Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) for B2B Marketing

Luke Gorski on B2B Marketing Strategy

What organizations should you be targeting?

Are they a profitable company or a budding startup?

Do they have a marketing department or does your key decision maker double as the company CEO?

The key to building a successful B2B business is understanding your ideal customer. Not vaguely, but obsessively. The more you know about what organization you can help, more than any other, the faster you’ll be able to sell to them.

In this lesson, you will be introduced to the discovery process that identifies the ideal B2B customer. You will understand them, and craft a tailored message. The findings from this discovery process will be put into a document known as the ICP: the ideal customer profile.

What is an Ideal Customer Profile?

The ideal customer profile is a report that describes the company that can most benefit from your product or service.

From a marketing perspective, this is the easiest sale to close. Your product immediately helps this organization increase their profitability, decrease costs, improve brand perception, or some combination of these three benefits.

In other words, the ideal customer profile is your marketing team’s best friend. Creating an ICP helps your organization:

  • Tailor its marketing message
  • Differentiate itself from competitors
  • Create more useful content
  • Identify targeting requirements for advertising
  • More efficiently spend its marketing dollars

What the Ideal Customer Profile is Not

The ideal customer profile is not a document created by your marketing team. It is compiled by your marketing team. Your early buyers, beta testers, or early adopters should create the ICP.

An effective ideal customer profile uses interviews with existing customers or early adopters. Your marketing team transcribes what your customers tell you, and uses their words within the ICP. Your marketing team should not be guessing when creating the ICP.

Ideal Customer Profile vs. Buyer Personas

Ideal customer profiles and buyer personas are not the same, but are related. Buyer personas come from the ideal customer profile. Once you’ve identified the organization most likely to benefit from your product or service, you will need to communicate with many decision makers within that organization.

Remember, the Account Executive deals with different problems than the Chief Marketing Officer, and both deal with different problems than the Operations Manager.

However, each of them may need to understand and use your product. In this example, the Account Executive, Chief Marketing Officer, and Operations Manager would each have their own buyer persona. The organization that they work for would be described in the ideal customer profile.

How to Create an Ideal B2B Customer Profile

To create your ideal customer profiles, begin by understanding what problems your product or service actually solves.

As many organizations discover, the problem you built your product to solve may not be the problem it actually solves for your buyers. Before investing marketing dollars into a sales and marketing push, you will need to confirm why buyers are actually using your product. To do that, call your current buyers.

Step 1: Call Your Existing Buyers

The best way to understand why your current buyers use your product is to call them. We’ve found that email, though convenient, is not personal enough to observe how your buyer describes her pain points. Scheduling these discovery phone calls allows your buyer to speak freely and openly.

To understand what problems your product actually addresses, consider asking questions like these during your discovery phone calls:

  1. Why did you purchase our product?
  2. How did it compare with competitors’ products?
  3. Why do you continue to use it?

If possible, interview more than one person from the organizations you work with. Although these interviews take time, they allow you to build a better product.

Step 2: Identify Key Problems

As many organizations learn, the problem you built your product to solve may not necessarily be the problem it solves once it lands in the hands of buyers.

After you’ve interviewed as many buyers as possible, create a list of problems being solved by your product or service. Pay attention to the words and phrases used by your buyers. Next, identify patterns, note what is surprising, and how well your product is performing at solving the problem you built it to solve.

Step 3: Identify Successful Clients

Your next step is to describe the organizations with problems or needs your product successfully solves. In this case, look for organizations that just can’t live without your product. You will want to model these organizations so that you can identify more of them. Key identifiers can include the following:

  • Location
  • Industry
  • Size of organization
  • Number of years in business
  • Business goals as they relate to your product

Step 4: Identify Key Decision Makers

Once you identify the key problems your product solves, you will need to identify which decision makers are involved with new purchase decisions.

Most organizations have a number of decision makers who will be impacted by your product. This is why the B2B sales cycle takes so long. Your job is to highlight for each decision maker the benefits of incorporating your product into their organization and department.

Each decision maker has unique problems and goals. The better you can understand how your product solves each problem for each decision maker, the more likely you are to speak their language and connect with their key pain points.

To identify key decision makers, ask the following questions when speaking with each individual decision maker:

  1. What reason would prevent you from buying this product?
  2. What reason would compel you to buy this product?
  3. What is your departmental goal?
  4. What tools are you using to achieve that goal?
  5. What product features are important to you?

Step 5: Putting it All Together

Once you’ve identified which organizations can most benefit from your product, considered their key decision makers, and identified how your product can help, you will put all of this information together to create your ICP document.

To summarize, your ICP document may look something like this:

Ideal customer profile

  • Geographic location
  • Industry
  • Number of employees
  • Age of organization
  • Immediate business goals
  • Key decision makers
  • Reason to not buy product
  • Reason to buy product
  • Departmental goal
  • Tools used to achieve departmental goal
  • Important product feature

Your questions may look different depending on your product and industry. However, the big questions to answer when creating your ICP is where your product is most impactful, and how each individual involved in the buying decision can benefit from it.

Use Social Media to Help Create ICP

It’s possible you may not be able to speak with every decision maker. If you find yourself experiencing push back from key prospects when asking for more information, consider using social media networks like LinkedIn and Twitter to first build rapport and a connect on a personal level.

Using LinkedIn, identify which employees of your target organizations might be involved with the sales process and connect with them. Consider sharing your goals for working together, and your invitation to connect is to better understand their pain points.

If possible, connect with these potential decision makers on Twitter, and engage with their content. Jump into conversations and contribute something of value. Stand out so that when your name appears in their inbox requesting an interview, it is welcomed and not sent to the trash.


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