Startup
April 22, 2022
10 min read

Why Is Getting ICP Alignment So Damn Hard?

Author
Justin Fite

If you’ve spent any time working in the tech field and SaaS software companies, you’ve heard the phrase Ideal Customer Profile (ICP).  For those of us in sales and marketing, it’s an ever-present, essential component of our jobs.  We talk about ICP continually; it’s in every fund-raising slide deck, most sales training materials, and it’s all over our internal marketing.

Specifically, we are seeking good “ICP Alignment.” When we succinctly match our message with our prospects, we resonate with the ICP, we gain trust and have a chance to solve their challenges.  Why then, is it so damn hard to get aligned? 

It turns out that our idea of ICP is often too shallow, too narrow and too static.  While many factors can affect sales effectiveness, here are some symptoms that often manifest when your ICP is mis-aligned:

  • Too many deals in the pipeline stall, seem to “lose energy”
  • Deals tend to drag on requiring more and more meetings and conversations
  • Prospects initially engage but then “go dark” and are unresponsive

ICP Alignment centers around three factors:  Finding ICP Depth, Keeping ICP Alignment and Activating ICP.

Finding ICP Depth

The first task is to find your true ICP but, most importantly, at the right depth. Many organizations think of this in terms of a vertical market or segment they serve.  Most organizations think of it as a set of roles or titles.  Both of these are a good start but are too shallow to have the information you need.  What you need to  be looking for is not the person who can buy your solution, but rather, the set of circumstances, constraints and descriptions that surround the person who needs your solution. That’s your true buyer. 

“What you need to be looking for is not the person who can buy your solution, but rather, the set of circumstances, constraints and descriptions that surround the person who needs your solution. That’s your true buyer. ”

How do you get great alignment? Define your ICP in a new way - their set of problems are unique! Define those problems by understanding your ICP’s goals and priorities, their ongoing constraints and the language they use to articulate their issues. When you understand your ICP at this depth, credibility and trust blooms, resulting in the alignment that ensures better deal success. You now understand how your prospects experience their challenges, outside of your product/services offering. The result? Clarity, efficiency, and increased chance of closing deals.

“You now understand how your prospects experience their challenges, outside of your product/services offering. The result? Clarity, efficiency, and increased chance of closing deals.”

Unfortunately, this level of depth is NOT what you get from LinkedIn (the number one source sales reps use to understand the ICP), or the prospect’s website (number two).  You need insights directly from people who are your ICP. However, it’s not effective to try to collect that from sales calls (sorry salespeople, we are not good at this). 

Keeping ICP Alignment

Getting your initial ICP Alignment is not simple or easy. An added complexity is that over time, even if you had it, your position relative to the ICP changes causing mis-alignment. Internal factors such as your company’s growth (evolution, acquisitions, etc.) or their company’s growth shift the position. Market factors such as the economy, new competitors or wildcards like AI change the market dynamics and result in shifting priorities. These all cause mis-alignment which has some very common symptoms in sales including “the deal went dark” and “the prospect is not responding”, or in marketing areas including “our message is not resonating”. All of our pipelines are likely inflated by “zombie deals” caused by mis-alignment that throw off our metrics and distract our teams from focusing on deals that are aligned and have a shot at closing.

Activating ICP - The 15-minute window

Marketing teams make a valiant effort to paint a clear image of the needs of the ICP. They spend lots of time collecting this data. I’ll apologize right now to marketers from sales teams everywhere - we simply do not use the material as intended. I believe there are myriad factors causing this but I’ll identify three that I’ve seen. But first let me describe the “15-minute window.”

15-Minute Window

The overwhelming majority of sales reps prep for a call 15 minutes before the call. We will save the WTF for another discussion, but it’s true; we’re buried like most people in many tasks, trying to squeeze as much from the day as possible. When a prospect call is upon us, we prep just before the call. And our prep? LinkedIn, GoogleNews, prospect website, a few notes, Slack maybe. It’s thin, it’s circumstantial, it’s irrelevant (knowing your college helps me how?).

Buried Treasure 

While your marketing team may have the insights you believe are helpful, where are they? Most likely in a 50-slide presentation somewhere in a G-drive, or a long detailed document that likely has some helpful information. But… I’ve got 15 minutes before a call and I simply do not have the time to go hunting for materials.

Overload

Even if I find it, the material I need is a needle in a haystack. It’s too dense and too much data for me to quickly scan, understand without context and integrate into an ad-hoc conversation that can and usually takes unforeseen turns mid-call.

A Better Way

So in my ideal scenario for my sales team, here is what I’d want:

  • Insights from actual ICPs that, in their own words, describe the problem they are facing, it’s priority among their other priorities, independent of my solution.
  • Commentary from actual ICPs that do not comment on the industry as whole, but describe their very specific world along with their major constraints of why they live with a sub-par solution
  • Actual ICP descriptions of our portrayal of the problem and our solution to it (our website, our 1-pagers, etc.)...what parts they like, they don’t like and most importantly, what they do not understand in our messaging.
  • Summary of feedback from the top three roles likely to be involved in the decision making process for solving the problem we address.

“Having this information in a succinct, easily accessible, up-to-date format that sales reps can quickly review prior to calls can make the difference between a flat, useless call and one that gets traction and ultimately better results.”

The dynamic nature of selling software to B2B buyers is ever-present for sales teams.  The constant swirl of competing priorities will always cloud the space around those who buy from us. The better we can understand those priorities, the more we can build trust with prospects and determine more efficiently if and how we can help them improve their business.

Written by
Justin Fite