The single most important question you can answer as a business leader, marketing or sales executive is, “Who do we want to be a hero to?” The question, even in its simplest form, is quite difficult to answer and the implications of that answer have huge impacts on your business.
If you’re involved in complex, high consideration B2B sales, the question is even more complex, because you must answer it from two distinct perspectives:
- The types of companies you want to do business with, or what I call your Ideal Client Profile (ICP).
- The people who you must influence and connect with to make consistent sales and to delight as customers, or what I call Buyer Personas.
As the idea of buyer personas grows, I’m seeing with increased frequency a blur between the two, resulting in greater ambiguity and wasted growth resources. When the goal is creating sales and marketing alignment to enable consistent, scalable growth, creating clarity behind both is important to success.
Always Qualify The Company Never The Contact
As inbound marketing has gained momentum, and actually using buyer personas has become more popular, a nasty thing has happened. B2B organizations have begun to overfocus on the contact and are forgetting that it’s the company (or account) that needs to be qualified, not the contact or “lead.” I think this is one of the reasons people have made such a big deal out of “account-based” everything.
When prospecting, remember that it’s better to spend time with the wrong persona at the right company/account, than it is to spend time with the perfect persona at the wrong company/account.
You can think of your ICP as a company persona. Your job here is to clearly define the types of companies/accounts you want to be doing business with (note: this is not always the same as the companies you are doing business with). The purpose of this is to create a focal point that enables the effective alignment of all demand generation and product/services resources.
While the process and criteria used to create buyer personas is pretty consistent across the vast majority of business types, defining the criteria for your ICP is unique to your company.
So, the first step in creating an ICP is to define the criteria you’re going to use, and why that criteria matters. As an example of this, here are the criteria (and rationale) we use at Imagine:
- Company revenue. We’ve defined a clear sweet spot for the size of companies we can serve better than anyone else in the world.
- Number of employees. This is a nice complement to the revenue metric we focus on.
- Titles/Roles. Our programs are designed to appeal to specific role players (personas), so we are very clear on the roles that need to be there and to those we should be talking with.
- Sales team size. The size of the sales team tells us a lot of their potential needs, the challenges they’ll have to success and the likelihood of a fit.
- Their sales and marketing stack. The technology a company is already using tells us a lot about the likelihood that there will be a fit. For example, while a $2 million business is less likely to be a fit for us than a $20 million one is, if the smaller company is already using marketing automation, has a solid site built on a modern CMS and is using a first class CRM, they’re more like to be a fit than the larger company that isn’t using a modern CRM and is using an old CMS (or no CMS at all).
- Their customers’ buying style. The type of buying process our customers’ customers engage in, tells us a lot about the needs and potential fit of the account.
You’ll notice that we don’t use some common criteria like verticals, and that’s because for our approach, verticals aren’t a key criteria.
You should also notice that the vast majority of criteria we use to define our ICP are external signals. By this, I mean we can typically find out the answers to these questions by doing some advance research before engaging (which not only allows us to better spend our time, it also enables us to start conversations at a deeper level) or quickly after initiating a conversation.
With this clarity, the buyer personas we create have much more vitality and insight. We’re able to direct a message far more clearly, ensure that it resonates and guides the conversation. Our SDRs and sales team are able to customize their approach and be confident when they should pursue an opportunity and when they should leave.
The two together also allows our services team to innovate and enhance their efforts to improve our ability to delight customers. This is what allows us (and other growth companies) to sustain the natural turbulence that surrounds fast growth.