Buyer Persona Vs. Ideal Customer Profile: Targeting Showdown

Buyer persona vs. ideal customer profile: which is the winner?

Spoiler alert: both.

Your buyer persona and ideal customer profile play related but different roles in helping your company accomplish the same goal: targeting. Targeting is critical to maximizing your marketing and sales ROI because without it, you risk wasting a ton of time on leads that will never convert.

In fact, unqualified leads top the list of activities sales reps waste their time on — 60% spend too much time pursuing them.

60% of sales reps waste time on poor leads

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Targeting is the way to eliminate that problem, and your buyer personas and ideal customer profile are two tools that can help you do it well.

In this article, we’re going to:

  • Define buyer personas and ideal customer profiles separately
  • Cover how they’re related and why it’s important
  • Walk through best practices to leverage them for your company

Quick Takeaways

  • Ideal customer profiles define the types of organizations that would be the perfect fit for a company’s products and solutions.
  • Buyer personas identify individual decision makers within those organizations.
  • Both ICPs and buyer personas focus on customer problems and pain points.
  • Developing effective ICPs and buyer personas requires cross-team collaboration between marketing, product development, and sales.
  • ICPs and buyer personas should be continually refined using data-driven metrics that track results.

What is an ideal customer profile?

Your ideal customer profile describes the company or organization that is the best possible fit for your solution. B2B companies use ideal customer profiles to define the characteristics of customers who will find their products and services most valuable and will in turn become the most qualified leads.

In other words: ideal customer profiles target prospects most likely to make a purchase given their current state of affairs.

Ideal customer profiles focus heavily on pain points and problems. When you pinpoint the exact problems your solutions solve, then identify companies who experience them, you can expect to convert those companies into prospects, then leads, then paying customers at a higher rate.

Ideal customer profiles also look at characteristics like company size, location, industry, revenue, and budget as well as existing solutions they have.

ideal customer profile characteristics

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ICPs are often used by companies who use account based marketing to target individual prospects and by young startup companies as a growth hacking strategy. 

What is a buyer persona?

While ICPs focus on companies, buyer personas focus on individuals. They look at who the typical decision makers are within target companies and the motivating factors behind their decisions in order to craft marketing and sales messages that resonate.

Similarly to ICPs, buyer personas look at pain points and problems. However, they do it by looking at what a potential buyer is trying to accomplish. They look at traits like a buyer’s role within their organization, their level of experience, their age, their goals, and the potential impacts of their buying decision on their organization.

All of this helps sales teams more quickly identify the right people to talk to within a target company and then build more authentic, meaningful, and successful relationships with them.

How are the two related?

As you can likely already see, it’s not quite about buyer persona vs. ideal customer profile. It’s about using the two tools in tandem to first identify the types of companies you need to target (ICP) and then identifying the people within them that you need to communicate with (buyer persona).

HubSpot created this useful graphic that describes the relationship well:

how ideal customer profile and buyer personas work together

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If you’re thinking of it as a step by step process, ICPs would come first, and buyer personas would come after. Most of the time, your ICPs will have more than one persona, as decision makers vary even within similar organizations.

Using ICPs and buyer personas the right way

Let’s go over a few best practices you can use to leverage ideal customer profiles and buyer personas in ways that really make a difference for your company.

Facilitate cross-team collaboration

First, the development of ideal customer profiles and buyer personas should involve collaboration between your marketing, sales, and product teams. Here’s why: each team has different expertise, and all of it is necessary to maximize results.

Your product teams know your solutions best — how they work, what they can deliver, and the types of problems they solve for companies. Your marketing team knows how to craft the right message to attract high-quality leads. Your sales teams know how to interact directly with those leads to turn them into paying customers. When the three teams work together, you eliminate knowledge gaps that could result in an incomplete or inaccurate ICP.

Include actionable traits

Second, your ideal customer profiles and buyer personas should always focus on actionable traits. Yes, information like demographic information is important (things like age, location, educational background, etc) but primarily, you should always be looking at actual problems and goals rather than arbitrary fictitious traits.

If you look back at the Hubspot graphic above, you’ll see that both the ICP and buyer persona sections outline problems — first at the organizational level, then at the individual.

Track and refine

It’s unlikely that your first go at an ideal customer profile and buyer persona will be optimally successful. Remain data-driven and track defined metrics for your marketing and sales efforts.  Frequently evaluate what is working, what isn’t, and new things you’ve learned along the way. Use this information to continually create more refined, accurate, and effective ICPs and buyer personas.

Most of all, remember: your ideal customer profile and buyer personas aren’t enemies. When utilized correctly, the two can work together to boost your sales strategy and its ROI.

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