ICP vs. Buyer Persona: How They Help Get in Front of the Right Buyer

Across industries, salespeople lose between 60 and 90 percent of their potential deals after the first contact. The reason for the big drop-off after the prospecting stage is that many companies still reach out to anyone who loosely sounds like they’d be interested in their offering. It’s far more efficient to only reach out to prospects who fit your solution and have a need for it. 

Ensuring that you focus your sales and marketing efforts on the right companies, and the right people within these businesses is never easy. However, one thing is for certain: it’s even harder if you haven’t defined your ideal customer profile and buyer persona—the peanut butter and jelly of your sales process. 

In this blog post, we’ll study ideal customer profiles and buyer personas in detail. We’ll explain the differences between them and provide clear guidelines on how to create them. 

What is an ideal customer profile?

An ideal customer profile is a description of a fictitious account that would get significant value from your product or service, and would provide substantial value to your company in return. The type of customer that costs the least to acquire, stays with you for a long time and has a strong lifetime value, is less likely to churn and, eventually, becomes an advocate for your brand.

What is a buyer persona? 

A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer, based on market research and real data about people who have bought from you in the past. Buyer personas provide structure and context for your company, making it easier to map out content, allocate your team’s time and resources, and achieve alignment across your organization. 

Ideal customer profile vs. buyer persona: what’s the difference? 

Quick and dirty: your ideal customer profile is a description of the type of company you should try to sell to and your buyer persona is a detailed analysis of the people who buy from you. 

Buyer personas define the different buying patterns of companies within your ideal customer profile. 

For example, at Vainu, our ideal customer profile is a business-to-business company with a sales process and a CRM system. Our typical buyer persona within these companies are salespeople and those that empower them: sales managers, marketing managers, sales and marketing operations, and data or analytics teams. 

Why you need an ideal customer profile AND a buyer persona 

Understanding your ideal customer profile—their challenges, their goals, their firmographic traits, and so on—helps you to set a strategy aimed at attracting the most valuable customers to your business. But at the end of the day (or more specifically, sales process), there’s a human being, not a company, who signs the deal. 

There is a mantra that B2B is H2H (human to human). That is why you need to treat sales to businesses like sales to humans. The more relevant you can be and the better you can talk about things that matter to your prospects—the actual people in businesses who stand to benefit by using your product—the higher the conversion rates you’ll have in B2B sales.

So what companies should your business be targeting? Whom and how should your salespeople reach out to? To answer these questions, you need to define your ideal customer profile and buyer persona.  

How to create an ideal customer profile

Basing your ideal customer profile off of a gut feeling leaves a lot of room for error in judgement. Using insights from data will minimize the risk of missing many of the less obvious indicators of accounts that you and your team should ideally target.

Step-by-step: a practical guide to defining your ideal customer profile 

1. Find out which characteristics your happiest customers share
Look at your ten (or so) happiest customers and find common attributes like revenue, number of employees, type of business, web technologies in use, geography or buying signals that occurred right before they became your customers. Thanks to modern technology, you don’t have to do the heavy lifting yourself. A sales intelligence tool can quickly provide you with an overview of your key customers shared characteristics.

Going beyond company data, you can have your customer success team conduct short interviews with your most satisfied customers. Ask them how they found your business, what made them choose to work with you and why they continue to work with your company.

2. Prioritize companies with a strong life-time value
Turn to your CRM software for data that helps you find common threads among your most faithful customers. You want to focus on signing customers that a) stay with you for a long time, and b) you can up-sell and/or cross-sell to.

3. Look for ready, willing and able customers
No matter how great of a match your service is for a specific company, these three criteria have to be filled in order for you to spend time on that account now:
  1. An ideal customer should be ready to buy what you sell; the decision-makers have to understand that they have a problem or an opportunity and that you can help them solve it or seize it.
  2. An ideal customer has to want to make a change and be ready to invest both money and time into getting up to speed with your product.
  3. An ideal customer has to be able to buy what you sell now. They have to have the money and support from the right decision-makers to give you a positive answer.

4. Document your ideal customer profile framework
When you’ve collected the data and identified recurring patterns or characteristics shared by your best customers, it’s time to input this information in your ideal customer profile framework.

How to create a buyer persona 

The first thing you’ll want to do when creating a buyer persona is to do some research on your existing customers. Since these people actually bought from you, they’re the most relevant people to look at. 

In most cases, you’ll need to combine the insights you get from surveys and interviews with your target audience with data from market research to get all the information you need to create detailed buyer personas. 

More is more, right? 

As human beings we find our greatest enjoyment in knowledge accumulation, you shouldn’t collect customer data just for the sole purpose of knowledge. Not all data is equally valuable. The best practice in creating a buyer persona is to indicate the information about your customers that is (the most) relevant for your sales process.

There are tons of buyer persona templates, tools, and generators freely available on the Internet. HubSpot’s tool Create my Persona makes it easy to do your personal research and compile it all into a beautiful, presentable, palatable format.

How many personas you should create depends on the nature of the business: you could have as few as one or two personas, or as many as ten. But if you’re new to personas, start small. You can always develop more personas later if needed.

Review and update your profile and persona over time

B2B sales is ultimately about how you affect the bottom line. Your solution should either have a direct correlation with profits or expenses, or you should be able to demonstrate how it indirectly will affect the organization’s finances. As your company, its offering and the market evolves, what defines the right prospects for you to go after may change.

There’s no universal definition of an ideal customer profile, not for any company. Every six or nine months, you should evaluate if the company profile and persona you’ve chosen as ideal still looks the same, or if you have to tweak the description.

You’ve defined your profile and persona, now what?

Think of it as a two-way street. Your profile and persona need to be tweaked as your business grows and evolves, and vice versa. What good is epic content and stunning profiles and personas if it doesn’t move the needle forward? 

Once you’ve defined your profile and persona, you should start looking at improving the way your sales, marketing, and development teams process companies matching this profile. Your ideal customer profile should dictate how you improve the product or service you offer, the wording your sales and marketing teams use with prospects and customers, and how, when and where you try to reach them. 

The secret weapons that salespeople use to get in front of the right buyer 

The ability to define the right business opportunities you’ll spend your time with is the difference between missing or exceeding your sales quota. 

When you’re laser-focused on the right prospects, you stop wasting time with buyers who are simply poor fits or not yet ready to buy. Identifying the right prospects helps you build a predictable, scalable sales process. 

Salespeople at the forefront have not one, but two secret weapons that they use to figure out who those prospects are: an ideal customer profile and a buyer persona. With these in your arsenal, you’ll be able to win the battle against your competitors by a personalized experience for every buyer in every customer interaction.

Topics: Ideal Customer Profile

Erika Granath

Vainu's Content Marketing Manager. Grew up next to Sweden's largest cookie factory. Love cookies (of course), ping pong tournaments and word jokes.