How to create an ideal customer profile (ICP) for a B2B company

Yuriy Boyko
AuthorYuriy Boyko
Updated:2023-10-05
Reading time:12 m
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Picture this scenario: You have this fantastic product that you genuinely believe is a game-changer. But here’s the catch — are you pitching to the right audience? If not, it’s like trying to sell snow boots in the Sahara.

A one-size-fits-all approach often leaves potential clients undiscovered. Businesses who use generic approaches also encounter roadblocks that can derail their outbound strategies, such as low-quality leads, weak open and response rates, poor conversions, and disappointing ROI.

Now, this is where the ICP, or ideal customer profile, comes in. Your ICP is a map that points straight to your treasure: the perfect customer. Topo’s 2019 research report states that organizations that effectively harness the power of an ICP achieve 68% higher account win rates.

In this guide, we’ll delve into ICP essentials. We’ll explore their importance, point out how they differ from buyer personas, and provide a roadmap for crafting the perfect B2B ICP. Let’s dive in.

Unlock better sales with a refined ICP guided by Belkins. We’re here to turn potential leads into sure wins. Are you ready to make sales simpler and every opportunity a victory? Let’s get started with us!

What’s an ideal customer profile, and why is it a big deal?

An ICP is a detailed representation of the perfect customer, namely, a company that is likely to benefit from your product or service the most. The ICP encapsulates firmographic (organizational demographics), environmental (external factors influencing the decision), behavioral (actions and interactions of potential customers), and other nonstandard features.

Think of an ICP as your business’s dream date. If you were going on a blind date, wouldn’t you want to know if the person prefers the same things that you do? In the B2B world, an ICP gives you a glimpse of the company that’s just waiting for your product or service. The aim? To position your product as the solution to their challenges.

If you reach out to random prospects without a well-defined ICP, your sales efforts will be unpredictable and inefficient. Without an ICP, you won’t be able to anticipate how many discovery calls your sales execs will have or predict the composition of your sales funnel, including when and with whom you’ll close deals. Thus, you won’t be able to build a sales process that will effectively fuel your company with new deals every month.

Such a lack of structure results in haphazard growth, which is neither sustainable nor scalable. On the other hand, an ICP helps you to:

  • Get data-driven insights and a clear understanding of what to expect
  • Focus on the most promising leads
  • Achieve more predictable and productive growth

Note: Defining the ICP is also a must for B2B companies that choose the ABM approach due to the complexity, niche specifics, or uniqueness of their product. Hence, their strategy involves developing highly personalized buying experiences for prospects.

So knowing who buys from you the most helps marketing tailor lead generation campaigns and generate the highest-quality leads. Detailed buyer personas then help salespeople personalize messages, close deals faster, and satisfy clients’ needs more effectively.

ICP vs. buyer persona: Are we talking apples and oranges here?

Alright, let’s clear the fog. A B2B ideal customer profile (ICP) and a buyer persona aren’t interchangeable. While ICPs and buyer personas might seem like twins, they’re more like cousins. Think of them as two sides of the same coin, each serving its own unique purpose in your marketing strategy.

So what’s the actual difference?

  • ICP: This is your big picture. It’s an aggregate sketch of the companies that get the most value from your product or service. Rather than focusing on individuals, the ICP zeroes in on the attributes of companies that make them ripe for your offering. For instance, an ICP might look like a B2B enterprise SaaS firm based in a specific region with a certain team size, revenue range, and tech tools in their arsenal.
    Belkins’ ICP example: SMEs, startups, and enterprises in the USA, Canada, European Union, and Australia. Sectors like software development and IT services, fintech, ads and marketing, hardware manufacturing, construction, and health care. Key decision-makers are founders, heads of sales or heads of marketing, and C-level executives in the same fields. These companies aim to streamline their sales, enhance their in-house sales departments, save resources on lead research and qualification, and acquire a stable and predictable flow of appointments that are likely to convert into sales.
  • Buyer persona: Once you’ve pinned down your ICP, you can drill deeper into the specific people within these companies. A buyer persona paints a vivid picture of the decision-makers who’ll give the nod to make a purchase. It details their demographics, psychographics, behaviors, and preferences.
    Belkins’ buyer persona example: Scott is the VP of sales at a $50 million tech company. His team is great at closing deals, but lead prospecting is time-consuming and costly. After a stagnant quarter, he’s considering outsourcing appointment setting, a strategy he’s tried with mixed results before. His main concerns are the quality and source of leads. Before committing, Scott connects with the CEO for budgetary approval, ensuring that this move will help hit their annual targets.

Remember, your ICP sets the stage, directing you where to aim your marketing efforts. Then, your buyer personas provide the insights to tailor your outreach, ensuring your message hits the mark for the actual decision-makers within those ideal companies.

By understanding and leveraging both your ICP and buyer personas, you’re not just throwing messages into the wind and hoping they land in the right places. Instead, you’re crafting precise arrows of communication and hitting the bull’s-eye every time. 

How to build customer profiles: Segmenting for precision in B2B

It is worth noting that you can’t just create a random ICP from scratch. You should develop it from an already existing customer base. So whether you enter a new region, launch a new product, or scale your business in existing markets, your marketing team needs to segment your B2B customers first. This segmentation helps you understand who your perfect customer is, down to the finest details.

Let’s dive into the key variables you should consider at this stage.

Demographic: 

  • Industry: What sector does the company operate in?
  • Title: What positions or roles do the primary decision-makers in these companies hold?
  • Company size: How many employees work there? Are they startups, SMEs, or large enterprises?
  • Location: Where is the company headquartered or primarily located?

Firmographic:

  • Revenue: What’s their typical annual turnover?
  • Growth rate: Are they rapidly scaling or maintaining a steady pace?
  • Tech stack: What essential technology tools or systems do they rely upon?

Psychographic:

  • Pain points: What are the major challenges or issues they’re facing?
  • Values: What drives their decision-making process?
  • Challenges: What hurdles do they commonly encounter in their industry or niche?

Behavioral:

  • Buying habits: How often do they make purchases, and through which channels?
  • Average order value: How much do they typically spend per transaction?
  • Media consumption habits: Which platforms or channels do they frequent for information or leisure?
  • Brand interactions: How do they engage with brands, both online and offline?

Rolling up your sleeves: Crafting that ICP

So segmenting your clients helps you identify your target market. Now, your marketing and sales teams need to analyze the most profitable and satisfied accounts to crystallize them into the ICP.

Refine your ICP and explore new revenue-boosting strategies with Belkins

It’s time to look at your game plan for ICP creation.

Step 1: Cherry-pick your top customers

Forget about the average Joe. Instead, base your ICP on your top-performing customers. Take a look at your client base and shortlist the top 5, 8, or 10 who’ve been golden for you.

The goal is to:

  • Determine your current customers and evaluate their common similarities
  • Thoroughly analyze your sales funnel to identify the key segments where you have the highest conversion rates and the best margin
  • Understand the specific challenges that your solutions address for your customers

Assess which existing clients are bringing in the most value. If you don’t have 10 top clients, that’s okay. The number isn’t as important as the quality of the data you collect.

Note: Keep in mind that your goal is not to get an average customer profile. That’s why there’s no sense in picking 10 random customers and distilling their criteria to a common denominator. You need to select the best customers who bring you the highest revenue, whom you love to work with for some reason, or who have the shortest sales cycles.

Step 2. Deep dive into customer intel

Gather data on these existing clients using all the sources available to you:

  • CRM: What does your CRM software tell you? Get the nitty-gritty like location, revenue, and team size.
  • Social media: Which platforms are these companies active on? These are your gold mines for future content sharing.
  • Customer surveys: Interviews, surveys, a casual chat — these provide the qualitative insights to spice up your data. Ask about their pain points, what they love the most about your product, their decision-making process, or even what podcasts they can’t live without. The idea is to get the whole story.

Step 3. Build the best B2B customer profile

Compile everything you’ve learned into one cohesive profile based on the templates and examples above. Geographic and financial data are your bread and butter here, but don’t forget to spice things up with nonstandard criteria.

Belkins’ example: In our practice, one of the nonstandard features of a specific client’s ICP was the square footage of buildings’ roofs to estimate average monthly electricity bills. This allowed our client, a solar panel installation company, to target only the prospects who would benefit from installing green-energy appliances.

Now, plot your strategy. You can either start conversations with lower-level influencers to gather intel or directly approach the decision-makers. Whichever route you choose, it’s crucial to be prepared. Know the challenges, the stakeholders, and even the potential blockers within the company.

Step 4: Test and tweak

You wouldn’t buy a car without a test drive, right? Same principle here. Run some pilot campaigns or targeted sales efforts based on your newly minted ICP to validate it. Collect and analyze this data:

  • Customer conversations: Engage with your best customers to understand their buying triggers, pain points, and product feedback. Are they the same as you predicted in your ICP?
  • Prospect insights: Identify prospects resembling your best customers and uncover their pain points, current solutions, and openness to your product. Do they coincide with the challenges and needs of your existing clients?
  • Team feedback: Consult sales, customer success, and account management teams to align ICP findings with their market experiences. Are these clients 100% satisfied with your services? Was your product the best solution to their needs? Most importantly, did your teams enjoy working on those projects?

If all the answers are yeses, then your ICP is valid.

Also, when testing your ICP, keep an eye on your sales KPI to gauge success. High conversion rates? You’re on the right track. Not quite there yet? Prospects see no value in your offer? Back to the drawing board.

B2B ICP template

Here is a B2B customer profile example for SaaS providers specializing in healthcare solutions. It outlines specific criteria to identify prospects that are not only capable but eager to invest in innovative solutions to their distinct challenges.

Criteria

Details

Company size

200+ employees

Industry

Healthcare

Title

CMO, department heads, administrative teams

Company revenue

$10 million+ annually

Company growth rate

Steady growth at 10% annually

Company structure

Decentralized with regional decision-making centers

Tech stack

CRM, sales automation, legacy healthcare management systems

Pain points

Difficulty in updating software, complex billing processes

Values

Patient care, efficiency, data-driven decisions

Challenges

Outdated software systems, billing transparency

Company strengths

Efficient patient care, recognized for expert clinicians

Company weaknesses

Billing discrepancies leading to delayed payments, software upgrade challenges

Location

Major cities along the East Coast of the United States

Buying habits

Quarterly reviews of potential upgrades or system enhancements

Average order value

$70,000 for healthcare management solutions

Media consumption patterns

Industry webinars, healthcare IT conferences, B2B SaaS platforms

Brand interactions

Attends annual SaaS and healthcare tech conventions, frequent LinkedIn engagements

Purchase decisions

Collaboration between department heads, CMO, and IT teams

Product limitations

Resistance to change due to training requirements, integration with legacy systems

Budget for this type of software

$80,000+ annually per facility

Given this, we can say, as an example, that such SaaS providers should omit small-sized medical facilities with 100 employees, organizations with a $50,000 annual software budget, and those whose leadership does not attend famous healthcare or tech conventions.

B2B ideal customer profile in action: Belkins’ success stories

And now let’s dig into some real-world B2B customer profile examples. These stories will not only showcase ICP effectiveness but also provide tangible insights that you can incorporate into your own strategy.

Case study: ICP realignment when entering a new market

Breaking into the U.S. market isn’t a simple task, even for an established company like YorkTest, a U.K.-based health and wellness company with a 92% customer satisfaction rate. While they had a strong presence in the U.K., they needed a strategy for U.S. growth.

Initially, we targeted HR professionals and health care brokers, believing they’d be highly receptive to YorkTest’s services. The strategy seemed bulletproof, but then reality hit: HR folks weren’t biting, while brokers showed a lot of interest but were not moving toward buying. So we decided to pivot.

This is where the ICP’s adaptability came into play. We knew that HR pros were correct targets, so we asked ourselves why we weren’t getting enough attention. Our open rates and response rates were acceptable, but most of the responses we got were negative. Thus, we decided to take a look at the behavioral aspect of our ICP. It boiled down to a simple question: Why should companies expand their employee benefits packages? The likely answer was a talent shortage. We all know how offering free lunches and other perks can sweeten a job offer and attract top talent. So why not do the same with health care testing?

With this in mind, we adjusted our focus to employee benefits and HR experts in innovative sectors, such as software development and digital marketing. This small but critical tweak began to turn the tide.

This not only increased our leads base but also enhanced its quality. And the numbers speak for themselves — email open rates jumped to 50%, and YorkTest closed their first big deals in the U.S.

Case study: How ICP analysis brings impactful results

Here’s another case that underscores how vital an ICP is in optimizing sales processes and boosting overall campaign performance. It’s about GoHealth Urgent Care, an innovative health insurance platform.

In the complex world of health insurance, GoHealth UC had the tools to succeed but struggled with consistency in sales. Their sales team was trying to cover 9 states with only a handful of sales reps.

When we stepped in, we immediately recognized the need for a sharper focus on GoHealth UC’s ideal clients. The real breakthrough came when GoHealth UC sealed a deal with a construction firm, an avenue they hadn’t explored before. This success spurred us to expand their ICP. In addition, we activated the most effective practices of lead scoring in B2B. Together, these changes allowed us to pinpoint the most promising industries and select the best from a vast pool of over 20,700 leads.

The verdict? It’s vital for your business to analyze and validate your ICP’s effectiveness, explore new roads, and tweak your customer profile when necessary.

The results? An impressive 376 scheduled meetings, 10 solid appointments every week, and an 80% email open rate. Within 3 months, they closed 4 major deals, each raking in an average of $100,000. 

Common mistakes to watch out for in your ICP journey

Crafting an ICP is both an art and a science. However, it’s easy to get distracted and make mistakes that can undermine your targeting efforts. Here are some common pitfalls to avoid:

Random targeting without a track record

It’s tempting to approach lucrative sectors like fintech, for example, because of their potential. However, it’s crucial to assess if you have the right case studies or demonstrable advantages over competitors. Blindly targeting sectors can drain resources. Always ask yourself: Can we prove we’re better than the competitors at the deal-closing stage?

Ignoring your existing customer base

An ICP isn’t about aspirational targeting. It should be grounded in reality. While landing a giant like Google sounds great, is it reflective of the clients you’ve effectively served so far? Your ICP should be crafted around actual companies that have benefited from your offerings. So examine your existing clients and identify which ones best represent successful sales closures.

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Over-narrowing your definition

While specificity is essential, an overly narrow definition can limit potential opportunities. Your ICP should encapsulate the broader attitudes, requirements, and preferences of your target audience rather than pinpoint specifics suited to just one hypothetical entity.

Confusing ICP with buyer personas

As we mentioned before, it’s essential to distinguish between ICP and buyer personas. While both are about targeting, an ICP is about companies, and buyer personas are about individuals within those companies. Start by defining the ideal companies you’d like to work with through your ICP. Then, delve deeper to understand the individuals influencing or making purchase decisions within those organizations.

Your golden ticket to skyrocketed B2B sales? It’s all about nailing that ICP

Why do you think some companies can’t accurately find their ICPs and, consequently, run campaigns that get poor results? Many reasons, actually. In some cases, companies overestimate their capabilities and think that their product is useful for multiple industries and multiple markets. In other cases, they do have nice ICPs and know their target clients, but they don’t calibrate value propositions accordingly. Or they focus on all the ICPs at once, spraying their efforts on too many leads they can’t process and qualify effectively.

On the other hand, even if you have a killer product or service, nailing down whom to reach out to and how to reach out to them can be a bit tricky. Too broad, and you’re all over the place. Too narrow, and you might be missing out on a gold mine of opportunities.

So whatever your target is, don’t forget to test, track, and improve. People will click your emails and pick your products. It’s all about getting that ICP spot on!

Yuriy Boyko
Author
Yuriy Boyko
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Head of Account Management at Belkins
Yuriy has been working in the B2B sales sector for more than a decade. His approach is the integration of scientific methods combined with thinking out of the box, allowing to achieve the highest results in any industry.
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