The strategic moat many founders underestimate: Picking the right ICP

Imagine a race between three startups, identical in every way except for one secret moat: their Ideal Customer Profile (ICP).

Who’s crossing the finish line first? Who’s becoming the next unicorn? 🦄

1) ICP = Fortune 500 CISO
2) ICP = Mid-size e-commerce CMO
3) ICP = Cloud-native treasurer

I’m betting on #3, the startup targeting the cloud-native treasurer. Why? 

Less Noise, More Impact

Let’s start with why startup #1 may have already placed themselves at a disadvantage. 

Every Fortune 500 CISO gets hundreds of marketing messages a day. Emails, voicemails, dinner invites, safari invites 🦓, you name it. Why and how would yours stand out, and how much is it going to cost you? It’s not just about outsmarting your direct competitors; it’s about winning over anyone who’s trying to capture a sliver of your prospect’s attention.

Now, compare this to a startup marketing to the treasurer. Or the General Council. Or the Head of Supply Chain. Or the CMO of a mid-size interior design firm. They’re less inundated, making it easier and more cost-effective to reach them across any channel.

Close to the Money 💰

HR leaders are invaluable, but they historically haven’t controlled large budgets. On the other hand, Sales & Marketing folks usually have more financial leeway. And Finance folks (like the treasurer) are practically BFFs with the CFO. The closer you are to the money, the easier it is to get a slice of the budget pie.

Timing is Everything

You want to offer a hot product just as it’s ascending Gartner’s Slope of Enlightenment for your ICP. A solid Generative AI product for B2B marketers is a good example for 2024, but a GenAI product for Fortune 500 Chief People Officers is probably years away.

💡 The upshot? 

If your technology is versatile, pick the ICP closest to the money and least bombarded by other tools. Even if it seems like a smaller TAM, it’s the path of least resistance. Start with the “easier” persona, then expand. Taking the opposite path – targeting a larger but less ideal ICP – could mean your startup is DOA.

The bottom line

Choosing the right ICP is a strategic advantage that founders underestimate. In my experience, it’s more important than having the best product, and just as crucial as your founding team. 

Not sure how to lock down your ICP? At Blue Seedling, we’ve developed a unique process to help you find your ideal ICP. Check out some proven examples of our playbook (and read our blog for some DIY positioning tips):

Netta is the founder and CEO of Blue Seedling. She loves third wave coffee, thin crust pizza, and B2B marketing.

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