The difference between a Customer Profile and a Customer Persona

Until recently I hadn’t really considered that there was any significant difference between the term “Customer Profile” (in the context of an "Ideal Customer Profile") and a "Customer Persona”, however uncovering that they can represent very different ideas helped me to gather why there is a need to define separate our Customer Profiles and Customer Personas in our work at Akkroo.

What is a Customer Persona?

At Akkroo, a Customer Persona is used to identify a type of individual inside an organisation who has a specific job title or set of responsibilities that are common to other individuals in other organisations we work with. That might include things like job title, seniority, fiscal responsibility, geography or skill set.

We have a centralised working document for each Customer Persona which we maintain regularly, and there are plenty of articles and tools online that'll assist in creating a set of personas for your business.

One word of caution here; the best reason for using a customer persona is it allows you to deliberately lasso a bunch of humans from your customer base to create efficiencies in your own work. The trade-off of this is you immediately lose the resolution of customer's individual needs and the subtlety of their differences.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, if you don't use personas at all, or create too few of them, you risk treating your customers so individually that you'll be paralysed by the number of routes you could pursue to please them all.

Therefore, carefully choosing a reasonable number of personas to segment your user base into is important (we have four core personas at Akkroo, and that seems manageable and representative for our business).

Understanding what percentage of your customer base a single persona represents is important to being able to avoid being too generic in your work, but also not being so vague as to fail to be able to identify and address related themes amongst the customer base.

Bonus tip: in my opinion the best Customer Persona documents are always built by and contain the views of product, marketing, customer success and sales (read as: everyone in your team!). As a consequence, there will be content inside the persona document which is useful to all of these people, and some information that is only useful to each independent group. I think this is a good thing as it encourages a shared responsibility for maintaining the document and a generates a richer, more rounded persona.

What is a Customer Profile

By contrast, an ICP (Ideal Customer Profile) represents the attributes of a perfect customer organisation match for your business. And unless you have lots of products, you probably don’t want to have to many Customer Profiles, as each contains it’s own set of Customer Personas and therefore specific customer needs.

Paraphrasing Bill Maciatis, former CMO at Slack and Zendesk, to create a Customer Profile you must, find a single common thread that runs through all your customers. This is a great cross-team activity that is often harder to do than it sounds!

An example of the ICP that might be used by Mailchimp might read like this “Small and medium sized businesses who want to more effectively market to their own customers” (there would be whole lot more attributes in a fully worked example, but for an example this gives you the gist).

In consumer products you may only have a single Customer Persona to work with. In those cases there might be a significant overlap with your Ideal Customer Profile. However in a B2B environment or where you have a longer sales cycle, it likely your ICP will contain (or even require) multiple Customer Personas, whose individual needs will need to be addressed separately.

Both Customer Personas and Customer Profiles develop over time, and can change, so this is the final thing to consider as the Ideal Customer Profile you match today may not be the exact profile you want to match in time. In fact, developing them in this manner can be a good strategic application for both personas and profiles.

I hope this brings a little clarity to the differences between these two similar sounding concepts that in reality can have quite different purposes and benefits.

This post was first published on Fri Oct 27 2017

Andy Higgs
The author

My name is Andy Higgs and I am a business founder, design leader, occassional surfer and travel enthusiast based in the UK.

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