Ideal Customer Profiles and Buyer Personas—How Are They Different?

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Shane Wiley
Shane Wiley



There are common misconceptions about the difference between ideal customer profiles and buyer personas, and understandably so. They have similarities in that they both include a set of guidelines your teams can use to qualify leads. Where you’ll see a difference is how and when you use them. Do you need both an ideal customer profile and buyer personas? Let’s break it down and figure out where to start.

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What is an Ideal Customer Profile?

An ideal customer profile (ICP), commonly referred to as an ideal buyer profile, defines the perfect customer for what your organization solves for. This is a fictitious company that has all of the qualities that would make them the best fit for the solutions you provide.

An ICP lends itself very useful if your organization utilizes ABM, or account-based marketing, allowing you to focus on selling to targeted accounts that fit your organization.

If done correctly, an ICP can help define the problems you're solving for, align your product/service capabilities with customers’ needs, and assist in laying out your future road map for product/service updates and changes.

Why not send every lead to sales? Some leads may not be a good fit, so it's important to identify who can buy from you and who can’t. That way your sales reps aren't spending too much time on leads that most likely won't close a deal with them.

You can use your ICP to define what a good fit looks like. Consider these characteristics to identify the perfect fit:

  • Budget / Revenue / Company Size - what is the lowest cost threshold that a customer would have to pay for your product or service?
  • Industry - are there specific verticals that you work within? Are there verticals that you don’t work with?
  • Geography - do you not sell to a particular region?
  • Legality - are their legal reasons that limit your potential customer base, maybe age, location, or government restrictions?
  • Product or Service Limitations - do you have a service level agreement (SLA) with your customers to meet a certain response time? If someone needs a response quicker, can you guarantee you’ll be able to meet that demand?

This is a non-exhaustive list but a great starting point when trying to identify what your ideal customer looks like. These are the qualities that a lead needs to have to be able to buy from you. If they don’t meet all of these predefined characteristics, you can disqualify them and ensure your sales reps are spending time with leads that are a good fit.

ICPs are focused on the fit of the account and don’t dive too deep into the individuals you will encounter. Once you identify accounts that fit your ICP, you want to start thinking about who your sales reps are talking to and who is responsible for actually making the purchase.

How do you find quality leads?

Ensure your sales reps are equipped to talk and answer questions for the different individuals they may encounter. Accounts that fit your ICP are made up of these individuals who hold different titles, product/service knowledge, and levels of experience. Enlyft is an example of a platform that you can use to discover new accounts that match your ICP.

By starting your outreach effort with ideal customers upfront rather than spending valuable and limited marketing and sales dollars to find them organically and you have a much better chance to have meaningful conversations with prospects who are more likely to buy from you. We will further define these individuals using buyer personas.

What is a Buyer Persona?

A buyer persona is a semi-fictional, generalized representation of your customers that account for the demographics, goals, motivators, and challenges they are facing.

Buyer personas provide structure and context for your organization. You can use buyer personas to help Marketing map out and curate content, and other teams—such as sales and support—with time and resource allocation.

Check out your buyer persona in your HubSpot account:

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A company might have anywhere from two to five personas. When trying to determine the number of buyer personas your organization should have, it’s a common mistake to create a new persona for each job title that your teams communicate with.

Instead of having job title-specific personas, such as Marketing Manager Mary or Sales Rep Sam, you want to consider different challenges the individuals are facing and create personas like Recent Grad Rachel, Tech Heavy Tom, or Start-up Steph. 

With these personas, we have taken the focus away from their title, and can focus on the day-to-day challenges they encounter and solutions that your product/service can offer to remedy those challenges.

When you turn your focus to the challenges you're solving for, you can think about how these personas consume information and define what their ideal buying process might look like. Your teams are able to adjust how they are communicating with leads based on your buyer persona information.

Buyer personas are based on market research and real data about your existing customers. You have a lot of insight about your buyers internally as well. When looking to initially define your buyer personas, some people you can talk to:

  • Your customers: Anyone that is already paying for your product or service that you designate to be a great fit can give you insight into what’s working. Pick up the phone, send a survey, or have them join you in your office for a focus group to identify some of their motivators, challenges they are facing day-to-day, and their favorite aspect of your product or service. Also try talking to customers who aren’t a perfect fit, as they can help identify account characteristics your team shouldn’t be targeting and why.
  • Your customer-facing teams: interview the people internally that are on the phone, or face-to-face everyday with your customers and leads. Set up a focus group that combines members from different teams that could provide varying perspectives, having a sales rep and a customer success manager could provide varying insight. What kinds of questions are they repeatedly answering? Are there common roadblocks they see hindering their customer’s experience?
  • Your CRM: use your contacts’ information to look for trends to better understand how your leads are accessing and consuming your content.

If you are looking for guidelines to help get you started, here are 20 Buyer Persona Questions to help identify your audience. Once you decide on your buyer personas, it is crucial that you share this internally to ensure alignment among your teams.

For those that are HubSpot users, this is how you can add your buyer personas into the tool. For those that are not using HubSpot, put together a doc or a PDF to ensure that everyone at your org knows who you’re selling to, and what challenges you are solving for.

Do You Need Both an Ideal Customer Profile and Buyer Personas?

ICPs and buyer personas are different, but linked. You could have an ICP that has a few personas that your marketing team creates content for, and your sales team feels comfortable speaking to. As an example we can use Solar Boost, a B2B company that provides solar panel installations. Below, you can see their ICP and the buyer personas that they have defined:

Screenshot 2019-06-28 13.38.36


Defining both your ICP and buyer personas can help one another. You want to ensure that your ICP is advising your org on accounts they should be targeting by defining the qualities that are needed, and your buyer personas inform your teams as to the kinds of individuals they are creating content for, prospecting, and the types of questions they should be prepared to field.

You want to use your ICP at the beginning of your sales cycle to help when qualifying leads. It is not worth your sales reps spending time on leads that won’t close because they can’t - because of size, revenue, or other predetermined factors. If you can use your ICP at the front end of that relationship, it can help your sales reps to prioritize accounts that are a good fit. Then you can use your buyer personas to determine how to sell to the individual. What challenges are they facing? How are they consuming content? ICPs define who to target, while buyer personas lay out how to best communicate with the individual.

Once you’ve defined your ICP and your buyer personas, you’re off to a great start! It’s important to recognize that nothing is permanent and like your business, it’s okay for these definitions to grow and change as you learn more about your buyer. Set a reminder to update and revise these definitions yearly, then update your teams internally with any changes that were made. It’s important to keep everyone informed and on the same page. While your ICP and buyer personas are different, they work in tangent to ensure that sales is spending their time talking to quality leads, marketing is creating content for the right audience, and support is equipped to answer the questions that may come their way. Take the time needed to define your ICP and your buyer personas, because the effort you put in on the front-end can pay off in the long run when you are working with customers that are a great fit for what you have to offer!

Want to connect with others on HubSpot tips, tricks, and updates? Head over to the HubSpot Community to join a conversation or start one of your own.

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Topics: Buyer Personas

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