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September 20, 2021

Ideal Customer Profiles vs. Buyer Personas: Defining B2B Buyers

By Matt Pilon, Content Strategist and Lauren Lyons, Market Analyst and Research Writer

Post 1 - The difference between Ideal Customer Profiles and Buyer Personas

For companies marketing B2B products and services, accurately defining likely or ideal buyers is an early but crucial step on the path to sales.

A strong understanding of what makes a target buyer tick will help marketers craft more effective messaging  that speaks to the buyer’s pain points and conveying how the seller’s particular solution can help soothe them.

While “know your buyer” is a useful marketing maxim, the work needed to get there isn’t always simple or clear-cut.

Chasing unimportant buyer details or even making inaccurate guesses later incorporated into ads and other messaging could harm lead generation efforts.

B2B marketers should outline what information they seek, and why and how it might help propel them toward their KPI goals.

The individual or the group? 

Marketers use two common approaches to define their desired customers: Buyer personas and ideal customer profiles.

The two are similar in that each defines an archetypal buyer’s specific challenges and other motivators that could impact purchasing decisions.

The key difference is that buyer personas focus on a single theoretical person as the target buyer, while ideal customer profiles target an entire theoretical company.

A preference for ICPs

While marketers vary in their exact approaches to personas and profiles, ideal customer profiles (ICPs) are best suited to the complexities of the B2B sales cycle. Here’s why:

Group decisions

A consumer choosing which car, television, or shoes to buy typically makes that decision alone. In the B2B space, where big-ticket items like a new software system or high-end machinery have high price points and complex capabilities, nearly 70% of companies appoint internal committees to research and recommend.
The average buyer committee has between six and 10 members (source).

How can a marketer realistically hope to profile each one? Finding accurate information would be difficult, and even if it was available, would six to 10 personas even be relevant, given that the individuals are acting within a larger group, one with unknown dynamics and likely imbalances in actual influence?

Companies don’t make a habit of sharing most of the personal information marketers might be seeking. Even if they did, there’s probably no way to verify whether or not one real-life example represents their broader target audience.

Shared message

Profiles allow sellers to speak holistically to the shared interests of a company, as represented by a group of individual decision-makers.

It’s a more effective approach to B2B marketing, especially for sellers that are new to a market and lack the inside expertise that can develop with years of participation.

Fewer research headaches

Marketers choosing the profile approach are also likely to run into fewer research hurdles, as it’s more common to find studies and other published data about specific types of companies or sectors than it is to uncover information about individual people within a company.

Whatever approach marketers choose, personas and profiles should guide messaging tactics into the future, so marketers should view them as living documents rather than a stack of paper gathering dust on a shelf. Marketers will change, and new trends will emerge. Periodic updates to customer targeting documents will ensure that messaging strategies remain based in current reality.

Sources

Demand Gen Report, 2021 B2B Buyers Survey.

Gartner, Future of B2B Buying Journey.