We've seen startup founders make the same mistake over and over again. They spend months building their product and then release it out into the wild hoping someone (anyone) will bite.
They don’t target a specific customer persona because they think their product is broad and “anyone” can use it, so they don’t want to limit their reach. Instead, they want to see who the product naturally resonates with.
They get a few bites and think, “It’s working!"
And since they’re really excited about their first few customers, those customers organically become the “ideal customer persona” (ICP) that they focus their efforts on without considering other options.
They base their product decisions and sales decisions on that initial persona, which causes them to expand the product in the wrong direction and miss the bigger opportunities that are out there.
So how do you figure out if your startup is focusing on the right persona?
The importance of rapidly testing your Ideal Customer Persona to ensure you target the right leads
Sales is essentially a process of conveying the right information to the right people at the right time to get the results you’re looking for… right?
So when you’re designing your sales process, you always have to ask yourself, “What information do my prospects need?”
And what’s the best way to present this information to them?
But the answer to those questions depends on who the person is, because different people with different titles have different needs, motivations, and ways of operating.
Before you can convey the right information, you have to truly understand who you’re conveying it to.
You can’t guide someone to a purchase decision without understanding what their day-to-day looks like, what their frustrations are, and what they like/dislike… because if they don’t believe that you understand them, they won’t believe that your product will solve their problems.
But before you put time and effort into really understanding the who, you want to make sure you’ve got the who that’s going to be:
- Easiest for you to sell to, and
- Most valuable to your business in the long run.
That’s why we hypothesize and test before we hit the scale button, as follows.
How to find your Ideal Customer Persona
1. If you already have existing clients…
Ask yourself which of them have the strongest need for your product, because high-need clients are going to be the easiest to convert, and probably the most valuable long-term.
Then take a step back and figure out what makes those high-need clients different from your other clients. Is it their…
- Software they use
Or maybe it’s something else. Maybe it’s the need itself that’s different. Different people use your product for different reasons and some needs are stronger than others.
Once you’ve found the strongest need and modeled out the characteristics of the organisations that have it, you’ve got your ICP (or ICPs).
2. If you don’t have existing clients…
Start by listing out all the different reasons that people might use your product. Then zoom in on the reasons that are based on the strongest needs, because those are the needs you’ll want to be targeting.
Once you’ve identified the strongest needs, ask yourself who has those needs. What kind of company, what size, what tools are they using, and what job titles are involved in both the buying decision and the actual use of your product.
Once you’ve got that, you’ve got your ICP and you’re ready to create personalized messaging.
Here’s a framework for creating messaging that resonates with your Ideal Customer Persona.
Once you’ve clearly defined the right who based on the above, get in their head and try to understand their perspective, then look at your product from that perspective.
For each ICP job title you’ve identified, open up a new Google Doc and answer the following. I’ll include example answers for a VP of Sales at a SaaS company.
Goals: What are the main things they might be trying to achieve over the course of a
- Day? E.g. Hire a new sales rep
- Month? E.g. Get their team to exceed their sales targets.
- Year? E.g. Develop a strategy to scale up outbound while reducing costs
Pains: What gets in the way of the goals above? What makes them difficult to achieve?
- E.g. Not enough quality candidates
- E.g. Inconsistent lead flow
- E.g. Email-to-meeting conversion rate is too low
Positive Outcomes: What will happen if they achieve those goals?
- E.g. They can go back to focusing on sales strategy
- E.g. They’ll earn more revenue
- E.g. They’ll be able to invest more money into improving their product
Negative Outcomes: What will happen if they DON’T achieve those goals?
- E.g. They’ll be stuck in hiring mode, falling behind in other areas
- E.g. They’ll have to find new salespeople
- E.g. Their competitors could overtake them
Now, based on the above...
Value props: How does your product help them achieve their specific goals or outcomes, or address their pains?
- E.g. It improves cold email conversion rates by continuously split-testing messaging using AI.
- E.g. It eliminates the need for hiring more salespeople and reduces costs by automating parts of the sales process.
- E.g. It provides remote sales reps on demand to eliminate the hiring process.
Objections: What objections might they have about your product?
- E.g. Will it help me generate enough sales to get a positive ROI?
- E.g. Are my reps going to hate using it?
- E.g. Does it integrate with my existing sales tools?
By keeping your messaging tightly focused on the specific goals, pains, outcomes, value props, and objections of each ICP — and ignoring value props of your product that fall outside of these categories — you’re much more likely to craft outbound campaigns that resonate.
You’ll get higher conversion rates by targeting ICPs with the right messaging, allowing you to scale your growth more efficiently.
Some examples of Ideal Customer Personas and their relevant messaging
If you’re pitching a sales commission platform to a VP of Sales, they won’t care how easy it is to make commission calculations if they’re not the one making those painful calculations manually in Excel.
You might get a better reaction from the Head of Finance, whereas the VP of Sales might be more interested in improving rep performance.
If you’re selling marketing services to a marketing person, they might worry that your campaigns will outperform theirs, so you might want to position yourself as “marketing support” rather than “marketing strategy.”
Whereas if you’re targeting CEOs, they might be more interested in strategy.
If you’re selling IT security software to IT Directors, they might be more interested in how you’re going to help them meet compliance requirements, and less interested in the tech stack you’re using.
Whereas if you’re reaching out to slightly lower-level IT managers, they might be more interested in the tech stack itself.
So make sure you put yourself in your prospects’ shoes using the questions from the previous section, and try to see your product from their perspective. It always surprises us how many startups skip this step.
Remember: if you’re talking to everyone you’re talking to no one.
If you’re the one receiving a sales pitch, there’s nothing more off-putting than a rep who talks about value props that you don’t care about, or who brings up pain points that you don’t have.
It immediately makes you think, “this product isn’t for me.”
The only way you can convey the right information to close the deal is if you understand your target persona and use messaging that speaks directly to that person.
A lot of it comes down to testing and talking to customers. Your product may benefit several different people at a single company, but the way it benefits them is going to be unique.
So make sure you have a clear picture of your ideal customer persona before you start selling.