Who’s Our Ideal Customer?

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I’ve taken a break from my series “Things We Thought We Knew About Selling But Really Didn’t.” Restarting it, I want to talk about our Ideal Customers–or our ICP (Ideal Customer Profile.) We toss the term around casually, but when I look at too many pipelines or prospecting programs, the ICP is not discernible.

We have a tendency to try to sell to anyone. If someone has visited our website, if they are on a procured mailing list, if they fog a mirror, we try to engage them.

If our pipelines are lean, we cast a wider net. We relax our criteria, looking to engage different customers, anything that might produce a response. And over time, we cast wider and wider nets, producing fewer results.

As much as we might want to think, not everyone or every organization is a possible customer for what we sell. Even if you sell water, not everyone in the world is your customer (A client actually sells water and it’s fascinating to see their focus on defining and selling within their ICP.)

How do we figure out our ICP?

It starts with a deep understanding of our own company, strategy, and offerings. We have to, honestly, answer “What are the problems we are the best in the world at solving and what are the characteristics of the people/organizations that have those problems?”

We have to be honest with ourselves on in understanding both our capabilities and where we best fit. We have our past history to leverage–what types of customers have we had our best success with? Why have we been successful with them? Where have we failed–both losses in selling, but where have we had failures with customers that have bought, then chosen not to renew or have been very unhappy.

We have to develop very rich profiles of these organizations. If can’t be just, “Technology companies,” or “Financial Services,” or whatever. In technology, is it software, electronic components, product oriented companies, services oriented companies, telecom/networking/cloud and so forth. Are they very large, start-up, SMB? Are they global, national, regional, local? Are they high growth, stable, troubled? Are they the leaders in their markets, are the middle players, are they laggards? Are they innovators, fast followers, early growth, later, laggards in their markets? What is their culture/behavioral style? What is their attitude in working with vendors/suppliers?

Once we have developed the profile of the ideal companies/organizations, based on firmographics, demographics, behavioral graphics, we have to do the same thing based on the ideal people within the organization.

Who are the problem owners in the enterprise? How does the problem impact them, how does the problem manifest itself to them and their teams? What is the impact of their problem? Who are their customers in the organization and how does the problem impact them? When does it become urgent to them? Where to they learn about new approaches? What types of people/organizations do they pay attention to? Where do they tend to show up (conferences, trade shows, social, etc.)? How are they measured? What impacts their success, how do we impact their success? …. and it goes on….

While these represent our target personas, we also have to have a behavioral alignment. What are the ideal behavioral styles of these target personas? While people may be in similar roles, their responsiveness to us will be driven by their behavioral style.

OMG! That’s a lot of stuff! But this is critical to our success. We want to focus our efforts on those enterprises and individuals having the highest likelihood to be interested in the issues we help them address. We want to focus on those where we are most likely to be interested in talking/working with us?

Any organization/individual outside this space is a waste of our time–and in trying to engage them, we are wasting their time! They may be a potentially great customer, but it’s highly unlikely they will be our customer.

Too often, as sellers, we don’t understand this–at least deeply enough. Too often, we don’t take the time to do the research to make sure the prospect is in our ICP. We think we sell to technology companies and prospect anyone that seems to have the right role within a technology company. But the reality is that we are only relevant and successful in the technology companies that have certain characteristics. Or we prospect individuals in those companies that we can get to–not those that really care about what we do.

Here’s where we use the ICP in the most powerful way. Look at these questions:

  1. How do we most effectively fill our pipelines?
  2. How do we increase our win rates and drive performance?

Too often, in trying to fill our pipelines, we ignore the ICP. So while we fill our pipelines, we are filling them with garbage! People and organizations that have a very low likelihood of buying from us, ever! Filling our pipelines with the wrong opportunities lowers our win rate. And when we lower our win rate, we get into this endless conundrum of finding more opportunities to achieve our goals.

Too often, our natural reaction to fixing pipelines is exactly opposite from that which actually drive healthier, higher quality pipelines.

Often, I’m asked, “How do we increase our win rate?” Most people think I’m going to respond with something having to do with improving selling skills. But the fastest way to improve our win rate is to narrow our focus, within our current ICP!

Think of the ICP as something that looks like a target–the bullseye are the very best within our ICP. But our ICP, also, includes some outer rings. But when we are struggling, the fastest way to improve our performance/win rate is to narrow our focus within our ICP! What if we focus only on our bulls eye? How does that impact our win rate–then what are the ripple through impacts on our overall pipeline dynamics. Increasing our win rate, means we need fewer opportunities in our qualified pipelines, which means we don’t have to prospect as many potential customers to fill our pipelines.

Our natural reactions in building pipelines and prospecting is to cast a wider net, trying to address many more, different people and customers–moving beyond our ICP. Rather than producing more opportunities and helping us achieve our goals, it does the opposite. It produces far lower quality opportunities, and adversely impacts our abilities to achieve our goals.

If we want to maximize our impact, if we want to achieve our goals (or overachieve them), we have to know our ICP and target those customers and enterprises that are the best fit!

Afterword, I’m writing a series of posts on “Basic Selling Skills,” just to remind us what/why we do what we do. The link will take you to that collection.

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