A business is only as good as its understanding and relatability to its audience. Businesses that don’t take the time to build ideal customer profiles, or ICPs, are oftentimes guessing on their target audiences, and completely missing the mark.
These are the businesses that fail, or rebrand, or desperately rely on product launches and gimmicky landing pages to appeal to more people. They are, as the saying goes, “Jack of all trades, masters of none,” getting lost in a sea of predictability and unoriginality, masked behind poorly written press releases and stabs at SEO.
That means if you want to stand out and succeed in business, it’s up to you to build ICPs. Lucky for you, this guide teaches you all the ins and outs in a condensed 8-step process that anyone can follow.
The first step in creating an ideal customer persona, is zeroing in on the size of the organization that you’re selling to. This makes it easier to know how many people are involved in the decision process. For instance, think of a funnel system and how responsibility trickles down. Smaller companies have fewer people, so the decision making is done by a much smaller group than in the multi-billion dollar corporations.
This also mean smaller budgets, with people only being capable of handling a few projects, deadlines, and priorities at a time. That means sales cycles are shorter, and there aren’t as many stakeholders, if any.
With larger businesses, you’ll have to do more digging, more waiting, more networking, but ultimately, it may be more lucrative. That being said, with smaller ones, you’re looking at deals going through faster, and bonds becoming stronger with the passage of time, and successful sales.
Whatever the size of the target organization, there is one thing that rings true: no two marketing VPs face the same set of issues or chase the same goals. A lot of it will depend on variables like their industry, or revenue. In fact, depending on their company, two people with the same exact job title could have completely different responsibilities.
So, keep track of all the variables by creating a list, or table with four columns: company size by employees, revenue, industry, and geography.
Doing so will help you analyze the most impactful variables, keep track of organizations by their criteria, and allow you to see a general scope of who you’ve been targeting, and why they do or don’t work for your business model.
Now that we’ve tackled organizations as a whole, it’s time to zoom in on the specific people within those organizations, as well as any external buyers who happen to use your products/services.
In B2B sales, you’re dealing with stakeholders, but your target is actually the buyer, the end user, or any other person who influences the buying decision. That’s where your persuasive skills need to be focused.
To help you keep track, make a list: title, responsibilities, team size, role within the buying process, and list of the items you’re selling that they use.
This may or may not be applicable to you, but for the sake of clarity, let’s dive in: these are customers who use your products or services for themselves. They don’t run organizations of their own, and if they do, they’re completely unrelated to yours. That means you’re only dealing with them, one person per transaction, not a group of people.
Obviously, this makes things a lot simpler. Reach out to them, tell your customers to be nice if you have a physical store, and use an informative chatbot on your website, and you’re good to go, especially if you’ve been link building. You might even be tempted to avoid looking into demographics, but that couldn’t be farther from the right course of action. You could even use market segmentation to better analyze your audience, or A/B testing to try out new selling and marketing methods that help build your brand.
A few things to track are demographic (age, income, gender), geographic (regions within a country, urban vs rural), behavioral (light users vs heavy users), and even psychographic (cultural clusters, lifestyles, personality types).
By this point, you know the target organizations, if any, and you have a clearer perspective of the people behind the buying process. Now that you have the background information, if you will, you can better understand their average day.
That involves observing their normal activities and responsibilities, as well as any goals they may be working toward. This will uncover any pain points, or problems, that you can help solve with your products or services.
Here’s the reason why that’s so important: people don’t really know what they want, they just know what they want within the context of what they already know.
For example, if you sell cars and ask a customer what their biggest problem is, and how it can be solved, they’ll likely give you a terrible answer. They may say their biggest problem is speed, or space, or rear cameras, or even tech, because that’s within the context of what they know―cars. But they won’t think outside of the box and say “Listen, I just need a teleporter.”
That means that as an entrepreneur, your job is to take clues from how they operate on a day-to-day basis, so you can see those pain points in action for yourself. You might see things they don’t see, and come up with new, innovative ways to solve those issues that they don’t even fathom yet.
It’s this way of thinking that led to cars, airplanes, boats, smartphones, apps, AI smart speakers like Amazon Echo, iPads, and more.
That means that when you take a look at their lives, consider all angles. The things that truly bother them, the things they voice irritation over, and the things that seem to be “unproblematic,” but that certainly cramp their productivity, style, or something else. It’s a classic case of not realizing there was a problem with something until you experience the next big thing.
For example, say someone takes their car in for an oil change. The mechanic comes out and says, “Look at these brake pads, they’re wearing thin. We should really change them.”
Now, the car owner says yes, gets them changed, and then carries on about his day, driving to work, appointments, running errands and such. And only while he’s driving does he realize that the brakes really do feel different. It feels like he’s driving a whole new car. And he simply hadn’t realized that his old brakes needed replacing.
The mechanic solved a problem that needed handling, even though the driver had no idea. And as a result, the car drove better, the driver was safer, and the mechanic likely gained a recurring customer.
Doing this will enable you to properly dispel any objections to your offerings, as well as uncover new product lines (horizontal expansion) and features (vertical expansion), and even tap into new markets. Business growth, all thanks to paying extra close attention to how people spend their days.
Here are some easy ways to handle this step:
Having existing customers fill out forms
Using polls and surveys (offer discount codes or free shipping in exchange)
Job shadowing (B2B)
In doing so, pay extra close attention to big challenges, goals, daily activities, budget, and responsibilities.
External Market Forces
Moving right along, everyone knows what it’s like to want to finish something, while simultaneously being hindered by something or someone else, right?
Take that one time you were trying to get work done, and meet a super important deadline, but Lisa from Accounting wouldn’t stop telling you about her “crazy” weekend of binge watching Netflix. You likely didn’t want to be rude, so you just nodded and tried to limit your level of engagement in the conversation, but you were still stuck there, listening to her for another 10 precious minutes of your time.
This is an external, or environmental, market force. Market conditions and trends always change how companies do things. When 3G, 4G, and now 5G came out, we saw major changes to tech.
Now, there’s three major categories of external factors:
Economic - this includes the state of the economy in any country where your customers are located, as well as that of industries and markets. Think inflation or interest rates, even taxation.
Tech - this includes everything from new devices on the market, to new services, and trends. Anytime something new comes out that changes the way things are done, or that directly threatens something preexisting, it’s going to impact sales.
Social - behavior and expectations change over time. For example, in terms of video games, the industry has seen a complete shift and tug-o-war between customers (players) who want to pay fair prices for completed games, and higher ups (stakeholders) who want to monetize games, and make them services, essentially built over time. This extreme market shift has led to studio closings, bad PR, plenty of public arguments with journalists, smaller budgets, lay offs (firings), and even completely failed games accompanied by misadvertising.
Needless to say, business is successful when you resolve rejections to your offerings, and prove that you’re a smart investment. Finding ways to overcome external forces certainly helps with that, as you’re going out of your way to show people how you keep pace.
You’re not about to become obsolete thanks to a new invention, right?
Of course, this doesn’t always go smoothly. Either you are rendered obsolete, or you find a way to reinvent and grow. Depending on your industry, your competition could be fierce, or not. If it is, you might find that the price for your offerings has to take a steep decline, which means you’d have to upsell, or expand horizontally, and develop new offerings that you can charge a decent amount for, otherwise, you won’t stay in business for long.
Now it’s time to take a look at your CAP, your customer acquisition process, because it’s not enough to get customers to click on your CTA button, you have to know how they go about it.
Because this is what allows you to determine any problematic checkout areas. Designing a streamlined, painless checkout process guarantees happier customers and more sales. The harder you make it, the less likely they are to complete a purchase, because suddenly, it pins your product/service against the ever-dangerous question of “Is it worth it?”
Take, for example, a store like IKEA, which is designed to get you to walk, and walk, and walk some more. The theory is that the more you see, the more likely you are to purchase additional items. They’re actively nudging you toward impulse purchases, and with their cheap prices, they entice you even further.
If you’ve ever walked through an IKEA, you’d likely agree that this works.You go in there wanting a vase, and you wind up with an entire new bedroom set and some curtains.
But lately, IKEA has been having a problem: they rely on real cashiers to manage all payments, getting rid of their self-checkouts back in 2012. As a result, their lines are awful. All their lines, from checkout, to returns.
Now, why is this important?
IKEA is spread out. Unless you’re on the east coast, at precisely the right spots, you’re only going to have access to one location, maybe two if you’re lucky. For most people, it would be a whole roadtrip just to get there.
That means people go at all times of day, late into the night even, just to get things sorted before the weekend. And on the weekends, it’s worse.
Which means many people are standing in line with their items, waiting for half an hour, maybe an hour, sometimes even longer. And if you stand there for a mere five minutes, you realize many people choose to dump their items and leave.
Because they just walked the whole store, looked at everything, got what they wanted, and now they have to waste another chunk of their day to just buy them? It’s not worth it, depending on what it is they’re buying.
It’s a dangerous situation to be in, where your products have to be in high demand. They have to be a need, more than a want. They can’t just be add-on, impulse purchases, they need to be problem solving solutions.
But don’t make the mistake of assuming that you’re in the clear if you have an ecommerce business instead. Digital checkouts are among the biggest culprits, because they tend to make the whole process a pain.
Offering guest checkouts, an easy, short sign-up process for accounts, and the ability to have forms pre-filled out assuming you have an account, are all easy solutions that make checking out faster for your customers. If you need more inspiration, don’t hesitate to find out how your customers purchase other, similar products and services.
Using surveys, and short interviews can shed some insight in what they expect, what they’re accustomed to from your competitors.
Also, remember that your sales cycle should look different depending on your industry. Some purchases really do have long sales cycles, and with good reason. Others don’t, or at least should not. You’ll find that most people, regardless of purchase or industry, tend to prefer short buying processes anyway, but imagine if it was like that for home buying.
Sure, you’d have a house in a day, but what about property inspection? What about any in-depth research, or questions that you didn’t think to ask then and there. Rather than have a week, maybe even a month, to think everything through, and really understand what you’re getting yourself in, you’d only have about an hour or two. If you hated the house later, you’d be in for a world of hurt.
For those looking to shorten the sales cycle, consider the following:
Who is in charge of the decision making within the buying process?
Who is your ideal customer, the one gaining the most benefit from using your product or service?
What risks are there from buying your product or service?
What are customers buying from your competitors, and how do you compare?
What kinds of content do your competitors put out that differs from yours?
How does their buying process (your competitors’) differ from yours?
How is your product or service going to be implemented?
Knowing the answer to these questions enables you to streamline things a bit. You know what the focus is, you know what matters, so you know what is just fluff that can be removed.
Factors Leading to Checkout
Of course, as previously stated, having a good product isn’t enough. And as it turns out, having a streamlined checkout process isn’t either. You still need to worry about how you’re going to get customers to be enticed enough to want to buy anything.
Ask yourself what will people be researching when they have a need for your offering/solution? What will they want to know about your product/service, and what might they object to?
Tack on the information they might need to get this sale approved, and what kind of authority your target customer has to make a purchase within a certain budget, and you have yourself some important information that you can use to encourage people to take a deeper look in your business.
Selling From the Right Angle
You’ve heard it before: PAIN points are the issues that prospects experience, and the whole reason why they purchase (hopefully) your solutions. The greater the issue is, the greater the PAIN points, and the higher the need is for your solution.
Imagine you’re facing the end of your rent lease, and hate the idea of staying at the complex another year. It’s full of bad neighbors, they have terrible policies in place, and whenever you call maintenance, they take a month to even show up. You’ve had it, the PAIN tolerance is wearing thin, and you’re desperate for a solution.
Enter a property owner, managing his own apartment complex. He prices things fairly, offers plenty of quality of life bonuses (pool, gym, spa, ample parking for free), and he has apartments available for rent.
Perfect. He has the solution that hits the nail on the head with every check of a box, and the person facing the major problem is desperate for a solution, so… it’s a match made in heaven.
This means as an entrepreneur, it’s your goal to sell the pain, rather than the solution. Yes, your item has this many features, and directly solves the problem(s), it ticks the boxes, etc. But you need to relate to the audience on the pain.
The bigger that pain is, the more desperate the prospect is to buy a solution. But also, the bigger the pain is, the easier it is to appeal to them from that angle. When the issue isn’t big enough, your message becomes muddled.
In other words, it’s easier to sell something that solves an obvious problem, than it is to task an entire sales team to entice people into thinking their problem really is a problem they need to handle somehow.
Awareness vs. Urgency
Imagine for a second that there is a group of people living with clutter. They’re living their daily lives in messy rooms, but they are aware of their problem. They know they need to solve it, and they may have been researching here and there, but nothing serious has been done to resolve the issue.
This classifies as an active problem, and it’s the dream scenario for any entrepreneur with the right solution. You don’t need to tell prospects what the problem is, because they already know. You don’t need to tell them why they should solve it, because they live with the constant reminder on a daily basis. All you need to do is sell them organized rooms (storage bins).
But what about passive problems?
Consider these potential customers who know of a problem, but aren’t motivated enough to do anything about it. They’re also the group of prospects who simply aren’t aware of the opportunity to change.
In essence, it’s the old man at the Verizon store asking for help about 3G, when we’re already on 5G. It’s the person who is aware that his/her home is a mess, but they’re not motivated enough to change it, perhaps because it’s simply not worth the effort to solve it.
There are two more types of problems, however: vision and latent.
Vision consists of customers who have a knack for problem solving. They’ve likely developed their own DIY solution for the time being, while searching for a good one on the market. They’re a little like the active problem group, only they take initiative to create their own solution for the time being. This means it’s harder to sell to them as a result, because they already have something comparable, at least to a degree. Their expectations are higher. If they’re going to pay for it, it should be better than what they created themselves for free.
Latent is when they have an issue and have no idea. They are the hardest people to sell to because you have to make them aware of their issue first. It involves more work on your part, and that of your sales team.
Of course, there is one major point that spans across all of these groups, and that’s urgency. The higher the urgency is for a solution, the easier the sale will be. For groups like the latent few, the urgency is super low, which means you need to do more work to convince them otherwise.
Knowing your customer’s day-to-day helps with this, since you can highlight the effects of their problem, and create a sense of urgency that way.
Side note here: if this all seems like too much, you can hire a digital marketing consultant to help you out. This guides aims to show you a detailed outlook on what it takes to understand your customers, but if you lack the time to implement the advice, or you still don’t know where to even begin, it may be smarter to consult with someone who does this in their sleep!
Business And Personal Values
For those of you tackling B2B exclusively, you have to balance both the values of an organization (company mission, messaging, and policies) and of the individuals involved in the buying process. The more people there are, the harder the balance.
The good news is there are a few boxes to tick that cover both angles:
Of course, you can’t get anywhere in business without putting yourself in people’s shoes. Chances are you began this business after suffering from a problem. You found a solution and you felt the need to share it with the world.
Remember that point of origin, because it’s what keeps you aware of people’s struggles. It’s what enables you to show empathy through proper treatment of your prospects, giving them the right, free lead magnets that truly make a difference. The more you can help people, the more they’ll notice what else you have to offer.
After all, remember that it’s real human beings buying your products. Appealing to them on a human level keeps you down to earth, but also surprisingly effective at selling.
A key point to keep in mind, however, is that making choices is either rational/logical, or emotional. Depending on the issue, it’s going to lean more one way other the other. For example, if you’re dealing with buyers within a major corporation, chances are they will approach it in a logical fashion. They want what’s good for the company as a whole. But if you’re selling in a B2C setting, you’re likely going to sell on an emotional level with your Google and Facebook ads.
Ask yourself what this user might be going through. What are the pain points, the fears, that you’re solving? And what might they gain from using your products? Any worries or aspirations that you’re solving?
The Learning Process
Understanding where users get their information helps to better understand both how they learn, and what matters to them. That means knowing what your customers read, what they do on the weekend, and who they follow on social media, will really make it clear what trends and information they consider to be valuable.
The more you know, the more you can market your products and services in a certain angle, effectively staying relevant and popular.
As an added bonus, you’ll likely come across what they read in terms of pain points and solutions. After all, most of us conduct research, develop options, and then select a brand to shop from. Seeing what they’re struggling with, and what’s being suggested to them, allows you to market effectively as well.
As an added tip, check out which publications they frequent the most. This is the press coverage you need to tap into, since they are directly influencing and informing your target audience. That’s marketing: appealing to your customers in ways that best fit them. It’s why social media marketing has become so huge. Developing content that really resonates with people, and starring in relevant news pieces, helps as much, if not more than any lead magnet.
What You Want
Every entrepreneur knows, or at least should know, what they want their customers to become. Fitness gurus don’t just solve the unhealthy eating, overeating, out of shape problem for people… they change how those customers think, what they do, and how they feel.
And they do that by establishing a very clear, no fuss definition of what they want their customers to become, whether it’s more tech savvy, or healthier and happier in their own skin.
This is super important, as it will allow you to be more than just a problem solver. It will help set the stage for leadership within your industry/market. Instead of simply being a provider of goods and services, you become an expert who knows exactly how to champion and celebrate customers.
As an added bonus, depicting this definition in all aspects of your marketing campaign is bound to help prospects visualize themselves in the future, after buying from you. And there’s no better incentive than that.
If you’re looking to grow as a business, perfect your landing pages, and boost your CRO, start by developing your ideal customer personas (ICPs). There’s no better investment than the one that involves getting to know your target audience on a deeper level.
By getting to know your audience, you’ll find the right selling angle, the right people to appeal to, and the reasons for purchase to highlight. Effectively, selling will become easier, because you’ll know exactly what to say, when, and to who.
And remember, if you have a problem doing any of this for whatever reason, maybe time, or even confusion, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Digital marketing consultants are exceptional at lending a hand.
So, do you think you’ll create ICPs? Why or why not?
Let me know in the comments section below!