Digital Marketing

3 Simple Phases of Target Account List Development

Account based marketing (ABM) is by nature a targeting strategy with the goal of creating highly personalized experiences for specific customers. By customizing the way we engage accounts based on known preferences, needs, and behaviors, we can help deepen relationships and drive growth. This may sound similar to advanced segmentation for typical demand generation, but the main difference is targeting key stakeholders across an account vs. individual contacts. This focus makes selecting the right target account list (TAL) so important for successful ABM efforts. 

Phase 1 – Creating Your Target Account List

As with any large scale campaign planning, ABM starts with a clear understanding of the larger business goals and the sales strategy. (If marketing is not aligned to either of these areas there is no sense in investing in campaigns, period.) With a shared set of goals, early ABM audience segmentation work will focus on creating an ideal customer profile (ICP) and identifying the TAL. 

The ICP helps prioritize accounts for ABM efforts as it rules out accounts that aren’t the best fit. Some common characteristics for ICP evaluation are:

  • Is the account the right size? Right industry? Or in the right geographic location?
  • Is the account an existing customer or a prospect?
  • Do we know the decision makers and influencers that make up buying decision groups?
  • Are known contacts engaged with our organization?
  • What is the current technology footprint or need of the account?
  • What is the competitive landscape?
  • Do we know the average length of sales cycle for different products we plan to promote?
  • What is the average close rate for a region or vertical?

When developing the ICP, a shift in thinking can be necessary. The ICP is a tool to help determine which accounts are most likely to convert and which accounts would gain the most value from our technology or solution. Keeping this in mind can help develop a list of accounts that will have a positive impact on pipeline and ROI.

Phase 2 – Refining Your Target Account List

Once the ICP is defined, the next step is to apply this profile to your overall account database to shape the TAL. This exercise will help narrow down your list of accounts from your Total Addressable Market (TAM) to a subsegment of accounts for focused ABM efforts. If the organization is new to ABM it may be challenging to narrow down your TAL to a manageable size to effectively pilot an ABM program. In the excitement of identifying accounts, organizations may pull in any and all accounts that could potentially purchase at some point. Being selective and realistic about which accounts fit your ICP – the accounts that are showing engagement, and accounts displaying buying intent through external sources – are effective ways to optimize your target account list. Win/loss analysis, and look-a-like modeling are other methods used to validate and/or augment your ICP and to help ensure your TAL development is holistic. 

As part of the TAL optimization process, you will further analyze and prioritize the identified accounts to define the ABM approach. For example, is it a named account approach for a small list of customers, or more of an industry or vertical approach with many accounts? The resources needed to manage ABM programs will vary greatly based on the approach. Clearly defining the level of investment in programs, and the specific goals for accounts, also shapes the way in which sales and marketing align to plan tactics, gather insights, and measure performance. Segmenting the target account list should not be overcomplicated when getting started with ABM. Many organizations break out the accounts by strategic importance which tends to look like:

  • High value accounts – 1:1 approach with the most personalized and customized programs often tailored to individual accounts.
  • Mid-range accounts – 1:Few approach with moderately customized programs for clusters of accounts with similar need
  • Balance of target accounts – 1: Many approach mainly leveraging technology to personalize campaigns for specific accounts. 

As you look to pilot ABM take into consideration the approach along with the resources needed to scale beyond the pilot phase. 

Phase 3 – Building Target Account List Insights

Developing a data driven strategy to keep current on your TAL is a foundational need for long term success. In the early stages of ABM, teams may find gaps in the account and contact information, but ensuring data is correct over time is also important. Sales and marketing operations teams will work together to define the core data and sources necessary for targeting, personalization, scoring, routing, and measurement. Typically this focuses on firmographic data such as industry, company size, and company revenue. Technographic data is also important for understanding your target account list as it is related to the technologies used by target customers, or if there are known planned investments, and whether the technology is complementary or competitive.

ABM and TALs are very account centric, but don’t lose sight of the information related to the contacts within those accounts. Like the ICP, buyer personas are an effective tool to help identify the most relevant contacts. The ICP defines the type of company to target, while buyer personas are a detailed analysis of the people who buy from you. At the buyer level, organizations focus on job role and level, hierarchy in the decision making process, role specific challenges or needs, and engagement/activity history. Because ABM at scale relies on the accuracy and standardization of data to properly target and personalize, be sure you have a strong data cleansing strategy in place.

With a sound first party data strategy in place, organizations will also look to intent and predictive data, as well as artificial intelligence (AI) to optimize their TAL overtime. This can be powerful information as it helps to find potential in-market accounts, and to detect patterns that may not be readily apparent.

There is a lot that goes into defining a target account list for account based marketing. It’s tempting to rush the process but it’s important to take time to thoroughly compile and evaluate the accounts selected. This discipline will benefit you in the long run even as your target account list changes over time as deals are won and lost, and as the organization evolves and matures its ABM practices. Establishing a review cadence early on with stakeholders is also beneficial to the overall process and for alignment between sales and marketing. 

If you are planning ABM programs, wanting to develop a target account list, or are feeling stuck or overwhelmed, please reach out – we’re always here to help.

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