Marketing and Sales teams dedicate many hours to tracking down their ideal customers, and until recently, business cards were the best clues they had. Those little slips of paper were like currency that represented the best way to learn about promising leads and connect to them.

However, an "ideal customer" is actually a collection of ideal customers who can take many shapes and forms. Ideal customers won't necessarily resemble each other on the surface or look how you might expect.

Moreover, knowing someone's title, company, function, and contact information is not enough. They do not provide context for that person's day-to-day responsibilities, expertise, or business needs.

With the wealth of data and analytical tools available today, far more opportunities exist to help you understand what your best customers look like and how to find them. Identifying the prospects who are most likely to convert and generate value over the long-term requires thinking beyond the business card.

When defining your best customers, there are three factors to consider:

1. Behavior

Your best customers may not all look alike, but they will exhibit certain behavioral clues.

For one thing, they will show interest in what you do. People who have visited your website multiple times and/or spent time browsing around are already engaging with your brand. And if they download a whitepaper or attend a webinar, they clearly are trying to gather information and improve upon whatever your company promises to improve.

Think about what your ideal customer acts like and what he or she looks like. If you only focus on demographic parameters, valuable customers may fall through the cracks. Moreover, you will waste time chasing leads that will not convert.

Behavior is far more revealing—the solutions that attract the most active engagement represent your existing customers' greatest needs. Observing behavior also helps provide context, which productive conversations require. Without contextual information, sales calls are just pitches, and no B2B marketer likes to be pitched. However, if you know based on their behavior what they are interested in, the conversation promises to be more meaningful.

2. Fit

That said, who a person is and where he or she works play a role in narrowing down the field and providing a general idea of what to look for. The most effective way to create your ideal customer profile (ICP) and figure out whether prospects match that profile is to use historical data about your best customers.

What have the appearances, attitudes, facets, and characteristics of your valuable buyers historically looked like? This profile should include age, location, ideal business size, and an understanding of what other products and services he or she uses in the purchasing process.

Armed with this profile, gauge how well a prospect fits into it. Fortunately, the wealth of data out there makes it possible to have your finger on the pulse of his or her entire digital and social footprint, and really understand who that person is beyond their title.

3. Intent

Though behavior is an individual's interactions with a brand that can easily be tracked, measured, and attributed, intent involves looking at signals occurring outside of those direct interactions with your brand.

The idea is that your best leads are those who demonstrate that they are ready to buy your product. However, deciphering someone's intention is a murky process at best, although predictive analytics are changing that.

Customers making B2B purchase decisions are 70% completed with their research by the time they contact companies to ask questions or see a demo. That means that they are gathering information online and reaching out to peers for insight. All that creates a trail of intent.

By tracking an IP associated with a URL, and looking at search and advertising traffic and social media activity, you can start to figure out what a customer's needs are and where he or she is in the buying process. This makes it possible to reach out with the right message at the right time.

Remember to consider those factors at both the individual and the company level. Only factoring on one or the other won't present a comprehensive enough picture.

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What to Look for When Identifying Your Best Customers

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image of Doug Bewsher

Doug Bewsher is CEO at Leadspace, the first B2B audience management platform. A seasoned marketer, Doug has previously held positions as CMO at Salesforce and Skype.

LinkedIn: Doug Bewsher

Twitter: @dougino