How to create your ideal customer profile for B2B lead generation
There are different reasons why a company should create an ideal customer profile, but this post is about creating an ideal customer profile so you can focus your sales and marketing efforts on generating high-quality sales leads.
Pretty much every week, I speak with founders and sales directors who struggle to reach their sales goals because they haven't nailed their ideal customer profile yet. Many of these are very small teams, but in some cases even startups with millions of dollars in funding aren't clear of who their ideal customer is.
So let's start with the basics ...
What is an ideal customer profile?
An ideal customer profile is imaginary company that represents the type of company which stands the benefit the most from purchasing your product or service. Defining your ICP helps your sales, marketing, and product team to work together effectively and stay focused on common objectives.
It’s basically a description of a fictitious organization (company, government agency, or non-profit organization) which gets significant value from using your product/service, and also provides significant value to your company. It's the kind of customer you want, and the kind of customer that wants to buy from you.
There are different methods for developing your ideal customer profile, but the typically best one is to look at the best customers you currently have and see what they have in common.
Let’s further examine three parts of this ideal customer profile definition.
1. How does this imaginary organization provide value to your company?
- First and foremost, they pay you for the value you provide them. But there are many other secondary ways a customer could benefit your company.
- They might help refer you to other companies.
- They might become advocates for your company.
- They might give you access to resources to grow your business.
- They might provide you with valuable insights into new opportunities.
- They're pleasant to deal with and don't require excessive amounts of support.
- They might let you use their logo and provide a testimonial that you can use in your marketing materials.
- They might just be a constant and never-ending stream of positive feedback and encouragement for your team.
Having listed all these, it's worth restating that the most important indicator of value they provide to your company is the amount of money they pay you!
2. How does this imaginary organization get value from using your product/service?
- You help them make more money.
- You reduce their expenses.
- You alleviate pain points.
- You increase productivity.
- You raise morale.
- You help them better service their customers.
- You help them to become more successful.
- And a thousand other ways …
But ultimately in B2B, it's about how you affect the bottom line, and if your solution doesn't have a direct correlation with profits or expenses, you should be able to demonstrate how it indirectly will affect the organization's finances.
3. Now we said it’s an fictitious organization, but the fiction is based on some solid facts and real data
You don’t just fabricate an ideal customer profile out of thin air. Instead, you systematically identify shared traits and characteristics of real customers who are succeeding with your solution. We’ll talk in more detail about how to do this later in this post, and we've created an ICP kit that guides you through the process: Profiler.
How to create an ideal customer profile for your sales team
Now let's walk through the process of actually creating your ideal customer profile. While many consultants and experts would like to turn this into a complex undertaking, it helps to keep in mind that defining your ideal customer profile is essentially about one thing: understanding your customers better.
Step 1: Make a list of your best customers
Create a list of your 10 best current customers. Then you want to know two numbers:
- How much is the customer paying you?
- How much value is the customer getting from using your solution? (You should not assume a number here—instead, ask your customer. Ideally, call them and ask them directly. But if that doesn't work you can also ask them via email or as part of a survey.)
The second number they tell you should be a multiple of the first number. So if they pay you $100 a month, they should be getting at least $200 of value in return from using your solution.
It’s not enough that they pay for your solution. They need to actually get significant value from it and be aware of the value derived from your solution.
Sell to your customers in three stages
Don't assume that this magically happens by itself. You should take charge of making this happen by selling them in three stages:
- Before they buy, you need to sell them on the promise of your solution. You need to convince them that your solution has the potential to make them successful, and is worth investing in.
- After they buy, you need to sell them on actually implementing your solution. It’s not enough that they just paid you for it—they actually have to invest time and resources into utilizing it, so that the promised value is actually created.
- After they've received the value, you need to sell them on realizing that it’s your solution that has created the value. You need to ensure that the people in the organization are aware of the value your solution has created. This is not something that happens by itself, it’s something that needs to be engineered and directed. (Especially in large organizations, where there will always be individuals and departments eager to claim credit for achievements.) In our own company for example, this is the responsibility of the Customer Success team. They stay in touch with our priority accounts, identify opportunities for increasing the value these customers get out of using our CRM software, make sure that the value Close creates for their organization is recognized.
Don't have 10 ideal customers yet?
If you can’t come up with 10 customers, drop everything else and focus on getting these 10 ideal customers. Either support some of your existing customers over to the top until they reach that level of success with your solution, or bring in new companies and onboard them to ensure their success with your solution.
Step 2: Find common attributes
Now look at this list of your ideal ideal customers, and ask yourself: what do they have in common?
This is where you have to brainstorm and do your research. Dig deep and come up with lots of attributes for each of these 10 companies so that you later find commonalities. You want to be creative and approach this from very different angles, even if some of them might not seem relevant or meaningful at first. The goal at this step of the process is to come up with an extensive list of attributes first.
We'll talk a lot more in-depth about gathering these common attributes further down in this post.
Step 3: Prioritize attributes of your ideal customers
In the prior step your goal was to come up with a long list of attributes that your best customers have in common. The next step is to identify the ones that really matter.
An ideal customer profile is only useful if it provides clarity. Overloading it with a set of 35 attributes won't do you no good. This shouldn't become an exercise in memorizing company traits. Instead, it should help everyone in your company quickly and easily understand and envision who the ideal customer is, and is not.
Aim for somewhere between five to ten main attributes to define your ICP.
Step 4: Fill out the ICP template
We've created a simple template for you to help guide you and your team through this process.
Our interactive quiz guides you through the process of finding the right template for you, and then you can build your own ICP profile. Access the templates here.
Your ideal customer profile template
The best way to go about this is to identify which questions are worth asking your ideal customers. Here are some ideas to get you started in different directions:
- What’s the size of the organization? (Measured in revenue, number of customers, number of employees, etc.)
- What’s the size of the relevant department?
- Do certain certain job titles exist in the organization?
- Which industry or niche are they serving?
- From which academic institutions did they recruit their employees?
- Which companies have current employees previously worked at?
- Do they largely promote people from within the organization, or do they mostly bring in experienced leadership from outside? (e.g. in the first case, they might value training their personnel higher, versus in the latter they have more demand for recruiting services)
- How long have they already been in business?
- What’s the number one reason that would prevent them from buying your solution?
- What’s the number one reason that would make them decide to buy your solution? What makes your offer appealing to them?
- What goal do they want to achieve with your solution?
- How are they currently trying to achieve this goal?
- Why did they decide to try this approach? (What was the decision making process that led to this choice?)
- What’s the main pain point with their current approach?
- What are the three most important features for them?
- What’s their buying process like?
- Did they ever make a purchasing decision to fulfill the need? If yes, how often did they already do this?
- Which industry publications, blogs or websites are they following?
- What kind of tools or services are they using?
- Where are they located? (Geographic region? Rural vs. urban area?)
- Any recent personnel changes? Restructuring? Other recent events in the company?
- Seasonal or temporal factors? (e.g. Spending remaining budgets before end of year? Selling remnant advertising before going to print? Having to meet goals before end of quarter? Low demand during summer?)
- How have they been affected by changes in the economy or other developments outside their sphere of influence?
- What kinds of social media platforms do they use?
- What kind of usage patterns do they show?
- What’s their culture like, what values do they practice?
- How do they position themselves in the market?
- What words do they use to describe their product or service?
- In which directories do they get listed?
- Which associations or trade groups are they members of?
- Are they more driven by a desire to be innovative or to reduce risk?
- Which trade shows or industry events do they attend?
- How technically sophisticated are they?
- Where do they source their materials?
- What distribution channels do they use?
- What’s their awareness stage? Do they already know your product and just aren’t motivated enough to buy? Do they know the end-result they want but not that your solution is capable of delivering it? Do they know that they have a problem, but have no idea how to solve it? Aren’t they even aware of the problem, and need to be educated of the fact that they have a tremendous opportunity for improvement?
As you can already see, there are hundreds of questions you could be asking, and it's impossible to provide an exhaustive list. That doesn't mean you should be answering all of these.
Don't get stuck in generic templates which try to define your ideal customer in terms of broad demographic, psychographic and behavioral attributes. These fill-in-the-blank customer profile templates are no basis for creating highly targeted lead lists.
Get together as a team for a couple of hours and brainstorm which questions are relevant to your ideal customers.
Want to get started with your own Ideal Customer Profile?