Buyer Persona vs. Ideal Customer Profile: How They Help Your Sales

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Though sometimes used interchangeably, Buyer Persona and Ideal Customer Profile are distinct terms that represent different notions. For your sales and marketing efforts to succeed, you need both. In this blog post, we’ll study Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) and Buyer Persona (BP) in detail – the peanut butter and jelly of your sales process. We’ll also determine the differences between them and provide clear guidelines on how to create them.

But first… let us tell you a short and illuminating fairy tale!

The king’s order is a perfect example of super-ineffective management. And when applied to lead generation and selling process it can cost millions to companies that dare to apply it.

Obviously, the guy in our tale succeeded. However, apart from being extremely motivated (he wanted his happy life with his beloved wife) and almost unattainably high on an ambiguity tolerance scale, he won because of magic and lucky coincidences. After all, fairytales should all end well to motivate children to pursue their happiness.

On the flipside, for the grown-ups, this story could be told in a manner of Kafka’s Judgement. The real life, however, is somewhere in-between these 2 extremes. Oh! BTW, have you spotted our logo in the comics? Have another look!

If you don’t have a plan and purpose for your sales team, don’t demand them to go on an epic quest for you. It’ll never happen. Don’t expect your salespeople to look for unparticular leads in undecided places. And don’t delve into survival bias hoping for unprecedented lucky coincidences that helped others. It’s not something to build growth on.

Finally, if you don’t provide clear guidelines to your salespeople on what companies you hope to win and whom to approach to win them, you will most likely get high attrition rates. Because, unlike the servant in the tale, they do have choices and aren’t that high on an ambiguity tolerance scale (BTW, prospecting is still hard, even with a clear roadmap).

So what organizations does your business need to seek? Whom and how should your salespeople reach out to? What information will your potential customers want to obtain from you?

Your Buyer Persona and Ideal Customer Profile clearly define that.

Our blog post provides comprehensive information on the most focal questions related to ICP and BP:

  1. Ideal Customer Profile and Buyer Persona – What’s the Difference?
  2. What is a Buyer Persona?
  3. What are the Key Elements of a Buyer Persona?
  4. What is an Ideal Customer Profile?
  5. What are the Key Elements of Ithe Ideal Customer Profile?
  6. How to Create an ICP and BP?

Ideal Customer Profile and BuyerPersona - what's the difference?

So, why does your company need both – Ideal Customer Profile and Buyer Persona? Aren’t they the same? Not exactly.

The confusion some people might experience when coming across Ideal Customer profile and Buyer Persona is understandable. Both terms describe your buyers. However, the very essence and purposes of BP and ICP are different.

Ideal Customer Profile explains what companies and titles to target. Buyer Persona describes how.

ICP is a filter for your lead generation activities. You’ll need it in the very beginning of your sales funnel. BP is used to understand your customers, create a customized environment for communication and tailor messaging. It’s used at all stages of your marketing funnel.

What they have in common is the profound understanding of who your customers are and who they aren’t. Further on, both the Ideal Customer Profile and the Buyer Persona derive from the knowledge of the market, your product/service and – most importantly – the problems you help to solve.

So, make sure that your sales and marketing teams have invested enough time and resources to create these two documents.

Don’t think of your Buyer Persona and Ideal Customer Profile as permanent, unchangeable constructs. As your business gains new clients, you will discover plenty of nuances to each of your clients. One day you’ll want to expand and win new types of companies. You will launch new products and will pursue new titles.

You’ll discover that some of your clients are too expensive to win or others that that may not be good fits. Don’t hesitate to abandon them and shift your Buyer Personas and ICPs.

Revisit both of them from time to time. Make sure that they comply with your buyers, business goals and strategy. Grow and evolve.

What is a Buyer Persona?

Difficulty put:

Simply put, Buyer Persona is the guide that will help your sales and marketing teams understand your potential buyers better and effectively engage during the purchase (or repurchasing / account expansion / account extension) phases. The BP should be created based on a comprehensive analysis of all your customers, interviewing your sales team, and an audit of your sales pipeline. Do not leave this process solely to a marketing team to design BP in a vacuum.

The best Buyer Personas are always a combination of descriptive and prescriptive marketing analytics.

BPs always have a full name and a photo like any human and should be treated as real individuals. This anthropomorphic approach will help your sales and marketing staff move closer to your real buyers and address their needs better. It’s especially important to marketers who don’t always get a chance to talk with customers and may have too much distance from real sales conversations.

Being a profile in its essence, BP is always presented as a set of generalized features relevant to the buying-selling process of your company. The term “generalized features” means that they have been observed in many if not most buyers. Meanwhile “relevant” means that you need to look only for those traits that will help you understand the buying behavior of your potential customers. This is critical because it’s quite possible to go too far in developing Persona information that is neither helpful nor particularly correlated to the buying process.

There are plenty of features to the Buyer Persona that you can find and we have a separate section of this post dedicated to these. However, some of them are more important than others. So, when creating your Buyer Persona, you need to think about the balance between the resources you’ll spend creating and the advantages certain information can bring.

As a rule of thumb, an organization creates several BPs based on different criteria that may include: the type of product/service, size of company, industry or the persona’s role in the company.

Fun fact about Buyer Personas:

The term stemmed from User Persona concept introduced by Alan Cooper, one of the pioneer software developers. He tried to differentiate between people who buy a program from people who actually use it (buyer persona vs. user persona). Back in 1999, his idea inspired Tony Zambito (then Chief Consulting Officer at Cooper), who eventually developed the concept of buyer persona and applied it to marketing and sales efforts.

How many Buyer Personas are enough?

This is a complex question. And the answer will be unique to your company. As we mentioned above there are several criteria to distinguish separate buyer personas. Our suggestion is to keep the two following things in mind:

1. Know your Decision-Makers

The average number of people in the buying team now stands at 6.8. Not all of them are decision-makers (people who have the final word in the sale). The team also consists of approvers (those who sign the contracts), influencers (those who provide an expert opinion), evaluators (those who seek alternative solutions), and sometimes users (those who will use the product/service in the end).

Obviously, you don’t need to create Buyer Personas for each of these roles. The best advice is to pick those roles most critical to making a sale. However, you should analyze the average buying team and provide this valuable data in your BP.

2. KPIs – Challenges – Goals Triangle

The KPIs – Challenges – Goals Triangle is a core of your Buyer Persona because it’s what you will address when talking to each through content or in sales meetings. Every title in the company has certain criteria of performance estimation (KPIs) and problems that make it hard or impossible to achieve them (Challenges). And he or she sets a number of Goals related to both KPIs and Challenges.

Basically, your company provides solution within this “Bermuda Triangle.” Though one product or service can address multiple challenges and help achieve various goals of different titles in one company, the message will be different.

Example: one of CIENCE’s solutions is an Outbound SDR Team. It includes a Sales Researcher, who generates the contact data based on your ICP, and a Sales Development Representative, who is in charge of email and phone-calling outreach to your potential clients.

This team solves multiple problems of a single company. Here are some examples of these issues:

  1. Lacking or poor quality of prospects contact data,
  2. Inconsistent prospecting and new deal creation on behalf of sales teams,
  3. High costs of in-house SDR teams,
  4. Low conversion of responses into opportunities/appointments,
  5. Insufficient time for hiring, training, and managing SDRs.

Let’s take a look which titles experience these problems in the company. CEOs will be most concerned about new deal creation and cost reduction goals. And other issues will be of minor importance to them since these are details. Quality of contact data, as well as the lack of time for SDRs (challenges), will be crucial to the heads of Marketing and Sales departments.

However, the conversion of responses into opportunities (KPI) will predominantly be the problem of marketers, who excel at writing to large audiences, but fall behind salespeople when it comes to one-on-one conversations.

In this view, we can develop three different personas (CEO, Sales, and Marketing Leaders) for our product and tailor different messages for each of them.

3. Buying psychology.

This includes:

  • Attitudes, expectations, emotions, and beliefs:
    • Example: some people are more oriented on details, while others prefer to see a general picture.
    • Some people tend to think about future positive outcomes, while others mostly have concerns about the negative implications.
  • Psychological traits:
    • Example: extraversion scale, ambiguity tolerance, risk aversion, openness to new experience, ways of processing data.
  • Behavior during the buying process:
    • This is how we react to outer stimuli. Depending on our attitudes, traits, beliefs, and emotions, we act differently.

If you have spotted different buying psychologies related to certain roles, you can create separate buyer personas. RAIN Group has summarised 6 different behavioral patterns during negotiations and also provided some really valuable insights on how to approach them.

Bonus: Primary searcher – Things to consider

So, not all decision-makers will search for a solution to their problems themselves. There’s often a personal or departmental assistant, or simply a person on the team who is will be charged with the task to create a list of vendors. You’ll want to get on that list for sure. Meet Andy!

He or she is extremely apt at finding things online and quickly processing a large number of websites because he or she grew up with a computer and got their first smartphone as a teenager. Andy can even initiate the search on their own, simply because they have a working problem they need to solve. And they will surely come to their boss eager to show results.

Andy is millennial. Want to deep-dive on Millenials and the B2B Buying Process? Of course you do!

No matter how enlightening this data might seem at first glance, you need to take it with a grain of salt. Millennials are considered the most individualistic generation of all. They don’t fall into categories easily. We’d even say they have fluid personalities. That’s because they’re still growing up. Even those over 30.

Because individualistic culture makes it possible for people to engage with each other through their personalities rather than through their social roles, millennials have had the luxury of spending their youth exploring their inner self, studying, traveling and trying various jobs, rather than the straightaway career embarkment of the previous generations. It may also help that, at least in the USA, this generation has not seen a recession during their effective work careers.

You don’t need to create a separate Buyer Persona for Millennial Andy, the searcher. You just need to keep her or him in mind, when you’re planning your digital engagement because he may be your gatekeeper. So just be sure that he can easily access all necessary information about your company.

What are the Key Elements of a Buyer Persona?

We’ve seen numerous articles that suggest adding tons of entries to describe a buyer persona. However, are they really needed in B2B? According to Marcia Riefer Johnston, more personal data of the lead (e.g. household income, family details, and pets) is less valuable than the professional background (e.g., 20 years in Marketing, degrees & certificates).

While a Buyer Persona is organized, distilled information about your customers, not all data is equally valuable. You don’t collect it for the sole purpose of knowledge. Though, as human beings we find our greatest enjoyment in knowledge accumulation, marketing data is something you need to leverage in your work.

And finally, let us be frank! In B2C, some marketing “suggestions” based solely on our demographic data and presented in the form of an advertisement are not only unhelpful but also annoying, possibly even humiliating.

So, in our opinion, the best practice in creating Buyer Persona is to indicate the information about your customers that is the most relevant for your selling process.

1. Elements of BP

This is a detailed description of a Buyer Persona Elements as we see it that explain the meaning and necessity of certain elements. You can download a BP Template below and fill it in to create your own Buyer Persona.

1. Name and Job Title

  • Give your persona a name and specify his/her title. We’d suggest sticking to unisex names if you’re not planning to create Buyer Personas for males and females.
  • If you work predominantly with people who have the highest academic degree (Ph.D.) or medical doctors, consider using Ph.D. or MD after the name: e.g., Roan Kipling, Ph.D.

2. Personality

  1. Psychological traits
    • Tip: it’s not for counseling purposes, so no need to overcomplicate with hyper-personal details (like childhood issues) – leave that to Hollywood thrillers.
    • Think of the traits that a person need to excel in this position or that people of particular roles usually exhibit. 
      • Good example: patient, analytical skills for Financial directors, high on the introversion scale for IT specialists, detail compliant for lawyers. 
  2. Professional background
    • Include education, years in the position, certificates & courses, as well as professional competences and possible weaknesses.
    • Tip: consider only professional background related to the job.
      • Good example: if you sell a complex software, you’ll need to find out if all the decision-makers in the buying team have strong knowledge of programs. If not you need to adjust your data accordingly.
  3. Estimated awareness of your type of product/service
    • Use a 1-10 scale, where one is complete ignorance about your product and 10 is your own level of knowledge.
    • More often than not, this tip doesn’t seem obvious to the companies. As hyperbolized as he could be, Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory is a good example here. He finds it difficult to understand how people fail to know the things he’s been learning his entire life.
    • Think about this: if your potential buyers had known much about your type of product/service, they would’ve already acquired it. Make sure that your sales and content educates.
  4. Sources of information
    • Where does your buyer persona learn new things related to his job, including magazines, articles, influencers, books, events, etc?
      • Good example: Google Scholar for scientists. Bad example: Wikipedia for medical doctors.
    • Tip: make sure your sales team and content writers read at least some of these articles, influencers’ blogs, and interviews, as well as the agenda of the events. This way, you can base the message your company is trying to convey to your potential buyer on the thoughts and ideas of people whom he or she trusts.
  5. Attitudes, beliefs
    • What does your buyer persona like/dislike about his/her job? What do they believe is right in business, selling/buying process? Do they have any common prejudices towards certain practices your service/product is associated with? Do they have conflicting attitudes towards certain professions? What are their prejudices and superstitions?
      • Good example: Many marketers don’t like outbound prospecting, because they believe it’s not as “clean” as Inbound tactics.
    • Bad example: Your farm wants to sell milk to vegetarian restaurants, while your products include meat. Why is this example bad? Vegetarian restaurants won’t buy milk from farms that practice cattle slaughter. They’re not your potential buyers.
  6. Demographics
    • Age (or Generation)
    • Gender
    • Apart from these two, including items that can help you with crafting a message to the potential buyer and arranging the environment that will help him or her make the favorable purchasing decision and prevent you from making grave mistakes:
      • For example, identifying ethnicity and religion are important when you work with foreign companies.

3. The Working Environment

  1. Firmographics
    • Tip: This entry should pretty much encompass your ICP’s Company Section. So we won’t get into detail here. In addition to that, it should also describe industry specifics, department of your buyer persona, features relevant to your buying process.
    • It will help you understand your buyer persona’s KPIs, Challenges and Goals better. Here’s a simple example: in a small company, a Marketing manager will most likely be more engaged in working processes and will have to do many tasks that in larger companies where the same tasks are the province of several titles.
  2. KPIs
    • How is your buyer persona’s work assessed?
    • How can we improve your KPIs?
    • KPI 1, 2, 3, …, N – with respective solutions from your company. 
    • Tip 1: As a rule, decision-makers have multiple KPIs. And your product/service won’t impact every single one of them. Indicate in detail the KPIs that will be affected by your product, but also make a short list of other KPIs.
      • Example: VP sales’ main KPI is quota attainment. CEO is assessed by his ability to reduce costs. For us, these are relevant KPIs, because CIENCE helps both making quota for VP Sales and reducing costs to CEOs by providing outsourced lead generation services.
    • CEOs are also assessed by the working environment they can create for their employees, but we can only influence it indirectly (through cost reduction and also reducing the time spent on managerial tasks). So we need to keep this in mind and make sure we talk about it with our potential customers. However, our primary focus will be on new business or cost reduction.
  3. Challenges
    • What problems prevent your buyer persona from achieving his or her KPI?
    • How can we reduce/minimize your challenges? 
    • Challenge 1, 2, 3, …, N – with respective solutions from your company.
    • Tip: As a rule, decision-makers have multiple challenges. And your product/service won’t impact every single one of them. Indicate in detail the challenges that will be affected by your product, but also make a short list of other challenges.
      • Example: The major challenge that our buyer personas have (CMOs and VP Sales) across all industries are the lack of high-quality leads. It prevents them from making efficient outreach campaigns. We help to solve this issue by providing the most accurate and up-to-date contact data verified by humans intelligence.
    • Another challenge that our potential customers experience is the lack of time in their working schedule. We can indirectly grant them this time by enabling them to focus their efforts on high-quality leads exclusively.
  4. Goals
    • What does your buyer persona strive to achieve?
    • How can we help achieve your goals?
    • Goals are easily deduced from the 2 previous elements of buyer persona. Everyone wants to produce better KPIs and remove/ minimize the impact of challenges. However, they’re not necessarily limited to it.
      • Example: 
        • Goal 1, 2, 3, …, N – with respective solutions from your company.
    • Goals, Challenges, and KPIs are what we call the Bermuda triangle of your buyer persona. You’re the one who helps them sail safely through this disturbed sea into the desired bay of goal attainment.
  5. Sources of negative emotions at work
    • Tip: What do your potential clients fear most? What frustrates and disappoints them? Do they have doubts? What do they want to avert? How can your product help reduce these unpleasant emotions?
      • Good example: VP’s of Sales fear not making quota. They’re disappointed by the bad performance of their sales teams and frustrated with underperformance. They want to avoid not making quota at all costs.
    • Good insights here dig into true reasons of emotions. Get below the surface of this problem.
  6. Job features
    • What are the predispositions for this type of job?
    • Describe the forecasting capabilities for this title.
    • Do your buyer personas have a need for certain information?
    • How dependent are they on analytics/data/metrics?
    • Is there a particular time framing for their work (seasonality, weekly/daily pace, the frequency of business trips, events)? 
  7. Technology
    • What technologies do they use that might be relevant to your product or service (includes IT)?
    • How competent are they at using this tech?
  8. Team
    • Team size, strengths, and weaknesses;
    • Will they be using your product/ service?
    • What problems might they experience while using it?
    • How can they help/interfere with your selling process?
    • What problems does the team have?
    • How your product/service can solve problems for them?

4. The Buying Behavior

  1. Obstacles to Solution Acquisition
    • These are the real problems that a buyer persona has during the buying process (low budget, lack of knowledge, a reluctance of top management, use of the product/service, your competitors, etc.).
    • Obstacles within the persona’s control
    • Beyond his or her control.
    • Provide the criteria for the obstacles: a. we abandon this potential customer. b. we work with him or her.
    • Name the ways to overcome obstacles
  2. Objections
    • *Note that obstacles and objections are sometimes different things.
    • Many objections are conditioned responses that come from a place of distraction, busy-ness, or disengagement.
    • Some objections are said to attain a certain goal (reduce cost, get a more profitable position in the negotiation process). They don’t describe the real situation.
    • Some personas “reword” an obstacle into an objection to the extent of impossibility to recognize the former.
    • Provide clear reasons that overcome all these objections
  3. FAQs
    • Collect this information from your sales team.
    • Create a reference sheet for your sales to use.
  4. Concerns about your product/service
    • Collect this information from your sales team.
    • Create a reference sheet for your sales to use.
  5. Buyer journey
    • Digital (1-10)
    • At which stage do they usually enter your funnel? (Inbound / Outbound)
    • Incoming source for entering your funnel?
    • Do your buyer persona come back to previous stages?
    • What is the average duration they spend at each stage?
  6. Decision criteria
    • Ask your existing clients.
    • Ask your potential buyers.
  7. The buying team
    • Specify the number of decision-makers
    • Provide the links to other decision-makers’ BPs.
  8. Impact on the decision-making process:
    • Buyer
    • Influencer
    • Blocker
  9. Relations after the purchase:
    • PoC: yes/no?
    • Reselling/Account expansion PoC: yes/no?
    • The person who usually gives Referrals from the company – yes/no?

5. Buyer Persona summary

  • Summarise the above-mentioned data into a short reference sheet for your sales team.

Final tips

For all the above elements of buyer persona, you should indicate how this information can help your sales and marketing teams communicate with your potential customers better.

You don’t necessarily need to fill in all the elements. For example, if your sales team haven’t spotted any psychological traits that are common to all Heads of IT Departments they’ve worked with, there’s no need to include this information. Remember, you can and should revisit your Buyer Persona from time to time. Introduce changes and improve it.

Should I create a female Buyer Persona?

Honestly, it’s up to you. There are pros and cons in gender-specific BPs. The obvious advantage would be providing a more personalized approach to your potential buyers. Show her that you know her, understand her needs and struggles, respect her and value her achievements and contribution.

The other less obvious advantage is that in the industries where women are few in C-suite, you can beat your competitors by simply tuning your sales and marketing to the needs and specific features of women. The disadvantage is that you’ll have to spend more time creating your BPs.

We’ll simply provide the arguments that support both opinions along with some suggestions on how to tackle this issue:

Summing up the infographic, women’s presence in the B2B buying as decision-makers is increasing. However, gender is perceived as a scale rather than two extremes by at least half of the millennials who are also embarking on this process.

Here’s one more thing to take into account. There’s a strong belief that women tend to think, act and communicate differently during the negotiations due to the difference in how male and female brains work as well as specifics in raising boys and girls. And multiple surveys of this topic prove that:

We haven’t found any surveys that prove the difference in behavior between Babyboomer and Millennial females with a view of less strict gender differentiation perception observed in Generation Y. This subject is yet to be studied.

Gender-wise tips to consider when doing your Buyer Persona:

1. In our opinion, the best option is to make two BPs – male and female.

2. If you are short on resources to implement such a task and doubt if it’s necessary, you can:

  • Use Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey by the United States Department of Labor to see the women representation in each type of profession; you can also look for the industrial statistics for female managers. There are plenty of organizations that keep track of this data.
  • Ask your salespeople about the participation of women on buying teams and if, during the selling process, they’ve spotted any specifics of their communication/behavior mentioned in the infographic above.
  • Revisit your sales pipeline and analyze if you’re losing female buyers. To that end check the percentage of woman decision-makers in each team (as well as their influence). Then examine how female-driven groups pass from one stage to another. Is there a bottleneck? In this case, you should try creating special BP to address this issue.

3. If you choose to create a separate female Buyer Persona (because you have found that women comprise a large segment of your decision-makers or even the larger one or you believe it’ll give you a strategical advantage) consider the following:

 Template for Buyer Persona

For our own BP, we created and used the following Questionnaire. You can download it and apply it too!

What is an Ideal Customer Profile?

Simply put, an Ideal Customer Profile is a detailed description of a company that is most likely to become your client along with the titles of its decision-makers that your sales team should target. In other words, it’s the guidelines for how to find a perfect lead.

As a lead generation company, CIENCE deals with numerous Ideal Customer Profiles on a daily basis. In fact, without an ICP, we can’t do our job – search for reliable contact data, conduct outreach and set appointments. And neither can any sales development team.

At CIENCE, we ask our clients to fill in a standard questionnaire. We later discuss it in great detail with our customer and form an Ideal Customer profile on its basis. Afterward, we give the final ICP to a researcher who will look for the companies that fit the requirements.

Based on the Ideal Customer Profile, we create a Mastersheet for leads. Each lead has 17 data columns on average (such as company name, Industry, person’s first and last names, the title, the location, telephone number, etc.). The Mastersheet is then provided to an SDR, and the outreach begins.

What are the Key Elements of Ithe Ideal Customer Profile?

Ideal Customer Profile consists of two essential parts. The first – the bigger one – describes an organization that has a certain problem your company can solve. The second details particular titles in this company that will be the decision makers in the buying team of this company.

1. Key Elements of an ICP

As mentioned above, an Ideal Customer Profile is a filter that helps you customize your outreach. You can create several ICPs to conduct various campaigns. To this end you need to set the criteria for:

I.  Company

This part of ICP defines what type of companies you target. Specify:

a. Industry or industries.

Note that there are multiple names for one industry. And one company can de facto operate in a couple of them. For example, we have a client that develops software for websites. In this case, it will fall under such categories as IT, Internet and Software, and Business Services. If the industry of your potential client plays an important role for you, make sure you provide a comprehensive description.

Targeting using known Industry codes, such as SIC (Standard Industrial Classification) code or NAICS (North American Industry Classification System) is the most common practice.

b. Revenues

Revenues are the easiest way to determine both the total and relative sizing of a business.

c. Number of employees

*Note that both revenue and number of employees can fall under the category of “Size” at various lists of companies. It can be confusing. However, it’s normal practice in the US. For example, Small Business Administration determines size by three criteria (affiliates, employees, and annual receipts). The North American Industry Classification System also has 3 parameters: annual sales, employees on site and total headcount.

d. Region

You can be very specific here. We conducted several research campaigns for our clients that were precisely geo-targeted (certain cities in certain counties).

If you target the whole US, don’t overlook what region categories can offer you. Begin your contact data generation from the East Coast and move westward. In this case, your sales team will have more convenient time options for making their outreach, setting and conducting appointments by territory.

II. The person

This part will include the title(s) of your decision-makers.

III. Special requirements (optional)

These are any criteria that will narrow your search and customize your outreach:

  • Type of institution (e.g., of all health organizations, you’ll need only hospitals)
  • Technology or software your leads use (aka Tech Stack)
  • Participants of a particular event
  • Size of the building (for large factories)
  • Number of affiliates
  • Years in business or in a certain role
  • Product/service the lead produces
  • Certain events that happen in the company (e.g. Mergers & Acquisitions, Venture Capital fundraises, Divestitures, etc)
  • Trigger events in the professional life of a lead (e.g. Promotion, new job, new team)
  • Companies they sell to

Obviously, special requirements aren’t limited to this list. Your marketing and sales team will define their own criteria.

IV. Your product/service

This is the part many companies omit. However, in certain cases, it’s best to create ICPs for different types of products or services. For example, a developer of software has solutions for large and medium-sized companies. It’s best to target them separately because they will most likely have different titles involved in the buying team.

V. Data Points

This is the list of contact information entries you need to know to conduct an outreach to your prospects. Data points include but aren’t limited to Full Name of a person, her/his email, phone number, company name, corporate website, address and many more.

2. Example of Ideal Customer Profile – CIENCE

Marketing Department of CIENCE (just like any marketing department) has recently begun conducting an influencers campaign. We created Ideal Customer Profile for our first send-out and decided to share it with our readers as an example of ICP.

As you can see, we didn’t include the telephone number into the list of data points. On the other hand, we put a “Category of Suppression List.” There are particular companies that we don’t want to reach out to for a number of reasons.

We also included the question: “Do you see similarities in between your best customers?” It’s the first step on the path to creating the specific requirements for the potential leads. In this case, we wrote that we need sales experts, influencers and idea creators. These are people were currently after.

Finally, this example is very simplified. On average, a contact list that CIENCE creates for its clients contains around 17-20 Data Points.

3. Template for ICP

Here’s an ICP template that we usually ask our clients to fill in. As a rule, our customers also provide detailed requirements to narrow down the search – something that no software is capable of doing. If you want to learn how to leverage the ICP or get your own list of high-quality leads, don’t hesitate to contact us!

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4. Ideal Customer Profile – the hidden truth about your sales perspectives

The causal relations between an ICP and sales research are obvious: the more detailed description of your ideal customer you provide, the more accurate leads you’ll get at the end of the day. We’ve seen it in virtually every campaign that we’ve implemented for hundreds of clients over the past 3 years of service.

However, what many people seemingly fail to understand is the impact of ICP on sales development.

Ideal Customer Profile is about the regular analysis of your market and planning your sales strategy accordingly.

If you don’t understand your market, you don’t know what to expect and thus you can’t plan. You can’t just fill in the ICP questionnaire (we provided below) basing your answers merely on your own imagination. Otherwise, your results will be occasional.

This said, outbound prospecting can be a powerful tool to develop a hypothesis, then study market response when you introduce new products or want to target different companies or expand to the new markets.

When there’s uncertainty about the potential customers reaction to your offer, outbound prospecting provides immediate response within weeks, if not days.

There’s one more important thing you should remember about ICP:

Ideal Customer Profile influences the following aspects of your sales development activities:

  1. Maximum numbers of leads – there’s a big difference in an ICP that encompasses the whole US, or the one that limits your sales research to several states (or even counties within a state).
  2. Conversion (open – response – appointment) rates – they heavily depend on the industry and the titles you target.
  3. Number of appointments – it depends on all the elements of your Ideal Customer Profile as well as on your product/service, its price, and on the market on the whole.

Number of Appointments [Bitter Truth Alert]

Our potential clients often ask why CIENCE never promises to set a fixed number of appointments as opposed to our competitors. Here’s the answer:

We never make false promises. Because we understand how sales development and Ideal Customer Profiles really work, we know that the numbers differ across all the industries, company sizes, titles, regions, company types, and many other parameters– including the fact that timing matters (on the prospect’s end).  While, for example, in biotechnology two appointments per week is a “so-so” result, two meetings in a month could be a great success for a company targeting law firms.

And these parameters aren’t totally in vendor/supplier control – the people who analyze the market and do campaign planning. If you want to test a market, or you know that you can succeed there, we’ll help you by the controlled outreach and communication activities, faithfully made on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.

What we promise is that we deliver our best, doing everything that is needed and making the most of the campaign in accordance with the guidelines provided by our customers.

Summing up, when planning your outbound campaign always remember one important thing. It’s never about the number of appointments. It’s about their quality and ROI. High-quality appointments are the ones that have good conversion rates. And these rates depend on the ICP, sales research, and outbound prospecting.

If you don’t feel comfortable with this idea, ask yourself a question:

What would you prefer: your sales managers going to 5 appointments that end up with no result (2 didn’t show up, and 3 were a bad fit for you), or 3 appointments that moved the potential clients on to the next stages of your funnel?

The good news is that you’re in control of the conversions once you focus on quality over quantity.

How to Create Buyer Persona and Ideal Customer Profile?

We suggest creating ICP and BP simultaneously. In this case, you won’t have to do one job twice. You will need your marketing and sales teams to work together to get the best results.

Step 1 – Won Opportunities

Analyze your current and former customers in accordance with the following criteria:

  1. Revenue
  2. Number of employees
  3. Industry
  4. Region
  5. Product
  6. CLV

Create a final table with the above criteria.

In this simplified table you can see that Retail companies prefer Peanut butter & Jelly. Meanwhile, companies with $1-10M in revenues don’t buy Jelly – the product favored by $0-1M organizations. You can observe that your main clients come from two states – Nevada and California. And your major industries are Retail, Entertainment and IT.

You might as well add some specifications to this table. For example, IT is a big industry. Do these companies create software? Or are they Internet providers? What are the purposes of a purchase? Do they offer peanut butter to their specific clients as a bonus or do they use it themselves? Do they use it with some particular type of bread? Do they purchase Jelly somewhere else or they simply don’t like it?

Or maybe you’ll find out that all your IT clients have a huge aquarium with jellyfish? And they purchase peanut butter exclusively to feed these strange creatures because the natural food of jellyfish is way too expensive. In this case, you might want to target more companies who have medusae as their office pet.

For a bigger set of data, you can create all types of analytics. Your goal here is to find out what types of customers are the most profitable for you. The data from the above table doesn’t give you, however, the full picture.

Step 2 – Lost Opportunities

Are you sure that you work with all the industries and company sizes that might have a need for your product? Can you possibly expand to other regions? What if you miss something important? That’s why you need a comprehensive analysis of the conversions along your sales pipeline. Take a look at this example:

As you can see, at some point, there’s a bottleneck that prevents companies from certain industries to advance in the sales pipeline. Why don’t educational establishments order your peanut butter and jelly? They’ve got tons of hungry kids and teenagers buying from their canteens. The same is true for hotels and hospitals.

Don’t hesitate to address the lost customers and interview them about the sales process and why they opted not to work with you. You might find out that your product is a bad fit for them or otherwise learn what your sales managers do wrong during the negotiation process.

Step 3 – Sales Intelligence / Predictive Lead Scoring

Look at the customers of your competitors and analyze them by industries, size, and geography. Obviously, you won’t get a full scope of their clientele. However, a simple look at the client section of their websites might get you a valuable hint at where to look for clients. The precaution here is simple: you won’t be able to implement everything your competitors do. So you’ll need to analyze how they managed to win such types of customers.

Client section of CIENCE website

Taking bits of Steps #1 & 2 above, it’s also possible to create machine learning algorithms that can identify trends from Closed Won/Lost account data and offer everything from lead scoring (likliehood to close) to lookalike companies to target going forward.

One of the efficient ways to study the new industry or company size is to make a targeted outreach via email and phone calls. You will learn, what products/services of your competitors are used there. You will hear some valuable insights if you simply ask questions about the problems these organizations are experiencing.

Step 4 – Out of the Box

Let’s begin our discussion with a small test:

What is the best way for YOU to acquire knowledge?

  1. Listening
  2. Reading
  3. Watching

Most people pick one of three and next you can hear an empowering story of the difficulties they faced during their students years struggling with lectures (books, or lack of videos). However, there will be a small percentage of people who wouldn’t pick any of the offered options.

A person who enjoys getting out of the box might say something very different. For example:

“I acquire knowledge by thinking.”

Try doing the same when it comes to creating your ideal customer profile and buyer persona. Continuing our example with peanut butter, you can target spas because they can use this product for massage as well as large aquariums that have jellyfish and want save money feeding them with food high on protein. Finally, you can always try selling your peanut butter to space discovering companies.

Step 5 – The Composition Decision-Making Team

Once you’ve defined the companies you want to target, you need to understand what titles in these organizations will be the actual decision-makers. There are two ways to do it but we suggest using both.

1. Product-Solves-Problem approach

Humanity creates products and services as a means to tackle certain issues. Otherwise, they wouldn’t stand competition. What problems does your product or service solve? What departments within an organization have them? And finally what titles run these departments?

Let’s take CIENCE products as an example. Our SDR team finds accurate contact data in accordance with an ICP and then conducts a personalized outreach to these prospects via email, telephone, and social networking websites. We use this product for our own purposes.

The sales department uses SDR team to get the contact data of leads and to start meaningful conversations with them. Our VP Sales Michael Maynes is rarely concerned about his pipeline. He’s sure in the quality of incoming leads. And he knows that his managers will receive enough appointments with the right people every month to make their quota.

And since the process is controlled on-site (we drink our own Champagne), our Michael doesn’t have to worry about the management of the lead generation process.

The marketing department also leverages it. We conduct the outreach to influencers and sales experts (for interviews and opinions), as well as other blogs (for cross-posting). Where do we get accurate contact data and who runs the send-outs via CRM for us? That’s right! Our Researchers and SDRs.

Finally, our company saves much money by having globally sourced sales development representatives rather than paying FTEs in the US (check out our ROI calculator here). It makes our CEO extremely happy.

Summing up, by just analyzing how we use our product, we can outline three important decision-makers for it: The Head of the Sales Department, The Head of the Marketing Department and CEO, founder/owner.

2. Customer-wise approach

Your suggestions and the experience of using your own product/service in your company won’t give you the full picture though. Sometimes customers find brand new ways of application of the goods. Continuing our peanut butter theme:

So, some of your customers might come from very different types of departments – much to your surprise. That’s why you need to conduct a survey both among your buyers and your salespeople:

a. Prepare the analysis of titles in the average buying team. Don’t forget to specify the company parameters, you’ve outlined above: there might be a certain pattern. For example, the average buying team for SME and for large enterprises, for Retail and for IT might be very different. You won’t want to target the wrong people in the company.

b. Ask your sales team to indicate which decision-makers have the most influence on a purchase. It might happen so that in the companies of different size same roles will have a different impact.

c. Pick 3-5 most influential ones. Outline different names that the same role might have in various companies.

This information will be the base for both your ICP’s “Person” section and for your Buyer Persona.

Step 6 – Summarize the ICP

Set the list of Data Points (contact data entries) you’ll need to search. This includes, but isn’t limited to:

  • website;
  • phone number
  • address
  • first name
  • last name
  • title
  • profiles on social networking channel
  • any additional data that you find relevant to your business (see special requirements).

Step 7 – Outline Key Features

You’ll need to survey your sales team, the titles of the buying team of your clients (including former ones), your current prospects, and lost opportunities (the last will save you from survival bias). Pick the parameters you consider the most valuable in the Buyer Persona Template and outline the questions you’ll need to ask your interviewees.

We suggest omitting questions about the title, firmographics, professional background, and demographical data because it’s the information you can easily find on LinkedIn or corporate websites. Don’t ask your buyers about their psychological traits, typical objections or prejudices (leave these questions to your sales).

Tip: Make the survey for your lost opportunities as short and easy as possible. Use checkboxes and list boxes. Explain that you want to understand the reasons why your company didn’t fit them: was it the product, the terms, the salespeople or something else. Don’t forget to express your gratitude for considering your company and product/service.

The survey of the organizations who are currently at some point in your pipeline shouldn’t be too long either. Explain to them that you want to bring the best buying experience to them and to other potential clients of yours. Make sure that you ask only the most topical questions.

How many people do you need for this research? Being sCIENCEtists at heart, we’d say the more the better. The bigger is the number of researched people, the more accurate and credible will be the correlations. However, we also understand that such studies will require some time and effort.

Furthermore, if you send questionnaires to many people in one company, you run the risk of overburdening. Our suggestion is to send out the questions to 1-2 decision-makers from each buying team of your current clients, and to 1 person from the buying team of your prospects and lost opportunities.

Consider one more source of information – the records of the sales calls and meetings (we use and recommend both Chorus and Gong). You might learn a lot from them. At the beginning of a negotiation, good salespeople mostly ask questions about the problems of potential customers and then listen. Use this information to shape your Buyer Persona.

Step 8 – Summarize the Buyer Persona

You’ll get much data. And at first glance, it would look as if you’re floating in a chaotic endless cosmos stuffed with random things. However, you should remember, that every space has its fundamental laws.

Eventually, you would start seeing patterns. For example, you’ll spot that certain titles have the same problems and goals. They will use similar terms and decision criteria. You’ll begin recognizing the questions they ask and concerns they express. That’s when you’ll be able to finally create your Buyer Persona.

Once you’ve written everything down in a nice file (of the format of your choice), give it to your sales team and ask if they recognize this person. If they do, you’ve succeeded. If not, listen to their feedback.

Step 9 – The Essential

When we discussed the differences between the Buyer Persona and the Ideal Customer Profile, we indicated two purposes of BP:

  • Understanding your potential customers
  • Building meaningful communications with them.

The previous steps were to achieve the first purpose. The ninth step is reserved for the second one. Conduct a brainstorm with your sales and marketing teams. And for each feature of your Buyer Persona that you’ve outlined, try to come up with several answers to the following questions:

  1. Does this feature help us?
  2. What messages should our marketing and sales team convey to our potential customers to leverage this feature or to minimize this obstacle?
  3. How can we help our potential client advance to the next stage of the sales funnel and eventually make a purchase from us?

Once your sales and marketing people agree upon the ideas to talk about and ways to communicate with your prospects, write them down and finalize your Buyer Persona.

Step 10 – So I Have a BP and an ICP – What’s Next?

Next comes the most exciting part – the application of your Buyer Persona and Ideal Customer Profile in your sales and content marketing. Remember, you need ICP for the lead generation process and BP for every part of your sales funnel. You also need to make sure that all of your employees treat these documents seriously.

There’s nothing more damaging to a business than management initiatives falling on deaf ears of employees. That’s why you should first explain the purposes of Buyer Persona and Ideal Customer Profile to your teams.  Arrange a discussion about this topic. Ask questions rather than give them the ready-made answers. Listen to every opinion.

Remember that these documents are must-have in building a consistent sales process. And it’s important that your employees understand it. Also, we strongly suggest that you invite everyone to take part in the creation of these documents. In this case, they’ll be more incentivized to apply it in their day-to-day job (because they’ll cherish it as a result of their hard work together).

We hope our blog post will help you understand your potential clients better as well as create Buyer Personas that will be useful to both your sales and marketing teams.

Anastasia Voitehina
Content Writer

Anastasia Voitehina is a Content Writer at CIENCE Technologies. She creates passionate articles, witty infographics and smart charts dedicated to B2B Lead Generation. Anastasia also records the company's history and writes inspirational stories about her colleagues.

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Buyer Persona vs. Ideal Customer Profile: How They Help Your Sales