For B2B Marketing, Keep it Simple: Focus on Your ICP First, Personas Second

Written by Kathy Kassera Mrozek
b2b marketing to ideal customers clip art of different types of people

Every B2B marketing or sales leader must have a clear idea of their company’s perfect customers. No, I’m not talking about your actual decision-makers or buyers—but the ideal company that buys and uses your firm’s products or services. Think of this as your ideal customer profile, or ICP.

Read on to learn why it’s essential to focus first on identifying your ideal customer profile. And avoid getting stuck in the mud defining too many detailed personas that add little value to your marketing. Identifying and defining your ICP and a few must-have personas will improve your B2B marketing processes and results.

The business benefits of creating ideal customer profiles result in higher quality leads, extending customer lifetime value, generating more referrals and improving profit margins. And this doesn’t even include the efficiency gains you’ll achieve when you stop pursuing customers and accounts you don’t have a chance of closing.

Note, your ideal customer isn’t the same thing as a customer persona or user persona. Your personas, however, are extremely useful for helping you understand customer pain points and specific motivations for choosing and using your company’s products and services. Personas describe individuals who work within the ICP organization.

For instance, a typical ICP could be a midsize automobile parts manufacturing business, medical device startup, or national IT services company. Customer personas within each of these firms could be the business owner, CEO, engineer, sales director, or operations VP.

Another persona type is the user persona, which often has colorful monikers like Sally Sales or Entrepreneur Eric. These personas represent the end-users of your products and services, which help you better understand customer motivations and experiences (sometimes called “empathy mapping”). This knowledge helps you create more compelling messaging with your marketing and can even lead to improved product features.

ICP: What Companies & Customer Groups Do You Want More of?

We encourage B2B and industrial marketers like you to adopt account-based marketing practices and focus your resources on companies most likely to buy from you. Start by collecting data around who your best customers already are. Try to be disciplined here and create a single ICP. After all, you’re looking for your most IDEAL customer profile. Others may come along, but for now you should only target one type of company. Within the ICP there may be several industries or a range of sizes but try to be as specific as possible.

For this exercise, you’ll want to hone in on companies that share the following characteristics:

  • Benefits from your products and services
  • Generates high lifetime value
  • Delivers a significant and sustainable revenue stream
  • Produces strong profits
  • Helps you strategically grow
  • Are most likely to buy/easiest to close

If your company uses the Entrepreneurial Operating System® (EOS) framework to help run your business, you’ll recognize some overlap between defining your target market and the ICP with EOS’s Vision Traction Organizer™,  or V/TO.

HubSpot, one of our marketing automation partners, offers this additional guidance to refine your ICP further:

  • Budget / Revenue / Company Size: What’s the lowest cost threshold for a customer to pay for your product or service? How large of a company is too large, and doesn’t benefit from your services? What’s the sweet spot in between? That’s where you want to focus. Estimate ideal company size in terms of revenue and employee count.
  • Industry: Are there industry verticals you work best within or those you exclude?
  • Geography: Is your company regionally, local, national or internationally focused?

You’ll know you have your ICP well-defined if you could use this information to buy a list or mine customer data from a service like ZoomInfo or LinkedIn. To obtain a list, you’ll need to know narrow filters for fields like geography, industry, company size (by revenue or numbers of employees), plus you’ll need to layer in job titles and seniority for the people most likely to be involved in the buying cycle.

Sample Ideal Customer Profile (ICP)

Industry

  1. Medical Industry 
  2. Plastics, Manufacturing, Aerospace

Geography

  1. Midwest region (MN, WI, ND, SD)
  2. National (contiguous US)

Size

  • Annual revenue: 100mil or higher
  • Number of employees: 1000+

Budget

  • Project budgets of $1,00,000 to $2,000,000

Firmographics

  • Low Volume High Mix
  • Partnership Mentality
  • Privately Owned
  • Engineering-focused

Job Titles

  1. Engineer (primary customer)
  2. Engineering manager, Engineering supervisor
  3. Purchasing
  4. C-level 

Personas: Who are the Individuals Most Likely to Make Purchase Decisions?

It’s easy to get caught up in spending a lot of time and expense creating too many detailed, actionable personas. We’ve heard horror stories from customers who spent months creating a dozen or more detailed personas they then didn’t know what to do with.

Additionally, you have to go further than job titles when researching personas. Titles don’t reveal what motivates people or how they behave.

However, since you’ve already defined your ICP you can loosely flesh out one to three personas for the most influential buyer types within your targeted industries. Instead of developing 12 highly-detailed fictitious personas, focus only on your top buyers. Commonly, there might be three: Who is the primary driver or influencer of the purchasing decision, who must approve it, and who might be researching it?

Compile lists of job title variations for each persona, you’ll need these for ad targeting or data mining. You’ll also need to put yourself in their shoes, and think of your buyers’ overall psychographics when developing your content and key messages.

Sample Engineer High Level Persona

  • Age Range: 25-55
  • What is their day like? Filled with meetings, problem solving on-line issues. The engineer not only needs to  come up with new innovative ideas and solutions, but also work with automation on the floor, and people on the floor. If a line is down, critical, that’s their main focus. They’re tasked with researching their next project but without a lot of urgency on that project, their focus goes to solving that technical problem on the floor.
  • What keeps up at night? Not meeting expectations. They have goals and objectives to meet in order to get promoted and move up the ladder. If a project doesn’t work out, it will reflect poorly on them.
  • How do engineers get information?
    • Engineers will search for answers to specific problems or situations when searching for answers online, and will look for proof that you’ve solved similar problems in the past, and have the experience to solve their unique problem before they engage with sales. They crave access to information online, ahead of talking to a salesperson.  Key information types, in descending order of importance: 
      • Supplier/vendor websites
      • Industry directory websites
      • Trade publications (online)
      • YouTube
      • Publication emails/e-newsletters
      • Vendor emails/e-newsletters
      • Trade shows
      • Trade publications (print)
      • Advertisements
      • Social media

10 questions to help you define your top 2–3 personas

  1. What are your buyers’ top two to three job titles and functions?
  2. What problems are your buyers trying to solve; what are their top sources of “pain?”
  3. Are there other patterns you observe by job title, geography, or industry?
  4. What is their typical day like?
  5. What information or tools do they need to research a solution or decide to buy from you?
  6. What challenge or problem might they be trying to solve via a web search? (this is where you can provide valuable content.)
    • Before they need your solution or are aware that they do, and are researching their problem and possible solutions?
    • When they’re evaluating solutions/vendors/partners?
    • When they’re deciding between specific vendors or solutions?
  7. What questions are prospects trying to answer when they come to your website?
  8. What content or tools might you provide them to help sell your solutions within their organization?
  9. Where do your customers learn new information (blogs, industry publications, colleagues, others)?
  10. What language/words do they use when searching for a solution?

Interview select customers

If you have trouble answering these questions, are in a new market, or could benefit from deeper information, choose a few customers to interview directly. Select the customers who you’d like to have many more of. It’s also helpful to interview someone involved in a sale or project you lost.

Try to select a few from each job title or position you’ve identified. Because you may not be able to speak with everyone, use the interview guide below, and look for patterns. Ideally, have a writer or neutral third-party conduct the interviews, instead of sales representatives. Independent interviewers always produce more unbiased, objective feedback.

  • What patterns do you see?
  • What information is validated and matches your assumptions?
  • What new information did you learn?
  • Are there any outliers or red flags?

Sample persona interview questions

There are numerous guidelines and sample questions available for conducting persona interviews. In our experience, we find the format and questions below to be the most helpful:

Demographics

Name:
Age:
Education:
Company size:
Industry:
Budget:
Buying cycle:
Preferred communication: (email, in-person, phone, Slack):

Interview Questions

  • What is your role at your company? 
  • What does your average day look like?
  • What does success look like to you? How do you measure it for yourself? How does your organization measure success? 
  • What are the biggest challenges in your company regarding [your solution], internally and as it pertains to outside vendors?
  • What are your biggest challenges personally regarding [your solution], internally and as it pertains to outside vendors?
  • What factors do you consider before engaging with an outside vendor or expert for [your solution] services?
  • In your opinion, what’s the most crucial quality for a [your solution] partner to have?
  • What features/services have you been looking for, but unable to find?
  • List your products/services, and ask, of the following are most important to your organization’s future success and why? 
  • What do other similar teams in your industry struggle with, if different than your own challenges?
  • What keeps you up at night? 
  • What would you do if you had more time?
  • How do you learn new information for your job?
  • What websites/publications do you read when searching for answers? What’s the main way you learn new information (blogs, industry publications, social media, colleagues, etc.)?
  • What would you search for to find a [your solution] partner?

Sometimes, when conducting interviews, you’ll discover that what you thought was a solid business segment turned out to be a customer group you don’t want to attract or market to. Maybe, for instance, the sales cycle is too long, budgets too small, or the persona’s lifetime value was too low to make the segment profitable. If this happens, remove the segment from your target and focus on other customer groups.

Narrow your findings down to two to three personas or targets and complete the columns in the persona worksheet below. To help make the persona easy for others to understand, it’s sometimes helpful to fill in the gaps with generalized fictitious information.

Demographics

Age, gender, income, marital status, kids..

Firmographics

Company industry(ies), revenue, geography, size…

Story

  • Where are they in life?
  • What is their work situation?
  • What is happening that qualifies them to be a profile for you?
  • What challenges are they having?

Needs & Why

  • What do they need to solve their challenges?
  • What can you give them that will help them overcome them?

Succeed & Exceed

  • How do you go beyond meeting their needs?
  • Is there something that you can do uniquely for them?

 

Fill out the form below to receive a free Persona Interview Questions Worksheet.


How to Use Your ICP and Personas

With your ICP and personas in hand, you can now research contact information or target accounts for ABM and outbound campaigns, and review website messaging and content strategy. Does your content address their everyday questions, objections and information needs? Does it speak to them in their language?

With your new information, you can better define pain points and key messages to build digital campaigns, content marketing and email marketing. To do these things well, you need to understand the person you’re speaking with, and prioritize the most important people within these groups. No need to invent fictitious stories and lives for a dozen or more personas — stick to two or three.

Additionally, because they’re internal tools, you don’t need to overly polish your personas. It’s more important to get to an 80% state so you can put them into action. Over time, your ICP may narrow and your personas change as a result.

Here are several tactics you can employ immediately, now that you have an ICP and high level personas defined:

  • Use customer and data prospecting tools like ZoomInfo and LinkedIn.
  • Start an outbound email campaign using a system like GrowBots.
  • Automate LinkedIn outreach using a service like Lead Cookie.
  • Hone in on audience targeting with LinkedIn paid or display advertising.
  • Start an ABM campaign on a broad but targeted base, noticing which prospects are most engaged and handing them off to sales

Each of these ideas is on the targeting and tactical side; but, you can also use your persona information to develop a highly-engaging content plan. Use blog articles, e-books, white papers and social media posts and other tactics to address persona questions and problems.

Do you need help defining your ICP and personas?

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