How to Build B2B Target Audiences for a Marketing Campaign

May 27, 2021


Like many B2B marketing terms, the word “audience” can mean several things.

In some situations, it’s a hyper-specific “list load” from a webinar. In others, an audience refers to your total addressable market (TAM), ideal customer profile (ICP), or target account list (TAL).

But despite being a catchall term, treating your audience with a one-size-fits-all approach can doom your campaigns before they launch.

The truth is, all these elements form the foundation of a strong audience. Without this foundation, your marketing efforts may be too shaky to drive meaningful results.

The fix? Building B2B custom audiences from the ground up.

Build an iron-clad ideal customer profile (ICP)

A lot rests on your ICP. As the blueprint that defines the key attributes of high-fit accounts, an ICP ultimately drives things like target account list creation, audience segmentation, and organizational structure.

But uncovering the attributes of companies that are a great fit for your product or service isn’t possible without some data wrangling. Here’s how to build a reliable ICP in three steps:

1. Get your hands on useful customer data

Building a validated ICP often starts with analyzing your best customers. Depending on your growth stage and marketing operation complexity,  this will likely include a combination of quantitative and qualitative data.

This might mean pulling data from your sales funnel, website visitors, customer calls, NPS, financial data, or business intelligence teams. For most organizations, starting with sales funnel data from your CRM is a great place to begin developing an ICP.

2. Look for patterns among closed-won accounts

At this stage, focusing on the factors influencing customer acquisition is the name of the game. The data you’ll analyze here usually falls in one of two buckets:

Firmographic data

These descriptive attributes help group individual organizations into meaningful market segments. Some examples of firmographic data include:

  • Industry (e.g., investment banking, financial services, accounting)
  • Geography (e.g., U.S., Canada, UK, Ireland)
  • Company size (e.g., 500-5000 employees)
  • Revenue (e.g., $10MM+)

Technographic data

Technographics are a set of attributes that provide insight into customer tech stacks, including contract lengths and other details. Some examples of technographic data include:

  • Marketing automation platform
  • CRM
  • Direct mail vendor
  • Website hosting vendor

3. Use the top patterns to define your ICP

Your ICP will begin to take shape as you organize your sales funnel around firmographic and technographic attributes. To get it fully over the finish line, you’ll also need to identify patterns to see what proves the most successful.

Here are some questions you might ask based on the data:

  • Is there a certain type of company size or industry that is most prevalent among closed-won accounts? 
  • Do your best accounts fall within any specific categories? (If there are no clear patterns, you may want to find an ABM partner who can do a deeper analysis for you).
  • What story does the data tell in terms of the top few categories?

Once you’ve identified these patterns (and framed them in a way everyone at your org can understand), you’ll have a strong ICP you should revisit at least once per year.

Use your ICP to create your target account list (TAL) 

Your TAL isn’t a list of leads. It’s a strategic list of accounts most likely to buy your product or service. Here are three steps to building an airtight TAL:

1. Populate your TAL based on ICP criteria

Generating your TAL starts with your ideal customer profile (ICP) for good reason: Accounts that match your ICP bring the most value to the business.

  • Use ICP to identify existing accounts in your CRM that match those company-level attributes
  • Use vendor data to pull a full set of available unknown accounts into a list based on fit pulled directly from your ICP (revenue, region, industry, etc.)
  • Take notice of the total number of accounts generated: Does it seem like too many or too few?

2. Right-size your TAL based on revenue goals + sales capacity

Running your ICP through a database or account-based data provider may produce a list that’s too large to manage. The best way to winnow it down is to bring revenue targets, anticipated conversion rates, and seller headcount into the equation.

Once you’ve considered business resources vs. business goals, it should be easier to weed out any extra accounts that match your ICP but put you over your ideal TAL size. You might also:

  • Use machine learning to score your accounts and remove any on the lower end.
  • Revisit your ICP to narrow criteria and see if that reduces the number of accounts that match those attributes.
  • Manually remove or reduce the number of accounts within a certain firmographic attribute, like region or revenue.

Don’t worry about having a too-big TAL to start—if you ever need to come back and “borrow” from the discard pile, you can use those accounts to refresh your list a few times a year.

3. Tier your TAL to prioritize investment and effort

There are several reasons why tiering your target account list might make sense:

  • Too many target accounts, not enough salespeople
  • Too many target accounts, not enough marketing budget
  • Optimization: close deals faster/spend more on the accounts that are worth more

To tier your list, here’s what we recommend:

Account scoring: Whether you use machine learning, manual scoring, or a combination of both, rank order your accounts by their likeliness to close.

Using intent signals: Make a list of intent topics relevant to your business, use vendor data to pull lists of accounts that show interest in those topics, and look at intent levels and recency.

Using engagement signals: Gain more insight on which accounts to prioritize by looking at things like channel engagement, site visits, and content engagement. Use your CRM or MAP to cross-reference engagement at the account level, campaign level, and opportunity level.

With a combination of static and dynamic data, marketing and sales can prioritize which accounts to target, when to reach them, and how much to spend. Update your TAL as needed based on sales cycle length—but not more than quarterly.

Curate sub-segmented audiences for campaigns

With a tiered TAL, marketers know which accounts to reach and sellers know which accounts to work, but even this isn’t enough. After all, reaching every account with the same message at the same time doesn’t work.

To get B2B audience segmentation right, marketers need real-time and dynamic data to act on. They need to pull levers and combine different attributes to create audiences more likely to resonate with a certain channel or message over another.

Enter sub-segmented audiences: accounts or contacts grouped based on fit and readiness signals, used to activate specific, often time-bound campaigns across channels.

With these highly changeable lists, marketers can permutate their hearts out:

  • Want to focus on accounts in late-stage pipeline in a certain industry who’ve interacted with a certain piece of content in the past 30 days? That’s a segment.
  • Want to focus on unaware accounts showing intent for key topics with a certain revenue? That’s another segment.

Beyond using fit-based and behavioral data, here’s what to consider when sub-segmenting:

Known vs. unknown contacts

Before activating audiences across channels, find out how many contacts per audience live in your CRM. If you have a sense of how many known vs. unknown contacts exist, you can choose channels based on your goal to acquire new or nurture existing.

Activation: Segment x channel x offer x budget equation

Remember, not every segment should serve the same purpose or produce the same outcome.

That’s why you’ll want to approach activation with a framework that documents:

  • The sub-segment and its origin TAL or TAL tier
  • Which channels you’ll use and the investment you’ll put toward each
  • The offer you’re directing your audience to take

In practice, this could look something like: Healthcare - North America - high-intent x display ads x high investment x ebook download.

Want a full suite of b2b audience building tools? Get our latest guide chock full of templates. 

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