Buying success from day one: The role of Ideal Customer Profiles

It is widely accepted that customer success starts with product and sales.  I have covered product here and now I want to talk about the importance of Ideal Customer Profiles (ICP) to customer success.

A personal prejudice: I dislike personas as beloved of many marketers.  Too many examples I have seen describe Tony or Antoinette, a 35 year old marketing manager with a degree in business studies who is striving to improve campaign performance  etcetera etcetera .…  Weasel words that do little to help me find, win and retain a customer, even in a consumer business.  I want hard facts and data on which I can build content and campaigns across the customer lifecycle.

Before I get into the detail of an ICP, let me share an example showing why they are so important to customer success.  I worked with one company that believed any B2B company was good business.  Sales went after everything that moved.  As a result, the company had very high first year churn, a significant percentage of which was down to customers that would never achieve success.  Not only were they not satisfied, many were downright angry and told everyone they could find about it.  Instead of CSMs delivering value, they were dealing with customers that wanted out of a 12 month contract that would never deliver for them  Contrast that with the view of Greg Goldfarb, MD of SaaS VC Summit Partners.  He says companies should …”not accept a booking until customer has met CS rep / accepted CS plan and vice versa.”  If CS is an integral part of the sales process, there is no way of winning a customer cannot that served.  Marketing, Sales and Customer Success all share the view of what makes an ideal customer.

For me, an Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) has the following elements:

  • Target markets: High level view of the types of companies we want to do business with.  In addition to basic stuff like industries, size and location, think about factors like life-stage, business model, culture.  Be creative!
  • Target roles: A detailed view of the specific people we want to sell to and serve.  I am talking job titles, challenges/issues, where they look for help and guidance, what groups they follow, what events they attend.  Build this picture for each of the buying roles: Decision Maker, Influencer and Users.
  • Engagement scoring: If you have done the work on target market and roles, this part comes easily.  Again by role, list out the factors that will make them more and less engaged with your company.  List these for the target market, role and the situation the individuals are in.  Remember, the customer’s context is the thing that drives engagement most.  Engagement factors include how they respond to the next element of an ICP, your content.
  • Content map and sales tools: Content is king in today’s world but context is queen!  Content is only good if it is delivered to the right people at the right time.  Your content map should address each of the target roles across the customer lifecycle: from initial interest through the buying and customer journeys.  I separate out sales tools as things that are used by your sales, account management and customer success teams to differentiate from things that can be shared with customers.
  • Success plan: What steps will be needed to make the customer successful.  This is not a detailed adoption plan but an overview of the post sale activities.  This is a combination of discovery and expectation stetting.

You can get my ICP workbook here.

You will have noticed that I said buyer journey.  Another of my pet hates are one-sided sales processes.  Most that I have seen describe what the company does with little regard for the customer – the prospect.  I just think this is bad salesmanship.  How can you sell successfully without understanding the issues, challenges and processes the buyers (an increasing number or people are involved in B2B purchases) have to go through?

Developing this style of ICP must be done with participation from Marketing, Sales and Customer Success as it will applied across all disciplines.  Ideally, the debate is founded on data about:

  • the lifetime customer value of different customer groups
  • cost to acquire and serve different customer groups
  • the addressable market size of different customer groups
  • speed of progress in the pipeline: you win good deals quickly and loose bad ones slowly

ICPs are not about reducing the available market but targeting those customers that the product and company are best suited serve.  Nor is this about favouring CS over sales.  The decision about ICPs is a strategic choice about how to maximise the growth of the company.

PS Watch out for my blog on using Engagement Scoring in churn calculations.