Startup series 3 - Identifying the Ideal Customer Profile (ICP)

Startup series 3 - Identifying the Ideal Customer Profile (ICP)

Beyond Growth | Startup series | How to identify your ICP

Beyond Growth | Startup series | How to identify your ICP

Last edited on:

Nov 13, 2023

Author:

Jordy Oost

Startup series - part 3 - identifying an ideal customer profile (ICP) - main
Startup series - part 3 - identifying an ideal customer profile (ICP) - main
Startup series - part 3 - identifying an ideal customer profile (ICP) - main

This series of articles is crafted to help founders and team members of early-stage companies grow their business. The insights are based on experience, literature and evergreen content written by leading experts in the startup arena.

1️⃣ Startup series - part 1 - Generating a business idea
2️⃣ Startup series - part 2 - Validating your business idea
3️⃣ Startup series - part 3 - Identifying your ICP <— You are here
4️⃣ Startup series - part 4 - Choosing the right marketing channels

In this part we'll explore why it is essential to identify your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) in an early stage of your company. Additionally, we look at best practices for ICP identification and at how to translate an ICP into marketing tactics.


Identifying the Ideal Customer Profile (ICP)

An Ideal Customer Profile is essentially a hypothetical description of the type of company that would reap the most benefit from (and contribute to) your products or services.

This series of articles is crafted to help founders and team members of early-stage companies grow their business. The insights are based on experience, literature and evergreen content written by leading experts in the startup arena.

1️⃣ Startup series - part 1 - Generating a business idea
2️⃣ Startup series - part 2 - Validating your business idea
3️⃣ Startup series - part 3 - Identifying your ICP <— You are here
4️⃣ Startup series - part 4 - Choosing the right marketing channels

In this part we'll explore why it is essential to identify your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) in an early stage of your company. Additionally, we look at best practices for ICP identification and at how to translate an ICP into marketing tactics.


Identifying the Ideal Customer Profile (ICP)

An Ideal Customer Profile is essentially a hypothetical description of the type of company that would reap the most benefit from (and contribute to) your products or services.

Startup series - part 3 - identifying an ideal customer profile (ICP) - the definition of an ICP.png
Startup series - part 3 - identifying an ideal customer profile (ICP) - the definition of an ICP.png
Startup series - part 3 - identifying an ideal customer profile (ICP) - the definition of an ICP.png

In the early stages of business, resources – be it time, money, or manpower – are  limited. Spreading these resources too thin, or in the wrong direction, can be a costly misstep.

By having a clear ICP, you can focus on the prospects that are most likely to convert, engage more effectively with your content, and create highly tailored marketing messages.

Startup series - part 3 - identifying an ideal customer profile (ICP) - From target audience to ICP

Let's dive in and explore the (1.) why, (2.) what and (3.) how for identification of your ICP.

In the early stages of business, resources – be it time, money, or manpower – are  limited. Spreading these resources too thin, or in the wrong direction, can be a costly misstep.

By having a clear ICP, you can focus on the prospects that are most likely to convert, engage more effectively with your content, and create highly tailored marketing messages.

Startup series - part 3 - identifying an ideal customer profile (ICP) - From target audience to ICP

Let's dive in and explore the (1.) why, (2.) what and (3.) how for identification of your ICP.

1. Why: The importance of ICP identification

The importance of an ICP is in its value it provides to your organisation. This can be categorized into four distinct categories. Focus, Personalisation, Targeting and Strategy.

1.1 Focus

Concentrate efforts on the right audience

A clear ICP allows you to tailor your marketing messages, align your product development to specific needs, and ensure that your sales efforts are focused on the leads most likely to convert. This focus not only increases the effectiveness of your campaigns but also optimizes your limited resources, ensuring that time and money are not wasted on unqualified leads.

1.2 Personalization

Build effective content and campaigns

An ICP deepens your understanding of your customers' pain points, challenges, and business goals. This understanding is key to creating content and marketing strategies that resonate with your target audience. By speaking directly to the issues and needs of your ideal customers, you can foster better engagement, build trust, and establish your brand as a thought leader in your industry.

1.3 Targeting

Create target lists that drive revenue

A well-defined ICP helps in streamlining your sales process by enabling your sales team to focus on leads that are more likely to convert. An ICP enables easy account list creation. This not only improves the efficiency of your sales process but also enhances the overall customer/prospect experience with tailored content and outreach.

1.4 Strategy

Continuous improvement of your business strategy

Finally, an ICP is also crucial for long-term business planning and growth. Understanding your ideal customer allows for more informed decision-making and strategy development. It also helps businesses adapt to changing market conditions, as a clear ICP can be revisited and revised to reflect new market realities or shifts in your business focus.

1. Why: The importance of ICP identification

The importance of an ICP is in its value it provides to your organisation. This can be categorized into four distinct categories. Focus, Personalisation, Targeting and Strategy.

1.1 Focus

Concentrate efforts on the right audience

A clear ICP allows you to tailor your marketing messages, align your product development to specific needs, and ensure that your sales efforts are focused on the leads most likely to convert. This focus not only increases the effectiveness of your campaigns but also optimizes your limited resources, ensuring that time and money are not wasted on unqualified leads.

1.2 Personalization

Build effective content and campaigns

An ICP deepens your understanding of your customers' pain points, challenges, and business goals. This understanding is key to creating content and marketing strategies that resonate with your target audience. By speaking directly to the issues and needs of your ideal customers, you can foster better engagement, build trust, and establish your brand as a thought leader in your industry.

1.3 Targeting

Create target lists that drive revenue

A well-defined ICP helps in streamlining your sales process by enabling your sales team to focus on leads that are more likely to convert. An ICP enables easy account list creation. This not only improves the efficiency of your sales process but also enhances the overall customer/prospect experience with tailored content and outreach.

1.4 Strategy

Continuous improvement of your business strategy

Finally, an ICP is also crucial for long-term business planning and growth. Understanding your ideal customer allows for more informed decision-making and strategy development. It also helps businesses adapt to changing market conditions, as a clear ICP can be revisited and revised to reflect new market realities or shifts in your business focus.

2. What: What is an Ideal Customer Profile?

An Ideal Customer Profile is essentially a hypothetical description of the type of company that would reap the most benefit from your product.

It’s more than just a basic sketch of a potential customer. It's a detailed and nuanced overview that guides your marketing and sales strategies and is one of the elements of your Go-To-Market strategy.

2. What: What is an Ideal Customer Profile?

An Ideal Customer Profile is essentially a hypothetical description of the type of company that would reap the most benefit from your product.

It’s more than just a basic sketch of a potential customer. It's a detailed and nuanced overview that guides your marketing and sales strategies and is one of the elements of your Go-To-Market strategy.

Startup series - part 3 - identifying an ideal customer profile (ICP) - Go-to-market strategy vs. marketing tactics
Startup series - part 3 - identifying an ideal customer profile (ICP) - Go-to-market strategy vs. marketing tactics
Startup series - part 3 - identifying an ideal customer profile (ICP) - Go-to-market strategy vs. marketing tactics

Make sure to use a dynamic tool such as Notion, Confluence or Google Sheets to save your ICP in. As you want to share and change it over time.

Key components that should be included to ensure it's both comprehensive and actionable:

2.1 Demographic Information

This includes basic details such as industry, company size, location, and annual revenue. These demographics help in segmenting the market and focusing on the most relevant sectors.

2.2 Business Objectives

Understanding the business goals and objectives of your ideal customers is crucial. What are they trying to achieve? How do they define success? This insight aligns your product or service as a solution to their specific goals.

2.3 Challenges and Pain Points

Identify the specific problems your ideal customers are facing. What obstacles are they encountering in achieving their goals? Understanding these challenges allows you to position your offering as the solution.

2.4 The buying committee

Who are the key decision-makers and influencers in the purchasing process? Understanding the hierarchy and decision-making flow within your target companies can help tailor your sales approach.

2.5 The buying journey

This involves understanding how your ideal customers make purchasing decisions. What triggers a purchase process? What factors are important to the prospects? Knowing this helps in crafting compelling value propositions and reaching out to the right person at the right time.

3. How: Identification of your ICP

For identification of your ICP you want to conduct market research, interviews and analyse your existing customers to develop a narrative. An easy way to start this process is by answering the following list of questions.

1.1 Firmographic data

Who is your target organisation / company?
  • Amount of employees (e.g. 200-500 employees)

  • revenue (e.g. 5-20 million p/year) 

  • and other relevant criteria (# of branches, # of product lines, # of hires p/y, etc.)

And, what type of company is it?
  • Location,

  • industry,

  • and other relevant criteria (marketing/tech stack they are using, team structure, maturity of company, amount of funding raised)

1.2 User and buyer persona

Who is the buyer of the product?
  • Can we describe them in terms that we can target?

    • Job title, department, team size, education, personal interests

  • What are their responsibilities?

    • Do we know their daily activities, responsibilities and targets

  • Is the buyer also the user?

    • If this is not the same person, who are the users?


  • [bonus] Is there a unique place where this group spends time? (E.g.  a discord group, knowledge platform or subreddit)

What are their goals and pain points?
  • What are their goals and challenges, related to your product?

    • Which pain points are they experiencing and what are the solutions

  • What is the problem that they cannot solve themselves?

    • Did they give any feedback on the product?

1.3 Current customers/prospects

What does the buying process look like?
  • What triggered them to search for a solution?

  • Which steps did they go through before making a purchase?

  • What are reasons for losing and postponing deals?

You can download and copy an ICP questionnaire template your own usage here:
—> ICP Questionnaire <—

3. How: Identification of your ICP

For identification of your ICP you want to conduct market research, interviews and analyse your existing customers to develop a narrative. An easy way to start this process is by answering the following list of questions.

1.1 Firmographic data

Who is your target organisation / company?
  • Amount of employees (e.g. 200-500 employees)

  • revenue (e.g. 5-20 million p/year) 

  • and other relevant criteria (# of branches, # of product lines, # of hires p/y, etc.)

And, what type of company is it?
  • Location,

  • industry,

  • and other relevant criteria (marketing/tech stack they are using, team structure, maturity of company, amount of funding raised)

1.2 User and buyer persona

Who is the buyer of the product?
  • Can we describe them in terms that we can target?

    • Job title, department, team size, education, personal interests

  • What are their responsibilities?

    • Do we know their daily activities, responsibilities and targets

  • Is the buyer also the user?

    • If this is not the same person, who are the users?


  • [bonus] Is there a unique place where this group spends time? (E.g.  a discord group, knowledge platform or subreddit)

What are their goals and pain points?
  • What are their goals and challenges, related to your product?

    • Which pain points are they experiencing and what are the solutions

  • What is the problem that they cannot solve themselves?

    • Did they give any feedback on the product?

1.3 Current customers/prospects

What does the buying process look like?
  • What triggered them to search for a solution?

  • Which steps did they go through before making a purchase?

  • What are reasons for losing and postponing deals?

You can download and copy an ICP questionnaire template your own usage here:
—> ICP Questionnaire <—

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[Bonus chapter] 4. The buyer persona vs. the ICP

🏦 The Ideal Customer profile

An ideal customer profile (ICP) is a list of characteristics of companies most likely to buy. It helps you figure out which accounts to talk to.

➡️ It focuses on the characteristics of the target company, such as its size, industry, budget, and specific pain points that your offering addresses.

After addressing your ICP you can continue your research to define your buyer persona’s.

💁 The buyer persona

Buyer personas are the persons at these companies. It helps you think about what they love, hate, and how you can solve their problems with your product.

➡️ It focuses on individual roles within a business or consumer market, detailing their personal attributes, goals, challenges, and behaviour.

[Bonus chapter] 4. The buyer persona vs. the ICP

🏦 The Ideal Customer profile

An ideal customer profile (ICP) is a list of characteristics of companies most likely to buy. It helps you figure out which accounts to talk to.

➡️ It focuses on the characteristics of the target company, such as its size, industry, budget, and specific pain points that your offering addresses.

After addressing your ICP you can continue your research to define your buyer persona’s.

💁 The buyer persona

Buyer personas are the persons at these companies. It helps you think about what they love, hate, and how you can solve their problems with your product.

➡️ It focuses on individual roles within a business or consumer market, detailing their personal attributes, goals, challenges, and behaviour.

[Bonus chapter] 5. Templates and examples

Examples

Lenny Rachitsky from Lennysnewsletter.com created a great overview of initial ICPs from some of today's biggest B2B software companies.

Templates

📑 Lenny also created the following template for you to get started with. You can take a look at it here.

📝 Rather have a word document to get you started? Find and download my own questionnaire via the following link —> here <—.

[Bonus chapter] 5. Templates and examples

Examples

Lenny Rachitsky from Lennysnewsletter.com created a great overview of initial ICPs from some of today's biggest B2B software companies.

Templates

📑 Lenny also created the following template for you to get started with. You can take a look at it here.

📝 Rather have a word document to get you started? Find and download my own questionnaire via the following link —> here <—.

Continue reading

Continue reading with the next part of these startup series:

4️⃣ Startup series - part 4 - Choosing the right marketing channels

Continue reading

Continue reading with the next part of these startup series:

4️⃣ Startup series - part 4 - Choosing the right marketing channels

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