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Ideal Customer Profile vs Buyer Persona: What's the Difference?

by Sarah O'Neill, on 13 May, 2021

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the main event. In this corner, weighing in at 0 pounds, undefeated in 0 fights, current world champioooon....I! C! P!

And, in this corner, also weighing in at 0 pounds, reaching 0 ft 0 inches...Buyer Personaa! And tonight's prize? ETERNAL B2B GLORRRYYY!

Ding Ding Ding!

Homer Simpson Fighting GIF

But wait, maybe they shouldn't be fighting? Maybe they're less like enemies, more like allies?

Bet you weren't expecting that plot twist.

Buyer personas and ICPs have plenty of similarities, in so the fact that your team can use them to develop guidelines to quantify leads. But, it's how and when you use them which creates the difference. Plus, ICP are used mostly in B2B, whereas buyer personas are used in both B2B and B2C. 

A buyer persona tends to be more individual focused, rather than company focused. Say we use a B2B context. You might delve deeper into the data surrounding the individual in terms of their:

  • Report line
  • Department
  • Job Title
  • Location
  • Education 
  • Hobbies or Interests
  • Decision-making status
  • Successes at work
  • Income

Etc. Etc. Etc.

This lets you develop a well-rounded image of a customer based on real research and interviews with current customers. 

An ICP, on the other hand, defines the perfect customer for the pain points your company is looking to solve. You might look into stuff like:

  • Geography
  • Industry
  • Company size
  • Annual revenue
  • Tech stacks
  • Service limits
  • Budget
  • Customer base
  • Their competitive environment
  • How they onboard new vendors or services
  • And beyond!

This fake business client is designed to fit the role perfectly, in terms of how they would respond to the services you provide. This is particularly useful if your company has a focus on ABM, and can help define the problems you're solving for, plan your future road map for both your product and customer service, and align yourself with those future and current plans.

The Simpsons Dancing GIF

Once this profile has been created, it really streamlines your customer interactions. You can target the people with 'lifetime value', who are likely to stay with your business. Plus, it saves time in sending bad leads to sales; identifying clients who can buy from you means your sales reps aren't chasing their tails. 

So, developing an ICP means focusing on the account as a whole. Once you've identified these accounts then you can start thinking about who you are specifically talking to within those accounts, who is making the decisions, and who you need to appeal to, and who you need to convince. Those accounts are going to be filled with people you need to get to know, and build profiles for. 

Let's delve further into buyer personas, why don't we?

A buyer persona is a fictional, but not entirely fictional, representation of your potential customers. It outlines their goals, intentions, pain points, and challenges they may have, as well as their overall demographics. With this, marketing can map and curate specific and personalised content. Overall, buyer personas can be used to develop structure within your sales plan, whilst saving time and resources. 

Homer Simpson Fighting GIF

Your company might have as low as two personas, and as high as five. But instead of going wild and having a million job-specific personas, you might need to focus instead on the pain points or situations of those customers. Think Start-up Steven instead Sales Rep Sally. This puts the challenges your customers face in the foreground, and allows you to focus on the solving of these problems. This shapes the ideal buying process for you and your customers. Then, your teams can focus in on how to shape their communication.

So, do you actually need both? 

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Short answer: Yes. Long answer: Yes, you do. Having both answers the questions:

  • What companies should your business be targeting?
  • Who are the people behind these businesses?
  • Who, in the company, should your team be reaching out to?

Understanding your ICP helps you develop a strategy for attracting the most compatible customers at the beginning of the sales cycle. It saves your team time and money, but remember there's a human being signing the deal, not a company. It's within this human element where buyer personas are invaluable. 

The more 'human' an interaction is, the more empathetic you can be towards pain points and challenges, and the more relevant you can be to your prospects, the higher the conversion rates. 

So, if you're using ABM, you should be using both ICPs and buyer personas. Together, they'll flesh out your campaigns, and move your business forward. 

It important to note that neither your ICP, nor your buyer personas, are set in stone. They've got to change, develop and grow, alongside your business and it's goals. You might have to change a piece of your ICP that no longer makes sense, or even discover a new aspect of a buyer persona in a new account. When you've got an updated, accurate, and exact pairing of a buyer personas and an ICP, you'll be able to access and communicate with accounts in a way which is personalised and impressive. 

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