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 just target everyone, but that quickly leads to diluted sales messages, which in turn lead to lackluster leads and high-maintenance customers.

Fortunately, there's a solution. By creating an Ideal Customer Profile (ICP), you can establish who exactly your ideal customers are and tailor your sales and marketing to appeal directly to them.

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 exactly is an ICP, and why do I need one?

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

It outlines what you wish every customer looked like

It’s a relatively simple and powerful document, but plenty of businesses never bother. For example, many entrepreneurs create the product first, then hope the right customers will come along. Others may have created an ICP, but never revisited it as their business has grown.

Either way, keeping a clear picture of what exactly your ideal customer looks like is the only way to target your marketing and sales efforts. The more detailed your profile is, the more accurately you can zero in on the companies most in need of your service and most likely to give you their business. It's a win-win.

What criteria should you use for your ICP?

The core of your ICP is the criteria you choose to measure.

What's important, and what isn't?

While there are some criteria that make sense for most companies, others will be unique to your business. To get you started, here are some things you will likely want to know about your ideal customers:

  • What industry they're in
  • Location
  • Size of the company
  • Size of customer base
  • Current goals and targets
  • Motivations
  • Relevant pain points
  • Current solutions to pain points

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

Common mistakes when creating an ICP

Even with the right criteria in place, creating an ICP is not always straightforward. Here are some of the mistakes that can make your profile useless.

Mistake 1 - Only considering the value you get.

A good ICP looks at both sides of the equation: the people you give value to, and the people who give value to you. However, plenty of ICPs focus exclusively on how much value you get from your customer. Don't get me wrong, you have a business to run, not a charity. But if you ignore the value you give to your potential ICP, you're missing out on a rewarding two-way relationship. Unless they’re getting significant value from you, they won’t remain customers—ideal or otherwise—for long.

Mistake 2 - Thinking value only means revenue.

The most obvious way a customer can give you value is cold hard cash, but there are plenty of other ways too. For example, an influential customer can bring in valuable referrals and/or testimonials, acting as evangelists and brand advocates, which may bring in far more long-term value than their actual custom.

Mistake 3 - Mixing up ICPs with buyer personas.

I know, all these terms can be confusing, and lots of people use them interchangeably. However, they all serve different purposes in your marketing and sales plan.

A buyer persona is a description of the specific person who gets the most value from your service. A person, not a company. Before you start coming up with your different personas, you have to know what company they work for. One deals with demographics, the other with firmographics. Your ICP comes first—then you can start worrying about your 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 ASAP and look for customers with deep pockets. Make sure your ICP matches your unique needs and grows along with you.

Mistake 5 - Making it up as you go along.

Your ICP may not be an actual company, but it must be based on solid information from real companies. If you’re just starting you may not have enough customers to base your ICP on. It’s possible to research customers who you think would be ideal, but do so knowing that until you've worked with a customer, defining them as ‘ideal’ is limited. Revisit the profile once you have enough of your own customers, and be prepared to make substantial changes.

Mistake 6 - Not actually using the ICP.

You can create the world's greatest ICP, but if it stays locked in a drawer it's not doing any good. Your ICP should be regularly referred to by your sales and marketing teams. Every campaign created should be held up against the ICP to see if it will bring you more of those lovely ideal customers, or if it'll alienate them.

Tips and tricks for an effective ICP

Tip 1 - Follow your intuition.

You likely have customers that spring to mind as ideal, even if you can’t define why. Go ahead and write them down. Once you have your list, look for the common traits. This is a process of discovery, so forget any preconceptions and analyze what these customers really look like.

Tip 2 - Look for customers who get excessive value.

These aren’t customers who have simply bought your service, but they love it. They write five star reviews and send you testimonials without any prodding. They’ve gotten in touch to personally let you know how much your product/service has helped them. These are your super-fans, shouting your praises from the rooftop and wearing t-shirts with your company's name on.

Tip 3 - Involve as many departments as possible.

You might think a customer is ideal, but your support team may think they’re a nightmare. They may bring in a lot of money, but your sales team may have needed a couple of years to close the deal. Only be getting a complete picture will you be able to identify your truly ideal customers.

Tip 4 - Actually talk with your ideal customers.

While you may be more comfortable doing your research from behind a computer screen, there are some things you can't find on a database. Get on the phone and talk to your customers. Ask them why they chose you over the competition. What value do they feel they get from your service? Importantly, listen to what they have to say without interrupting. Channel your inner journalist and listen out for clues and what they have in common.

Conclusion

Creating an ICP may seem like one of those projects only carried out by Fortune 500 companies, but the truth is every business can benefit from an ICP, as long they carry it out correctly. Identify your existing customers who both give and receive the greatest value, see what they have in common, construct a profile based on these criteria, and regularly review the profile.

By doing so you can transform your sales and marketing, reaping the benefits of highly targeted campaigns.

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