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How to Build Your Ideal Customer Profile Around Your Audiences’ Pain Points, Not Your Bosses’ Opinions

You spent weeks, or even months, planning and sitting through countless meetings on your upcoming B2B marketing campaign. You hyped yourself up for coffee-fueled ideation, and everybody was pumped up and raring to go.

Only, something was amiss…

It was as if a secret script played out in each meeting and brainstorming session. It didn’t feel like you uncovered anything helpful it felt more like you were running on a treadmill than actually getting anywhere.

Statements like the below headlined the conversation:

  • “It’s the sales team’s job to capture and convert more qualified leads. Let’s just focus on the branding and making it look really good before the quarter finishes.”
  • “Our competitors are doing x, y, z and it seems to be gaining traction, why aren’t we doing that?”
  • “People love our product! We just need to talk more about why we’re the best in the business, and they’ll come.”

Then on the campaign’s release, it inevitably bombed.

But why did it fail? What was missing? And that nagging question, could you have done anything differently to yield results that mattered to you and your team?

Situations like these play out almost daily in many enterprise marketing teams today. It’s endemic of a more significant problem: Lack of customer and prospect-focused data.

Earlier in 2021, Thought Bakery ran a custom research panel with 70+ B2B marketing decision-makers using to understand what holds them back from launching high-performing, customer-first campaigns. The data showed that 49% of marketing leaders said their biggest challenge in 2021 in creating more customer-first B2B campaigns was a lack of data on their target prospects were and what they wanted to learn the most about their brand’s product experience.

The fact remains, it’s somewhat impossible to create a winning marketing campaign if the marketing team makes it up on the spot without any real insight about what your customer wants, and needs to know before making a purchasing decision. Sure, you might occasionally get lucky and make a few trendy memes on the fly, but it’s probably not going to improve your pipeline performance in the long term.

When “what if” ideas drive the conversation and arbitrary customer needs, challenges, and personas are concocted out of thin air, it becomes a lose-lose situation for everyone. Unfortunately, many marketing teams spend a significant amount of time building their marquee positioning against the ‘what if’ versus the ‘what is’ regarding customer behaviors and affinities. It leads to missed opportunities and a sense that your team’s efforts have amounted to wasted time.

Beyond losing resources on producing tone-deaf content, your customer misses out on being heard and getting their problem solved by the best people for the job: you and your team.

The problem with JUST relying on internal ideas when developing a new campaign

Campaigns are supposed to attract, capture and impress audiences that exist outside of your organization. However, decisions are often based on the whims of executives or ideas formed in an internal meeting with 37% of our respondents citing that content direction was actually taken from executive leadership and not validated by actual 1st party, 2nd, or 3rd party prospect data. The way your prospects research, learn about and engage with your brand is different from how your internal teams may infer they do. This leads to misguided and sometimes incorrect internal assumptions which can sour your go-to-market strategy from the get-go.

Let’s be clear. We’re not saying to ignore internal campaign pitches. They just need validated data streams of information to support the goals you’ve set for them in the long run.

An alternative framework, starting with your top customers

We recommend starting your campaign planning process by defining your ICP (Ideal Customer Profile) based on data-backed customer insights, feedback, and product usage behaviors. This is a great place to kick off your B2B campaign planning process as HubSpot defines an ideal customer profile as a document that details the perfect customers that your company currently serves. It laser focuses your message to concentrate entirely on the customers or companies who’d gain the most value from your solution.

Your ICP works as an excellent baseline for building campaigns that speak directly to your target audience’s pain points, allowing you to position your brand as the most relatable and differentiated solution using personalized outreach.

Defining your ideal customer profile can be challenging if you don’t know where to begin, especially if you’re getting mixed signals internally on what your campaigns need to achieve. It can even seem like a tedious exercise. But once you know WHO your target segments are i.e. the real people who are researching solutions like yours, and what information they’re keen to learn to influence their propensity to buy,  you start unlocking massive potential for B2B demand generation and buyer intelligence.

For instance, let’s say you’re targeting technical experts in the software development community with a SaaS product. Software developers worldwide have different-sized teams, goals, and needs that connect to their personal and professional ambitions depending on whether they work in-house or freelance. Other SaaS products are being thrown at them in just about every digital environment, so questions like the below start to seep into your ideation process:

  • What makes your company the right fit for them?
  • Why would they choose your product over your competitors?
  • How can you position your product as the best solution for their specific needs?
  • How does your brand experience lead to A+ customer satisfaction?
  • What’s the current product-market fit, and how do we maintain/expand that?
  • What user pain points do we currently solve, and what are we working to solve in the future?

Ideal customer profiles help build highly personalized experiences by reminding your marketing team of who your top 20% of customers are,  and what stood out to them the most about your product experience. But we need to go a step further as ICPs are only truly useful when created with multiple sources of validated data and combined with other strategies, tools, and processes in developing an effective B2B go-to-market strategy.

Validating external insights with internal data sources and cross-team collaboration

Within your organization, there are silos of useful customer insights sitting within specific teams that when combined, can make a potent cocktail for boosting personalization across your marketing campaigns as well as your competitive advantage.

Let’s start with your sales and product teams. SDRs learn daily what current customers love and product leads spend countless hours trying to amplify that sentiment with new features and capabilities. They can also provide insight on what parts of the customer experience, users are most active on and other pieces of competitive intelligence to improve your loyalty and retention rates.

Product teams can provide visibility on what features are most beneficial to the current customer base alongside which new features they can look forward to. They can also show you which features customers may need more education on regarding usability and effectiveness. With these gaps identified, you can create content or revise your strategy to upsell new capabilities and increase acquisition. You can also update your ICP with key use cases for target prospects, and shortlist the most powerful product characteristics that’ll hook their interest.

In turn, marketing teams can validate this data against their own customer research and metrics when running their MarketingOps and measure customer resonance using A/B experiments on whether these insights are accurate. This bi and tri-directional flow of information provides a baseline of data that can readily influence your ideal customer profile that puts your customer’s true needs at the forefront of your marketing positioning and plan.

Getting started with your own Ideal Customer Profile

You might be asking yourself, why bother with all this work? With an ICP,  you’ll gain prospect-focused insights that can yield positive marketing outcomes such as:

  • Outreach and brand personalization (throughout the funnel)
  • New ideas for content & campaign road mapping
  • Sales & marketing alignment
  • Marketing ops optimization
  • Brand trust & credibility

It can also help boost your ability to create a robust lead scoring program in terms of which prospect activities should take priority in your marketing stack for further outreach. Bombora has done a great job of showing how to get started with this process in their latest guide and worksheet.

What types of data go into an ICP?

For demographic and behavioral data, be sure to check out SparkToro, an audience intelligence tool that can show everything from your audiences’ demographic skew (using a sample size), to the podcasts they enjoy listening to.  You can combine these insights with the data points you’ve collected from your own 1st-party data to create ABM strategies that are highly personalized and adaptive to your prospects’ digital journey. 

Now let’s dive into the good stuff. 
1. Start with your top accounts

Much of the information you need is already at your fingertips. You need to figure out how to distill that data into insights that actually influence agile decision-making within your marketing team. Start by looking at what your best customers are asking for and see which parts of the product experience they’re most actively interacting with. This is where we’d recommend working on ensuring high-quality data collection is a key part of your campaign development process using whichever marketing automation provider you choose to go with such as Salesforce, HubSpot, and Mailchimp (there’s a ton to pick from!).

You can also gain a wealth of insight about your best customers by opening yourself up to cross-team collaboration. Here’s how to get started with this:

  • Make a list of your top accounts by revenue, customer satisfaction, relationship strength, and LTV potential. It’ll help you hone in on the shared attributes of the customers most vital to your growth.
  • Host monthly catchups with the Product and Sales teams to understand what customers’ needs they’re focused on and which features will improve customer experience.
  • Advocate for company-wide collaboration through tactics such as a dedicated Slack channel to highlight new product updates, sales insights, and marketing collateral.
2. Dig deeper by connecting directly with your existing customers

To really get to know your customers, request customer ride-along sessions with your sales team or run frequent marketing surveys. Doing so will give you a reality check on user sentiment and market feedback from new prospects.

Here are four questions you can ask your customers today to get in-depth and high-value insights to shape your campaigns:

  • Why did you choose our product over other available solutions?
  • Which part of the product experience is most valuable to you?
  • Where does our product not meet your expectations?
  • In an ideal world, what would you have built into this product?
3. Unify and extract key insights to influence more personalized B2B marketing

From this digging, you’ll unearth a ton of useful information that can be easily used to boost the effectiveness of your ICP.  Seriously, a LOT.

You’ll be able to answer questions like:

  • What do we want to know about our customers’ buying behavior and personal affinities? This includes parameters such as “where does most traffic come from” or “what job title do most out of top customer’s hold?”
  • Have we set up a lead scoring program that prioritizes the most valuable activities and attributes influencing conversion?
  • Can we integrate other data types to gain more intent-based insights to focus on the prospects that matter the most?
  • Can we update our ideal customer profile in real-time based on new research?
4. Measure and adjust to see if you’re on the right track

Leverage analytic tools such as Google Analytics, and Tableau to understand how your content and campaigns are performing against the goals you’ve set for them, against the ICP insights you’re using to personalize your brand’s journey.  You’ll be able to drill down on the parts of your positioning and messaging that’s resonating the most with your target audience.

5. Rinse and Repeat (quarterly)

Marketing or effective B2B marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. So the more in-tune you are with existing customers, the better you’ll be at providing for them and therefore keeping them as paying customers. Reviewing your ICP and campaign performance every quarter keeps internal conversations fresh, active and interesting when it comes to optimizing for performance and looking for new data sources to learn more about what your customers need from your brands’ experience.

The Harvard Business Review stated that “Companies significantly outperform competitors on growth, profitability, differentiation, category leadership, and long-term loyalty of customers and employees by considering three levels of purpose — company, brand, and customer purpose.”

With an ideal customer profile that adapts to your customer’s changing needs and pain points (which you gather through understanding them deeply through data-backed insights), you can build a brand that’s hinged on solving your customer’s problems. This is your customer purpose, and by focusing on it, you help propel your company’s growth journey.

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