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The Airfleet Debrief: Finding Your ICP

Elad Hefetz
3 May 2024
doug bell chief outsiders linkedin live

The Airfleet Debrief is a series that challenges marketing experts to teach B2B marketers something they can use in 15 minutes or less. Doug Bell, Fractional CMO and Partner at Chief Outsiders, accepted the challenge and shared his approach to finding the ideal customer profile (ICP). 

You can watch the full video here or keep scrolling for the writeup:

The Full Recap

The first exercise Doug runs through with any new client is finding the true customer fit. Knowing your company’s ICP is central to validating or adjusting your brand – and succeeding as a performance-driven marketer. 

Here’s how Doug begins with data and validates through a cross-functional process that convinces even the most reluctant salespeople to buy in.

Discovering your three customer types

Every company has customers that fall into one of three categories:

  1. Ideal customer profile (ICP): These are the customers who love your product and are most likely to renew and expand.
  2. Acceptable customer profile (ACP): These are the customers who find the product useful but not a focal point, which puts them at risk of churning if their budgets are reduced.
  3. Unacceptable customer profile (UCP): These customers may masquerade as ICP, but when you analyze their lifetime value compared to the cost to acquire them and the cost of goods sold, they are more expensive than they’re worth.

Typically, Doug begins this project by interviewing critical players on the go-to-market team. He’ll speak with executives, but he interviews salespeople very carefully because they are constantly testing and stretching beyond the brand story marketing carefully crafts, and for a good reason! As Doug said, they are the most efficient people in your company and will find the path of least resistance.

The reason why it’s so critical to validate the sales team’s opinion against customer data is because sometimes the shortest sales cycles correlate to your customers that churn the fastest. That’s why Doug uses a simple formula to validate that a specific profile truly is your ICP:

customer fit ratio formula

If the profile’s ratio is high (ideally much greater than 1.0), you’re on the right track! If the ratio is low (less than 1.0), you’ve either got a problem with data enrichment or your theory was wrong.

“A really good ICP model might only have two conditions. If you’re getting into three and four and five conditions, it’s too complex to communicate outside of the four walls of marketing and it’s way too hard to operate against.”

Doug Bell, Fractional CMO & Partner at Chief Outsiders

To test whether your definition performs really well, take your population and run Doug’s calculation. Then, compare that to the average across all of your customers. If your definition subset performs poorly (i.e., has a lower ratio than average), it’s time to hit the drawing board again because you’ve potentially found your sneaky UCP.

Selling your ICP

As Doug said, chances are high that quoting your numbers and findings will be enough for 90% of the population. “That last 10% can be killer,” said Doug.

Sellers who have had success earning stellar commission checks from selling to your UCP will be extremely difficult to persuade. Doug recommends making them part of the process and making the new ICP definition their idea whenever possible.

“Job one is to accept that you’re always the least brilliant person on every single call. And you are. I don’t care how smart and experienced you are. The tactic that I use is to make sure – even if it’s your idea – make it their idea as much as you can. Take a kernel of an idea, even if you polish it in front of them, and you say, ‘Wow, this is really something,’ and give them credit.

“The other piece of advice is to involve them wherever you can in the journey. Don’t make it a black box. Put people on customer interview calls or record the calls and share them. Be transparent.” 

Doug Bell, Fractional CMO & Partner at Chief Ousiders

The selling process should begin before you analyze profitability for each definition. It starts when you ask sales what they feel the definition of the ICP should be, and you must find ways to include them in the discovery process so they can share in a lightbulb moment. Doug advised, “Make sure they understand what’s in it for them, and then make it their idea as much as you can.”

Doug is a big fan of using a Miro board and letting people enter and vote on ICP attributes during team meetings, which include sales, marketing, and customer success. Then, Doug compares those findings to his data and asks a lot of questions. 

While it seems like a potential loss of productivity, marketing learns how to refine their targeting and improve their brand identity; sellers understand which customers are most likely to buy, expand, and recommend your product to their friends; and customer success hears why certain customers are sold to.

Everyone wins.

Once you sell your ICP, your job isn’t done! It’s just the beginning of a go-to-market strategy overhaul – or, if you’re lucky, a series of minor revisions to improve efficiency and reduce costs. 

Once every aspect of your go-to-market strategy is dialed in, it will be time to start over at step one. Because as the market changes and go-to-market performance wavers, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and revisit your ICP all over again. That’s what keeps marketing exciting! It’s always evolving.

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