ICPs vs. buyer personas: what SDRs need to know

Outreach not converting enough leads? Work on your buyer personas and ICP

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Ideal customer profiles (ICPs) and buyer personas have a lot in common.
So much so that you’re far from alone if you get the two terms mixed up.

Both are hypothetical representations of your target audience and both aim to help sales development reps (SDRs) bring in qualified leads that can benefit from your solution.

ICPs and buyer personas are similar concepts with a close relationship. However, it’s important to understand that each plays a distinct role in helping sales development reps (SDRs) target the best possible leads and speak to their pains effectively.

In these next few sections, we’ll define each term, go over the basic process of creating personas and ICPs, then explain why both play a critical role in sales development.

What is an ideal customer profile (ICP)?

An ideal customer profile (ICP) is a hypothetical representation of an ideal customer—at the company level. Essentially, an ICP describes the type of business your company typically sells to, based on the shared characteristics of your best accounts.

In B2B sales, the most important factor is how you can help your clients improve the bottom line—whether that’s helping them break into new markets, save time, cut costs or retain customers.

As such, you’ll want to draw on real data that can help you identify the groups that stand to see the most significant gains from embracing your solution (more on this in a moment).

ICPs are used to help SDRs and marketers target the best-fit prospects using firmographic data like industry, revenue, and location to target the right audience with messaging based on what each company on your list considers most valuable.

Sales development can use ICPs to achieve the following outcomes:

  • Focus resources on high-value leads. Done right, ICPs help sales development teams stay focused on targeting the right prospects—even if they challenge the status quo—by helping them understand the exact combination of qualities to look for in a prospect.With accurate profiles and the right tools, an SDR might notice that a new segment engages with the website content and demonstrates high-intent. From there, they can prioritize those hot new leads and put cooler ones on the backburner.If you’re using a tool like Revenue Inbox, you can capture email conversations, engagement data, and sales activities in real-time and update your strategy based on the latest findings.
  • Increase customer loyalty & lifetime value. Of course, the most obvious benefit of attracting “ideal” customers is that they’re happy to pay for a service that they find valuable. Long term, ideal customers are the ones that stick with your brand, try your latest offerings, and purchase upgrades and add-ons.
  • Get more referrals/testimonials. Your ideal customers are the group most likely to find your service valuable. As a result, targeting those accounts most like your “best” customers can help you generate positive reviews, referrals, and brand advocates that create new business. At the same time, your reps can focus on other areas.

How do you create an ideal customer profile?

What do you already know about your best customers? Again, ICPs focus on company-level data. So, before you do anything else, you’ll want to dig into your records and look at the following firmographic data points:

  • Company size
  • Budget
  • Industry
  • Products/services
  • Annual revenue
  • Location
  • Technologies/solutions used
  • Pain points
  • Goals
  • Market trends/challenges
  • Organizational structure
  • Which roles are involved in the decision-making process?

If you don’t have a ton of data, don’t fret. Use lead capture forms, chatbots, or even paid ad campaigns to gather information about your audience.

Look for shared characteristics of your best customers

CRM records, sales engagement platforms, and marketing data can all help you spot your biggest spenders and most loyal fans.

AI-enabled sales intelligence tools can help you ID the shared characteristics of your most loyal customers that may be a bit harder to detect. Examples include technographics, behavioral insights, and buying signals that indicate sales-readiness.

Try to find out:

  • Where is the largest share of your revenue coming from? Any particular industry? Is there a sweet spot when it comes to company size?
  • Where is your existing pipeline coming from?
  • What is your average close rate by industry? Company size? Annual revenue?
  • What industries have the highest revenue potential?
  • Which ones have the largest pool of qualified buyers?
  • What industries produce the most website visitors, engaged users, most downloads?

Incorporate real feedback

In addition to mining your company’s data, it’s important to talk to actual customers before finalizing your ICPs.

Asking for feedback makes customers feel valued, presenting an opportunity to get them to open up about their needs, experiences, and what could be better. It also allows you to get to the “why” behind buyer behavior and uncover the emotional triggers that make or break deals.

Ask sales reps to share feedback they hear on calls and in meetings, and while you’re at it, check in with customer success and tech support.

You’ll also want to interview top customers. Ask them how they found your company, why they chose you, and why they’ve stuck around.

And finally, use a social listening tool for monitoring brand mentions, reviews, and relevant topics—this is your best bet for capturing insights customers might not share directly with your brand.

Define the use case by industry

Finally, you’ll want to define how to present your use case(s) based on which account your SDR is working. Look at each of your product/service’s use cases and one, by one, consider the benefits it offers to each industry and role that you target.

From there, you’ll want to do some more digging to find out which use cases place you at the greatest competitive advantage. Narrowing in on the most valuable talking points for each account type allows your team to reach buyers who don’t know they need your product or aren’t actively looking.

What is a buyer persona and why do they matter?

A buyer persona, like an ICP, is a generalized representation of your ideal buyer.

Unlike ICPs, which look at customers at the organizational level, buyer personas help you get into the headspace of individual buyers and allow reps to dive deeper into the segments, roles, and personalities within an ICP.

According to Gartner, the average B2B deal involves six to ten different decision-makers—each with their own goals, challenges, pain points, and demographic profiles.

In B2B sales, one ICP typically includes multiple personas from C-suite buyers to middle managers, the IT team, and possibly a few front-line workers.

So, why should SDRs care about personas?

Well, buyers aren’t satisfied with a “one-size-fits-all” approach. According to Salesforce, 72% of buyers expect vendors to provide personalized engagement that aligns with their unique needs.

And let’s be real: presenting a tailored pitch to every prospect, then nurturing each lead with personalized messaging—on every possible touchpoint—until they sign a contract is close to impossible.

Well-crafted personas support relevance at scale, on all channels, by providing critical information like what type of content is most effective with each buyer segment or what channels they prefer to use during the buying process.

How do you create a buyer persona?

We recently published a post that breaks down persona creation into a six-step process—check it out here for a closer look at personas in general.

Below, I’ve outlined a few tips for crafting SDR-friendly profiles to ensure buyer relationships start on the right foot.

Determine what data you need to understand your typical buyer

Your buyer personas should paint a clear picture of the average “day in the life” of your ideal customer. What challenges do they face? What are their goals? Pain points?

With that in mind, the first step is to identify what information you’ll need to compile to understand this “person’s” experience truly.

At a minimum, you’ll want to make sure to find the following information:

  • Job details
  • Demographics
  • Firmographics
  • Pain points
  • Which channels do they use?
  • When is the best time to reach out?
  • What barriers could prevent deals from moving forward?

You can’t develop useful personas without first building a robust firmographic foundation. You’ll want to make sure to finalize your ICPs before you start building personas for “Christy CMO,” “Marketing Molly,” “Data Scientist Dave” and the rest of the gang.

Otherwise, you’ll end up with marketers, sales reps, and C-level execs with no organization or industry to call home.

If you consider how different marketing looks in healthcare, versus entertainment or fashion, putting personas first could spell big trouble.

Focus on decision-maker roles & objectives

Build your persona around buyer roles, not titles, which tend to vary by organization.

Aberdeen recommends building a taxonomy of titles and related keywords representing your ideal buyer based on the words decision-makers use to explain what they do, as opposed to relying on functional titles to ID new prospects.

The second part of this is looking at your list of decision-maker “types” and how goals and pain points change based on role.

By learning what’s important to each role, you’ll have an easier time creating content that supports each stakeholder through their version of the buyer’s journey.

Make your personas “actionable”

Actionable buyer personas go beyond basic documentation and include benefits and pain points written using the buyer’s voice and perspective. This extra step is essential for guiding sales development activities, as it keeps strategies focused on the right goal at each touchpoint.

As you map out your customer journeys, be sure to include the challenges buyers face at critical stages and corresponding solutions that ease each pain point.

Final thoughts

I’d like to end on one final point. Words like “hypothetical,” “composite” and “template” are often used to describe both ICPs and buyer personas.

As such, many companies create “characters” or company descriptions based on who they think is their ideal customer, which isn’t great for attracting the real people who benefit from your solution.

We’ve gone over the “what” and the “how” behind ICPs and buyer personas. But there’s still the question of “who” when it comes to developing, maintaining, and using them.

For example, are personas and ICPs the exclusive domain of the sales development team? How involved should marketing be in this process? Who is in charge?

How do you push individual SDRs and teams to develop strong personas and continue refining the ICP? How can SDRs organize this information to put it to work in their outreach?

Revenue Garage has found a sales development expert with answers to these questions and more at a live webinar Tomorrow’s Outreach Today. According to Justin Michael, strong buyer personas and a solid understanding of the ICP is key to successful—and efficient!—cold outreach.

Tomorrow’s Outreach Today with Justin Michael ended on September 10. Watch the webinar replay now and increase your odds with your cold outreach.