The Damn Good Marketing Podcast Ep.5: ICP with Andrei Zinkevich
5 min read
May 10, 2023
The Damn Good Marketing Podcast Ep.5: ICP with Andrei Zinkevich
Subha 0:00 Hey, so I have someone in mind who I think you'll really like. Let's see if you can figure out who it is. He's a genius. He's a billionaire. He is a playboy, but he's also a philanthropist. What do I have in mind?
Hasita 0:15 Of course, would I even be a Marvel superfan if I didn't know that? That was Tony Stark!
Subha 0:21 Ah, interesting. Because the person I had in mind is very, very real world, Jeff Bezos.
Hasita 0:29 Okay. It's true of Jeff Bezos as well.
Subha 0:33 Yeah, very much genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist, okay, maybe I should have added astronaut or something.
Hasita 0:43 Two very, very different people, right? One fictional character, much beloved, much painful in all the wrong places. But beloved, nevertheless. Very, very dead if Marvel is to be believed. And one very real world human being, you know, doing his real world things, just existing, building Amazon while he's at it. Really makes me think about, you know, all the mistakes that we make when it comes to designing our ideal customer profile, as we call it, you know, if the same four words can describe two wildly different people, then why are we using those four words at all?
Subha 1:18 Yeah, no, it's a tough one. Because, like we've seen a lot of roads lead to, or should begin with the ideal customer profile. Absolutely. And it seems like that's not so easy to define.
Hasita 1:33 It's not, which is why I thought we will ask the expert today for their recommendations on how to build an ICP, and how to do it really, really well.
Hasita 1:47 Welcome to the damn good marketing podcast. We're joined today by Andrei Zinkevich, and we're asking him a very important question.Why does my ideal customer not know that I exist? Why does my ideal customer not know about my product, my service? Why is it so hard to sell to the person who should fall in love with me instantly.Andrei is the co founder of fullfunnel.io, where they work to create a stable demand for your B2B product and to accelerate your growth. Now, along with his co founder, Vlad, Andrei also runs a Slack community for B2B marketers. And that community is very aptly named the Trenches. A link to join the community will be in the episode's show notes. Pleas
Andrei 2:35 Hello, and thanks a lot for inviting me, I had to share all the knowledge about the subject.
HAsita 2:41 So Andrei, you've spoken in several webinars before about the importance of really nailing your ICP, your ideal customer profile. Now, this is something that I think a lot of people do get wrong, despite knowing the theory. And despite understanding that there are, there's a certain way to go about it. So in your experience, what are the three things that people typically get wrong when building their ICP?
Andrei 3:09 I would say there is one thing, not even three, but just one is that they don't understand the difference between creating an ideal customer profile in B2C, and in B2B, and when it comes to B2C, I will sell to individuals and traditionally. Well, no, this legend about Mary Jane and mom of two kids that works at this company I don't know to buy products at Walmart, etc, etc.
And this is, and we can't just rely on this information when it comes to B2B. Because in B2B, first of all, we have ideal account summary so basically the company that we are going to sell and perhaps the buying committee structure so we don't sell to only one person. That's the fundamental mistake.
The second one, potentially which I can mention this also, again, it comes from the difference between B2C and B2B, right. In B2C, we usually aggregate the data about all of our customers- let's say we're selling milk, right and I don't care that much. Who exactly is buying that milk?
And we try to create a universal ICP in B2B if we're sellingto multiple verticals, right. Different verticals have different needs, goals and reasons to buy your product. And that's why we need to understand that for every single vertical, we need to create standalone ideal customer profile, which is basically an improved summarization of the top performing accounts. I usually use as a row of sample, I usually say that this is like an aggregate data about your top 10 customers from this specific article, right.
And now, when you have this, when you're looking at these companies, then you have the information or so called firmographic data about this companies. And then you need to create the buying committee structure because ultimately, you're not selling to companies, you're selling to people inside the buying committee.
And this committee is usually created, or includes four roles, right? We have champions, these are people who are initially in charge of the product research. They might require the demo calls, they collect all the data about vendors or the products that are available, create a comparison report, basically present this information to the executives, right, then we have decision makers, people who approve the deal.
And next we have influencers. These are people who are not taken part in the research process or negotiations but people who share their opinion about the product or the service that the company is going to buy.
And finally the blockers- these are people who are not interested in pushing the product, let's say who are blocking the opportunity to visit this complex. And this is the fundamental difference between B2B and B2C ICP approaches.
Subha 6:39 That's really useful, Andrei, because I think what you mentioned, I am a leadership coach. So I tend to think that I meet a variety of people. So my ideal customer is, is almost everyone who could be coached.
But I like the concept of who's your best performing customer? Because I could look at students, I could look at senior executives. But where do I get the the long engagement, where the leadership coaching engagement is six months or a year, my best customers probably at the senior leadership end. So that gives me a lot of clarity. Thank you.
Hasita 7:18 Yeah, I love what you said about blockers. It's quite surprising. A lot of us don't really think that they exist, but they do. And they exist on every single buying committees, just that sometimes we don't see them because they're not actively blocking us in meetings or conversations, but they're doing it passively nevertheless. So actually, I have a follow up question on what you said about your star performing customers in that sense. Two instances, right? One is if I'm a very new business, and I don't necessarily have a list of customers, or a roster of clients who have worked with in the past, how do I then go about knowing who my service isideal for? So that was one half of my question. And the other half is a little more transactional? So probably I'll ask you that later. And just let you answer this. And then we'll take the other half.
Andrei 8:04 Yeah, absolutely. So first of all, as I mentioned, the first step is not the ICP creation, but market segmentation, you need to define what vertical you're going to serve. As I mentioned, you can, let's say pay attention, let's say for fun or we (at FullFunnel) can serve eCommerce. We can serve even marketing agencies that can buy, let's say, our models, or we can come and train marketing agents, and they basically build the resell on our frameworks and services. Right.
So multiple verticals, aside from two main verticals that we are working with which are enterprise B2B SaaS and B2B service based companies that are selling professional high ticket services, right? So the truth is that always focus on our core segments, because we know that that is our core strengths, these companies are usually more mature. So they are more advanced and they are willing to implement the account based FullFunnel framework. Let's ask, right. And there are multiple reasons, while at the same time, we know that there is a huge need of alignment between marketing and sales teams, while let's say if I'll go to B2B commerce, there still would be lots of conversations about technical optimization or about paid ads, etc. which we are not doing. And in your case, you need to define which vertical you're going to serve even if you don't have the customers right in that very segment.
Hasita 10:01 And then you can test it with that set of customers first is what you're saying. So I choose a segment, I test my offering with them, and then just let the test tell me whether I'm on the right path or not.
Andrei 10:12 Absolutely. And the next step if you don't have customers in that, in that segment, right? Anyhow, you need to create a hypothesis about ideal customer profile, in this case, rely a lot on market research. And this is basically the way how you can kill two birds with one stone.
The first one is that you can validate the demand and you can talk to multiple people from different verticals, right? And then you can talk to different segments inside that vertical and say, now we were going towards segmentation, right? So you can talk to small businesses, you can talk to midsize businesses, you can talk to enterprise businesses, and basically see where is the need, or what kind of needs they have, what is the demand they have. And you can basically understand what segment you can serve best, right?
The second best outcome here is that you create a unique piece of content that you can later distribute, and again, connect with target accounts from this specific vertical, right, maybe midsize or smaller price, depending on on your logos, right? And connect with them distribute, create additional awareness and basically generate some inbound opportunities. So that's the easiest way to do (market researc), of course, you can run the research, you can try to work on separate campaigns basically dedicated to these different tiers.
And identify, basically identify where you have, which campaigns are performing better, and then double down on this segment, as from my experience, usually companies start with SMB segment. Why? Because it's bigger, it's easy to find finance, right? And if you don't have Enterprise experience, like in my case, I came from enterprise. And for me, it was way easier to connect with enterprise accounts. So if you don't have let's say, connections, if you're, if you don't really know, enterprise, it would be way easier to start with SMB, from this specific product account, and the steps that are just recommended.
Hasita 12:34 So the second half of the question, which I thought I'll ask you a bit later, and here we are now is maybe it's a, it's a very demographic thing, or maybe it's universal across the globe, some of our clients have come back to us. And they've said that my relationships with existing customers are a little on the transactional side of things.
So they want my service, I've given it to them. And whatever relationship exists only exists to that end, and beyond that, I don't really know them well enough to do customer interviews, or create some of this content that we've spoken about. In those cases, what could be an alternative strategy that somebody could try? Say, I don't have the comfort to call my customer up and say, "Hey, I'd like to talk to you a little bit more about why you chose us and what was your thought process in picking us over whoever else you were considering at that point in time?" How then can I maybe engage the same customer in a way that benefits me and that helps me nail by ICP?
Andrei 13:32 Look, if you're not going to talk to your customers, then you are in problem. I will put it as simple as this. Because the insights that you are getting from these conversations are priceless. Of course, you can make a step back and send a survey but the quality of insights wouldn't be the same as the answers that you can get from actual customers.
Again, it's better than having nothing but still the customer survey should be your solution. Let's put it like this - the main activity would be talking to potential customers because we want to validate where is the demand and what segments right. Otherwise, I don't believe that you can buy you know market data that presents the market volume, etc. It's useless. You won't get any practical insights. Just believe me you'll waste your time and make a bunch of hypothesis that are not validated, that are not proven at all, and then you'll just you know, play a what they call 'spray and pray' approach, right. So if basically your position and your value proposition one, we validated your market and wanted based on how your best customers are buying, right.
Hasita 15:24 And I'm also kind of thinking that maybe this could be a way to build that customer relationship itself and just call them up and say, Hey, I'd like to talk to you, it's probably a good way to maybe get that relationship started as well, if it doesn't already exist.
Andrei 15:38 So if customers are declining, your invitation to have a one to one call, for me, it's a red flag. This means they're not telling you what they're actually thinking, but there is a high chance that they will churn at one point but even aware in you that you know, it's usually you're not how usually happens and enterprise world, you just receive an email that nobody wants to say, sorry, guys, we're not going to contract. So we just had another priority, or we decided to go with another one. And that's it. So if you're facing this challenge, it means that you need to fix it.
HAsita 16:41 So while I try to implement a process like this, for example, in my company, there are those people who see the value in it. And there are those who don't, right? Some of us need proof before we believe in something. So how would you advise somebody who's trying to get started with a very account based or I would say a very focused approach towards running their marketing function. And probably they're struggling with getting buy in from, say, a sales team or an ops team or some leadership? What would you recommend that they do in cases like that? How can they argue their case, in a way and make sure that the plan runs? Because I'm sure it takes a while, right? We're talking about at least two, three months before you see results?
Andrei 17:21 Yes, you're right. But there is a two-fold problem. The first one is that when it comes to the results, right, you need to set up intermediate metrics, or so called leading indicators, right. Let's say in our case, we are selling Account Based Marketing Services. And let's pretend your sales cycle is one year, all right. Unfortunately, we don't have a magic wand, you know, a silver bullet that will drastically shorten the sales cycle. So you need to set up the leading indicators that demonstrate that your campaign performs well. And in Account Based Marketing, it could be you know, account engagement. So people you're connecting with different buying committee members, let's pretend they attend one of your events, they consume your content, they check, let's say your product page on website, just giving your some examples, right.
And that means that the account is engaged and potentially right now this account is either on awareness or demand creation stages, right? So you educate in this account, and there is a chance that opportunity could materialize at one point. That's the first thing.
The second one regarding marketing initiatives and campaigns, I strongly believe that you need to lead by example, right? It's extremely hard and organizations with obsolete lead generation mindset, right? They operate in space where they think, "Okay, we have this big market and all we need is just more people who that our product exists", right? That's what these companies are doing is basically spamming everybody on LinkedIn or via email.
So in this case, what you need to do is by basically start leading by examples, right, try to do pilot ABM campaign just select one account and yeah, I know that sounds probably bad. It couldn't be a bad advice for marketers. Not everybody is willing to do this. But I suggest to launch a campaign for just one account, basically running it from point A to point B, the full, let's say the full set of actions.
First of all, you learn fantastic skills and to get basically these insights from a pilot campaign are priceless, right? You can see what are the hurdles your sales team has mentioned. So you can always show the consequences of the bad outcome. Or you can get, or you can generate, an opportunity. And then you can explain, okay, this is what I have done. And now I need just, you know, your support, I want to, let's say dedicate 20% of my time to do these campaigns while doing what you've told me to do, basically what my function requires to do for the rest of 80% of my time, and I need one SDR who is who is going to help me with Account Based Marketing. That's an example. So leading by example, is the best way to do great.
Hasita 21:17 Yeah. And that makes a lot of sense as well, because you're not spending a lot of money to make it happen. You're not necessarily investing a lot upfront, but you're buying proof in a way and you're actually showing people that the process works. And what better validation could there be?
So in fact, this is also my last question and one that I think by virtue of having spent a lot of time in content and subsequently content marketing, especially, we hear this statement very often. And that's how do we create value for customers? How do we create value for the clients that we are going after? What would you say is the FullFunnel approach in a way to value creation? Where do people typically fall short and any tips to make sure that we don't do that.
Andrei 22:25 I love when conversation starts, you know about the value, because if you go to LinkedIN, you'll see a bunch of posts, just show up, provide value, and you'll get the results.
What is value? Because if he'll (the poster will) ask what is relevant for me, and you will ask yourself, right, you will ask your peers, you will hear completely different answers. So that's the first thing. Right?
So what what do we mean by providing value? Educating buyers? Potentially? Yes. Right. Reaching out at the right time, potentially? Yes. So for me, basically, creating value is being a trusted source of information. Right? So people can go, I'm not saying about me, because then I'm just speaking about the competence plan, right? So basically, company becomes a dedicated media where you are, let's say your ICP can go and get answers to their questions. And we're not talking about specific channel or media- doesn't matter if you do it on LinkedIn, or you have your own community or send a newsletter, or you do it via a podcast doesn't matter at all right?
It means that these people can go and learn, get inspiration, right, get their questions answered. And that's the value of how I understand right. Now, the next step is identify the most important part, right, what exactly my ICP is interested in? Because quite often, you know, how companies tend to apply, or basically how they go into play was when they open for example, SEMrush or Ahrefs, tries to find the most popular keywords with huge traffic volume and the most competitive ones. And the problem is that usually there is zero correlation between keyword with high traffic volume and the questions that people are genuinely interested in. And that's why you must be doing the customer interviews because during the interviews real questions emerge, what they were looking for, right, what questions do they have, what they're interested in?
Our content strategy is really simple. We just answer the questions that our people are interested in. In our case, we're not that ABM Account Based Marketing is a high volume, right? Lots of people are hearing about this. But honestly, all people understand the cases are built around the list of accounts, applauded ABM software, target members, display ads, and then reached out to everybody, which is literally what we did with paid ads anyway, so it's not that different.
So yeah. So that's the problem. And now they are interested, they have lots of questions about ABM, we are collecting these questions and answering these questions, using different media - LinkedIn, podcasts, webinars, newsletter, blog, content. And that's the way how you can create value, right? And the next step, of course, because this creates awareness, the next step is demand generation where you can present your case that is you can present practical frameworks, right? And this is basically how can you you can if you are selling product, right, you can show use cases and the results. And this is what creates the result results, and basically generates opportunities for you.
Unknown Speaker 26:47 Great, thank you so much. There is a very detailed and comprehensive answer. And just a quick statement on the whole SEMrush approach to creating content is just that. Sometimes we extrapolate right, so we see people searching 10,000 people, or 10,000 searches for a certain keyword. And we are fooled into believing that that's what the world wants to know about. But that kind of brings its own inherent challenges, because that's the same conclusion that a lot of people have come to when we in general, it's very generic in any case.
Portions of the transcript have been edited for reading clarity. For the full episode, Topic Al, and more fun, please tune into the podcast episode.