Profiling prospective customers is vital to ensuring that a marketing campaign is targeting the right people with the right message. Done well, customer profiling can result in more effective campaigns, greater revenue, and most importantly, happier customers.
Customer profiling is a process by which go-to-market teams can gain greater insights into the types of customers they’re targeting, the problems those audiences are trying to solve, and a prospect’s likely course of action depending on where they are in the purchasing lifecycle.
But despite its importance, customer profiling is too often misunderstood.
What Are the Benefits of Customer Profiling?
Remember, nobody buys business software for its own sake. People invest in business software to solve specific problems.
Profiling customers allows you to better understand the problems your would-be buyers are attempting to solve, which helps revenue professionals do their jobs more effectively at every stage of the customer buying cycle.
With better profiles, demand generation teams can craft stronger advertising campaigns. Marketers can attract and retain prospective customers more effectively. Sales professionals can anticipate prospects’ objections more easily, which can lead to higher close rates and greater revenue.
Profiling prospective customers also enables sales and marketing teams to predict larger problems before they arise. For example, a better understanding of a specific market segment makes it easier to identify potential churn risks before they become a problem.
Personalized marketing isn’t just a trend — it’s a customer expectation. Data from Twilio suggests that 44% of consumers would shop elsewhere if brands fail to offer a personalized experience, and Epsilon Marketing claims 80% of consumers are more likely to buy from brands that offer personalization.
The vast majority of marketers believe personalization helps build and develop better relationships with customers, with 78% claiming personalization has a strong impact on the success of their campaigns.
More effective segmentation
In marketing, customer segmentation refers to the practice of filtering groups of similar yet distinct buyers into specific segments for better go-to-market activities.
Developing detailed customer profiles allows marketers to segment and target their audiences more effectively. For example, many marketers segment audiences by customer lifetime value (CLV) to determine when and what kind of messaging prospects should receive.
Better, more relevant content
Profiling customers helps marketers produce more relevant, useful content by identifying long-tail keywords that are pertinent to the problems prospects are attempting to solve. This can inform entire content marketing strategies and help businesses speak more effectively to prospects at every stage of the customer buying cycle.
This approach can also help paid search marketers develop more effective online ad campaigns. The same keywords and search queries that inform a content marketing strategy will be of great interest to advertisers, and more relevant ads often mean higher click-through rates.
What is an Ideal Customer Profile?
Before we go any further, it’s important to note that the term “customer profile” is often used interchangeably with that of “buyer persona.” Although the two terms are similar and have a good deal of overlap, there is a key distinction between the two. Buyer personas are “fictional” examples of your prospective customers. Customer profiles are based on a representative cross-section of your actual customer base.
Creating ideal customer profiles
Many companies create what are known as “ideal customer profiles,” or ICPs, before embarking on a major sales or marketing campaign. ICPs are created by examining the qualities of an ideal customer, including their location, industry, and budget, which are then combined into a single, representative individual or account.
Using these profiles as a template, marketing teams can tailor their messaging based on the problems a given audience segment may be trying to solve, or use them as the basis for further segmentation as needed.
Let’s take a look at an example ICP for a customer that sells B2B software.
Alonzo Bannister: Alonzo is a 41-year-old demand generation manager at a mid-market North American IT company. Reporting to the VP of marketing, he is solely responsible for an annual budget of $2 million.
Personality: Alonzo is a systems thinker. He enjoys tackling complex challenges, like creating pipeline and figuring out the right mix of solutions. He is a player-coach, often working alongside his team to execute campaigns. He is collaborative and works well with his colleagues in sales (even if the relationship is strained at times). He’s a networker by nature, both within the organization and externally, attending a lot of internal, cross-functional meetings and industry events.
As a demand-generation manager, Alonzo has a great deal of responsibility. For his direct reports, Alonzo holds his team responsible for finding buyers and building pipeline for the sales team. For his company, Alonzo:
- Works with sales leadership to get visibility into quarterly targets to build his demand strategy based on sales goals
- Sets strategy for driving demand across various marketing channels: paid search, paid social, content creation, webinars
- Represents demand generation in internal meetings with stakeholders, especially sales
- Manages a team of eight direct reports to execute on goals
Alonzo is motivated by several factors:
- Scale and repetition: the ability to see what is working, know why it is working, scale and repeat
- Feedback from sales: hearing about the quality of leads and pipeline created is a valuable source of data for ensuring campaigns are reaching the right people
- Attribution: the more visibility he has into how pipeline turns into purchases and how long that journey is, the better able he is to forecast the number of marketing touches needed
- Budget: earning additional budget through the results delivered and trust generated from his successes
Alonzo cares deeply about both his team and sales’ ability to execute on the leads his team provides. Alonzo wants to:
- Deliver consistent, quality pipeline to sales
- Demonstrate how his team’s marketing activities influence a buyer’s journey
- Equip his team with the right set of tools to perform their jobs
- Manage his team to hit their pipeline goals and KPIs across channels
- Cultivate a closer partnership with sales
In his day-to-day work, Alonzo faces multiple challenges:
- Gaining greater visibility into what is working and what’s not, across all channels and campaigns
- Accurately determining ROI for budget spend
- Forecasting and anticipating the next move, the next play
- Ensuring that his team is enabled with the tools and insights they need to deliver on their pipeline and MQL goals
- Managing a lot of meetings with people above and below him
This ICP tells our sales development representatives everything they need to know about Alonzo and similar buyers. They know the way they work, how they think, what motivates them, and most importantly, the problems and challenges Alonzo and other prospective buyers like him need help to overcome.
Additionally, you can leverage your B2B database to gather granular insights into his company. Look for attributes such as revenue, headcount, industry, location, and tech stack. For example, Alonzo’s company profile might look like this:
- Annual revenue of $50 million
- Employee headcount of 200 people
- SaaS industry
- Locations in Washington D.C. and Boston, MA
- Technologies include Salesforce, HubSpot, Mailchimp, Tableau, and Jira
By identifying the most specific qualities that your most important customers share, you can target (and convert) accounts of equal caliber.
Tips for Creating Ideal Customer Profiles
Now that we’ve established what ICPs are and how they’re used, how can you go about creating your own?
Talk to your existing customers
Making decisions based on assumptions is practically a cardinal sin in marketing. It’s crucial to speak to your existing customers before you begin crafting customer profiles.
This is particularly important for product marketers. Far too many companies prioritize features when they should be prioritizing solutions. This can result in wasted budgets, longer product development cycles, and ultimately, lower revenues.
Qualitative customer research is a critical element of creating customer profiles. Without an in-depth understanding of the problems your prospects are trying to solve, you can’t possibly hope to craft relevant, engaging messaging in your marketing campaigns. One-on-one interviews can be a highly effective means of gathering this data, as can questionnaires and surveys.
In terms of the B2B data you’ll need, you should aim to include the following points during your feedback-gathering process:
- Background information
- Communication practices
- Client goals
- Challenges faced
- Potential client objections to the product/service
- Sales cycle
Focus on what really matters
In our example customer profile of Alonzo, we don’t know much about his interests, hobbies, or values. This is because, for ZoomInfo’s purposes, this information doesn’t really tell us much. For our marketers, knowing how Alonzo thinks about solving problems is much more valuable than Alonzo’s personal interests. This is one of the reasons why examining B2C customer profiles is of limited use to B2B marketers.
When creating your own customer profiles, be sure to focus on developing three-dimensional profiles that capture the information your teams will need to execute their campaigns. We understand that Alonzo’s desire to help his colleagues in sales hit their number, and his wariness about expanding his company’s tech stack, are much more effective starting points than his educational background or spending habits.
Given marketing’s mission-critical role in go-to-market-driven companies, it’s essential that your ICPs be highly specific to the team using them. The more specific a customer profile is, the more likely your campaign is to succeed, so consider creating individual profiles for specific teams whenever possible.
Although some roles within marketing organizations and teams often overlap in terms of objective, each team should develop their own unique profiles and accompanying documentation. Doing so increases the likelihood of targeting prospective buyers and leads with messaging that truly speaks to their problems, and successfully demonstrates that your product or service genuinely understands how to help them.