Ideal Customer Profiles vs. Buyer Personas: What's the Difference?

Understanding the customers your business intends to target is an essential step in figuring out your brand’s identity. Who are you hoping to reach? How are you going to reach them? What is the value you intend to provide them? Knowing exactly who your business is trying to sell to is a vital step, and developing ideal customer profiles and buyer personas makes this happen.

Most businesses are familiar with the general concepts of ideal customer profiles and buyer personas, but the key differences between the two are often overlooked. According to a 2015 survey by Tony Zambito, almost 80% of all businesses consider a buyer persona and an ideal buyer profile to be the same thing. But this is not the case, and understanding precisely what these both provide can lead to a better understanding of the type of customer base to whom you are trying to market.

When building sales strategies, information is the most important thing. Information on the types of customers you are marketing to, the conditions of the market you are trying to reach, and the primary industry competitors. Breakthrough provides businesses with the vital tools and knowledge to refine their sales process with a clear sense of their product or service's potential customers.

By helping businesses develop ideal customer profiles and buyer personas, Breakthrough reveals critical market insights that lead to a targeted and effective marketing strategy. But what exactly are an ideal customer profile and a buyer persona? What is the difference? Why are they a worthwhile investment for businesses? Read on to find out.

What is an Ideal Customer Profile?

An ideal customer profile, or ICP, is a breakdown of the type of customer that would receive the most value from your product or service while providing your business with the best possible return. ICPs provide broad-stroke details of the perfect customer a business is trying to target, but they differ based on whether it is a B2B or B2C company.

For B2B companies, the ICP is focused on the breakdown of the ideal business to whom your product or service should appeal. This is done using firmographics, including details like the company size, their budget, where they are located, the industry they operate within, any product or service limitations,  and other key information about the company.

While B2B companies primarily use ICPs, they still are helpful with B2C brands. For B2C companies, the ICP is targeted at individuals. It describes the target customer’s traits, focusing primarily on demographics with a few additional factors. For example, a B2C ICP would cover an ideal customer's age, job, spending habits, hobbies, location, and other factors that would figure into how they spend their money and their potential interest in your product or service.

Buyer Personas: Understanding a Typical Customer

A buyer persona goes a little more in-depth than an ICP, and it is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer. It should be noted that B2B buyer personas are much more grounded in the individual person who'd serve as the point-of-entry to a company. Typically, a business will have multiple different buyer personas that represent numerous targeted customers.

For B2C companies, buyer personas don't focus on the business as the point of entry but provide insights into a typical customer's life. Buyer personas describe several components of what makes your potential buyer tick using assumptions, industry research, and demographic knowledge. It should cover their pain points, what they are hoping to achieve, and how your product helps them. Often, a buyer persona will have a fake name attached to it to make it catchier and easy to remember, like Sales Manager Samantha.

A buyer profile should be very detailed and cover a wide variety of information about a potential customer. It should cover more rudimentary demographic details like their age, gender, marital status, location, and more, for starters. Then, for a B2B persona, it should provide details on their job, such as their role, income, and the work tools they use in their typical day-to-day. It should then cover the goals and the challenges they face at work and how the product or service suits these goals and helps them overcome these challenges.

Where Buyer Personas and ICPs Diverge

An ICP covers the broader details of the type of company or client that a product or service would appeal to. It focuses on a more general basis, the kind of organization or person that makes an ideal potential (and hopefully) lifetime customer. Meanwhile, a buyer persona has some intersecting details, but it is much more of a specific exercise than an ICP. B2B personas focus on the type of person within a company that would purchase the product or service being marketed. It focuses on precisely who the targeted consumer is and uses research and assumptions to create fictionalized breakdowns of their day-to-day struggles, values, and aspirations.

The primary difference between an ICP and a buyer persona is that one is more quantitative while the other is more qualitative. While both use numerical data like budget and salary, an ICP is more focused on the numbers. The size of the company, number of employees, and other details like that are the heart of ICPs. A buyer persona is more qualitative details and hypotheticals, like buyer fears, challenges, and goals. Both are necessary marketing strategy development tools, each with unique benefits.

Why You Should Include Buyer Personas and ICPs in Your Marketing Strategy

According to Vainu.com, salespeople lose between 60-90% of their potential deals across industries after the first contact. The reason for this is that after the prospecting stage, many companies reach out to anyone that loosely sounds like they might be interested in the company's product or service. Having a more targeted and customized outreach process ensures that businesses reach the right people that would have a genuine interest in their offering.

In all forms of marketing, personalized content is what appeals to consumers. If consumers feel like something reaches out directly to them, connecting with their ambitions and concerns, they’re likely to buy whatever product or service is being marketed to them. In order to make your potential customers feel understood, you have to do your best to actually understand them, and this is an area where buyer personas and ICPs go a long way.

Building a comprehensive image of who your brand is trying to reach should be one of the first steps in your sales efforts. With an ICP to flush out the logistical detail of the company a B2B operation is targeting and a buyer persona developing the more qualitative attributes of the key decision-maker within the company, the image of exactly who your business is targeting becomes clear.

The primary reason buyer personas and ICPs are worth investment is that they help refine your strategy and save money. By having hyper-targeted, limited outreach, businesses can reduce their costs and not overextend their marketing efforts. Reaching out only to customers that would have substantial potential interest leads to better results. According to research by SmarterHQ.com, 72% of consumers only engage with digital marketing messages that are customized to their specific interests. The use of ICPs and buyer personas ensures your business only targets customers who are a good fit for what you provide.

ICP vs. Buyer Persona: How to Best Utilize Each

Because ICPs and buyer personas have fundamental differences, they should not be used in the same way. The information provided by ICPs and buyer personas are used to refine strategies, but they are used for different aspects of the process. Knowing when to rely on your ICP and when to rely on your buyer persona is an important distinction to be able to make.

If you're trying to figure out where to begin your sales process, ICPs are the place to start. An ICP helps businesses identify the types of companies or consumers they should be trying to market to. It provides information on the industry, company size, and budgetary restraints that align with your product or service. It gives a business a sense of the broader areas to target and the ideal companies for them to tailor their advertising towards. That makes ICPs best used when businesses are trying to scout the market, so an initial phase. ICPs also best serve B2B companies that are trying to find the right fit for their services.

Buyer personas provide more hypothetical and specific information about to whom exactly your business is marketing. With details including pain points, goals, and other more theoretical concepts, buyer personas require more creativity and logical leaps. They are a helpful tool that is best utilized after ICPs have been developed and work well for both B2B and B2C companies. Buyer personas help create sales and marketing content that is more personalized, that addresses targeted customers more directly, and that feels more authentic. Buyer personas are more detailed, giving businesses more information to run with.

The Benefits of Negative Buyer Personas for Businesses

A negative buyer persona is a created buyer persona that represents the type of customer that you believe your business should avoid. A negative buyer persona should include details like behaviors and demographics that might prohibit this type of buyer from being an ideal partner for your business. There are many reasons someone might not be the right fit for what you are offering. They might have a lower income than what is being targeted, work in an industry that can’t utilize the offering, or have personality traits that make them burdensome to work with.

Just like knowing what makes someone a good fit for your business, knowing what makes someone a bad fit provides valuable information that could shape strategy. Understanding which type of customers or clients shouldn’t be advertised to help businesses stay under budget, better target their campaigns, and potentially avoid dealing with potential clients who might be more trouble than they're worth.

The goal of buyer personas is to understand better the people your business will be dealing with. Learning as much information as possible helps with the creation of an informed strategy, and negative buyer personas are an essential part of this process.

Both buyer personas and ICPs exist to help businesses understand their targeted markets in a more nuanced way. Simply stating that a company wants to target wealthy CEOs won't provide the necessary details or answer the important questions needed for sales and marketing teams to understand the customer journey . ICPs and buyer personas generate substantial, descriptive, and specific information that allows businesses to move forward with a particular kind of client in mind. This shapes who companies sell to and how they market to them.

While both ICPs and buyer personas exist to give brands a sense of who they are trying to reach with their product or service, the information they seek to provide is different. ICPs work best for B2B companies trying to figure out the type of business they are trying to target, with data like company size, industry, and budget being the main factor.

Buyer personas help businesses provide a profile of the potential customer they are trying to reach. They include qualitative information that gives companies an understanding of the individual they are marketing towards. They include buyer pain points, values, spending habits, goals, and other qualities that will give insight for marketing and sales teams into how to target marketing messaging and material and sales strategies.

Developing a comprehensive ICP and buyer persona is an important exercise that helps brands reach the their target audience and develop a growth plan. An actionable plan of growth is how businesses can scale upwards, and partnering with Breakthrough makes that happen. Breakthrough helps marketing professionals gain critical market insights, develop their strategies, as well as provide them with the tools for organizing and streamlining communications.

Breakthrough's software provides the ability to create strategic plans using ICPs and buyer personas, Moreover, our platform streamlines the process for implementing new changes and strategies, making it the ideal partner for any organization, business owner or marketing professional ready to take major next steps.

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