The ABCs of ABM: Your Expert Guide to Constructing a Top-Performing Target Account List

May 19, 2023

We live in a world as B2B marketers where one's ability to understand and communicate in acronyms such as CRM, ABM, SDR, TAL, and ICP (no, not that ICP) might determine your level of expertise or skillset. Account-Based Marketing, or ABM, is becoming the standard for sales and marketing teams who are serious about delivering revenue for their brand, and knowing the lingo is key to keeping up with the times. 

The acronyms above are all important to understand in order to, for lack of a better word “do ABM”, however, one in particular, is what I refer to as the nucleus of an ABM strategy. A TAL, or Target Account List, should always be the starting point for all of your account-based programs. The TAL is what connects and aligns the marketing and sales orgs, determining who to focus collective efforts on. Ultimately, this ability to execute programs focused and in tandem is what will drive revenue creation. 

But...before we can even talk about executing ABM, let’s take a step back to understand the importance of creating that nucleus (TAL) for your brand’s ABM strategy. To put a fun twist on what can certainly be a dull and often frustrating exercise (trust me, I know) I am going to break down the ingredients and steps into a recipe.

The ABCs of Constructing an Effective B2B Target Account List (TAL)

Level of Difficulty: Expert

Time: ~45-90 Days

Key Components:

A - An ICP (Ideal Customer Profile) that's Well-Defined**
B - A Balanced Team of SDR, Sales, and Marketing Stakeholders
C - Consistent Access to Reliable CRM Data
D - Dependable Account Scoring Tool***
E - Engaged Collaborator in RevOps
F - Frequent Weekly Check-in Meetings
G - Generous dose of Patience (always bring extra)
H - A Hands-on Project Owner
Additional Components:
I - An In-house Spreadsheet Expert
J - Just enough Espresso for those Long Nights

*This can take as long as 120 days if you don't keep pace. **Not sure about your ICP? RollWorks is ready to assist you in defining it! ***Need a tool for account scoring? RollWorks has got you covered!

The TAL Creation Process:

Define (or Refine) your ICP

Remember when I said the TAL was the nucleus of ABM programs? Well the precursor to a great TAL is defining an ICP. As TOPO states, “The Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) defines the firmographic, environmental, and behavioral attributes of accounts expected to become a company’s most valuable customers.” In other words, develop a deep understanding of your ideal customer on the account level, isolating the foundational profile of companies that would be a good fit for your product based on your current customers. If you need additional help with defining your ICP, feel free to use our custom template.

A note for those with an existing ICP: In 2020, with everything going on around the world due to COVID-19, now may be a good time to revisit and refine your ICP to ensure you are going after companies who are able to invest in your products or services. Look to focus on key verticals, industries, or even consider focusing your efforts on upselling and expanding business within your current customer base.

Form a TAL Committee and Stay Engaged

They say the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, the same is true of a TAL built through equal marketing, sales development, and sales efforts. Marketing should drive the conversation and run point on the overall project, the SDR team can provide valuable insight and input that goes beyond the CRM data, and sales can drive the organizational aspect and define the key parameters needed for the TAL to be fruitful. A small group of key stakeholders who can then work with their broader teams helps keep things focused and goes a long way in the process.

Befriend Someone in RevOps (or Marketing + Sales Ops)

If you have a team dedicated to Revenue Operations, which includes both Marketing and Sales Ops, you should start making friends with someone on that team to help facilitate some of the tasks that come later in the project. Trust me, their help IS needed and they will have a good perspective on the best way to execute, and the proper data to use.

Start with the Largest Possible List of ICP-Fit Accounts

Starting with the largest list possible is important because if you’re doing this right, by the end of the project you will have filtered the list down through scoring and scrubbing, revealing a final list that will be feasible to go after from a sales and marketing perspective. There is also a chance (a very likely one) that the largest list you can pull is filled with invalid and duplicate data. Every organization I have worked for in my career shares a common theme, challenges with CRM data hygiene. We’ve all had those late nights gaining expertise in V-Lookups, but working with the right tech that speaks to each other can save the headache.

Scrub the List Until its Squeaky Clean

This point here is highly dependent on your own CRM data and cleanliness, but being sure that you clean up duplicate records, validate the data in the fields you are pulling is recent and accurate (or there at all), and ensuring you have enough accounts in the areas your sellers operate in are all good steps to take in scrubbing your massive list. Are you including subdomains of one company? Is there a massive delta between the number of East and West Coast accounts? Is the data around employee size for companies from 2015 because you used the wrong field (see point 3 above if this is you)? If after all of this you feel like your list is solid and ready for scoring, STOP. Share it with your sales counterparts and see if they can find anything else to weed out.

Score Your Accounts Against Closed-Won Data

This step is optional but highly recommended. Scoring the accounts in your list against data from your current customers can be the most effective way to scale it down, as well as prioritize for eventual tiering. Taking a list of 10,000 accounts that effectively meet the same criteria as an ICP fit, and then assigning each of them a grade or score allows you to establish a minimum threshold they must meet in order to make sense to pursue from a business perspective. I would also suggest using these scores to bring the number of accounts down to one that is reasonable for the size of your team and the budget you have to activate against them. 10,000 accounts can go down to 3,000 if you are only keeping the accounts that are the As and Bs of the bunch. You can also keep a larger TAL, marketing to the lower tiers without sales support, and just winnowing down high-priority based on the size your sales team can work. Having hyper-targeted campaigns to the bulk of your TAL is always a good move for being open to opportunities. 

Get Your Sales Reps Involved

When you feel comfortable with the general number of accounts in your list, it’s time to get sales reps involved in hand-picking their top accounts. If the sellers currently have a list of target accounts, run a quick exercise to have them choose which ones they’d like to keep in their list and get the others removed from their name. From there, randomly distribute the list of new accounts evenly across all reps and follow a similar motion. Allow the reps to disqualify up to 20% of the new accounts after some light research. This not only helps continue to refine the list, but also shows you are giving the individual reps (not just managers) a seat at the table in this process. No one enjoys feeling like choices are made for them. Also, one way to tier the list is to go a step further and ask reps to identify their top 5 and 20 additional accounts each they want to prioritize as Tier 1 and Tier 2, which makes the remainder of accounts your Tier 3.

Tag and Distribute Your TAL

The final step is one of the most important. You have probably put in a lot of work thus far and you need that work to reflect in your CRM. Either repurpose an existing field on the account record, or create a new one that designates an account is on your new TAL. When it comes to tagging, be descriptive. An example of a tag could be: Q3-2020-TAL-Tier-1, which includes all the information you’ll need to build reports, audiences, etc. Once they are tagged, get them assigned to the sales reps and you are all set.

*Bonus: Tiering and Establishing Rules of Engagement

This isn’t part of creating the TAL, but it’s important for actioning against it. Once you have a tiered list, efforts to define the rules of engagement/entitlements for each tier should be established. Aspects such as budget allocation, level of personalization in marketing touches, field marketing strategy, and direct mail entitlements can all be treated differently based on the tier of the account. Tier 1 and 2 get more entitlements, and Tier 3 (while still a focus) can have more of a scaled ABM approach when activating. Focus and prioritization is key in ABM, and these rules will help keep teams aligned.

So there you have it, a tried and tested strategy for building your company’s next (or first) target account list. Every business is different, so some of the steps might not translate perfectly. But in general, the foundational pieces should apply to anyone. If you are still feeling uncertain, RollWorks has a team of experts and a platform built to help you create a data-backed TAL in no time. If you’d like to speak with our team just click here.

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