Updated: 2 days ago
Imagine you're throwing a party. But you don't send invites to just anyone - you carefully curate the guest list to ensure the right people show up. That's what creating an Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) does for your business. An ICP paints a detailed picture of your perfect target customers.
Too many companies rely on lackluster demographics or transactional data often missing out on key insights that make their ICP specific, and tangible. That's like throwing a blind party.
Meanwhile, startups often have little customer data to work with - also no bueno. Yet being in the dark about your target audience is a scenario you just can’t afford in today's highly competitive markets.
While most businesses have a general sense of how to conduct basic research about their ideal customers, some of the most valuable insights can be uncovered through less-known but highly effective research methods.
Here are 4 unexpected ways to uncover those eureka moments about your perfect customers that can ultimately sharpen your messaging.
1. Let AI Reveal Your Most Valuable Customers 💻
AI technology has become an absolute no-brainer in the martech toolbox given its ability to automate an enormous amount of manual work. But one of the most exciting AI capabilities I've discovered recently is leveraging advanced machine learning algorithms to pinpoint your most profitable ideal customer profiles in minutes.
Early-stage startups in particular often simply don’t have enough historical customer data to thoroughly analyze their existing customer base to define their ICPs in detail. However, using artificial intelligence to hypothesize who your ideal customer profiles likely are can be a perfect time-saving solution. It can also supplement any existing data points you may have about your current buyer personas.
One tool I've come across that provides these AI-powered ICP insights is called M1-project. In a nutshell, what M1-project does is analyze key inputs you provide about your product or service offering, and then suggests the highest probability ICPs and associated buyer personas based on that information. Quite amazing, huh?
Here’s how it works:
Step 1. Input Essential Data for AI Analysis
Enter foundational data for the AI to analyze, including your website URL, your general business model (B2B, B2C, etc), and specifics on how you intend to use the suggested ICP once created. You'll also be asked a series of questions about your business, products, and existing customer base that will help the AI gather as much precise, relevant information as possible.
Step 2. Get and Enhance Your Product Description
The AI will then generate an initial draft product description for you. While the heavy lifting is done by the technology, this is where your market expertise comes in. You'll want to review the product description closely and ensure it accurately captures your key features, benefits, and differentiators. Refine and add any missing details, like calling out a specific geography or industry vertical you may be targeting.
The key thing I learned from testing this tool is that the more precise context and details you can provide to the AI, the better it will be able to dial in an optimized ICP. Add the specifics on your products, services, customers and market that you can. This level of detail is what enables the AI to surface those unexpected insights to build a top-notch ICP tailored to your business.
Step 3. Select Appropriate Needs, Problems and Segments
Next, do the same review for the sections covering customer needs and problems that your product or service aims to solve. The AI will suggest several potential ICP "segments" along with associated buyer personas based on your inputs. You'll then need to choose the 1 ICP segment that seems the strongest fit. Once you've selected your ideal ICP segment, you can then select 1 linked buyer persona. As an example to showcase how the needs are picked up by the AI, I tested out Ahrefs, an SEO tool for marketers. See how precisely the needs are generated:
Step 4. Get Your Detailed ICP and Buyer Persona
And this is where the magic happens. The tool delivers extensive research on your ICP and chosen buyer persona all in a single downloadable file. It includes comprehensive demographic and psychographic details, professional background information, pain points, goals, and aspirations.
But there's more - it also surfaces helpful data for building communication like values and fears, behavioral patterns, potential objections, decision-making processes, brand perceptions, and legal considerations. This is a goldmine for marketers.
The icing on the cake is the media consumption section showing specific blogs, social media platforms, and LinkedIn groups where your target audience hangs out. It's incredibly thorough and impressive. This is just a high-level glimpse of how detailed your ICP output can be. I'd recommend trying it yourself via this link to see the full value.
Step 5: Put the new ICP data to use
For new businesses without existing ICPs, this provides an abundance of data to jumpstart your buyer research and personas. For established businesses, you can build upon the suggested profile by blending these new AI-generated insights into your current ICPs to fill gaps and enhance their accuracy.
2. Learn from Competitors' Customer Reviews 🔎
While learning about your own customers is ideal, your competitors' customer reviews provide unique insights. These buyers operate in your industry, facing similar issues. Reading these reviews gives an impartial perspective on shared pain points and desires. By incorporating these crowd-sourced insights, you not only improve your ICP but also gain a deeper understanding of your industry's needs.
Here is a process for putting competitor reviews to work:
Step 1: Pick Your Top 5 Competitors
Choose five big players in your industry. These are the folks whose customers have a lot to say. Usually, there will be plenty of reviews available for these products.
Step 2: Check Out the Reviews
Go on websites like G2, Capterra, and Trustpilot. See what the customers of your competitors are saying. It's like eavesdropping on what your potential customers want and don't want. Pay attention to the roles of the people who leave the reviews (if the information is available).
Step 3: Sort and Summarize
Organize the reviews and point out the things that come up a lot. This makes it easier to see the trends and major pain points for users.
Quick tip: AI tools like ChatGPT or Bard can help make a summary, but don't forget to double-check because sometimes they get things wrong.
Also, G2 has a section that summarizes the Pros and Cons, as shown in the screenshot below, which is quite convenient.
Step 4: Put These Insights in Your Ideal Customer Profile
Blend these bite-sized insights into your ICP. These aren't just random thoughts; they're approved by the same customers who make your competitors popular. This mix ensures your ICP fits the real world of your industry.
Step 5: Turn Competitors’ Problems into Messaging Gold
Spot the common issues and complaints. Turn them into messages that show your product is better at solving these shared problems. This not only makes you different from the rest but also shows your products can handle common industry challenges in a better way. In the example above with Keap, G2 makes it evident that there are specific areas where Keap's competitors might have an advantage. Therefore, if I were part of a CRM closely competing with Keap, my strategy would be to highlight the ease of use and user-friendliness of our software.
Gleaning intelligence straight from your competitors' customer bases can provide that insider industry perspective you likely won't get anywhere else. Use it to level up your ICP accuracy.
3. Profile Your Best Customers on Social Media 🌐
Have you ever wondered what your best customers' lives are like outside of being a customer? What TV shows do they watch? What hobbies do they have? Imagine if you could go undercover and immerse yourself in their lives.
While you can't follow them around in real life (that would also be strange 🙂), their social media profiles provide the next best thing - a virtual sneak peek into who they really are.
By digging through their social accounts, you can piece together a clear understanding of your customers' interests, lifestyle, and attributes. Then, blend these insights into your ICP to make it reflect real people, not just transactions.
Here's how to use social media to uncover the lives of your ideal customers:
Step 1: Identify Your Customers for Social Media Profiling
Make a list of 5-10 of your most valuable customers. These are the advocates who drive the most revenue, have been customers the longest, or actively promote your brand.
Step 2: Visit Their Various Social Media Profiles
Search for their names on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and TikTok. Visit each profile and dive in to soak up details.
Step 3: Analyze Photos, Bios, Posts, and More
Go beyond just a quick glance. Study their profile photos, bios, recent posts, likes, shared content, causes followed, groups joined, and hashtags used. One particularly useful example is the Newsletter block on LinkedIn. This section explicitly displays the type of content your ICP consumes. Below is a screenshot of this section from my LinkedIn.
Step 4: Note Key Details and Identify Common Interests
Write down specific info like employers, job titles, locations, education, relationship status, etc. Make a list of hobbies, TV shows, causes, sports teams, etc. that come up frequently. Identify common traits among your top customers to create a comprehensive picture.
Step 5: Incorporate Insights into Your ICP
Add the common interests, pain points, beliefs, and demographics into your ideal customer profile. This literally brings your ICP to life.
Getting beneath the surface and into the real lives of your best customers takes some detective work. But putting in this work will uncover a goldmine of insights to strengthen your ICP and marketing.
4. See What Draws Users' Attention with Heat Maps 🖍
While you can't be holding your prospect’s hand through their customer journey, there is technology that can certainly help you figure out how they perceive it.
Your website is normally one of the most important (if not the most important) touchpoints, and you can pick up lots of clues about your ICP and buyer persona just by looking at how they consume your website’s content.
Heat mapping software reveals these clues by showing you exactly what your visitors click on during their journey through your site. It's like having a highlighting tool that makes your customers' interests light up before your eyes. By analyzing this heat map of engagement, you can uncover your customers' true interests to enrich your ICP.
Here's how to explore your website's heat map:
Step 1: Get Your Virtual Highlighter
Sign up for heat mapping software like Hotjar, CrazyEgg, or Microsoft Clarity. There are many software of this kind you can choose from. I personally love Microsoft Clarity, which has a wonderful free version. Add the small tracking code to your website pages. This allows the software to do its magic.
Step 2: Let Customers Explore
Over a few weeks, customers will naturally browse your site. The software quietly tracks their clicks in the background. Pick several pages that you’d be interested in the most (like the pricing and features page, for instance). Also, you might want to pay closer attention to certain segments, for instance, people who spent 30+ secs on your website.
Step 3: See Their Interactions Highlighted
Check the heat map that visually highlights which sections and pages attract the most clicks. See what draws attention. Make a list of the specific content that gets clicked on the most. For instance, I identified the features that are more interesting to users (they click on those sections more).
Step 4: Add These Insights to Your ICP
Incorporate these customer-validated interests and needs into your ideal customer profile. Let your customers guide you to what matters most to them.
By going beyond basic data, you can uncover a uniquely detailed view of your customers. With a crystal-clear ICP, you can fine-tune your marketing to attract and retain more ideal customers.
Bonus Tip: Hire a Practitioner to Help You with ICP
With 8 years of helping SaaS startups to go from 0 to $3M ARR and more, I've started Upleadium to help more businesses with my services. Here's what I can offer:
🟢 Marketing Audit & GTM Strategy: I conduct a comprehensive audit of your current marketing strategy and programs. Then I develop an optimized go-to-market strategy tailored to your business goals. This includes positioning, messaging, and a roadmap to drive results.
🟢 Fractional CMO services: I can serve as your part-time Fractional CMO to oversee marketing strategy, drive execution, and provide ongoing growth consulting. This allows you to tap into high-level marketing expertise without the cost of a full-time CMO.
🟢 Marketing Consultations: Get help with specific marketing questions or projects through one-time or ongoing consultations. I'll provide strategic guidance to unblock growth.
🟢 Website Messaging: I'll align your website messaging and design with your value proposition for maximum impact. Includes strategy, wireframes, and copywriting.