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How to Define Your ICP and User and Buyer Personas

In the submodule above, we talked about what an Ideal Company Profile (ICP) is, and how it differs from Buyer Personas and User Personas. Although many startups want to jump straight to reaching out to prospective Buyer and User Personas, you have to establish an ICP first. As we covered, your ICP is your company’s “true north”. Its definition should be known and understood by everyone in the company. 

To illustrate the importance of having an ICP, consider this scenario: If you use tools to find contact information on Buyer/User Personas and just searched “DevOps Engineer”, you might get over 1M results. Now, if you run the same search but narrow down the ICP by the company's geography, industry, revenue, tech stack, etc., it might drop that DevOps search result to 2,000 individuals. 

Questions to Define Your ICP and Personas

To define your ICP and find your first customers, start by answering a few critical questions. I’ve included an example list of questions you can use to get started:

Once you’ve completed the exercise, your next step is building a Company profile around the common answers. Here’s an example of an ICP, Buyer Persona, and User Persona you might generate through this exercise:

Download the full set of questions here.

Reshaping Your ICP and Personas to Identify Advocates 

Defining an ICP/Personas is an iterative process. As you learn more about your customers and usage of your product through engagements and customer interviews, continue shaping your ICP and Personas. At a minimum, you should be meeting with your customers once a quarter to gather feedback and further refine your ICP or Personas. The more clearly you can evolve your ICP and buyer persona over time based on new information, the more effectively you can support your customers and turn them into advocates via referrals, testimonials, etc. 

Advocates and testimonials allow your company to reduce the friction in a sales process. Anyone who has sold before has heard, “This is great, but what customers have used your solution and what were their results?” The more advocates you can offer as proof points, the more credibility you’ll have with prospects and the more likely you’ll be to make the sale. Harness (an Unusual Portfolio Company) and Okta ($OKTA) are good examples of companies that highlight strong proof points with their ICP. Referrals typically lead to customers you wouldn’t otherwise discover (or who would be expensive to acquire). 

As you scale your startup, it’s worth re-evaluating your ICP and Personas semi-annually or annually to see if there are growth opportunities within segments you couldn’t initially address. You might find that you need to adjust your product roadmap or resources (i.e. closing your first 7-figure customer may require a different success and support motion). It’s critical to understand that your ICP will and should change over time. 

Changes Over Time

The table below gives examples of changes you might see over time and how you might use them to refactor your ICP and Personas.

Key Takeaways

  • Companies that don’t take the time to define a clear ICP (Ideal Company Profile) from the outset face serious challenges in both the short term and long term. 
  • The best way to avoid failure early in your journey and set up a repeatable process for earning revenue instead of just one-off deals is defining an ideal company profile (ICP) and being disciplined about disqualifying those who don’t fit that profile.
  • As a founder, you’ll be the one(s) meeting with your first 50+ prospects to convert a handful of them into Design Partners and then paying customers. You’ll have the opportunity to identify which company profiles, buyers, and users are going to be the best target customers. 
  • An ICP represents the types of companies that need your product enough that they would pay for it, a buyer represents the person with the influence and authority to make a purchasing decision, and a user represents the direct consumer of your solution.
  • Download questions to answer about your ICP and Personas here to get started. 
  • Clearly defining your ICP, Buyer Persona, and User Persona gives your whole team a “true north” they can refer back to when making decisions, increasing your likelihood of making it past the seed stage. 
  • Defining and reshaping an ICP and Personas is an iterative process. Remember that as your company scales, it's even more important to keep track of how your ICP is changing and how that can impact the direction of your business. 
  • Focus and commitment to your customer is how world-class companies are created. If you can narrow in on the right target, you can greatly increase your chances of creating a repeatable, scalable process to hit your goals.

If you have more specific questions or want to dig deeper into this subject or all things go-to-market, reach me at or @DakotaJMcKenzie

Questions to define your ICP and User and Buyer Personas

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