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