This is the first part of a 2-part series on B2B ideal customer profiles (ICPs), buyer personas, and their connection to sales enablement. Next up in the series: Customer Profile vs Buyer Persona: Two Sides of the Same Coin.
An ideal customer profile (ICP) is like a meal at a fine dining restaurant. (Stick with me here.)
There, you find a limited menu with distinctive cocktail pairings. A certain level of service is expected: attentive, courteous, above and beyond. And with it, you also know that it won’t be cheap — but that’s ok, you’ve been saving and have the budget. It’s an experience you’ll tell all your friends about.
Now, compare that to dining at a buffet.
There’s no menu at a buffet, you go and help yourself to whatever you want. With the focus on quantity, they cater to anyone and everyone. Because of that, the food generally isn’t very good… it’s meh. And the experience is pretty common.
What does this have to do with the ICP in sales? Organizations without defined ICPs are like generic buffets — catering to anyone and everyone without any kind of clear direction or customer appeal.
In this post, we’ll dive into what’s an ideal customer profile and how it matters for sales enablement.
What’s an Ideal Customer Profile (ICP)?
At a high level, the ideal customer profile is a description of the buyer who is a great fit for your product, and, therefore, someone who is most likely to buy. ICPs aren’t the same as buyer personas, however both work in tandem to illustrate the people you’ll encounter along the buyer journey. Keep reading — we’ll get to that in detail later on in this blog series.
Here’s another way to look at it: the ICP is a list of attributes a buyer needs to have in order to be successful as your customer. You can’t be everything to everyone, and that’s ok. At the end of the day, you want your customers to be successful with your product — not frustrated that they invested in a bad-fit solution.
The benefits of customer success are endless: it reduces customer churn, continues the buyer journey loop, creating opportunities for upselling and cross-selling. Ideal customers are more likely to engage in customer enablement and become advocates for your business.
The ICP and Sales Enablement: How Do They Mix and Mingle?
With a combination of close consultation with key stakeholders, careful data analysis, and thoughtful implementation, ICPs are a tool cross-functional teams use to increase predictable sales results.
Despite being a foundational sales tool, not all organizations use ICPs in the same capacity. Some misunderstand and misuse ICPs, while others see them as integral to their company culture and bottom line.
Sales Enablement Maturity Scale for the ICP in Sales
- The ICP is either poorly understood as a concept or not properly defined
- Organization has a defined ICP that is used in orientation and training but not reviewed on a regular basis
- ICP is used to some extent in sales and marketing strategy
- ICP has cross-functional buy-in from key stakeholders and leadership
- ICP is integral to sales and marketing strategy
- ICP is critical to your organization’s account-based marketing (ABM) strategy
Why the ICP Matters for Sales Enablement
While ICPs are seen more as a tool, and sales enablement as a strategy, they both function as an axis around which your organization spins — ultimately streamlining the sales process.
“The ICP is a foundational, organization-wide decision impacting downstream sales and marketing efforts. It aligns marketing, sales, service, and executive teams to the highest-value accounts. It also creates focus on scalable and repeatable strategies and tactics to engage and convert top accounts.”
At the end of the day, organizations that invest in a well-defined ICP translate to quite the business result. Those with a strong ICP found 68% higher account win rates.
Speeding up sales cycles
Imagine ICPs as a filter for prospects in the pipeline. Without ICP guidelines, the sales process is chaos: teams are scattered and stretched thin trying to be everything to everyone. The sales pipeline is clogged with leads that won’t close, slowing sales cycles and draining resources across your organization.
By positioning the ICP filter at the beginning of the sales process, your teams know which prospects are best fit for your solution and that they should be prioritized for nurturing. This directs resources to where they’re needed most and where they’ll make the most impact to your organization. This is also a best practice for lead scoring and qualification.
Targeting high-value accounts
You can also use your ICP to find common traits and trends amongst your potential buyers. The more you understand your ideal customer, the more you can leverage your research to target specific accounts and craft personalized content. This is where ICPs and account-based marketing (ABM) are a match made in heaven.
Imagine starting the sales process with a best-fit high-value account? It’s possible! Marketing and sales teams that take an ABM approach together can be up to 6% more likely to exceed their revenue goals than teams less ABM-advanced.
Narrowing, scaling, and automating processes
Your ICP tells you what your ideal customer is, but at the same time (in a less direct way) it also tells you what they are not.
This takes out a lot of the guesswork of figuring out which programs and approaches your ideal customer will be most receptive to. For example, if your ideal customer is a legacy system at the enterprise level, and your research has shown that they usually have little to no engagement on social media, invest your lead generation and customer retention resources where your efforts will pay off.
With a clearly defined ICP for sales, you can start to scale and automate processes to free up time to spend on higher value tasks. Tools like sales outreach, marketing automation, CRMs, and sales enablement platforms track customer interactions and provide data and insights to continue improving your sales process.
How ICPs Can Support Sales Enablement Throughout Your Organization
Here’s an example of how ICP buy-in from leadership can support sales enablement in high-growth organizations:
Now that you know all about ICPs and what they do for sales enablement, you might be wondering what they look like and what information they contain.
What Does an ICP for Sales Enablement Look Like? What Information Does an ICP Have?
ICPs are essentially a profile of a fictitious company with a list of attributes taken from qualitative and quantitative data. No list is right or wrong. They’re made from research so each will be unique.
As an example, here is an ideal customer profile for “ABC” — a cybersecurity product:
Defining Your ICP in Sales
HubSpot suggests starting with these characteristics:
- Company size and maturity level — Is your product best suited for start-ups or established enterprises?
- Budget and revenue — What is the lowest cost threshold a customer would have to pay for your product?
- Industry — Are there verticals you work with? Don’t work with?
- Geography — Do you sell to a particular region?
- Legality — Are there legal reasons that limit your potential customers? Age, location, government restrictions?
- Product Limitations — Can you guarantee you’ll be able to meet a certain response time?
Always base your ICP attributes on market research and data — not on opinions and guesses – so your teams can make fact-based decisions. You can collect data in many ways: by using internal tools (CRMs, sales outreach, ERPs, etc.), by conducting win/loss analysis, or by simply being out in the market observing and interviewing.
We recommend setting a yearly reminder to update and revise your ICP definition. Because market data fluctuates, you should expect and plan for your ICPs to change too. It’s important to keep everyone on the same page, so remember to update your teams internally with any changes that are made.
In part 2 of this series, we talk about the differences between the ICP and buyer persona in sales. Keep reading to learn how they both come together to paint a portrait of the people you’ll encounter along the buyer journey: Customer Profile vs Buyer Persona: Two Sides of the Same Coin.
Need Help Defining Your ICP for Sales?
Understanding the unique characteristics of your ideal customers makes it easier to stand out from your competition and focus your resources on prospects most likely to convert. If you’re struggling with defining an ICP for your organization, Total Product Marketing can help. Contact us today.