Precision Prospecting: ICP Best Practices and Pitfalls [Webinar Transcript] 

Precision Prospecting: ICP Best Practices and Pitfalls [Webinar Transcript] 

Last month, we brought together the top sales development experts, practitioners, and enthusiasts at our annual online conference — Sales Development Excellence. This single-day virtual event, packed with expert panel discussions, masterclasses, and hands-on workshops, covered the key aspects of sales development mastery. 

The first panel discussion was dedicated to the initial and by far the most important part of the sales development process — precise prospecting, targeting, and discovery — featuring expert speakers:

Watch the panel discussion (+ more) on-demand

In case you’ve missed the event or prefer written content over video/audio, here’s a transcript of the panel for you to scan through. Enjoy!

What are the key challenges or common pitfalls that SDRs face when building their ICPS and how can they be mitigated?

Brad: I think there are so many things to unpack on this question. I think it’s a great question, the kind of main one. And the big focus that I’ve always had with any SDR team that I’ve been running or leading, is around an ICP being too broad.

I feel like so many people kind of sit there and they go, oh, yeah, they could do with our product, or yeah, but they have that challenge that may be able to be fixed.

And the issue is you’re then kind of reaching out to a ton of different people that work in a ton of different industries, and it’s really hard to kind of get that messaging right.

So I think the key thing is to really be uber-focused or laser-focused, whichever way you want to look at it, on what your ICP is.

And I think that’s the sort of key there. And you want to be so specific down to the point of not just the job title, but the types of responsibilities that that person has in exactly the type of industry and what kind of sub-industry that you’re looking to kind of focus on. And really then, as an SDR, your job is to actually become a focus sorry, become an expert on that particular industry, because once it’s really clear and you’re laser-focused, it’s so much easier then to be really the kind of product expert, or at least the industry expert on that particular subject.

Dipak: I guess to add to that, I think the lack of understanding of who their ICP is usually boils down to them not even knowing who their own customers are often at times like, why did so and so buy, why then? What are those customers really like? Are there certain patterns that you’ve identified, or can you see those from conversations with CS and having that active feedback loop through management, through CS? 

And I guess that lack of understanding, again, of the ICP is often fueled by that misalignment with marketing as well, which tends to occur normally as the company scales and grows. Sales have their own numbers to hit and marketing has their own areas to focus on, and that misalignment just comes into play. 

And it’s imperative for leaders on both sides to come together and remind everyone that we’re aiming towards that one goal. And ultimately both objectives are intertwined there. 

What I’ve also seen in the past and still see to this day, is not having access to the right data or up-to-date data causes further friction or leads to further pitfalls in terms of identifying the right ICP or keeping tabs on changes in market conditions and updates that are taking place in the industry. 

Tim: I think everybody said some great stuff here, but I’m just going to go back a little bit on what Brad was saying. And to be honest, to summarize, it is really resource allocation, right? If you’re allocating your resources to everybody, but anybody that might buy your product might buy your service, you’re not going to close as many deals, and your sales cycle potentially is going to be longer. 

You’re not going to learn exactly how to tailor the messaging. You’re not going to know exactly how can you even refine your product, because you can also bring that feedback, right? 

As an SDR, you should also bring that feedback to your development team and to the rest. So for me, it’s really the resource allocation. It’s to really understand the niche ICP and not go broad, as Brad said as well. And I think Deepak touched upon that as well. 

And it’s to be able to, okay, my resources are on this ICP, on this idle customer profile, because these are the ones that converse the fastest, and these are the ones that have the best NPS, and they’re going to stay the longest, right? The longest LTV as well. So when you do that, you are growing. 

And if then you’re going to start going into different verticals because it starts being obvious that you’re getting more leads from that side, and you’re like, okay, well, let me revisit my CP and then update that. I think we’re going to talk about that in a bit, so let me stop it here. Sure. Thank you for sharing. 

What strategies do you use to find a balance between precise targeting and scalability in prospecting? 

Brad: Happy to jump in there. I think this is the age-old question since I had my first job in sales development. It’s like, is it volume, is it quality? Which is the best? And I feel like most things in life, people kind of think on the extremes. They think you’ve either got to be really uber-focused on quality or you got to be making $1,000 a day, that type of thing. 

And I think the real answer lies somewhere in the middle. And the way that I’ve always approached it with any SDR team that I’ve been sort of managing is around tiering your prospects. 

So within any ICP, you’re going to have your tier-one prospects. They’re the VPs, the directors, the C-suites who, you know, if you have a conversation with them immediately can become an opportunity. It can be fantastic. They usually hold the budget and then you’ve probably got your tier-two and your tier-three prospects who might influence a decision but might not be directly the right person. 

And I think that’s kind of where you find that difference between targeting and the scalability piece. With those tier-one prospects, it’s all about targeting them. It’s about drilling down, knowing everything about them, all the personalization that you can find on them, and being really targeted with your outreach to them and then maybe taking a bit more of a volume approach around those sort of tier two and tier three type prospects. 

And I think that’s how you can kind of find a little bit of balance between the two. I think the phone is (and I know this is quite a controversial thing to say these days) but the phone is still a great channel. And I think that can be a really useful tool to actually avoid having to fall into this trap of quality or quantity because you kind of get a bit of both with the phone. If they don’t pick up, you can do lots of dials. If they do, you can have a really personalized conversation with them. So that’s kind of how I approach it, really. 

Dipak: Brad I totally agree. I think it’s because generally, for the most part, I’ve noticed there’s been more of apprehensiveness from salespeople in terms of wanting to pick up the phone and making those dials. And I saw Tim nodding before, so I don’t know. Do you want to chime in?

Tim: I think that I love what Brad said and I’m glad Dipak you got in there as well. Cold calling still works. It works for a lot of industries. There are certain industries it doesn’t work. If you’re going to set it to CTOs of B2B SaaS in the US. 

Forget about the CTOs, they’re not going to pick up the phone you’re not going to get to them. But if you’re going for a CFO because that’s your target or something like that, you potentially are going to get on the phone. So you really have to understand your target, your ICP, and the persona behind it. Are they phone-friendly? Do they like the phone? Do they still have SMS because SMS was gone? So when you send an SMS, everybody sees it. 

When was the last time you got an SMS on your phone? Very rare. So when you get it, you’re like, oh, an SMS, it’s in a green color. Normally you get Imessage and blue or you get yellow and green in WhatsApp? Right? So when you see that color, suddenly you’re like, oh, I got an SMS, so that will alert you right away. 

But I was shaking my head Dipak because we have a lot of clients that come to us and they’re like, cold calling doesn’t work for us, and let’s not do that. And we’re like, no, no, we’re going to do that the first month we do that and suddenly we find that cold calling really works. It’s who do you call, when do you call, how do you call them, what’s your messaging? 

And I think, as Brad said, if you know everything about that persona, you’re going to speak their lingo. If you speak their lingo, if you speak their language from the first kind of 10 seconds, they’re going to have a chat with you. And if you have a chat with them, then you might sell. 

But in sales, what we want to do nowadays is to start that conversation. It’s not to sell, it’s to start a conversation. 

Because if we start conversing, maybe we’re not going to sell to that person and that person is going to say, oh, but my buddy in this business might utilize your platform, your service, and so on. So you’re actually referring to mostly customer development, right? It’s more like having those calls to identify the need, just to realize whether the product is a good fit. It’s not a sales call itself, right? 

So it’s mostly like, give me the idea about the business case. Let’s say you met a person at a conference and you like, hey, I want to verify if my product idea will work for you and companies like yours, can I identify an ideal customer profile out of this audience, right? So it’s mostly not just hopping on the call with your potential leads or potential customers.

It’s mostly having those mutual conversations with people who are likely to share insights, right? Like industry representatives. Well, I want to say something. There is 100%, but also if your lead research from the beginning is very good and is very targeted, you’re not going to converse with someone who has nothing to do with what you’re selling, right? 

Again, and I always say this to my teams, when you look at a process and you have ten steps — if you keep optimizing step one, step ten optimizes as well. Right? And we forget me, even as a CEO, sometimes I go to step seven, and I’m trying to optimize step seven, but if I just work on step one each time, that automatically gets better. 

So if your lead research gets better and you’re starting to get really down to that niche and the data is correct and the people are correct, you’re going to have a better time and you’re going to sell much better. 

So I think it’s really going back to that. And Olivia, I think you said the user research should have been done already, but what I call as well is a bit like collaborative problem-solving. 

So you get on the phone or you get into a discussion with someone, it’s because they have a problem, right? And hopefully, you are the solution. Your business, your service, your product is the solution. But together, you’re collaboratively solving a problem. 

And if you do that with a lead, they close themselves. They close themselves because they see that you have the solution. You came up with the solution together, and they feel empowered. They’re like, oh, I came up with the solution with you, they’ll close. But if you try to push them sorry, yeah. That’s what it is. 

Brad: And I think to piggyback off your point there, Tim, why I used to always kind of say to my SDRs is, let’s say, using your example there, that they’re reaching out to CFOs. Now, the fact is that SDR is probably speaking to more CFOs than that CFO is speaking to, right? 

So quite often they know a bit more about what other CFOs are going through and the common challenges than that CFO might even know. I think, you know, you never want this attitude, do you? 

You’re interrupting their time. You’re giving them a call. Like you said, Tim, we’re calling them with hopefully a solution to some of the problems they have. And if they don’t have any problems that we can solve, that’s fine, then we might have wasted a minute of their time.

Tim: I love what you’re saying, Brad, because most of the time they don’t even know their problem yet, right? But if you’re asking the right questions and they’re like, oh wow, I do have that problem. And I think Brad, is what you said, because if you’re calling hundreds of CFOs a week and you spoke to thousands of CFOs in your career in the last few months, and you’re speaking to one CFO and he doesn’t know, he’s like, oh no. 

And then you ask a question and he’s like, oh yeah, I do have that problem, oh, that is a serious problem. Why do you have a solution for that, then? You want that conversation. Now it’s your turn to explain how you can solve that. So that’s what we’re trying to do in sales. Yeah.

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When we’re talking about identifying an ideal customer profile and specifically having those customer development calls, whose responsibility it is?

Brad: Yeah, I mean, happy to chime in. I actually think Tim and I might have quite different answers for this, just because, obviously Tim’s the CEO, and I’m not. But happy to chime in with mine, and it might ruffle a few of Tim’s feathers. So no, I’m just I think, you know, in most businesses, probably it comes from the top down in terms of what the ICP is, who we’re trying to sell to. 

I mean, I’m not saying this is necessarily the right way, but I think that’s quite often the case. I think, like most things, really, the ICP becomes whoever it is that seemingly wants to buy your solution, whoever has those problems. It’s a kind of natural thing to an extent. It’s almost the way I see it, it’s like the value of something is what someone’s willing to pay for it, rather than what someone values something at. 

So I think that’s kind of my thought process on it a little bit. I think it’s the team effort, and I think the key is that constant feedback loop around, actually, this isn’t working, or we’re having this feedback when we speak to this type of person, and that’s how the ICP, I guess, develops. 

But I’ll pass it over to Tim because I don’t know if he’s got a slightly different view on that. 

Tim: Awesome. But just to add something to what Brad was saying and jokes aside, I think that especially in the early days, marketing is a long-term thing. It’s a midterm to long term. 

You’re not going to get answers about your ICP and stuff with marketing. So everybody should start outreach outbound today. If you haven’t done outbound, start it now because you’re going to have the quickest answer to your messaging. 

You’re going to have the quickest answer to, is this my ICP? No, f* off. And then you have so many of those, you’re like, that’s not my right. And you keep trying things. I think in sales, in three months, you are going to get answers. In marketing, it’s going to take you six to nine months to get just a little bit of an answer. 

So I think the combination is Olivia, you were asking the question, and Brad, of course, in the size of HubSpot, I think it’s top-down, but in the size of my company, we all chime into that discussion. And I think this is why, if you do research a little bit about my past podcast and stuff that I was saying, I think that marketing and sales should disappear. We should all be growth we should all be a growth team. Right? 

Because marketing will say, here’s an MQL, and then you’re like, well, yeah, that’s MQL. Okay. Is it an SQL? No, it’s not an SQL. This is wrong. It’s not closing. And then sales will say, well, marketing is bringing terrible leads. And then marketing will say, well, sales don’t know how to close deals. 

And then I’ve seen this so many times, but when you put them in a room and you tell them to brainstorm together and work together for a month, and then they’re like they start loving each other, and then they start giving feedback to each other. And suddenly that ICP that messaging is across the board not perfect, because nothing is ever perfect, but it starts becoming really good.

Dipak: I think if I can just add some final thoughts there, just on that point, I think having that active feedback loop is absolutely imperative. So say, for instance, you’re working with Rev Ops to understand, collect, and analyze data on existing product usage. Having that sent over to marketing to make it understandable in a way that’s, again, easy for sales to digest, so they can make the adjustments that they can in their cadences and whatnot and kind of go from there. 

So there is absolutely a need in terms of having everyone aligned and everyone on the same wavelength. So it is an absolute team effort. 

What methods do you use to research and get data for creating and refining your ICPS? 

Brad: I think this is a really interesting question. And I think the answer to this really, again, probably depends in terms of what type of business you’re in, how big the business is, and things like that. I think probably in a lot of bigger businesses, a lot of this content probably does come across from marketing or from enablement in the form of training, where it’s kind of very much, this is what you need to know, these are the challenges they’re facing, et cetera. 

But I know a lot of people on this call today are going to work in probably smaller businesses where they might be the only SDR or one of two SDRs, and not a huge amount of kind of training above them. And I think there’s so many tools out there at the moment that kind of help you do that. I think it’s just a case of getting stuck. 

You know, one example might be if, let’s say, for example, I’m just going to pick a random example that you’re focused on the telecommunications industry in the UK. Now, the first thing I would probably do if I started a job there is find loads of industry whitepapers, anything I could get free online I can download as a PDF, pay ChatGPT, whatever it is, for the slightly premium version. 

Upload all of these PDFs and say, draw down what are the biggest challenges that these telecommunication companies are having. It sounds really simple and obvious, but it’s such an easy way of doing it and I find anything to make my life easier and that saves me time. 

So that’s probably what I would do. And find out what those challenges are, gather data about the industry, really find out what’s going on, because that effectively, as Tim says, allows you to have the best conversations and that’s all sales is at the end of the day, is having a conversation and hoping that you kind of hit jackpot. 

Tim: Really, Brad, I smiled when you said ChatGPT because I was hoping that somebody’s going to bring it up because all my webinars, I just speak about chat lately. That’s been my obsession for the last year. And come on, $20 a month for the advanced data analysis.

Now that Brad’s saying, upload your PDFs, upload your whole export of your CRM of close/lost, all of them. Just upload it and ask those questions and you will be mind blown. I did this on a webinar and people were mind blown. You can do that. And I didn’t even like I was just in it live. Just upload that CSV, that Excel sheet, whatever you have as an export, ask these questions and it’s going to really brainstorm from an angle that doesn’t have tunnel vision. We have tunnel vision. 

We all have tunnel vision in our companies. In the first month, you start getting tunnel vision because you meet the CEO. It tells you the mission, vision, and values of the company. Okay, that’s it. And you suddenly are in that tunnel now. So ChatGPT really helps me get out of that tunnel vision. So I definitely recommend it to everybody. 

But if I may and I know Deepak stopped me because I’ll speak for hours, but I think that there’s a combination of a few things and I’ll just tell them and I won’t get into them. But internal data, that’s what we’re saying with Brad. Upload it and get that survey and feedback 100%. Market research. 

Don’t do just market research before you start your startup or whatever, keep doing market research. Because the market changes a lot, as we know. Social media and online communities — we don’t tap into this enough. And online communities are everywhere. 

Reddit, if you’re a bit geeky or product or something like that, you want a good community, go to Reddit and say something wrong about that and see what’s going to happen. And then they’ll all attack you. And then you learn so much from it, it’s incredible. 

I was just reading this. Somebody was saying they have two Reddit profiles. They have one, which is for themselves and positive stuff, and they have one, where they ask a question and then they go with the other one and they give a wrong answer. Because nobody wants to help people, but everybody wants to correct people. 

And then you can have obviously like us, we do market research, we do lead research for you. We’ve done it for 500+ customers. So we know a little bit about the ins and outs of that. And then keep doing those interviews with your customers, tap into lookalike audiences, and see if that lookalike audience is working. If it’s working, that means you do have a good audience. 

Look at your competitors, keep analyzing them, and many other things that I could add here. But I think that today almost ending 2023. We have AI. We have this amazing tool of AI. It can search the web, maybe not the free version, of course, and maybe the Bing search is not amazing, but there are many other tools out there. There are plugins. You can actually get those answers in minutes instead of months. Before we would give a project to someone and wait for months. Now we can actually get that almost in half an hour, you can get these answers. 

Dipak: Tim, to your point, I think communities like Reddit have been incredibly powerful. People aren’t so worried about opening up, about their true state of affairs, or what’s taking place in their companies because again, they can remain truly anonymous and no one can trace it back to who they are. Versus, for example, on LinkedIn, where people might be a bit more apprehensive to say certain things because they know their colleagues and peers are constantly keeping an eye on their content and so on. 

So there’s a wealth of information being shared in these communities that hasn’t really been tapped into by a lot of people. At Dealfront, again, shameless plug, since we offer a data enrichment and sales intelligence tool, we’ve been pretty much drinking our own champagne in that sense and combining that with a series of automations kind of to what Brad and Tim mentioned. 

Again, having established a lead scoring model and then being able to better prioritize what leads should we dedicate more attention and focus on and then combining them with?

Tools like BuiltWith, for example, have been incredibly useful for us since we have a web visitor product and we can analyze and see what other tools or what other software have companies incorporated into their website and see where our lead feeder product can help complement those efforts. 

And, for example, if we identify they’ve got the HubSpot plugin, we know that chances are they’re most likely using HubSpot as their CRM. And since we have a native integration with HubSpot, it kind of opens up the door for us to plug that in and yet becomes another avenue for a conversation starter too. 

Tim: I love what Deepak said and I’m just going to go back to something you said, drinking our own champagne. I prefer it so much more than what my business partners and we say it’s eating our own dog food. So I’m going to change that to drinking our own champagne. That’s so much better. Thank you. Yeah, much sexier. I like it.

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With the ever-evolving buyer personas and market dynamics, how do you ensure that your ICP remains relevant and up to date? And what’s your approach to adapting your ICP over time? 

Dipak: Probably I can start, I’d say just being aware of the market dynamics, assessing and anticipating where their trends are heading towards what’s happening in the industry. For example, again, for us looking at the lead feeder product as a silo, we know that third-party cookies are going to be sunset in a couple of months and we’re already gearing towards how companies can go forward from when that happens. 

So just understanding better what’s happening in the industry, what are the other players talking about, and the implications of certain things if companies don’t think about them. So yeah, just being, I guess on top of where the market is heading and trying to assess the implications of not taking the right approach, which your product can ultimately fix. Just staying ahead of the curve. 

Tim: Just going back to something we were talking I think Brad started the conversation about TAM (target addressable market) if I’m not mistaken. And I want to bring that back because if your target addressable market, in the beginning, was 100,000 companies and you are at 95,000 companies already in your portfolio, let’s say it’s crazy numbers, but then you might want to really start looking at renovating your ICP and so on. 

If your target address market is only 100 companies, if your average revenue per account is huge, that’s going to be enough. But if you’re just selling a SaaS product for $500 a year, you don’t have a good business there. Change that. Check some different ICPs. 

But also, I think that we at TaskDrive just did the exercise ourselves of changing our ICP again, like optimizing and re-discussing and brainstorming and hashing out our ICP. Why? Because we have that data of customers. 

So when I look at past data of three years of our customers and I suddenly see that there are a few customers that have been with us with no problem, and they’re all in the same industry, and that wasn’t in my ICP, I’m like, there’s something wrong here. 

Hold on, guys, what’s happening here? They’re my top customers. They’re all in the same industry. They pay the biggest bucks, and in three years, they haven’t even complained once. 

You know, and then I look a little bit more they’ve been together with us even five, six years, and you’re like, okay, why don’t we have this in the ICP? Our ICP was something completely different than that, and we have changed it because we have data to back it up now. 

And I think there was a concept of the core customer, and I kind of mentioned in the beginning, it’s really the people that stay the longest that causes you the less problems, right? And that pays you the most money. They’re happy, and if they’re happy, you’re happy. 

Brad: I think Tim and Dipak there made some really great points, and I kind of agree with both of them. I think the only thing to add on that, I think is more of maybe an SDR that’s on the floor. And how they would maybe think about it is just to keep a pulse and check on the deals that are closing. 

Just have a look. It doesn’t have to be necessarily particularly data-driven, but what are the AES closing? Who are they speaking to now? Were they going from everyone speaking to marketing managers to now they’re all speaking to sales directors? Like, ask, why is that? Is the product kind of developing and supporting that? And I think just keeping a bit of a pulse on it. 

But I think I agree, and I think almost like what Tim is saying there’s no need to sort of change your ICP too frequently if it’s working. Be focused on it, don’t chop and change at the first couple of days of having a bit of a quiet process or whatever. So, yeah, just stick at it and kind of know your ICP from the ground up and you’re good there. 

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