look for to identify the technical buyer:

Beyond these in-product events, it’s also important to monitor your docs and security pages to help identify these users.

Who is standing in for your economic buyer?

While technical buyers are reasonably easy to spot, an economic buyer might be a little more difficult and is pretty dependent on the type of product you have. With that said, there are a few obvious signals to help you find your economic buyer proxy:

  • Signed up: if you are a team-based product, it’s pretty common for the economic buyer (or their proxy) to be the one doing the initial sign up
  • Visited plans/pricing: the person spending time with your plans and pricing is either the one paying or preparing to share with the person who is
  • Invited users: different organizations will handle this differently, but the economic buyer proxy is often the one who invites others initially as they are the ones who are managing the process

Not all user buyers are created equal

Last, but not least, you have your user buyer. This one should be pretty easy to see in the data, as they should be doing much of the basic work your product is built for. If it’s a task management system they’ll be creating and checking off tasks, if it’s a tool like Variance they’ll be checking on their accounts and contacts. 

But not all users are the same, and one of the big advantages of the behavioral approach to identify these roles is you can find your user champions pretty easily. We call these folks our “superusers” and look across a variety of interactions to track their progress. We even send off a t-shirt to these superusers when they reach 100%. For these champions, it’s not just the volume of interactions, but also the time period. Daily-active champions are better than weekly-active champions and weekly-active better than monthly-active.

Behaviorally identified buyer roles

To wrap up, using your behavioral data (from both the product and the other systems through which you interact with prospects and customers) is a powerful mechanism to map organizations and set your sales process up for success. More typical software journey Milestones like Signed Up, Onboarded, PQL, and EQL are best applied at the account level: rolling up all the user activity to understand the opportunity holistically. At the Contact level, the opportunity is to use that same data in a non-rolled-up way to understand the proxies for your buyer roles and ensure those users have everything they need to succeed.

Big thanks to Ben for the early read.

March 1, 2022
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