Business
April 22, 2022
8 min read

ICP Drift: How You Lost Your Sales Momentum

Author
Justin Fite

You’re a SaaS sales leader and things are going well.  You’re seeing a lot of good indicators in your sales motion and you’re watching the right gauges (ACV, Deal Velocity, Win Rate) and working on the inevitable headwinds facing any SaaS sales leader, but progress is being made.

Then you see your metrics begin to trend negative. The deals start taking longer, the win rates begin to dip. The discounting is creeping up and more than a few deals are “going dark.” You have a bad feeling that the problems are more wide-spread than a bad month or a distracted sales team. Worse, when you are listening to sales calls and talk to your team, they seem to be doing what they should be doing, but you can detect a reduced engagement by prospects relative to how excited they used to be just several months ago.

What’s going on? Why is their response so diminished? What changed? You are experiencing ICP Drift.

What is ICP Drift? It is a subtle mis-alignment over time, between you and your prospect. More specifically, between what you think the value for your prospect is and what they actually value. And just like being off-trail on a hike, the longer this occurs, the more mis-aligned you ge. The symptoms begin subtly, but over time, many of your sales metrics indicate you have lost your product/market fit.

There are three forces that can contribute, sometimes all at once, to ICP Drift.

You Move
We’ve all seen this when we introduce new pricing structures or product capabilities, or move into new markets (up-market to Enterprise, cross-market to new verticals). The team is momentarily out of sync with what the market expects.  The big changes (like pricing) can be jarring so we don’t miss those changes, but the more subtle the change, the easier it is to not realize we are drifting.

They Move:
Customers evolve too.  They buy new technology that shifts their priorities, they acquire new markets that require their attention, they solve problems, they create new problems.  Their needs, priorities and constraints are continually changing.   If we fail to take these into account, we drift.

Environment Moves:
The world is evolving and our tiny part of it in SaaS morphs daily by macro economic forces (interest rates) or tectonic shifts (AI), or plain old plodding along with new competitors, new approaches, new regulations, etc.   All of these push both your business and your prospects business around to varying degrees.

How are you maintaining ICP Alignment with your prospect?   If you are looking at what you’ve done in the past, you are going to miss the changes and drift.   

Remedy: Maintain constant confirmation of what’s important to your prospect 

Ideally, you have mechanisms in place to collect objective, specific feedback from your ICP that informs you of their needs, priorities and constraints.   Notice that I did NOT say feedback from your customers or your prospects.  Both of these sources are good to listen to but they are not objective and have major biases Let’s take a look at three potential feedback sources: 

Customer Feedback: NO

Your customer feedback is valuable for their customer experience but it’s not objective. They are committed (at least for now) to your solution.  They are familiar with it, have adapted their processes to it, so they really do not look like a prospective customer at all.

Prospect Feedback: NO

I’m speaking as a sales rep here; sales calls are not the place you should expect to get candid, verbose feedback on whether you really solve the prospect’s problem.   Sales calls are “trust vacuums” most of the time.  That’s why there are thousands of books on “building trust in sales.”  It’s obvious to anyone who has been sold to - hold your cards close to the vest.  This is definitely not the place or mechanism for collecting what your ICP really struggles with, prioritizes or wants. 

ICP Interview: YES

Imagine having an interview, at your fingertips, (not a sales call) with an ICP where you get the chance to ask them all kinds of questions about the nature of the problem, how they see it, how it compares to other problems they must solve, and of course what they think of the way you describe and purport the solution. And imagine that information continually updating as market forces evolve.  That is GOLD.  That will keep you from drifting from them and on course with your growth plans.

Recognizing ICP Drift and, most importantly, doing something about it,  is a powerful tool to ensure ongoing success in the ever-changing sales process. 

Written by
Justin Fite