An “Ideal Customer Profile (ICP)” is a highly detailed definition of your target customer. It is a VERY important exercise in ensuring your whole company is aligned – across your product, sales, marketing and customer success teams.  

While it sounds a lot like the more mainstream “persona“, there are a few common misconceptions about ICPs. We debunked those, and so much more in the 2nd edition of our Growth Snack series, where we dove deep into the oft-misunderstood ICP! 

Here’s the recap, complete with highlights of the major topics covered and a few of our favourite questions from the Q & A! 

Contrary to popular belief, not everyone is your customer. Read on to learn how to create a more granular definition of your target customer, and why that’s so key. 

An “ICP” is not a “Persona” 

We think Thin Air Labs’ Mitchell Gillespie said it best: an ICP is empirically based and seeks to outline the attributes of key stakeholders in the buying decision. This provides sales and marketing with direction, as they look to find, qualify and prioritize customers. 

Personas are more focused on the thoughts, behaviours and motivations of end users.  

Very often we’ll find that marketing and sales will work from ICPs to assess whether are a fit for them or to design paths to engaging them, whereas personas are often used more by product teams.  

Below is a handy chart we put together to help  you quickly get a feel for some of the major differences between the two (and how they actually complement each other)! 

Why is having an ICP so critical? 

When you’re very explicit about who your ICP is, it gets your whole team aligned. Specifically, it gets them aligned on who you’re going after and who your product is designed for. Sales and marketing stand to gain the most out of a narrowed and focused ICP because it allows them to focus on the highest potential prospects (those that are most likely to drive value from your product or service, and thus be more likely to buy) and avoid what we like to call “WOMBATS  (Wastes Of Money, Brains and Time).  

Focusing on multiple ICPs adds operational complexity, and it’s the enemy of scaling! For example, focusing on multiple target customers might requires you to create different sales processes, different approaches to marketing campaigns or even different messaging, to align with how different types of buyers buy – which can be difficult (and costly!) to manage. Narrowing the scope of your ICP will reduce that complexity and lets you move and learn quickly.  

What to include in your ICP? 

When putting together your first ICPs, consider the following attributes: 

  • Timing: who is a really great customer for you right now, given the stage of your business, the maturity of your product, the size of your team, and so on 
  • Customer Type:Think about what kind of deals you are “hunting”
    • Elephants: Represent large deal sizes with long sales cycles and many people involved in the buying decision. They can be risky, due to the substantial investment in time and resources involved in acquiring one of these customers, but the potential revenue generated can be huge. 
    • Deer: Moderate deal sizes with mid-market companies where the companies and/or buyers might “herd together”. 
    • Rabbits: Somewhat analogous with the SMB market, Rabbit customers, like their namesakes, are plentiful – and they don’t “herd” (hello, fragmented markets!). The potential revenue per customer is small, but there are many of them, so the market  opportunity can still be attractive.  
    • Mice:  – Think B2C. Very small deals or transactions, so more of a marketing approach to customer acquisition is needed (vs. traditional “sales” approach), to keep “customer acquisition cost” (CAC) low. 
  • Buyer Roles: (Who are the buyers, vs. those who influence the buyers, vs. the users? 
  • Firmographics: For B2B ICPs, you might want to specify attributes about the company itself like company size, company structure, business model, market position, ownership, and so on 
  • Demographics: For B2C ICPS, you might want to specify attributes about the consumer, like age, gender, income, and education level  
  • Behavioural attributes are very interesting (like how the prospect is engaging with you or behaving), and can be predictive of purchase behaviour 

The broad focus paradox

If your company is just starting out, you probably don’t really know who your ideal customer is, and it can be very tempting to adopt a broad focus to hedge your bets. Unfortunately, maintaining a wide focus doesn’t typically help you grow faster lead to better outcomes. 

Why? The more markets and segments you target, the more complex you make the operations of your business – you end up solving slightly different problems for slightly different customers, who might want different features, buy differently, have different price sensitivity and so on. And the more complex your make things, the less likely you are to execute well. 

Instead, make the investment in defining your ICP, and continually refining as you continue to learn about the markets you serve! 

Q & A 

What follows are some of the questions Carey from 321 was asked in the Q&A part of our Growth Snacks event:  

Q: Do you have any tips or suggestions of ways you can share or update your ICP with your team as it grows?

321: In some ways it’s like culture. If you have values for your business, and they’re in a word document in your admin drive, how do people see and live them?  

One of the things I’d suggest when you define your ICP, is to make it a collaborative process. Get everyone to bring their understanding of who your customer is, because it will invite debate, which is extremely important for making good decisions and for getting alignment. 

And it’s not “once and done”. An ICP is a lot like a website. You don’t update your website once and then be done with it for the next 5 years. You are constantly making tweaks and optimizations. 

Lastly, its not the act of defining the ICP that’s important. It’s about the process. It’s about the journey. You want to get good at defining (and redefining) your ICP definition, not because you want to be “right”, but because you want to get good at the process, because you are going to be defining – and refining –  your ICP a LOT as you grow and evolve. 

Q: We’re in a situation where we’re getting approached by companies more than we’re doing outbound marketing. In terms of establishing an ICP, when all sorts of people are approaching you, how does having a well-defined ICP fit into that? 

321: You have to balance the “right now” vs. “over time”. I would almost reverse-engineer your ICP. Think of who you think is your ICP and then look at your inbound and then compare the attributes between them. 

Also, be careful in assuming that your inbound is representative of the broader market. If you look at the total population of your target customers, you will find that there may only be a small percentage of your target customers that are looking for the solution at any one time. Maybe it’s 5%, maybe it’s 10%, but it’s probably not 50%.  

And so, the challenge about relying solely on inbound is that while inbound leads do represent those prospects that are looking, they may not be the biggest portion of the market. So, it is great to serve your inbound customers, but not at the exclusion of the rest of the market, because you don’t know if the “rest of the market” represents 70%, 80% or even 90%.  

Q: My worry is that we haven’t done enough market research and our ICPs are based off assumptions. Do you have any tips for approaching market research so you can discern what you know vs. what you’re assuming? 

321: Talk to a human! Sometimes we go to extraordinary lengths to avoid making ourselves vulnerable and saying “I don’t have all the answers and I could use some help”. But most people are really nice and helpful. And most people, when you ask for help, they will help you

Consider doing some primary research (i.e. 1:1 customer discovery interviews). It’s not always super efficient and it takes some time, but it’s worth it. 

When interviewing customers, make sure you’re very clear on what you’re asking. You need to be rigorous and systematic. Ask really smart questions that are very clear and ask them in a consistent way so that the data you’re capturing can be analyzed across all interviews. 

And ensure you’re doing enough research. You want to talk to enough people that fit your narrowly defined ICP so that you see a “clustering” of response – for B2B, you might have to do 25 to 30 interviews, to see “clustering” of 15 responses that start to look the same. But if you have to talk to 1,000 people to get to 15, then you do it! 

Hungry for more? 

Registration is now open for our next Growth Snack session, which will be all about what we call “growth math”! Click the link here to register for Growth Snack #3: Growth Metrics – A Primer