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ICP vs Persona vs Jobs To Be Done
What they are and why they matter
Sometimes these concepts are used interchangeably for the same thing, but they are different and need to be thought about differently.
Ideal Customer Profile (ICP)
I used to think ICP stood for Ideal Customer Persona which is probably why I got these things mixed up. But ICP is about the business that you are ideally selling to. And you might define your ICP on a variety of criteria:
Size (ether employees or revenue, or both)
Vertical/Industry (could be more than one)
Technology (for example, companies who use Microsoft)
Often these criteria are used for Marketing to Qualify the Leads they are generating. They are things that are easy to find without specifically speaking to anyone from that company.
Why it matters
Defining an ICP means that the way you start to position your solution is relevant to them. If your ICP is ‘literally anyone’ then it makes it a lot harder for anyone encountering you to understand whether it’s going to be right for them. As a potential buyer you don’t have time or the inclination to wade through pages of website copy to figure it out.
It means that you can get a sense of what the Company level pain is that you are going to solve, too. Knowing that you help large multi-nationals with their Learning and Development requirements means that you’re solving a different set of organisational pain points than if you had a Learning and Development platform aimed at freelancers.
It means that you can make sure you appear where they do. Trade Shows for example that are attended by your ICP might be a perfect way to generate leads. But also industry publications, online groups, and as a basis for an Account Based Marketing approach.
But what your ICP doesn’t tell you is anything about the individuals you will inevitably need to speak to within it.
Persona or Buyer Persona
Your Personas by contrast, starts to look at the specific things that occupy his or her world. Often Persona documents are pointless box-ticking exercises: “Molly is a Marketing Manager and goes to the gym.” - which tells you nothing about anything useful.
Good Personas tend to have insights that you can’t find by doing a Google search, or pulling up a few people with the same job title on LinkedIn. Instead they come from at the very least, talking to them, but ideally if you can ‘be them’ for a bit, even better.
What do I mean by that? I know someone who was selling his SaaS product to restaurant owners for their staff to order supplies for the day. So he volunteered to work for a company that delivered fish. It meant getting up very early and travelling around delivering the orders. But it also meant meeting all of the people who might be using his product and hearing first hand about their world. Guessing his Persona document had some pretty great insights.
Why it matters
I mentioned it a moment ago: he was selling to restaurant owners but often it was someone else ordering the food. Different personas but also different pain points.
It means that although you may be speaking to an organisation with a specific set of pains - for example, the multinational with high staff turnover. You may end up needing to convince the CFO, the Head of IT and the VP of People that your solution is correct.
The CFO may care about the burgeoning cost of their company-wide SaaS budget and may have a strategic plan to consolidate spend.
The Head of IT may only care about security and the amount of time their team are going to need to put into implementing and maintaining things.
And the VP People just wants to make sure that the product will move the needle in terms of what the product will do for the employees.
If your messaging to the Head of IT is all about the nuances of how employees can self-direct their learning but doesn’t touch upon data security then you’re off to a poor start.
Jobs To Be Done
Jobs To Be Done is really the next step in this process and effectively says, I understand the differences between the personas and what they care about, but now I want to know the specifics of what they are hiring us to do on a personal level.
Think about this less like ‘they are hiring us to provide the market leading bla bla bla solution’ and more along the lines of :
‘The board has flagged that our budget for recruitment has jumped through the roof due to high staff turnover. Obviously as VP of People, the job of reducing that cost has fallen squarely on my shoulders. I need to look at all the tools that I have to bring that cost down and I’m going to make the case that part of this is reducing staff churn by making them feel more engaged and positive about their career prospects’.
Why it matters
Your positioning shifts from ‘we’re the best in the world at y’ to ‘we help the People Function in large organisations reduce staff churn by x% by delivering a L&D platform that is proven to work.’
Let’s say that actually the People Function’s main objective was to find junior people who could be future leaders rather than reduce staff turnover, then you can easily see how we would change our messaging.
It also helps us think about the messaging at different levels of the funnel. As we move down the funnel from Awareness, Engagement, Evaluation, Conversion and Retention, combining that with Jobs To Be Done thinking helps really refine things.
If recruitment costs is a big issue for the VP of People, then a broad article about the strategies similar organisations are using to reduce them (throwing in L&D as one of the things to consider) is ideal for the Awareness Stage. But if the Head of IT is freaking out about a young SaaS company having access to its sensitive employee data at the Evaluation Stage, the same article is of no help whatsoever.
It’s always worth revisiting your ICP, Personas and Jobs To Be Done and in my experience companies have often done the ICP work and maybe got to creating one Buyer Persona who is the main contact during the sales cycle.
But understanding the conversations that happen elsewhere in the organisation with other influential people higher up and lower down the funnel, will give you an advantage both in the way you position your messaging and in the focus of the product itself.