Building an Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) is a valuable exercise for any early-stage startup. As a startup founder, you should kick off the exercise by developing a Customer Profile template that suits your needs. Once you build out your Customer Profile template with data from existing customers, you can use it to find new prospects. The process will not only force a deeper understanding of existing accounts, but also guides sales (as well as marketing and customer success) around those targets that are most likely to close. Once customized, the Customer Profile template will also provide your business with a detailed description of the type of customer that extracts the most value from your product. Therefore, it can be equally useful in determining which features to push when.
Last week, Daniel Barber, the head of Sales Development and Operations at ToutApp, joined us on the Bowery Capital Startup Sales Podcast to discuss what an ICP is and how a Customer Profile template (most likely a Google Sheet, shared Excel document, or SmartSheet) can be used to get it started. The spreadsheet will lay out every factor you and your team believe contributes to the value or fit of a potential customer. Though we suggest that you build out your own ICP document tailored to your startup, I wanted to follow our podcast with a high-level walkthrough of the various elements to include in a starting Customer Profile template.
To help you think about why each of the data types included in the Customer Profile template might be relevant to you, I’ll give a quick description of each. Remember, the process should generally include four steps: (1) Collect as much relevant information as possible on all of your existing accounts; (2) Determine the “common threads” among these customers that you may be able to apply to new customers in order to “pre-qualify” them as fitting the ICP; (3) Collect a wide range of 3rd party data on potential customers around these “common threads”; and finally, (4) use Lookups and other data-cleansing techniques to bring together a list of potential customers that can serve as a “target list” for outbound sales and marketing efforts.
Geography: If your sales process is relatively low-touch and your product requires no in-person onboarding or integration, geography may not be critical to include in your Customer Profile template. But even if this is the case, keep in mind that at some point, you may transition to a geographically based leads passing system, as opposed to a Round Robin approach for example. Given it’s likely the easiest data point to collect on this list, it’s a no-brainer to include it.
Industry Classifications: Industry is a critical data point. Even if your product is vertically focused to begin with, consider grouping customers by sub-industry. Naturally, this data point is qualitative, but if several customers in one grouping experience a pain point your product is solving, there’s a good chance other very similar companies will have a need for your solution as well. If you’re having trouble building out this part of the Customer Profile template, take a look at your customer’s competitors (you can even ask them if you aren’t sure).
Company Size / Growth: Company size can be determined a number of ways, but the most common would be number of employees and revenue (employee growth can also be useful, which you can skim from LinkedIn, or a data service like Mattermark or CBInsights). These are best grouped into ranges so that you have 4-5 categories in each bucket. If you find all of your customers are falling into the same grouping in either case, split that category out into 2-3 new ones. Remember, the goal here is to see where you are and aren’t building traction; if more than 30% of your customers are falling into any one option within a data column of the Customer Profile template, consider making it more granular (this is why we suggest using Lists or Pick Lists).
Financing: Especially if you are selling into startups / pre-growth private companies, many of them will likely be backed with venture capital. This is a useful data point to include in your Customer Profile template for similar reasons to Company Size: it can stand as a proxy for resources and level of maturity. It can also speak to budget or price sensitivity. You may find that while a broad range of companies experience the pain point you’re trying to solve, you more successfully close deals after a certain level of capital has been raised given this can often mean more cash on hand for vendors.
Targeted Roles & Functions: You likely know what kind of stakeholder within an organization you are targeting (for example a head of Marketing, Sales, IT or Customer Success). But in the context of your Customer Profile template, it’s helpful to get more granular than just title. Also, think about level of seniority and actual function within your target accounts. Try developing your own framework for how to categorize each deal’s champion(s), given that role names vary account to account. In addition, keep in mind that function is not always equivalent to role. For example, a VP of Marketing at a Series A startup will almost definitely have a different function than one at a large public company (in terms of their proximity to the pain point and their ability to lay down a credit card and make a deal happen). You may find that you can often determine a helpful inflection point upon the hiring of a new role / function; that employee may be looking to shake things up or bring on a powerful new solution as they implement their process and look to make an early impact.
Technology Infrastructure: If you already have customers, your sales team likely already has a sense for competitive solutions that a target might consider. You can use services like Datanyze, BuiltWith, Wolfram Alpha (just type in the URL) or HoneyBadger (download the Chrome plugin) to find existing users of competitors, which are natural targets. As you’re building out your Customer Profile template, you should also think about any solutions that could be “leading indicators” of the pain point you’re solving. As Daniel pointed out in our podcast, for example, if you’re selling an eCommerce solution, sellers on Shopify or Magento might be good ICP fits. You can get pretty creative around your collection process here: check competitor sites for testimonials, review sites (for B2B, try G2Crowd or Capterra), relevant industry groups and online communities (e.g. LinkedIn groups or industry blogs), or even social media (Quora in particular can often be a good source). Familiarize yourself with the “awareness channels” that your customers use to educate themselves or look for potential solutions to their problems. This could even be it’s own data category in the Customer Profile template if you feel you have enough information from existing customers.
Fit / Efficiency Metrics: As mentioned above, step one in your ICP process entails collecting detailed information around existing customers and turning a Customer Profile template into something well-tailored to your business. However, in order to move forward into the process you need to find those “common threads” amongst these customers and determine which data determine your ICP. If you are an early-stage company, you may want to begin by simply assuming that most of the data from existing customers will factor into the ICP (given it’s a living document, you’ll refine it over time). But if you are a bit more mature and have a good amount of data around your historical deal wins, you should also include this information to screen out only those “best customers” that you’d want target accounts to look like. Though the details of each probably warrant a post of their own, here’s a list of some data points you may want to consider including: Buying Cycle / Selling Cycle, Up-Sell / Cross-Sell, Product Engagement, Customer Success Engagement, NPS / Referrals, Churn, Acquisition Channel, CAC, Win / Loss Reason, Marketing Response Rates.
If you have any questions about the above, don’t hesitate to reach out to us on Twitter (@bowerycapital and @picnoulos)! Also, if you haven’t yet, give our podcast last week a listen: “Finding Your Ideal Customer Profile” with Daniel Barber, Director of Sales Development & Ops at ToutApp.