5 Questions to Ask When Creating Your Ideal Customer Profile

Is your company having a hard time finding the exact type of customer you want to market to? If so, there might be something wrong with your ideal customer profile.

By Vincent DeCastro

Andreas Berheide | EyeEm | Getty Images

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Getting a leg up on competitors in the B2B world happens at the very beginning of your marketing campaign: when you're crafting your ideal customer profile. Often referred to in shorthand as the ICP, the ideal customer profile is just a detailed description of the type of company you're most likely to sell to. It's a well-rounded, well-thought-out idea of the customer who will benefit the most from the product or service you offer.

Although the concept is relatively simple, the importance of the ideal customer profile cannot be underestimated. The research that goes into forming an ideal customer profile should be extensive; no cutting corners. It's finding out where they are, what industry they're in, how many employees they have, who their competitors are, and who the decision-makers are within the company. The best ICPs go even deeper, though, verging into the territory of more detailed buyer personas: What industry publications do the decision-makers read? What LinkedIn groups do they engage with? Nothing is too small or irrelevant. A half-done research job can be the difference in making or breaking a positive ROI. Missing just one critical part of the ICP could mean wasting thousands of dollars (or more) targeting potential customers who will never convert—not even with the most effective content marketing strategy in the world.

Related: Digging For Gold: Identifying Your Ideal Customer

But if you're reading this article and find yourself saying, "My marketing team already creates an ICP," then kudos to you. You're already headed in the right direction. But then ask yourself (or your team) this query: Is there untapped growth we're missing out on? Can or should we accelerate growth?

If your answer is yes to either, keep reading. Below, we'll address five under-utilized questions you must ask when crafting your ideal customer profile.

1. Have you actually written down your ICP?

Your ideal customer profile shouldn't just be a passing thought among marketing and sales executives. It's not a fluffy, generalized idea you reference in a broad manner. "We're targeting large retailers in the culinary goods space" is not an ICP. Think of the ICP like a business plan: Written down, you're actually able to visualize what will work and what you need in order to launch a full-scale, successful marketing campaign. This also helps create clear communication between the sales and marketing teams—which is a key selling point for account-based marketing—as the sales team has knowledge that can help fill in some of the gaps in the ICP.

For those new to the ICP game, there are worksheets available that can help B2B companies fill out exactly who and what makes up their ideal customer profile.

2. Is your ICP as small and specific as possible?

Go back to the initial questions you asked yourself. Take location, for example. Maybe initially you wanted to target large retailers in the culinary goods space in the northeast region of the United States. Would it benefit you to be even tighter in that definition, say large retailers in the culinary goods space in the tri-state region with headquarters in mid-to-large-sized cities? Remember, your ICP should be dynamic but start as small as possible. You can always build it out as your business gains traction; more on that later.

Related: Buyer Personas: What They Are, Why They Matter and How to Best Build One

3. Do the companies within your ICP have an urgent problem you can solve?

Urgency doesn't mean market your product today, sell tomorrow. The average B2B sales cycle for 75% of new customers is at least four months. When developing your ICP, urgency simply refers to the actual need for your product. These customers are aware of their pain points and know something needs to be done to solve them. Having this information about a target account ensures you aren't wasting marketing dollars on those companies who might be the perfect fit, but they just signed a two-year contract with one of your competitors. It also contributes to an overall shorter sales cycle (there's no need to spend time convincing these accounts they need you), saving your marketing team money and your sales team time.

4. What is your ICP's budget?

Due to the current economic climate, budgets are tight across the board; we all know that. A CFO of a smaller company won't be slightly tempted to sign your $75,000 annual contract (over half of the company's marketing budget for the year)—even if your product would benefit them immensely. Once again, this is where the ICP comes into play. When determining the exact range, Hubspot says to determine "the lowest cost threshold that a customer would have to pay for your product or service," then work up from there.

Related: Is Poor Customer Experience Person-Related or Policy-Related?

5. Do I need to expand my ICP?

Once you've created your initial ideal customer profile, your team can get started actually executing the campaign. Ad copy is written, graphics are designed, email lists are curated, intent data provides account information, and some of your targets start to move toward the evaluation stage of the funnel. At this moment, it's easy to rest on your marketing laurels: Why change anything if it's working? Why not use this exact same game plan next quarter? Stop right there. Companies that make the effort to revisit their ICPs three to four times a year will always have an upper hand; continuing to develop and expand an ICP leads to larger, and often better, sales opportunities down the line. Plus, you didn't put in all of that effort building the original ICP to let it fall to the wayside.

Vincent DeCastro

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

President at The ABM Agency

Vincent DeCastro is a B2B digital marketing and SEO professional with 15+ years of experience creating and managing demand generation and account based marketing campaigns for large and enterprise organizations.

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