How to Use an Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) for SaaS Lead Generation

We all know the recipes for lead generation vary between industries, but we should also remember they vary within each industry, depending on positioning and value proposition. SaaS is no exception.

SaaS marketers are a special breed: using full-funnel capabilities to integrate product data with design, content, paid acquisition, and more. They’ve got a special set of skills, but not all SaaS is created equal…

In my experience, Annual Contract Value (ACV) is an underplayed factor in shaping marketing strategy, because it determines how decision-makers get to the point of purchase. Put simply, we won’t get signups for a $150,000 per year SaaS subscription by driving a ton of cheap traffic to a free trial page. Targeting volume via digital channels is great to identify prospect accounts for future remarketing, but high ACV products require a lot of consideration, comparison, and discussion between stakeholders.

Enter Account Based Marketing (ABM)! This is a hugely effective approach for marketing high-ticket products. In order to generate SaaS leads with ABM, you first need to establish which accounts—or type of accounts—represent the most suitable customers. This is based on your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP).

In this article, you will learn:

What is an ICP and why is it critical to SaaS lead generation?

An Ideal Customer Profile is a strict definition of an ideal customer, which is used to frame mindset, strategy, and lead generation tactics. By understanding the unique characteristics of your ideal customer(s), it’s easier to cut out the noise and focus marketing activities—and weight budget—on prospects that match this profile.

What’s an example of an ICP for SaaS? Well, let’s say a social media management tool is great for digital marketers. In this case, freelancers and in-house teams could be customers. But the majority of revenue is driven by large agencies taking multiple subscriptions. The ideal customer here is a digital agency with 50+ employees. Other factors can be added to narrow it down further—such as revenue or location.

If a SaaS product has multiple subscription tiers, the ICP might differ between tiers. For example, the social media management tool’s “Lite” version might be suited to freelancers. In this case, Account Based Marketing won’t be on the cards due to tighter margins. Defining the ICP is still a useful exercise for channel-focused marketers doing customer acquisition for low-ACV SaaS products, because it helps narrow their focus. But it’s absolutely essential for marketers doing ABM.

Remember: an ideal prospect must also be ready, willing, and able to become a customer.

How to create your Ideal Customer Profile for SaaS ABM

Phase 1: Research current customers and segment your ICPs

The first port of call is to identify your best current customers and spot which characteristics they share. “Best” customers are often defined by their Lifetime Value (LTV), but the precise parameters are variable and depend on your business. You can mix manual research (surveys, etc.) with tool-based analysis, such as uncovering technographic profiles via BuiltWith and firmographic profiles via Leadfeeder.

The goal in this first phase is to learn as much as possible about your current customers, get a better understanding of which ones are the best—and define why they’re the best. Create no more than two or three ICPs using your current customer research. Base these on demographic, technographic, and firmographic details. These ICPs should be taken forward as the test subjects for your ABM activities.

Phase 2: Build new lists and test ICP hypotheses

Once you’ve established your ICP hypotheses, it’s time to use the information to refine list-building and ABM retargeting. As Kiera Abbamonte showed in her post, you can set up a Custom Feed in the Leadfeeder dashboard based on your ICP criteria, let it run over a period of time, and export the CSV for LinkedIn Ads and third-party ABM tools such as Metadata.io.

This retargeting group will then be based on companies who match your ICP and have expressed an interest by visiting your website. You can push nurturing content and direct response ads to these specific audiences, use Leadfeeder to track the most responsive users, and shape the ongoing remarketing campaign to target accounts which are further down the funnel.

Testing ICPs for ABM isn’t limited to retargeting people via social ads. In fact, many businesses try cold emailing, LinkedIn messaging, social selling and even direct mail or telemarketing. Anything goes, as long as it helps you communicate your compelling value proposition to a decision-maker at an ideal customer account.

Phase 3: Validate and scale your ICP-focused activities

Put simply, the only way to know whether your ICP hypotheses are correct is if ABM activities bring in sales-qualified SaaS leads. Validation is based on repeated success of experiments based on your ICP hypotheses. Before you scale-up content creation, outreach capability, or ad budgets—your experiments need to have generated measurably better results than non-ICP focused activities.

Your ICP definition will also help you scale and reach new audiences. By building custom lists and lookalike audiences, you can scale digital advertising whilst maintaining a strong focus on the ICP criteria.

Summary

For effective SaaS ABM, defining your Ideal Customer Profile(s) is absolutely essential. Without embracing this research and testing methodology, you’ll be shooting in the dark.

At the very least, defining your ICPs establishes a super-focused mindset for content marketing, ad targeting, and outreach. It cuts out the noise and reduces distractions. But used to its full capacity, a validated ICP definition will determine when, where, and how marketing budget is distributed.

Each case is unique. Some businesses will have one ideal customer for their only product. Others will have one ideal customer for multiple products. Some businesses will have multiple ideal customers for one product, and some will have multiple ideal customers for multiple products.

The important thing for ABM is that your team has clarity on what constitutes an ideal customer.

Author Bio

Oren Greenberg is a growth marketer and founder of the Kurve consultancy, based in London. He helps startups and corporate innovation projects scale using digital channels. Oren has written for leading marketing blogs and has been featured in the international press.

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