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CMO copilot — v1.1

How To Choose A Framework For An Ideal Customer Profile

Updated: May 27

An Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) is a composite that gives you a richly-detailed picture of your target audience by combining firmagraphic, demographic and psychographic information and insights and then presenting it in a way that’s easy to comprehend. 

 

From a practical perspective, ICPs help you set priorities, allocate resources, expose gaps and highlight new opportunities, but more important than that is the way they get everyone in marketing, sales, content creation, design, and development on the same page, moving in the same direction, trying to reach the same goal. 

 

In plain terms, this means that ICPs provide:

 

  • Focus

  • Alignment

  • Direction

 

Even though different teams use different tools and tactics to do their jobs, ICPs help to ensure that all those individual efforts are complementary, not competing.

 

To be effective, ICPs should:

 

  • Represent key segments of your customer base

  • Be developed from a solid combination of research, direct observations and experiences, and individual expertise

  • Be realistic

  • Include priorities, pain points, KPIs, needs, drives, motivations, and other characteristics that make them easy to understand and empathize with

  • Be organized around a framework that is directly related to the value proposition of your product or service

 

The actual process of creating Ideal Customer Profiles is part art, part science — the art is which framework you choose to define and differentiate your ICPs; the science is all the traits, tendencies, and characteristics that are associated with those types of people.


Samples of B2BICPs.com AI-generated ICPs

Choosing a Framework For Your Ideal Customer Profiles

 

There are lots of ways to group your customers, but a good framework should always reflect the specifics of your business — what you sell, how you sell it, and why your customers buy it.

 

In most cases, this means using one of the following organizing principles:

 

  • Use Cases

  • Pain Points

  • Journey Maps

  • Buying Triggers

  • Value Proposition

  • Lifestyles/Life Stages

  • Jobs To Be Done

 

Which one works best? 

 

Use cases, pain points, and buying triggers are popular in business-to-business (B2B); use cases, journey maps, and lifestyles/life stages are popular in business-to-consumer (B2C) and direct-to-consumer (DTC).

 

B2BICPs.com ICP Frameworks Worksheet

While you can usually pick your organizing principle before you do your customer research, there’s a chance you’ll have to revise it or replace it later, especially if your findings reveal something surprising or unexpected.

Use Cases

A use case is a brief description that explains why, how and/or when a person uses a particular product or service. Use cases are popular framing devices for Ideal Customer Profiles because they work in almost every situation. The challenge with use cases is to identify individual use cases that allow you to clearly differentiate one set of users from another. If these differences aren’t truly meaningful, there’s no point is creating a separate use case.

 

In most cases, “meaningful differences” are combinations of firmagraphics (company size, annual revenue, industry, etc.), demographics (age, gender, occupation, seniority, life stage, etc.), psychographics (“innovative,” “frugal,” “conscientious,” etc.), affiliations, purchasing behavior, and/or buying committee role.

 

B2BICPs.com ICP Use Case Frameworks Worksheet

Pain Points

 

Pain points are persistent or recurring problems that inconvenience or annoy prospective customers. The “solution” is always your product or service. 

 

In the broadest sense, there are four types of pain points, which range from the experiential to the existential:

 

  1. Physical

  2. Mental

  3. Emotional

  4. Spiritual

 

The key to using pain points with Ideal Customer Profiles is being able to associate each one with a distinct set of demographic and/or psychographic characteristics. If your pain points are defined too broadly, you may end up with groups of customers who are actually all the same; if they’re defined too narrowly, you may end up with customers who don’t fit into any group.

 

One trick is to combine pain points with a secondary framework, like use cases or life stages.

B2BICPs.com ICP Pain Points Frameworks Worksheet

Buying Triggers

A buying trigger is an event that signals intent or heightened interest by a customer. Because triggers can be quite generic (especially when they’re digital), they can be somewhat difficult to use with ICPs.

 

The key to is to either choose triggers that relate to specific, identifiable characteristics, or use triggers in conjunction with a secondary framework that relates to specific, identifiable characteristics. If you can’t identify the underlying characteristics, you can’t sort your customers into distinct groups.


B2BICPs.com ICP Buying Trigger Frameworks Worksheet

Journey Maps

A journey map is a graphic interpretation of the process a prospect goes through into order to become a buyer. Journey maps can be quite specific, but generally follow the same overall basic steps:

 

  1. Realize need

  2. Research and evaluate options (more important for B2B; less important for B2C)

  3. Make choice

  4. Use product/service

  5. Re-use product/service or replace it

 

When maps are used as a framing device for Ideal Customer Profiles, it’s important to be able to identify the key characteristics those at each specific waypoint are most likely to have in common, such as demographics, life events & stages, occupational changes, attitudes, professional affiliations, lifestyle choices, etc. If you can’t identify any of these specifics, you should either choose another framing device or combine journey maps with a secondary framing device.


B2BICPs.com ICP Journeymap Frameworks Worksheet

Value Proposition

Using your value proposition as a framing device for Ideal Customer Profiles 

s one of the more time-consuming way to create ICPs. In most cases, it means connecting the inherent value of your product or service to fundamental human needs, and then relating those back to identifiable subsets of your customers.

 

Bain & Company’s “Elements of Value” Pyramid is a good way to better understand your value prop.


B2BICPs.com ICP Frameworks B2B Elements of Value Pyramid

Lifestyles/Life Stages

 

“Lifestyles” and “life stages” are combinations of demographic attributes that can be used to identify a unique subset of the population, such as:

  • Gender

  • Age

  • Generation

  • Developmental Stage (infancy, early childhood, middle childhood, adolescence, early adulthood, middle adulthood or mature)

  • Marital Status

  • Family Size

  • Household Income

  • Location

  • Education

  • Occupation

  • Etc.

 

Using them as a framing device for Ideal Customer Profiles is sometimes dismissed as being “too generic,” but can actually be quite useful. The key is to make sure there’s a clear connection between your product or service and whatever specific demographic criteria you’re using to define your lifestyle or life stage.

B2BICPs.com ICP Lifestyles/Life Stages Frameworks Worksheet

Jobs To Be Done

Jobs-to-be-done is a way of thinking about products and services in terms of what buyers are trying to achieve — i.e. what “job” they want to “hire” a product or service to do. 

 

The key to using jobs-to-be-done for ICPs is to thoroughly understand what the job is, why the buyer is hiring your product or service to do it, and what unique demographic and/or psychographics characteristics you can associate with these answers.

It’s important to keep in mind that the jobs-to-be-done framework grew out of a situation where demographic and psychographic profiles “did not explain who was most likely to buy,” so it can be challenging to use as a framework for more personality-driven ICPs.

 

For this reason, jobs-to-be-done is often used in planning exercises, as a way to organize ICPs that are then build around more traditional frameworks like use cases, pain points, life stages, etc. 

B2BICPs.com ICP Jobs To Be Done Frameworks Worksheet

Using Your ICP Framework

 

 

  1. Consolidate your customer research so you get a good, overall picture of your customer base.

  2. Use your framework to sort and filter your customer into individual groups 

  3. Identify the qualities and characteristics members of each group have in common

  4. Condense and consolidate these commonalities and package them up into individual ICPs

The B2B Ideal Customer Profile Process: Research, consolidate, map, develop

Step 1: Consolidate Your Research and Findings

 

If you did formal research, you’ll probably have charts, graphs, tables, and a written summary from your research team, as well as a few spreadsheets full of means, medians, ranges, quartiles, k-means clusters, etc.

 

If you did your research on your own, it probably means you’ll have iPhone pics of your white-boarding sessions.

 

In either case, the idea is to map out what you know about your customers, especially details about where they work, who they are, why, when, and how they buy, and anything else that’s directly relevant to your product or service.

 

Turing customer research into a visualization of your customer base

Step 2: Use Your Framework To Sort and Filter Customers Into Groups

 

Once you’ve mapped your customer base, use your framework to sort your customers into different groups based on which criteria they meet.

 

Keep in mind that even under the best of circumstances, this can be a challenge — sometimes you have to make basic assumptions, take educated guesses, or work through multiple iterations before you finalize who goes where and why.

 

If you just can’t sort all your customers into groups, you may have to rework your framework or underlying criteria.

B2BICPS.com Frameworks Consolidating Customer Research

Step 3: Identify Underlying Firmagraphic, Demographic and/or Psychographic Qualities

 

Once you’ve sorted your customers into distinct groups, you need to come up with a unique set of characteristics that helps you differentiate one group from another.

 

Most people start with firmagraphic data:

 

  • Industry

  • Company Size

  • Company Type

  • Region

 

Sometimes firmagraphic data alone establishes clear distinctions between groups; other times, this information is less useful because it’s the same for everyone.

 

In either case, the next thing is to identify individual job titles and/or occupational categories.

Job titles and/or occupational categories are critical because they connect you directly to priorities, pain points and KPIs, which are the foundation for effective sales pitches, content marketing strategies, demos, features, etc.

 

In some cases, other characteristics are relevant, too, depending on what you’re selling and why your customer are buying it. These might include: 

 

  • Technology Needs

  • Professional Achievements and/or Milestones

  • Seniority

  • Professional Lifestyle Choices

  • Key Personality Traits — e.g. innovative, frugal, social, mindful, conscientious, etc.

  • Life Stages

 

Similar to sorting customers into distinct groups based on the underlying criteria of whatever framework you’ve chosen, identifying unique sets of common characteristics for individual groups can mean making assumptions, taking educated guesses and/or working and re-working your choices.

B2BICPS.com Frameworks Looking for common characteristics of customers

One trick is to look for patterns.


B2BICPS.com Frameworks Looking for patterns in customer research

What qualities do most members have in common? Industry? Business type? Do they the share the same job titles? Key psychographics? Can any of these be used to identify meaningful differences between groups?

 

Another trick is to look for the lowest common denominators: unique (but not too unique), high-level characteristics that are common to everyone within a given group. 

Editing a list of firmagrahic, demographic and psychographic qualities for a B2B Ideal Customer Profiles

While this can also take a bit of effort before you arrive at a suitable list of commonalities, but tends to yield good results.

 

Step 4: Simplify and Package Your Individual ICPs

 

Now that you’ve identified key firmagraphic, demographic and/or psychographic descriptors for each group, the last thing to do is condense and consolidate this information to create individual ICPs.

This is usually a pretty straightforward process: keep what’s most unique, meaningful and/or representative, and get rid of what’s not.

 

For example, if you have a few job titles or descriptors that are similar, you’ll probably want to combine them; if you end up with multiple business types or industries, you’ll need to ask yourself if these are really all that different, or actually all the same.


When you’re done you should have individual sets of descriptors that reflect your framework and represent the composite characteristics of your key customer groups.


Making Your ICPs More Accessible And Impactful


While you could just give your team a list of the descriptive characteristics associated with each of your buyer personas, a few simple additions can make this information much more accessible.

An example of how to create a B2B Ideal Customer Profile from firmagrahic, demographic and psychographic characteristics

Start by giving each ICP a unique name that relates back to your organizing framework — e.g. High-Volume Travel Agent, CTO, Blocker, Independent Fashion Designer, Freelance SEO Copywriter,  etc. Then include a brief bio or professional summary that helps you and your team understand and empathize with the prospect.


A B2BICPS.com Ideal Customer Profile (ICP)

Next, take some time to detail pain points, priorities, and KPIs so you can tailer your sales and marketing efforts to their needs. 


A B2BICPS.com ICP featuring priorities and pain points

If you use an online ICP builder (or are willing to do the work yourself), you can do all of this pretty easily. You can also go deeper to include social media habits, interaction styles, engagement needs, narrative preferences and a host of other details that can be invaluable when it comes to pitching, creating content and collateral, putting on events, and doing demos.


Once you’ve packaged up your ICP, the last thing to do is share them with sales, marketing, design & development, customer success, and anyone else on your team who needs to better understand who you’re trying to engage and how best to engage them.

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