I have Googled the term ‘ideal client profile’ (ICP), and it gave me 95 million results. It surprised me that even after all that content out there, easily available for everyone, there are still plenty of companies that still don’t know who their B2B ideal client profile is.
Meanwhile, I hear answers like “I know who it is, I just haven’t got the time to write it down.” Every book, guide, management consultant, coach or trainer – at least the good ones – all start with the same thing. Identification of the right ideal client profile can actually focus the entire company effort and could help avoid costly mistakes.
I also googled the same term, just adding B2B, and the results dropped to 1.5 million. So, only 1% of all the online content on ideal client profile covers the B2B segment. This is where the focus of this blog post lies: helping companies in the B2B segment identify their ideal client profile.
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Understand what B2B ideal client profile is
For a B2B company, an ICP is a hypothetical business or organization that would get the most out of the solution they are offering. This is where the problems start! Your effort, energy and money shouldn’t be invested in each and every client group which might benefit from the solution you provide. You should find the top 3 client profiles that you can provide the most value for, and that are most likely to convert to clients – fast!
BizzBee Solutions has worked with over 300 entrepreneurs, start-ups and SMEs. We’ve had the opportunity to talk with their founders, CEOs and directors, helping us build a pattern for success. In this guide, we outline everything we’ve learned about B2B ideal client profile identification. What works and what doesn’t.
First of all, you need to understand something. Knowing your ICP without changing anything in your business, is worth nothing. On the other hand, by knowing your B2B ideal client profile you can:
1) Enrich your solution (product, service, software) to address unique problems your potential clients have.
2) Use marketing efforts – both inbound and outbound – to talk to the same ICP, meaning that copywriting for the web, emails and landing pages is tailored to the ICP.
3) Sales efforts can also be tailored to the ICP’s needs. Only then can you experience the full benefit of properly defining your B2B ideal client profile.
In this blog post, there are several chapters, each crucial to defining the right B2B ideal client profile for your company:
- Know your strengths – Although theory suggests starting from the market, practitioners like me are strongly arguing that you need to start from your existing business.
- Find market opportunities – Once you know your solution’s strengths, you can then look at the type of companies that could benefit the most from your strengths. This will help you narrow down your search.
- Define your B2B ideal client profile – Based on your strengths and the market opportunities, you can create a preliminary list of industries that have the potential to be your ICP. You can fine-tune the ICP with the rest of the firmographics – company size, location, sub-industry, etc.
- Define the ideal positions – Knowing the ICP, you can then take a look at the organizational charts within those companies, and which positions are most relevant for your position – their official titles, position variations, etc.
- Understand their problems – Beyond the ICP identification, you must go the extra mile and understand what kind of pain or problems they have, both industry-specific and position-specific. This insight will shape your marketing strategy.
Know your strengths
Let’s break the stigma. If you had the chance to read all of the 1.5 million results on Google (I hope you didn’t), I am sure most of them are pointing out that you need to be a market-driven company.
This means you need to look at the market opportunities, find a niche, build a solution around that target, and then just sell it to them. And they are right – this is the right way of starting a new product/service and it is highly recommended for everyone that is starting something new.
But as a company, I am not really willing to close all my products and services just to start from scratch. I have built a solution for 6-12 months, and now I should just disregard it? Not a chance! I would rather look at my strengths, existing products and services, and look for market opportunities that I can solve with my existing (or slightly tweaked) strengths.
At the end of the day, you might have some traction already, and some paying customers that appreciate the value you provide – so it makes no sense to start from the market.
Nature of your business
First, you need to understand the type of business you are in. We have worked with many different companies, so our accumulated knowledge has led us to the point where we concluded that there is no one-size-fits-all. The first thing that we need to do is to locate your business in our matrix. Are you an industry expert, generalist, cross-vertical or a niche? The B2B ideal client profile identification requires a different approach in regards to the axis where you belong.
- The Generalist – a business that has a solution that is quite broad. It can help any business and any employee no matter the industry and position they work in. As such, they can have a very broad spectrum of experience but can lack specialization. This axis represents the majority of companies, as most businesses are generalists.
Dropbox is a file-sharing app that can be used cross-industry, and cross-positions; Skype and Telecom operators as well. This category also includes many consulting companies, web design/development companies, mobile app development companies, and marketing agencies – companies that have not yet specialized. It is not a bad thing. You have a service that can be used by any company, in any industry.
This is the hardest group to work with, as they are still convinced that they shouldn’t focus on a specific target or segment. Why would you focus on one target when you could serve everyone? And usually, the key question here is, “If you had a limited marketing budget of $100, who would you approach?” Since you’re working with limited resources, you must focus on the ones that are most likely to buy, which is the core of the B2B ideal client profile concept – to target them only.
I have worked with too many generalist clients, so I can say the following: don’t worry, you don’t need to have just 1 target. You can actually have 2, 3 or more, depending on your marketing/sales capacity, but you need to have a completely different approach for each of them.
- Cross Verticals – businesses that can help any other type of business, but that are department-specific. As such, they have some degree of specialization, but it is not industry-related. For example, HubSpot targets marketing and salespeople across any industry. QuickBooks or Xero are targeting the financial/accounting department across industries, worldwide.
If you are within this group, that’s great. You already have some degree of specialization. A functional one. You already know your target’s problem, and you know how to solve it. But focusing only on the functional targeting, you are still partially generalist. For example, you can offer a CRM for PR agencies, or accounting software for car dealers. This way, you can be more focused and provide value to your target by adding unique features according to their specific needs.
- Industry expert – a business that can serve companies only in one specific industry. This means that your specialization is industry-specific, and you can provide significant value to a specific industry. Many of the generalists evolve into industry experts, specializing in one or more industries – e.g. agriculture consultants, logistic coaches, healthcare web development companies, FinTech (tech companies specializing in the financial industry), MedTech (tech companies specializing in the medical industry).
As you have industry-specific expertise, you have a deep understanding of the problems that particular industry has, but still lack understanding on the departmental level. You can learn how to thrive, providing a department-specific approach to an existing industry.
- Niche – a business that has a solution for a specific industry that solves a specific departmental problem. If you are addressing a specific industry, and targeting specific departments within that industry, that is a niche. And don’t get me wrong, a niche can have a huge number of potential prospects – in the millions – it just needs to be quite specific.
A good example here is HR software for the automotive industry, or marketing consulting for agriculture businesses. In fact, the more focused the niche in a B2B business model is, the better. It may sound counter-intuitive at first. How can reaching fewer businesses be a good thing? Think of it this way: the more specific your focus, the more specialized your company becomes. Large companies love to work with companies that have certain specializations.
So where are you? If you are a niche, you already have a pre-defined ideal target profile up to a point. Or if you are in the generalist axis, you need to spend some quality time in identifying your ideal target profile. Knowing this, the next step is to look at your strengths – your existing products and services.
Once you have found your place in the matrix, the next step is to understand the benefits of your solution. Solution is a general term, intending to include all products, services, the mix of both, and any complex offering that could be set up. And you need to take a better look at yours.
What are you offering? Are you focusing on all the steps in your process (for services), or all the features (for software) that you are providing? Based on experience, prospective clients are not interested in all the features/processes you can provide. What you need to do is start looking at the benefits that your solution can provide.
Benefits and features are perceived differently. Your solution’s benefits show clients what they will achieve by using your product/service/solution. When it comes to benefits, you need to create a list of the top 5-10 benefits that you provide. That is a starting point for defining your B2B ideal client profile. Once you know the benefits (your strengths), you can then look at the market segments that could benefit the most from using your solution.
Another great angle is to take a look at your current list of clients. We can talk about account management, upselling, downselling – and all that is great – when we talk about strategies for increasing revenue.
I find it quite surprising that very few clients reflect on their existing client lists. And they should. It provides a starting point of the type of companies that actually paid for your solution. Instead of guessing who might be willing to pay for it, your company portfolio is the best way to understand these types of companies, because they’ve already paid for your solution.
I recently had a client that claimed that 90% of his targeted clients were government authorities. When I asked to look at his last 10 clients, the number went down to 60% government and 40% businesses. And that changes a lot, as the marketing/content/sales efforts can shift.
Here is a short guideline on how to get an understanding of your existing clients. I know you could have 10 clients in total (which is easy), or hundreds of clients (which needs a bit more investigation).
- Who are they? Looking at the list of previous or existing clients can give you a clear picture of your ideal target profile. You can analyze what industry they are in, how big they are, from which country they come from, and other firmographics that can help you to better define them.
- How did they find you? Your website, a Google search or some other platform? Or maybe they’ve read an article or were referred to you? This is critical information that will help you understand which marketing activities to increase and which to decrease.
- How did they approach you? Was it through an intermediary or have they asked for a meeting? Perhaps they’ve left an email on one of your landing pages? This will tell you how to approach the rest of your ICP.
- What is the 1 main thing that made them choose you over others? If you understand what made them choose you over all the others, then you gain a deeper understanding of your Unique Selling Point (USP), which you need to emphasize in your marketing efforts.
- From all the clients, which one did you actually enjoy working with? Which client made you excited to help them rather than thinking about revenues. You might be surprised to realize that one particular client profile, although not the most profitable, was very interesting and exciting to work with.
- To which clients have you provided the most value? If you have clients that are super satisfied with the value they received, you can look for similar companies.
The main benefit of this exercise is to see what kind of companies appreciate the value you provide and want more. The starting point for defining your B2B ideal client profile is knowing the nature of your business, the benefits of your solution and having an understanding of your previous clients.
Find market opportunities
If you already had several clients, it means that you did it right, to some degree. But do you know if they are ideal clients for you or some random prospects that you serve? This is the goal of this chapter. When you are looking for external validation and understanding of who to target, there are always multiple variables in the equation.
Instead of doing extensive external research – which could take months, you must take into consideration the findings from the previous chapter. Use them to focus the research.
Who do you want to work with? Regardless of what the stats and the market opportunity research say, you must love your target. And if you don’t, I can’t really push you to a more profitable target, if you don’t enjoy working with them. And since it is a big decision that will impact your entire company, you’d better do it now. Which are the top 5-10 business profiles that you love working with?
Even if you identify a very promising target, if it is in a shrinking industry you should avoid it. It is a pity to spend a lot of marketing effort around a dying industry. For example, physical video rental is not an industry that you should consider investing your marketing efforts into. With Netflix and other streaming services, video stores are slowly phasing out. This example might not be the most suitable – but now think about the industries that you want to target. Are they new industries? Are they growing or shrinking?
Take a Look at your Competition
Take a look at the businesses that are similar to yours – who are they targeting? Competition is a healthy thing to have, but it could also drive you out of business. So, never underestimate the power of the insight you can get by looking at your competitors.
One approach is to take a look at what kind of client profiles your competitors are targeting, and find a client profile that they are not targeting. This seems perfect at first sight, as you’ve found a market segment that is competitor free.
The only concern is that there might be a reason why none of your competitors are targeting that market segment. Perhaps it is not big enough, it is hard to work with, or they don’t pay well. So, targeting a profile without competitors is a risky move, but it could also be highly rewarding.
Another approach is to see who your competitors are mainly targeting, and target the same client profile. The logic is the opposite to that of the previous approach. If there are a lot of competitors around a certain market segment, it means that it is attractive, and you should target that client profile as well.
It also means that you don’t need to educate your target on the benefits. They are already problem aware (know that they have a problem) and solution aware (already use some of the competitors’ solution). The concern here is that targeting a client profile with too much competition is hard, as you need to work hard to build your market share and prove how you are different or better than the competition.
Of course, this is not a black and white situation, but rather a spectrum with extremes at either end and plenty of alternatives in between … but … it would be mad not to consider the competition when trying to figure out your B2B ideal client profile.
Define ideal client profile
After you’ve finished the first and second chapter – you should have enough insight to start making some decisions. Based on the identified strengths and the available market opportunities, you need to create a list of several industries that best fit your business.
Again, some companies have pre-defined industries, based on the nature of the business. However, generalists must start from defining their ideal target industries and move down to the ideal client profile.
Based on your strengths and the market opportunities, you can create a list of top 3 industries that have the highest potential. But this is not enough. You can’t really target a whole industry. Rather, target companies within those industries. So, you need to keep fine-tuning the targeting process. The depth you need to go to depends on your business’s nature, as if you overdo it, you will end up with a super niched target profile, which will not be enough in volume to have commercial value. This is why there is not a single rule for defining your B2B ideal client profile.
Companies’ location and size
Looking at the type of companies to target, you need to define the firmographics: attributes of firms that can be used to aggregate individual firms into a meaningful market segment. Knowing the industry, you need to define the location and size of companies to have a good starting point:
- Companies’ location – Does location impact your business? Do you have any geographical constraints or do you have a virtual service that can be offered worldwide? Even if the world is your target, you can still consider narrowing down the B2B ideal client profile to specific regions. This will help you focus your marketing efforts, so you can take into consideration cultural differences like language, various beliefs, practices, etc. That will make you more relevant to your target.
- Companies’ size – Size definitely impacts your business. Working with startups and SMEs requires one type of effort, while working with corporations requires a completely different type of effort. Considering company size, it also affects the sales cycle, as small companies have shorter sales cycles, while corporations have a complicated and lengthy buying process. Also, the problems that companies face are completely different for different sized companies. So, you must define the size of the companies you want to work with.
Based on these variables, you can get an understanding of how big your ideal target is – how many potential clients are within that segment. This is also useful for business and planning purposes, as it will help you shape your price, marketing and approach.
Find the right LinkedIn filters
I can recommend LinkedIn filters as a great way to experiment. Based on LinkedIn’s advanced filters, you can get an idea of the size of your target. If it’s too big, you can narrow it down further with additional filters. If it’s too small, you can always take out a few filters, until you get to the desired target.
Based on these filters you can get your target audience to a finite number – a number you can see and measure – and knowing the number of potential prospects could define your approach. If you have 500 companies in total as a target, then you should play with the filters, to get a significantly bigger number. Aim for at least 10.000 potential prospects.
Industry filters – On LinkedIn there are 147 industries that you can filter by. But even with these, you might not find the right industry you need. For example, SaaS is not considered an industry, and as such, you need to select several industries where SaaS companies might be registered.
Company headcount – Represents the number of employees in the targeted companies. LinkedIn Sales Navigator has the following options:
- 1-10 employees
- 11-50 employees
- 51-200 employees
- 201-500 employees
- 501-1000 employees
- 1001-5000 employees
- 5001-10,000 employees
- 10,001+ employees
Geography – Represents the location of the companies that you are looking to target. LinkedIn enables you to filter cities, countries, regions, even continents.
Here are 3 targeting examples of LinkedIn filters and what kind of results it shows:
The first one is targeting accounting companies from the UK
with up to 10 employees. The second example is targeting US management
consulting companies with 500+ employees. The third one is targeting Australian
IT companies with less than 500 employees.
Define the ideal positions
Knowing the target companies, you can then look at the last part of the puzzle – finding the people you need to approach. You need to find the positions that are the most relevant for you, their official titles, variations in positions, etc.
Working in B2B sales, one of the key challenges you are facing is finding out who makes the buying decisions – what to buy, when and from whom. What makes it so difficult is that in contrast to B2C, it usually involves more than just one or two people. When outlining your marketing and sales process, one of the first things you need to do is figure out who you are actually going to talk to.
You can approach more than one person from the same department or even multiple people from different departments. But in that case, you need to have a different approach and different message for each, since they all have different perspectives and concerns that you need to address.
For example, let’s say you are offering an HR software solution. Although the most obvious approach would be to target HR positions, you can expand your approach:
- Target HR decision-makers – the message to this target should be focused toward features and functionalities of your software compared to other alternatives available on the market. They are the software users.
- Target management decision-makers – in addition to the HR department, you can also target the CEO – but from a different angle. The approach should focus on how your software solution will help them make better company decisions, as well as how easier their life would be by having all the software’s reporting functionalities.
- Target financial decision-makers – not as obvious at first, but you can approach the finance department and show them how your HR software could save them a lot of money by replacing a more expensive solution.
- Target IT decision-makers – ultimately, you can approach the IT department, making them understand how easy it is to integrate your software into their existing environment, and how effortless the entire process is.
So having one HR software, you could actually target different positions within the same target company. That is why it is common in a B2B outreach campaign to target multiple targets, but approach them with different marketing messages.
Variation of position titles
Another important aspect when considering the targeted positions is that different industries have different position titles. There is no official title for each job role, and often people have multiple roles in the same company – making it difficult to distinguish the exact titles you want to target.
That is why it is important to target variations of the role, so you can make sure that you are not missing someone just because they are not an exact match to the targeted position.
Using LinkedIn Sales Navigator filters, you can access quite advanced filtering options. From those, the most important are the Seniority, Function and Title filters. It does not mean that you must use all of them, all the time – it is just good to be aware of their existence, so you can choose which ones are relevant to you.
Function – As discussed earlier, you need to define which departments are relevant for your solution. It doesn’t need to be one, but you need to define them so you can later define an approach for each of them. LinkedIn gives you the option to search people by function, which gives you the option to select departments that you want to target. There are 26 functions available – sales, purchasing, marketing, legal, IT, HR, etc.
Title – To take the function section one step further, you need to target your ideal position, with the specific titles. When you are approaching specific titles you can customize the messaging to better address their specific role-related problems and benefits, maximizing the campaign conversion rate. On LinkedIn, you can type in the exact positions that are relevant for you.
Seniority level –
When thinking about your ideal target, you can also consider seniority. Do you
need to approach the owner of the company, the CEO or a Director? Depending on
your solution, you could decide to target different seniority levels. LinkedIn
allows you to filter people by their seniority level. From lowest to highest,
these are the available levels:
Years in current position, years at current company, years of experience – You do have the option to further narrow down the search criteria, so you can get an even more specific ideal client profile.
The reason why I am sharing these LinkedIn options is that you can tweak them according to your needs. If the size of the target industry is too broad, resulting in a huge number of target companies, you can do a better job by filtering out more on the position level.
On the other hand, if the target industry is too narrow, so the number of target companies is not big enough, you can add more positions so you can have a bigger effect on those companies. You can work the filters until you are happy with the ideal target, and the size of the market segment you’ve chosen.
Here are a few target audience examples (these are real examples from our clients):
Understand their problems
Congratulations! If you followed the guidelines up to here, you have defined your B2B ideal client profile, or even several of them. Now that you know them, you might think you can plan your marketing outreach, and start working on the touchpoints, messaging, etc. Well, sorry to disappoint you, but you are missing one more step.
In order to get your B2B ideal client profile to respond to your campaign, you really need to create messages that resonate with them. Conversion depends on creating a message that provokes emotions (fear, happiness), or presents an opportunity. Sending them a generic message invalidates the entire process you did up to here.
Why bother defining your ideal client profile, if you then spam them in bulk with generic content? It defies the purpose. The main purpose of the ICP is to define who you want to approach, and create ultra-specific content for that target – whether it is inbound (eBook, landing page, article, SEO), or outbound (LinkedIn messaging, email, cold calling). And to do that, you need to do another layer of research – but this time very specific and narrow.
Start from the position-specific problems. These problems are most valued by your target, as they are directly relevant to them. What kind of business problems is your target facing? Are their struggles team-related? Is it hard for them to get financial approval? Do they have to prepare frequent and lengthy reports?
Identify the top 3-5 problems or struggles your target has, and document them. You will need this information for a later stage – for when you need to approach them.
As a founder of a bootstrapped consulting company (BizzBee Solutions), I can divulge that my main fear is not ensuring enough revenue to cover our monthly costs and not having some extra for investment in growth. We don’t get funding from anywhere, so we need to earn our living.
And if someone approached me with, “I know it is hard to run a business without knowing whether you will exist in 3 months” – they will surely capture my attention – since obviously, they understand my pain. But if the same message is sent to a founder that got a lot of funding, then the same message will not resonate at all.
So, look again at the positions you’ve marked as your ideal target – what kind of problems do they actually have? It is not expected of you to know everything, but you need to do some research, some blog reading, visit some forums, and consider the places where people complain. It is the only way to learn more about your B2B ideal client profile.
From the position-specific, you need to move to the company-specific problems. I don’t mean specific to one single company, but specific to the criteria you’ve selected as relevant for firmographics – company size, location, industry, etc. What kind of specific problems do these kinds of companies have? These types of problems won’t get the same attention as position-specific ones, but it would still show that you know and understand the company.
Following my BizzBee Solutions example – we are from Macedonia, with up to 50 employees in the consulting industry. As such, we have a set of problems that can be generalized for all companies similar to us – e.g. Macedonia does not support PayPal and Stripe. So for us, it is a headache to work with international clients and to only support bank transfers and credit card payments.
And that is not a problem that only we have, but a problem that all other companies that are in Macedonia in that employee range are facing. Bigger companies perhaps can open a branch office in some EU country, and they might not have the same problem that we do.
But, then again, they would have a set of completely different problems. This is the reason why we need to work on having a clear B2B ideal client profile. Take a look at the companies you’ve shortlisted as an ideal target. What kind of problems do they have? Can you search and identify a few key ones?
Finally, the last part concerns industry-specific problems. These are the last, as they are the least specific. Although the problems are relevant on an industry level, they might not affect the targeted companies or the targeted positions. But as far as general problems go, you should be aware of them, and have them ready in your outreach arsenal. When it comes to the industry level, what kind of problems is your ideal target facing?
As we mentioned, BizzBee Solutions are in the management consulting industry. Generally, you can identify the problem that companies are not always keen to pay for advice, research, access to knowledge, or other intangible offerings. Besides, since we are offering a service, you must experience the service to know whether you benefited or not.
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We try to overcome that problem by providing social proof – we have a wall of love with 300+ testimonials from clients working with us and plenty of case studies showing companies’ results. But this represents a problem for the management consulting industry in general.
Having this in mind, you should be able to conduct focused research and identify position-specific problems, company-level problems and industry-level problems. These are the problems that you can create topics about, in order to get the ICP’s attention.
Having a defined B2B ideal client profile will help you do outreach far more efficiently – from building a database of highly targeted prospects, creating highly tailored messages, to executing highly successful LinkedIn and e-mail campaigns. If you want to take one step further, you can read our B2B prospect list building eBook, or you can read how you can use this IAP for crafting the perfect copy in our B2B outbound messages eBook.
HAVE A SUCCESSFUL OUTREACH!
Danco is a serial entrepreneur, founder and CEO of BizzBee Solutions, proud father of a 2-year-old and a burger enthusiast. He is inspired by growth and goes above and beyond to make it possible – whether it comes to his 300+ clients or his people. Eager to learn more? Follow Danco on LinkedIn and Facebook.