November 2, 2021

Why You Need an Ideal Customer Profile in Account-Based Marketing


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Account-based marketing (ABM) is a powerful tool for B2B marketers who want to connect with their ideal customers. It’s also a key component of customer relationship management (CRM).T

his is why you’ll find 70% of marketers using ABM to grow their companies. According to a report by Forrester, 56% of marketers say personalized content is key to driving ABM campaign results. And one way to achieve this is to define your ideal customer profile, or ICP. So before building your next ABM campaign, this should be at the top of your to-do list.

Let’s look at why you need an ICP in your ABM strategy and how to develop one.

What Is An Ideal Customer Profile?

An ideal customer profile is a detailed description of your best customers. This includes their demographics, buying behaviors, pain points, and other characteristics. ICPs are based on data from surveys, interviews, and market research.

An ICP helps you identify your target audience and build a strong sales pipeline by:

  • Identifying which types of people will be most receptive to your message
  • Creating content that resonates with each persona type
  • Personalizing communications, so they reach only those who matter

There are two types of ideal customer profiles: Customer-based and characteristics-based.

What Is A Customer-Based Ideal Customer Profile?

A customer-based ideal customer profile describes your best prospects based on your best accounts. Best accounts represent customers who are high-value, loyal, and likely to become brand advocates. You can find them by analyzing your CRM data and identifying trends.

This allows you to pinpoint prospects most likely to purchase from your business based on factors like:

  • Companies
  • Industries
  • Geographies
  • Job roles
  • Revenue
  • Technologies used
  • Pain points
  • Goals

For example, if you sell design software solutions, a customer-based ideal client may be an avid user of Adobe applications. They may even work at Fortune 100 companies where they use Word every day. So you can zone in on the pitfalls of using specific features and how your platform can help the ideal customer improve their workflow or outcomes.

The goal is to determine what these accounts have in common, so you can improve your messaging in your ABM campaigns.

What Is A Characteristics-Based Ideal Customer Profile?

A characteristics-based ideal customer profile describes a group of individuals who share similar traits. This approach is a little different than the customer-based ICP because it doesn’t use real data from actual customers. So it’s suitable to use when you don’t have adequate account data, such as when you’re a new company or launching a new product.

In this case, you’re creating an ICP based on characteristics instead of customers. For example, if you run a financial institution, you could describe your ideal clients as having high net worth accounts. Or maybe they own multiple homes.

Difference Between Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) and Buyer Persona

An ideal customer profile is an overview of your target customers. It represents your best accounts and the companies they work for. A buyer persona zones in on a specific “person” within that group.

Ideal customer profile

For example, an ICP may include information like:

  • Firmographics
  • Industry
  • Job Role
  • Company Revenue
  • Technology Used
  • Pain Points
  • Goals

On the flip side, a buyer persona is a semi-fictional person within your ICP. These are the users of your product or service. It includes more detail about a single individual, so the person may be described by:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Location
  • Income Level
  • Education Level
  • Hobbies/Interests
  • Common objections
  • Pain points

In a nutshell, your ICP is a description of the companies to target. And your buyer persona is the individual you want to target within those companies. These include users, stakeholders, and decision-makers.

For example, your profile may say something like: “Our ideal customer profile is a B2B technology firm that sells cloud computing services. Within these organizations, we look for people responsible for making decisions around purchasing technology. So we focus on buyer personas like CIOs, IT directors, and other senior executives.”

Why Is An ICP Important To Account-Based Marketing?

Man researching ICP

Account-based marketing is all about understanding your audience and delivering relevant content to them. But without knowing exactly who your audience is, you won’t know which messages resonate with them. That means missing out on potential sales opportunities.

Not having an ICP makes it challenging to understand why certain audiences respond well to one message over another. You may also waste time and money sending irrelevant emails to prospects. Or you may witness success, but fail to determine why it succeeded or how to duplicate that outcome. With an ICP in hand, you have an organized ABM approach. You know exactly who you’re talking to, what messaging resonates with them, and how to spur action (whether that’s to download a lead magnet or make a purchase).

Your ICP is a key piece in developing marketing content for every stage of the buyer’s journey. So before you start a campaign, make sure you’ve identified your ideal customer profiles. You can do this through an analysis of your existing customer base. Then you can build your ICPs based on the insights gained from your research.

When you have well-developed ICPs, you can see benefits like:

  • Better targeting: Your ICP gives insights into who to target with your messaging to drive results.
  • More qualified leads: With better targeting comes better quality leads who are most likely to convert.
  • Increased conversion rates: When your marketing content resonates with your prospects, it’s easier to get them to convert into qualified leads (via lead magnets, call bookings, trial downloads)
  • Higher ROI: Since you’re targeting those who are looking for a solution you offer, it’s easier to get them to become paying customers.

So how do you bring this all together? Let’s review how to create an ideal customer profile.

How To Create An Ideal Customer Profile?

Ready to start building an ICP for your best customers? Then follow these six simple steps:

1. Identify Your Best Accounts (or Prospective Customers)

Before you begin, you have to determine the approach you’ll take. Are you an established business with tons of data on your current customers? Or are you just starting out and have few to no accounts?

If you’re an established company, you can use the top-down strategy (or customer-driven ICP). In this scenario, you’ll reach out to those with in-depth knowledge about your accounts. This includes the CMO, VP of Marketing, Sales Reps, Customer Success, and Support. It’s also a good idea to talk to several customers to get information first hand. In a customer interview, focus on learning the language, benefits, and challenges they faced before and after buying your product or service.

But what if you’re a new company? Then the bottom-up strategy is ideal (characteristic-driven ICP). You’ll need to conduct research and interviews to learn more about prospective buyers. Several options include frequenting forums and groups they hang out in. Or you can use social listening tools to find conversations around your product or service. See what problems they have and the type of people looking for solutions to these problems. You may find there’s a target audience you overlooked or didn’t consider. Write down which platforms they frequent (podcasts, forums, websites, groups, etc.) and use these as part of your marketing strategy. You can use this strategy to drive leads and to continue connecting with accounts where they like to hang out.

2. Analyze Your Customer Journey Map

Or at least the concept of it. You don’t need a customer journey map to build your ICP, but it’s good to know the process of turning a prospect into a patron. Knowing how prospective buyers engage with your brand throughout the sales funnel will guide your future campaigns. It’ll be the foundation of what content you create and what channels you’ll share them on.

To get insights, interview your customers. Find out what channels they use, podcasts they listen to, and how they learned about your business. Ask questions about their process from the start of their buying journey to the end. The goal is to see what information and formats they consume throughout the sales funnel.

3. Gather Broad Insights

You know the problem you solve and the people looking for solutions to these issues. And you have an idea of how prospects move through the customer’s journey. Now it’s time to apply attributes to your prospective customers.

What is their demographic? Where are they located? And what industry and roles are they in? Then look at the companies to determine if they’re solopreneurs, SMBs, or enterprises. The company size and revenue are critical to ensure they need and can afford your product or service.For example, targeting enterprises with seemingly unlimited budgets doesn’t mean they’ll purchase your product. This may be the case if you’re selling software that doesn’t fit well with their current tech stack.

4. Conduct Customer Surveys and Interviews

There’s only so much you can learn through the data provided by your team. Talking directly to your customers presents insights you won’t find anywhere else. It gives you a chance to ask specific questions and dig deeper than just using analytics.

Surveys should be short and simple. They shouldn’t take longer than 5 minutes to complete. But make sure you collect enough responses to give you meaningful results. Also, don’t forget to ask about the negatives—what didn’t they like about the journey or product/service? Use this to improve your angle and/or offering.

Real-time interviews are also golden because you can capture a 360-degree view of your accounts. Their tone, word choice, unique thoughts, and challenges can open the door to new ideas and a deeper understanding of your target market. It empowers you to create messaging that speaks directly to them. So schedule calls or video chats and record them with their permission. Start with light talk to get them comfortable and ask open-ended questions. Find out what their typical day looks like to add context to your data. For instance, maybe the hurdle for buying isn’t economic; it’s regulatory. So instead of boasting affordability, consider discussing compliance.

5. Build a Behavioral Profile

Once you’ve collected all these pieces of information, it’s time to combine everything into one cohesive picture. A behavioral profile helps paint a clear picture of who your ideal customer is. This identifies social and professional patterns. By now, you should have a good idea of the common struggles, pain points, industries/roles, and buying obstacles of your target customers.Use this to build a behavioral profile, which will make your ICP more in-depth and easy to execute marketing strategies around it.

To find these patterns, build a spreadsheet with key data points, such as firmographics, demographics, and characteristics. Then group them together. You may find you have more than one ICP, which is great for personalizing different solutions and messaging in your campaigns.

6. Create Your ICP and Share It Across Departments

Your ideal customer profile isn’t just for marketing. It’s for every customer-oriented role, including in sales teams, support staff, and success departments. The goal here is to ensure everyone on your team has an accurate representation of your ideal customer. You can make it accessible via your CRM or another shared database, so there’s a single source of truth about your ideal customers.

Design A Personalized ABM Strategy Using An Ideal Customer Profile

ABM strategy

The better you know your customer, the easier it is to design marketing campaigns to attract and retain them. It also simplifies creating sales-enabled content to help your teams push leads and accounts through the funnel.

An ICP is a B2B companies’ best friend. But only if it includes accurate and up-to-date information. So make sure to regularly revisit and refresh your customer profiles.If you’re curious about enhancing your ABM approach, then learn from those already excelling at it. Take a look at how these marketing teams are getting over 200% return on their campaign investment.

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