It’s Not About List Segmentation or Buyer Personas: It’s About Common Needs

It’s Not About List Segmentation or Buyer Personas: It’s About Common Needs

Right after I joined the gym last year, one of the managers called me and asked if I would like a “free complimentary personal fitness session” as part of my new membership.

Free, huh?  Why not….  I agreed.

After doing a few strength tests, the manager sat me down at his desk and asked me about my eating habits, my exercise habits, and my fitness goals.

Inevitably, this turned into him telling me why I would benefit from paying for pricey one-on-one training sessions with a personal trainer.

I offered a textbook objection: “It’s too expensive.”

He countered it: “How much do you think you spend per week eating out instead of making your own food?”

“Well…,” I admitted, “about $10 per week.”

He raised an eyebrow.  “Only $10?  Are you sure?”

Okay, that was an underestimation.  “More like $20,” I conceded.

So, he did the math, showing how the $80 I was spending per month on unhealthy, fat-saturated, super-processed food could instead be transferred into…$80 spent on personal training!

And not only that, he argued, but those days I spent cheating—whether by not exercising or not eating healthy—would hurt me in the long run.  “You can’t have off days,” he said.

Why not?

I wouldn’t meet my goal!  (Read: beach-ready by Florida in two months.)  And didn’t I want to meet my goal?!?

Yeah, sorry, buddy—not enough to spent $80 on personal training sessions.

I had to admit, I was impressed by his sales skills.  The dude had definitely done his homework—or rather, his $1.9B national health club chain had done its homework. Up until the end, I’d played like a pawn in their sales script.

The question is: why?

The Challenger Sale

The management team here at COACT is currently reading “The Challenger Sale” by Matthew Dixon and Brent Anderson from CEB.  To say that this book is mind-blowing is an understatement.  It’s radically changed the way I think about sales, marketing, and why people buy.

The premise of “The Challenger Sale” is that there are five kinds of sales professionals in the sales world today:


Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not the traditional Relationship Builder who performs the best, but the Challenger.


There are many reasons why the Challenger succeeds and how to apply this to your sales organization.  I encourage you to read the book (or at least check out a summary of its findings and applications) if you haven’t already—it’s revolutionary and disrupts everything we’ve been taught about sales.

But the main thing I’d like to focus is on the approach of Commercial Teaching that Challengers use.

Dixon and Adamson describe Commercial Teaching as “teach[ing] customers something new and valuable about their business—which is what they want—in a way that reliably leads to commercial wins for us—which is of course what we want” (55).

And what do you teach your prospects, exactly?

They point out that “the better sales technique might in fact be to tell customers what they need” (45).

What’s the common denominator here?


Needs-Based Segmentation

There are many ways to approach your target markets.   You can segment your account lists by many things (industry type, revenue, location, product type, sales gestation cycle) and then break those down by buyer type, position title, department, or even personality style (CEO, president, C-suite level, Economic Buyer, Coach Buyer) to make buyer personas.

I’m not arguing that list segmentation and buyer personas are wrong.  In fact, research shows how necessary they are.  In our buyer-centric world, you can’t use the same message for everyone; we all know that.

But “The Challenger Sale” presents a different approach to building lists and buyer personas.  Dixon and Adamson write, “The common denominator for insight, in other words, isn’t geography, or size, or industry.  It’s a common set of needs” (63).

They advise that you develop “needs-based segmentation techniques” (63) based on “hypotheses of customers’ needs, informed by your own experience and research” (68).

It’s a way to see the big picture, common themes, and underlying reasons for buying.

How the Fitness Company Identified My Needs

Let’s go back to the manager at the gym who was trying to convince me to sign up for personal training sessions on top of my monthly membership fee.

Yes, different types of members have different wants and desires for joining a gym, but what was he essentially telling me I needed?


I didn’t know I needed accountability until he told me.

That was one of the common needs this fitness company had identified that members have.  Because, well, let’s be honest—if given the choice between sitting at home in my yoga pants, drinking wine and watching Netflix, or, uh, going to the gym, I’m not going to go the gym.

Or even if I do go to the gym, I’m far more unlikely to work out as hard as if I had a personal trainer telling me what to do and keeping me accountable.

So, regardless of the type of person who joins the gym, we all need accountability.

Let’s break this down a little further.  Accountability was the need he told me that personal training sessions would meet.  But the accountability would also help me meet a few other needs:

  • Beauty
  • Youthfulness
  • Attractiveness
  • Skinniness (Perfect Beach Bod)
  • Happiness
  • Self-worth

(What we’ve been brainwashed by our image-focused, youth-obsessed western society to believe, in other words.)

And these needs themselves can really be applied to anyone who joins a gym, regardless of their age, socioeconomic status, location, or income.

Key Takeaways

So, my main challenge for you is this.  When you’re developing your buyer personas, target markets, or Ideal Client Profiles, step back for a minute.  Don’t get into the weeds quite yet.

Look at your prospects’—and customers’—needs.

Ask a few important questions:

  1. What do my clients and prospects need that our solution/service/product can meet?
    • Keep in mind that they may not even know what they need until you articulate it for them.
  2. How do we meet these needs?
  3. How can we meet these needs better than our competitors do?
  4. How can we tell our prospects what their needs are using words that they would use?
  5. How can we prove that we meet these needs?
  6. How can we show that we meet these needs better than our competitors?

 Then you’ll really understand your prospects—and be on the way to differentiating your business.

Source: Dixon, Matthew and Brent Adamson. “The Challenger Sale.” Portfolio / Penguin, 2011.

*Note: This article was originally published in March 2017 and has been updated and revised for relevance.  

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