Survey: Does your company have ideal customer profile (ICP) documentation?

Jimmy Daly
August 30, 2021

We used to run surveys in the Slack community all the time but got away from it. That’s on me! Surveys are a great way to take the pulse of the content community and collect useful data. We’ll be doing these on a regular basis and I’ll share all of the results.

First up, ideal customer profiles (ICPs). My personal experience with ICPs has been lackluster. I’ve never found much use for these lifeless documents. They tend to get filled with jargon and research. (I recently wrote all about this: ICPs: Great in Theory, Broken in Practice.)

I was curious if the community agreed. Here are the results from 60 respondents.

Key Takeaways:

  • Most people agree that ICPs are great in theory but often turn into fluff. No one really disagrees with the notion of knowing the customer better.
  • Key problems with ICPs include: not updating them regularly, relying on research rather than interviews and not building ICPs into content brief/production workflow.
  • In general, people who helped put together ICP docs felt it was more helpful than folks who didn’t participate in its creation.

Here’s the data:

Does your company have ideal customer profile / buyer persona documents?

Nearly all companies (74%) have run an ICP exercise at some point. So we know that this is very common practice. I’m glad to hear that most companies at least try to get to know their customers.

If yes, how valuable are these documents in your daily work?

Just over one-quarter of respondents said that ICP docs are “very valuable” to their daily work. Roughly 50% said that ICP docs are either “sorta valuable” or “not valuable.”

Did you participate in the ICP exercise?

I posed this question because I think that ICP exercises are most useful for the people who initially run them, then become less useful as they are passed down. (I know, I’m showing my bias all over the place.)

What do you love about ICPs? What irks you? Tell me what you really think about ideal customer profiles / buyer personas!

This was an open-ended question. Here’s a selection of the most interesting answers:

  • “I think they're good in a general sense of understanding who you're buyers are. But I also think they can create a slippery slope if solely rely on them to create content.”
  • “I don't like the marketing personas, that are often created. I love to get to know real clients and keep them in mind when conceptualizing and creating content. Makes it more tangible in my opinion. Kurt Vonnegut says "Write to please just one person.”
  • “They should provide directional intelligence for the writing and strategy. I love them in theory. I'd also love it if they were more "alive," with data to support them. (I.e., Personas as living/breathing dashboards.) But in my experience, they're either a joke, something to hide behind, or both.”
  • “ICPs are useful to get a baseline understanding of who you're talking to, but they can't represent the nuance of individual humans very well. Also, many teams build them and then never update them, which isn't super useful. “
  • “I think they're only useful to the people who conducted the interviews and made them. I think the knowledge gained with interviews is super valuable but super hard to communicate to others in an ICP.”
  • “What I love about ICPs is they are a great training tool for new people who are coming on board and want to learn about the customer.”
  • “I don't care for them all that much in our use case. We tend to focus more on a jobs-to-be-done approach. Personas don't map well between people—problems do.”
  • “It helps focus marketing efforts and also helps everyone understand who we are selling to and why. I add value props and key talking points to every buyer persona.”
  • “I absolutely love having these docs -- they're incredibly valuable for creating content that speaks directly to pain points and goals. If anything, I'd love to have a more detailed customer map, outlining things like phrases/words the persona naturally uses, their magic moments in our product, etc. “
  • “When they're based on an aggregate of loosely gathered info and riddled with bias, they're absolutely useless. ICPs have to have explicit business application — what are their goals/objectives, the challenges standing in their way, their goto trusted sources and influencers, and their role in the purchase decision. “
  • “Most buyer personas are done backward. Rand Fishkin outlines a better way to do them here.”

Keep an eye out for more surveys in Slack. :)

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