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The Secret for Building a Better Target Account List Is Having a Strong ICP

Melody Selby
February 10, 2023 9 MIN Blog

Account-based marketing (ABM) strategies are successful when B2B organizations target customers with the highest propensity to buy their solutions. However, many businesses may not see the full potential of ABM because they need help with forming the foundation of an effective strategy – building a dynamic target account list of customers with the highest likelihood to buy. While it would be ideal to go after every account in every market with your solution, this is simply inefficient.  

A target account list (TAL) is a list of prioritized accounts you want as customers that helps you avoid going after potential customers who are not the best fit. Without a TAL, you risk wasting resources and time, low conversion rates from your campaigns, and decreased ROI.  

Building a target account list is an involved process that combines both art and science. While creating a “wish list” of high-profile companies you want to win seems right, tight marketing budgets force you to take a more systemic approach. You need to stop asking, “Whom do I want?” and discover, “Who is more likely to convert and gain the most value from our solution?” When you focus on accounts more likely to convert from the start, you’ll see a positive impact on the pipeline and ROI down the line. 

So how do you build a TAL of the right companies and personas to engage? 

The secret is a strong Ideal Customer Profile (ICP). An ICP describes the types of companies—not the individual buyer or end user—that would gain the most value from your solution.

We’ve simplified the process for you with three key steps. 

Step 1: Determine your ICP criteria 

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all ICP for marketers to lean on. It depends on your business goals and offerings you have. Additionally, having more than one ICP for one or more of your solutions is also possible.  

To get started, start by listing out the criteria of customers you think you want to target. This includes attributes such as: 

  • Verticals or industries 
  • Company sizes and employee headcounts for specific teams 
  • Annual revenue 
  • Budget allocation for your solution area 
  • Geographic location 
  • Investment in existing technology 
  • Customers these companies have 
  • Roles within the organization that would typically make up the buying committee 

When thinking about your best-fit customers, it’s always a good idea to look at your pipeline and closed deals for commonalities with your list. Your pipeline can reveal: 

  • Account profiles that attribute the most revenue to your organization 
  • How long accounts took to convert from opportunity to won 
  • How many like-accounts are in your pipeline 

Take your wish list and compare them to existing and recently-won customers. You should find that your listed out ICP criteria relate well to accounts in your pipeline. If not, there could be an opportunity to go after new types of customers.

In an early ABM approach, established characteristics are your friend. The more insights you can use to build an ICP, the more you’ll understand how to successfully target and sell to these accounts. 

Checkpoint: Now that you have an idea of the customers you want to target, your next step is to validate these thoughts with teams that speak to customers the most. 

Step 2: Align your marketing and sales teams on your ICP

ABM is at the account level. Who speaks directly to the best-fit accounts? Your sales and customer success teams. 

They have daily conversations with current and prospective accounts. Account managers and sales leaders are the customers’ first contact if they have an issue or a question. They can be a resource to help you identify whom you can target for higher ROI and pipeline impact. 

A mistake that most marketers make is not using sales insights when developing initial target account lists. Sales and marketing misalignment is a massive problem in ABM, with 90% of sales and marketing professionals reporting challenges in their organizations’ strategy, process, culture, and content due to not working together. To avoid this issue and refine your ICP based on your sales team’s experience, ask them questions like: 

  • Which companies from which industries do you see in the pipeline the most? 
  • Which buying committee members within an account do you speak with most often? 
  • Which company verticals have you seen the most difficulties in selling to? 
  • How would you describe our ideal customer? 

Listen to their answers and go back to your first-stage ICP(s). What matches up? For example, if your biggest deal of $200,000 is from an account in the energy sector with 1,500 employees, there may be similar accounts that you can target with similar messaging and content.   

Having these conversations and comparing feedback from your sales team will help you validate, discover more about, and gut-check your assumptions from Step 1.  

Checkpoint: Gather the feedback you received from your conversations and start refining your ICP. Once you’ve got a great idea of who you want to target based on these sales insights, you need to validate assumptions with account data, the backbone of any ABM strategy. This brings us to Step 3. 

Step 3: Validate your ICP with data

After you’ve validated your assumptions with your sales team, its time to lean on your data. 

Start with your customer relationship management (CRM) platform. Pick a timeframe and pull account information from your high-value customers.  

You can categorize their value in different ways, including the revenue they bring your organization, the length of the relationship and adoption of your solution, or the lifetime value. You must determine which parameters to say, “This customer is one of our best, and we need to target other companies like them.” 

To effectively identify and prioritize the accounts that matter to your organization, you need some help. We recommend connecting your CRM data to a platform that aggregates and analyzes your data with other critical sources in one holistic signal 

What do we mean by other critical sources? Review the following list: 

Firmographic data

Firmographic data is a set of characteristics of firms that reveal categorical information about their business and objectives in their chosen markets. 

In B2B, firmographic data enables you to create different profiles and market segments based on attributes like: 

  • Verticals or industries 
  • Type of organization 
  • Industry/markets 
  • Company employee size 
  • Annual revenue 
  • Budgets 

Firmographic data is invaluable to ABM because it can take a large account list and segment these accounts based on sales priority, market type, and revenue opportunity. When you compare the firmographic data of existing best-fit customers to your ICP, where do they line up? Do you see industry gaps? Is there a particular size of company that is more prevalent in your customer list than another? 

This firmographic layer is a foundation for your target account list development, but other signals quickly improve upon this audience segmentation.  

Technographic data

Technographic data refers to information about technology that a company uses within its “tech stack.” This data can help you in three ways: 

  • To identify gaps, challenges, and opportunities: A company’s current tech stack says a lot about it. You can understand any weaknesses, challenges, and opportunities with insight into what technology is used. For example, if the solution you’re selling can be integrated with Salesforce, you will likely need to target prospects that already use Salesforce. At the same time, if your solution is a competitor of Salesforce, you can identify who is using it and shape your messaging to highlight why your option is a better choice.  
  • To identify how they use technology: Companies use technology differently. Understanding all the products and services in its tech stack can reveal specific details of how a company uses the technology it has in its daily operation. Understanding how companies use technology will also help shape how your approach them; those with more solutions in their tech stack are likely more receptive to more mature messaging, while those with less will probably need additional information and content to understand the value of your solution.  
  • To identify when they purchased the technology: The timing of a technology acquisition or purchase can offer insight into whether they are in-market for a new solution. Many vendors require at least a year-long contract; if the company just purchased a competitor’s product, it is unlikely to learn more about your product. Instead, plan to engage them closer to the renewal timing with messaging about why your solution is better.  

By leveraging technographic install base data, you can uncover the complementary or competitive technologies to refine your target account list and the underlying campaign messaging necessary to engage each account.  

Engagement data

Previous engagement is often a good indicator of future engagement. Buyers engaging with content or advertising on a particular area of interest are likely to continue engaging if there is a clear need and interest from within an organization.   

Your job as a marketer is to persuade potential customer throughout the buyer’s journey by informing them of trends and potential problems within their organization that your solution can most effectively solve.  

Thanks to behavioral data sources, you can gather enough data on how an account responds to your content or advertising during their progression throughout the buyer’s journey. You can then use quantitative behavioral data points to determine if buyers react to your content and advertising, such as ad engagement, content downloads, site visits, and account exposure time. These metrics can help identify propensity to purchase, while at the same time serve as signals that uncover active solution interest and opportunities to further engage the buying committee. 

By leveraging engagement signals on content and messaging from solutions like yours, you can use these as an opportunity to drive more efficiency fro your media investment through campaigns focused on accounts actively in-market for your solution. 

Intent data/buyer research data

Buyer intent data helps you uncover the accounts most likely to buy your solution based on engagement and research behavior.  

Suppose you have a list of accounts already demonstrating intent through actions like content consumption and website visits. You can leverage this data to inform your target account list with these account characteristics.  

If you’re not validating your ICP with firmographic, technographic, engagement, and intent data, you miss out on key aspects of accounts that have the highest likelihood of buying from your solution. 

Checkpoint: Working with your data and a partner, you should have a stronger ICP(s) than what you started with that you can use to build an effective target account list. Use this target account list to prioritize the right accounts and inform current and future campaign strategies for more effective ABM. 

How can technology help?

Target account lists matched to your ideal customer profile across named accounts and potential customers exhibiting active solution interest outside your marketing database are necessary for successful ABM campaigns. These audiences for your marketing campaigns should be regularly updated to ensure you deliver content and advertising to the best-fit accounts at the right time.  

Therefore, it is important to start here to achieve a strong return on investment from your campaigns and avoid missed opportunities in your sales pipeline. To achieve the best result, consider using first-party data and various other data sources to validate your assumptions. If done correctly, you can create a list of accounts most likely to convert quickly.  

It is worth considering the time spent on the manual completion of this process. Combining this data can be time-consuming and resource-intensive for many organizations, potentially preventing the development of more impactful campaigns. However, there is a solution.

To effectively prioritize your audience and avoid the time-consuming task of manually sifting through large amounts of data, consider utilizing combined data that provides this unified data and integrates it with your existing systems. ML Insights can streamline the development process for your target accounts, allowing you to focus on creating impactful content and integrated campaigns that move your prospects and customers into pipeline and revenue opportunities.