Identifying your Ideal Customer Profile: Quantitative and Qualitative Approaches to ICP

To be a successful Product Marketing Manager (PMM), putting in the time to understand your audience, their challenges and their motivations is table stakes. You need to know your customer in order to craft effective messaging or give actionable guidance to your product team. This article outlines two quantitative and qualitative strategies you can use to define your ideal customer profile (ICP) and become an audience expert. 

A Quantitative Approach to ICP: Questions your Data can Answer

Quantitatively identifying your ideal customer leverages data to build this profile. For B2B companies, firmographic data like industry, region, company size, and technologies help categorize prospects, while B2C companies turn to demographic data like age, gender, and region. By selecting relevant firmographic or demographic attributes, PMMs can compare data and identify the most relevant characteristics of their ideal customers. 

Cut the Data 

There are dozens of attributes to choose from, but this part of the process doesn’t have to be daunting. One place to start is to choose demographic or firmographic attributes your sales and marketing team already use to segment your audience, such as region or company size. 

Alternatively, PMMs can use this as an opportunity to test a new hypothesis. For example, you might want to explore which industries perform best, or cut the data by technologies used to see if there is a correlation between a part of their tech stack, and your team’s ability to win deals. If you want an even more nuanced analysis, you can layer multiple attributes like industry and company size, looking at industry results for small, medium and large businesses. 

The Lattice Example

Lattice took this multi-layered approach when it ran its ICP analysis earlier this year. We thought all industries behaved the same regardless of company size, but our analysis revealed that the top industries for our Small/Medium-sized Business (SMB) sales team in North America (NorAm) were different from the top industries in Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), and from the top performing industries for our enterprise sales team.  These insights enabled us to craft different targeting and messaging strategies for each sales team.

Align with Funnel Metrics 

Once you choose how you want to cut the data, the next step is choosing what to measure.  Typically you’ll want to measure the most salient parts of your marketing, sales, and renewal pipeline, looking at top-of-funnel, mid-funnel and end-of-funnel metrics. Align your analysis with the funnel stages your leadership team is already tracking to make your analysis more relevant to your company strategy. After you’ve run the analysis, pick out areas of strength and weakness–where are you generating the most/least pipeline, where are you winning or losing deals? The demographics or firmographics where you see the most success represent the attributes of your ideal customer.

These demographic and firmographic insights feed really well into your marketing automation software like Marketo or CRMs like Salesforce. What they don’t tell you is what kind of messaging will resonate with your ideal customer. So while quantitative data helps identify the “who,” it doesn’t reveal the “what” – the customer’s true interests. That’s where Qualitative approaches step in.

A Qualitative Approach to ICP: Questions Research Calls can Answer

To gain insights into the motivations and challenges of each buyer, a PMM should adopt a qualitative approach. Conducting research interviews with ideal customers allows you to understand their priorities and how the product addresses their challenges. This information leads to effective messaging and positioning, as well as roadmap guidance for the product team. It can also be used to develop nuanced buyer personas for your markets and sales teams to use.

Who to ask

When choosing interview candidates, there are a few options. You could choose your actual buyer–often the right person if you are looking at ICP–or the end user, which is more helpful if you are running research to inform the product roadmap. The research interview should be short (30-45 minutes) and interviewees should be compensated for their time (often this can be done in the form of a gift card or a donation to a charitable organization on behalf of the interviewee).  

What to ask

During the interview, ask open-ended questions that encourage the interviewee to give expansive answers–the more detailed an answer, the more you can learn! Your goal is to uncover the interviewee’s top goals and challenges, and have them explain to you how your product solves those challenges. Answers to these questions inform your buyer personas and serve as the basis for your messaging and positioning. 

Ask questions that will tell you the company’s top priorities, with which you should align your positioning and messaging:

  • What are the top 2-4 challenges your C-suite is focused on right now? 
  • Which of those do you directly influence, and how? 

Ask questions that speak to the value and impact of your product:

  • Talk me through the before and after of using our product.  
  • What were you doing before, and what were the drawbacks? 
  • Now that you’re using our product, what improvements have you seen? 

Seek to uncover new roadmap items for your product, or identify new opportunities for your existing product to add value if it can already solve the challenge:

  • If you could wave a magic wand and have one problem solved for you overnight what would it be? 
  • What about our product frustrates you the most? How would you change it?
  • What could we add to our product that would move you from logging in monthly to weekly or weekly to daily?

Prep for the Call

Preparing for the call is just as important as the call itself.  Start by doing some research on the company (size, industry, recent press releases or articles in the news), the interviewee (role, time in seat, previous roles, social posts), and your contract (amount of time as a customer, products used, customer satisfaction or adoption grades in you have them) and note these metrics at the top of your call guide.  Then, list the questions you want to ask.  

With open ended questions you can typically cover 3-5 in a 30 minute interview and 5-7 in a 45 minute interview.  Join the zoom link a few minutes early and watch the clock to make sure you don’t go over time.  

Strictly Research

To ensure unbiased research, keep research interviews separate from marketing or sales activities. Starting a research call only to end in a sales pitch can feel like a bait-and-switch, and can damage your organization’s relationship with the individual.

Put it all together

PMMs are responsible for developing positioning and messaging, and for influencing the product roadmap to ensure it’s competitive and meets buyer needs.  An ideal customer profile serves as the foundation for both. The qualitative approach tells you who your ideal customer is, while your qualitative research calls can tell you what the individual buyer cares about. 

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