How to create an effective Ideal Customer Profile

High-speed internet may have opened up global opportunities for sales, but those opportunities come with challenges. When you have billions of potential customers, it can be overwhelming knowing where to focus your efforts.

How to create an effective Ideal Customer Profile

It might be tempting to simply target everyone, but that quickly leads to diluted sales messages, which in turn bring lackluster leads and high-maintenance customers. Fortunately, there's a solution. Create an Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) and establish who are your ideal customers, then tailor your sales and marketing communications to those targets. But what exactly is an ICP? What goes into a successful profile? What common mistakes do you need to avoid? In this post we'll help you create your very own ICP and use it to find the perfect leads for you.

What is an ICP and why do I need one?

An ICP represents the kind of business or organization that brings you the most value, while also getting the best from your product or service. It’s a broad description of a perfect customer, covering a range of criteria including firmographic marketing data and common behaviors.

Wishing every customer was like...

An ICP is a relatively simple but powerful idea that brings sharper focus to your sales targeting. Strangely, some businesses never bother. What do they know? For example, many entrepreneurs create a product then hope the right customers will come along. Others may have created an ICP but never thought to revisit it, as business grew. Having a clear picture of what your ideal customer looks like today is the only way to target your marketing and sales efforts. The more detailed the profile, the more accurately you target those companies most in need of your service and likely to give you business. It should be a win-win.

What criteria in your ICP?

At the center of your ICP are criteria you choose to measure. What's important and what isn't? Some factors make sense very generally, others will be unique to your business. For starters, here are some things you should know about ideal customers:

  • The industry they're in
  • Their location
  • Size of the company
  • Scale and distribution of customer base
  • Current targets and goals
  • Motivations and aims
  • Relevant pain points
  • Current solutions

Remember, this list is just to help you get started. As you analyze your ideal customers, you’ll probably find other criteria they have in common.

Common mistakes in creating an ICP

Even with the right criteria in place, creating an ICP is not totally straightforward. Here are some of the mistakes to avoid.

Mistake 1 - only considering the value you get

A good ICP looks at both sides of the equation: the people to whom you give value and the value you get from them. However, plenty of ICPs focus too heavily on how much value is gained from the customer. Fair enough, you have a business to run, you’re not a charity, but if you underplay the value you can give, you're missing out on the most rewarding two-way relationship. Unless they’re getting significant value from you, they won’t remain customers for long — ideal prospects or otherwise.

Mistake 2 - thinking value only means revenue

The most obvious way a customer can give you value is hard cash, but there are plenty of other ways. For example, an influential customer can bring valuable referrals and testimonials. Evangelists and brand advocates can generate far more long-term value than their actual custom. 

Mistake 3 - mixing-up ICPs with buyer personas

These terms can be confusing. However, they all serve different purposes in your marketing and sales plan. A buyer persona is a description of the person who gets the most value from your service. That’s a person, not a company. Before you start coming up with your different personas, you have to know what kind of company they work for. One deals with demographics, the other with firmographics. Your ICP comes first – then you can start worrying about individual personas.

Mistake 4 - copying someone else's ICP

Done correctly each ICP will be unique, based on your specific requirements. It’s also a living document, one that needs to be reviewed regularly. A company just starting out may benefit more from influential customers. Another may need to start making a profit and be looking urgently for customers with deep pockets. Make sure your ICP matches your direct needs and grows along with you.

Mistake 5 - making it up as you go along

Your ICP must be based on solid information from real companies. If you’re just starting out you may not have that many established customers on which to base your ICP. But you have vision. It’s possible to research prospects who you think would be ideal, but until you've worked with a customer for a while you can’t be sure. Revisit the Ideal Customer Profile from time to time. Once you have more than enough of your own customers, prepare to make substantial changes.

Mistake 6 - not actually using the ICP

You can create the world's most splendid ICP, but if it stays locked in a drawer it's not doing any good. The company’s ICP should be a reference point for your sales and marketing teams. Ask them to think in those terms and to suggest improvements. Every campaign created should be aimed toward prospects matching the current ICP – you want more of those ideal customers.

Tips and tricks for an effective ICP

Tip 1 - follow your intuition

You probably have customers that spring to mind as ideal, even if you can’t identify exactly why. It’s most likely a mixture of things – so go ahead and make a list. Once you have your list, look for the common traits. This is a process of discovery, so forget any preconceptions and just analyze what these customers mean to you and how they behave.

Tip 2 - look for customers who get best value

These aren’t simply customers who have bought your service, but the ones that actually love it. They write five star reviews and send you testimonials without any prompting. They’ve been in touch personally to let you know how much you have helped them. These are your super-fans, singing your praises from the rooftops.

Tip 3 - involve all departments

You might believe a customer is ideal, but your support team thinks they’re a nightmare. Perhaps the account does bring in a lot of money, but your sales people needed a couple of years to close the deal and since then your service and accounts departments have dealt with one problem after another. Only by getting a complete overview of each account will you be able to identify the truly ideal customers.

Tip 4 - actually talk with your customers

While you may be more comfortable doing your research behind a computer screen, there are some things you won’t find there. Get on the phone and talk to your customers. Ask them why they choose you over the competition. What value do they get from your service? Importantly, listen to what they have to say, without interrupting. You’re on the lookout for clues as to what your ICPs have in common.

Conclusion

Creating an ICP may seem like one of those special projects only carried out by Fortune 500 companies, but the truth is every business with customers can tell some are better than others. You will benefit from defining your ICP, providing it’s done carefully. Identify existing customers who give and receive the greatest value, see what they have in common, construct a profile based on those criteria and review regularly. You can transform your sales and marketing, reaping the benefits of highly targeted campaigns.

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