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Stop Yelling At Prospects: How To Build An Ideal Customer Profile

Think about finding customers like making friends at a party. Standing in the middle of the room with a megaphone yelling, “Be my friend!” won’t be very successful. It’s basically the equivalent of the traditional “spray-and-pray” marketing approach.

However, if you can reach out to a few folks who are from the same city, have a similar stance on deep-dish pizza, and favorite NBA team as you, you may have a better shot.

In marketing terms, you would say these people fit your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP).

Knowing which customers to approach, and the attributes that make them unique is key to effective marketing and sales. Customers that fit your Ideal Customer Profile will find great value in what you’re marketing or selling to them.

Building your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) is crucial for a couple of reasons:

  • It will help you identify your most relevant prospects.
  • It’s the first step in identifying your Total Addressable Market (TAM). which will inform many, if not all, of your marketing and sales decisions. (E.g. How many marketing and sales people do you need to hire? What territory should they cover?)

Historically, ICPs consisted of a few firmographic attributes – industry, location, and company size. Today, it’s possible to discover a much clearer picture of your ideal customer.

But before we discuss how to build an Ideal Customer Profile, let’s first answer the fundamental question.

What is an Ideal Customer Profile?

Here’s a great explanation from Tom Scearce at TOPO, a research and advisory firm:

“The Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) defines the firmographic, environmental and behavioral attributes of accounts expected to become a company’s most valuable customers. It is developed through both qualitative and quantitative analyses; and may optionally be informed by predictive analytics software.

Unlike the term “target customer,” which is often used to describe any company that might buy a product or service, the ICP is focused on the most valuable customers and prospects that are also most likely to buy. The Ideal Customer Profile should also not be confused with the Total Addressable Market or Total Available Market, which are calculations or estimates of the universe of potential target customers.”

Put simply – an ICP is a group of attributes that describe your best customer.

Sample Ideal Customer Profile

An example of an Ideal Customer Profile (ICP)
This is the customer to whom you can provide the most value, as well as the one you’d find most valuable. After all, why waste time and resources on building a message, creative assets, and campaigns for an audience that doesn’t want to hear it?

If you’re in or near the marketing function of your business, you’ve likely heard of Account-Based Marketing. At its core, Account-Based Marketing involves the creation of ICPs and finding your TAM.

But an effective ICP is much more than a couple of firmographic descriptors. You may already have a sense of your ideal customers. If not, there are a number of questions you can ask to get started:

  • What attributes do your best customers have in common besides their size and location?
  • What web technologies do your best customers have in common?
  • What does their social footprint look like?
  • How long have they been in business?

Note: It can be helpful to get answers to some of these questions using a marketing intelligence platform like predictive.

Why should you build an Ideal Customer Profile?

As we’ve mentioned before, a well-defined ICP will allow you to focus on the right prospects. You may think that by not having one, you will still be able to tell a good lead from a bad one. But chances are you’re missing key business attributes that are hidden underneath the surface, which truly determine your prospects’ likelihood to convert.

Let’s look at a marketing scenario:

Imagine you’re the CMO of a B2B tech company and your team shares information on your company’s top accounts. You have $1 million in budget and your goal is to decide where you want to allocate it. To make a knowledgeable decision, you ask your team to identify accounts with the highest likelihood to convert based on how well they fit your Ideal Customer Profile.

Your team is likely to include basic information about each account including the industry, location, and the number of employees.

Ideal Customer Profile - Account Segmentation

Now based on the information you receive (shown above), with solely firmographic data taken into account, you would probably reach the conclusion that Accounts 1 and 2 will yield the most success. So you would most likely distribute your budget evenly across those accounts and put none on Account 3, right?

In fact, this is the conclusion that most marketers would arrive at during this exercise, before launching targeted campaigns for Accounts 1 and 2. But look at how the success rates change when you add additional attributes:

Ideal Customer Profile - Account Segmentation With More Signals

As you can see from the table, your original bet of Accounts 1 and 2, while valid based on the original data, was not truly representative of the actual success rate when taking into consideration all account attributes. Using a marketing intelligence platform like predictive, your marketing team could have identified key buying signals that revealed deeper insights about your accounts and how well they fit in your ICP.

While that’s a terrific thing to say, you can see below what that actually looks like in action.

3 steps to build an Ideal Customer Profile

Since your ICP will affect every aspect of marketing and sales activities, it’s important to exercise care in creating this profile. A solid ICP is created from multiple sources of data, in order to create a holistic view that covers both sales and marketing perspectives.

1. Get qualitative data from your sales team

Your goal is to understand what types of customers have been receptive to your product. Sales knows this best. Ask your sales team probing questions like:

  • What do you consider our company’s ‘sweet spot’?
  • Is this the same sweet spot that your marketing team has in mind?

Often there is misalignment here, which will lead to inefficiencies in the sales/demand generation process, a frustrated sales team, a confused marketing team, and abandoned potential revenue. Taking our earlier example, your sales team may have been aware of verticals they noticed greater success selling into, which you could then validate with your own historical data.

2. Dive into your historical performance

Talking to sales people will give you great qualitative feedback, but you should not rely on these anecdotes alone. Taking a look into your CRM, what are some commonalities among your Closed-Won accounts? Are you retaining these customers? You will need to identify the common attributes of accounts where the company has found success.

Taking our previous example, you could find valuable information about your best customers, such as the job functions that purchased your solution and the types of campaigns that drove their interest and ultimately closed the deal.

3. Use a marketing intelligence platform like predictive to look ahead

Those first two steps involve looking back. While it’s extremely important to get perspective from your own teams, as well as your own CRM, you’re limited by the quality and quantity of your data. As highlighted in the “Why” section of this post, the amount of data marketers leverage today is really the tip of the iceberg. Stopping here will leave you with a lackluster and rather generic ICP.

That’s where the third step, employing a marketing intelligence solution like predictive, comes into play – it can help you look forward.

B2B marketers are using predictive solutions to get deeper insights about their ICP, so they can build a profile that shows a complete picture of their best customers. With predictive, marketers are no longer limited to the data in their CRM. For example, if your ideal customer profile is Small to Midsize businesses (SMBs) with a social web presence and a 3-5 star rating on Yelp, you can leverage predictive to find all your existing opportunities that match this criteria.

Putting your Ideal Customer Profile into practice

Marketers tend to see personas and ICPs as narrowing or limiting their potential market. Without an ICP, however, your “market” is just a blob of prospects you’ll never be able to address effectively. But with a well-built ICP, you’ll be able to effectively target your best prospects with the highest likelihood to convert.

Building an ICP will also inform your customer acquisition strategy. As you narrow down the data in your CRM to focus on your ideal customer, you will naturally be working with a smaller set of prospects. You can then create effective, personalized messaging or campaigns that yield higher conversions. Once you’re successful with a small number of prospects, you may even want to scale up. So, as a follow-up, you can find net-new accounts that match the ICP you’ve built and deploy those records to a targeted sales or marketing campaign.

Once you understand your ideal customers, you can begin targeting prospects that look like your ICP, and using predictive you can actually engage the right prospects at the ideal stage in the buying cycle. Ideal customer profiles prepare your sales and marketing teams to approach the right prospects with a personalized hook, instead of yelling your way to low conversion rates and poor campaign efforts.

If you want to magnify your ability to segment markets and customers while also maximizing campaign reach and personalization, download our playbook on predictive segmentation.


  • Sarah

    Awesome Post!

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