Enhance Your ABM Strategy: A Guide to Target Account Selection

As marketers, we’re always looking for ways to get campaigns off the ground and start showing results as soon as possible. But how do you know where your account targeting strategy is today? 

While launching campaigns quickly may work for more traditional demand-gen tactics, account-based marketing requires a bit more research and groundwork to ensure success. But the research shows the work is well worth it. According to TOPO, account-based organizations created a new opportunity for every five accounts they targeted.

So before rushing into building your account-based programs, you’ll need to take the time to build the right audience of accounts. All marketers need to build a high-potential audience to launch programs against if they want to turn accounts into customers. Whether you are trying to identify the right accounts to target with an ideal customer profile (ICP) or have a fully developed target account list (TAL) that you’re looking to tier and rotate, there’s something you can do today to make your account targeting strategy more successful. 

Before we get started on your target account selection plan, where do you find yourself on this assessment? 

Exploring and Developing: Develop and refine your ICP

Before starting, it’s important to understand what an ICP isn’t. Despite some confusion in the ABM world, it isn’t your total addressable market (TAM), TAL, individual buyer or buyer persona, or—above all—just any company that might want your product.

Instead, it’s the persona of an enterprise that’s an ideal fit for your product. That enterprise persona provides the strategic framework to manage resource allocation and activity across the entire business. Ultimately, this can also impact how to determine target accounts for your sales and marketing teams.

To build your ICP or refine one you’ve already built, here are a few short steps to get you started:

1. Ensure that your audience represents your highest-potential customers. 

2. Source firmographic and technographic data for this set of companies.

3. Isolate top patterns and define your ICP. 

Read our step-by-step advice for building your ICP, or download our ICP Template directly to get started.

How this helps you advance your ABM 

According to the TOPO 2019 Account-Based Benchmark Report, more than 80% of the most successful account-based organizations say they have a strong ICP. Only 42% of the other companies say they do. Organizations with a strong ICP also reported a 68% higher win rate. Simply put, a lot rests on your ICP.

If you’re still running a pilot or don’t want to structure your program around a set TAL, an ICP can help you become more account-based with a variety of targeted campaigns. 

For example, you can run coordinated plays with sales development teams to penetrate accounts that match your ICP. To learn more about how to reach the right audiences with your ICP, download our comprehensive guide, The ABM Readiness Assessment

For other companies, an ICP is used to inform and build a target account list (TAL). We’ll get the criteria for a target account list now. 

Optimizing: Build and tier your TAL

If you already have a strong ICP (or just built one with us and are ready to take the next step), it’s time to put your research to work using your CRM and third-party data.

With a picture of the firmographic and technographic attributes of your ideal accounts, you can start plugging away to find best-fit accounts. This will give you the criteria for a target account list. Think of it as going from ideal to real—a profile now becomes tangible accounts. 

The first step for many is to begin pulling a target account list from existing CRM data, but this too often assumes that the outputs are reliable. While this could be the case, it’s helpful to validate your list against a vendor or database to ensure that it’s accurate and comprehensive. As long as your CRM doesn’t include every account that might be a great fit, this will give you the potential to create an even more robust set of targets. 

How to tier

When it comes to account tiering, most customers apply a method of account scoring to determine how to allocate resources. Not all accounts can receive the same amount of attention, so tiering them based on priority will be crucial for managing not only expectations, but also ROI. 

Many companies prioritize their target accounts into three different tiers: 1:1, 1:Few, and 1:Many—but the tiers can be unique to your team. With time, you'll craft an account targeting strategy that is most beneficial to your company. You'll begin to construct your account-based plays and measurement around this account tiering process. 

Rely on the advancements in account-based technology with machine learning and the power of predictive models to score accounts and surface new account suggestions. By using the training data of your best customers today, account-based tech can now simplify the manual effort of scoring and tiering accounts. 

Here is what it can look like in a few simple steps:

Score your list

  • Upload a list of your best existing customers to supply the data needed to create a custom predictive model.
  • With the power of machine learning, create a predictive model and scores your target account list based on accounts more likely to close.
  • From there, you can begin to prioritize top-tier accounts—or—if you notice your distribution of high-grade accounts isn’t up to par, you can . . . 

Surface new accounts

  • Using your predictive model, opt for a tech stack that allows you to receive account suggestions for new accounts that are likely to close.
  • By adding these accounts to your list, you can enable your teams to go after more high-fit accounts (leading to better engagement, and ultimately, better chances of closing more deals)

From here, you can begin to make smart choices about the programs you run against your tiered account lists.

Market-Leading: Rotate and flight your TAL

Account rotation

In order to optimize program success, your team should begin to establish a specific plan for rotating through the target account list and developing more custom programs for different segments of accounts. This helps provide your entire organization with visibility into how the target account list is being used.

The following widely used selection criteria cut across account tiers:

  • Industry 
  • Competitive or complementary technology
  • Use case
  • Predictive (fit) scores
  • Business seasonality

Here’s an example of what a rotation plan may look like when you get to this stage:

Program-flighting schedule

Your account-rotation plan runs against a backdrop of broader demand generation and other marketing activity. This combination maintains presence and enables high-impact, focused outreach while limiting wear-out. Multiple waves are used for large segments to align to organizational capacity and allow for intentional periods of higher- or lower-volume outreach by cross-functional teams. 

What’s next?

While establishing your target account list can feel like a done deal, the truth is that you need to evaluate the strength of your list over time; it isn’t meant to be static forever. Make sure that you establish an agreed-upon cadence with sales to determine which accounts should stay, which should go, and which may need some adjustments. This will set you up for scalable success and ensure that you’re primed for improvements over time. 

And of course, you've developed an ICP and TAL to start running heavy-hitting campaigns. But if you want to learn more about how to get the resources you need to execute best-in-class ABM, download our newest guide, The ABM Readiness Assessment.

About the Author

Caroline Van Dyke, Head of Content

Caroline is a B2B marketer with a knack for building start-up content strategies from scratch. With a passion for crafting the right message at the right time (and a good pun), she leads content for real marketers by telling their real stories. In the rare case she's not busy writing, you can find her consuming true crime podcasts, stand-up specials, and copious amounts of cheese.

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