When Puzzle Pieces Fall into Place

By S. Sahu |

Posted on June 21, 2017

Using Data Strategies for Account Targeting

Account-based marketing (ABM) is a powerful methodology for B2B sales. But it demands diligent practice. The systematic targeting of key accounts is the first crucial step. The first of a three-part how-to series, this article outlines the essentials of account targeting for ABM, and how digital tools can help.

Successfully closing big deals with organizations, wrote Priyanka Bhattacharya recently,1 requires Sales and Marketing to work closely together, understand what the customer is looking for, and deliver a personalized sales pitch – a process that has popularly come to be referred to as Account-Based Marketing (ABM).

ABM involves selling to an entire team of stakeholders and decision-makers on the customer side. This customer team size averages 5.4 top executives.2 However, this number is often larger, say Paul Hague, Nick Hague and Matthew Harrison.3 And that’s not all. In B2B sales, as compared with B2C, Hague, et al say:

  • The decision-making unit is more complex
  • The customer team is more deliberate, focused on the tangibles such as price, value, quality, throughput, service, risk, long-term partnership, contractual arrangements and more
  • And consequently, customer relationships based on trust, understanding, information-sharing and problem-solving are key

So, if you’re to shepherd your flock to the best watering hole in ABM terrain, you need to build a complex messaging program that individually addresses the diverse concerns of the various stakeholders in the decision-making process.

That can become a costly and time consuming affair. You see, ABM doesn’t take the one-size-fits-all route. Each account that you vie for would require that your sales and marketing play be designed to meet that customer’s particular business need.

But thankfully it isn’t as hard as it sounds if only you give account targeting – the first and crucial step in the ABM process – its due. Because the sharper your targeting, the more bullseyes you’ll score, and the higher your account-based revenues are likely to be.

Let’s see how.

Where to train the crosshairs

To choose your key accounts, examine four key criteria4, says Mike Telem, Marketo’s VP of Marketing:

  • Your target account’s firmographics. An account’s firmographics (a contraction of the term firm demographics) span a range of variables – history, size, structure, distribution, health, etc.5 – that define your prospect’s contours.
  • The strategic fit between your business and the prospect company, because this fitment raises your chances of making the long-term goals and vision of your enterprise sustainable.6 Pick the accounts that, in fact, define your business.7
  • Accounts recommended by your sales team. Get a heads-up from your sales folk because they, willy-nilly, often have their ears to the ground.
  • The digital behavior of your chosen account, because mapping your prospect’s digital behaviour harvests rich data that can help you identify the sweet spot, and we’ll be on it in a moment.

But a wee point before that: these four criteria aren’t mutually exclusive. Firmographic info flows into an assessment of strategic fit, which the sales recommendations then confirm. And the prospect’s behavioral data gives you all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle.

Mapping your prospect’s digital behavior

Is mapping the prospect’s digital behaviour important in ABM? Absolutely, say a number of expert groups, including Pardot8, which quotes the SiriusDecisions finding that 70% of a customer’s journey is over by the time the customer contacts sales.

So it’s before your prospect reaches that 70% mark that you need to make marketing automation sing for its supper. Inbound marketing – placing a bouquet of whitepapers and techno-commercial reports, for instance, in the public domain for your prospect and reeling leads in through nurturing campaigns – efficaciously stimulates9 your buyer team’s awareness of the problems they’re facing and how your company and its offerings can help solve them.

Once you’ve homed in on select accounts, you can use real-time digital and on-cloud B2B database and big data strategies like fine-grained CRM profiling, predictive analytics, and machine learning to understand your prospects deeper.

These make for at least three powerful levers:

  • Finding and updating customer-side stakeholder contact information
  • Building buyer personas for message personalization
  • Following the footprints that executives from prospect companies leave as they do their research online

The great thing about data is that it’s incontrovertible. There’s no need to play guessing games here.

So once you set up all the key customer attributes you’ve decided to track, insights mined about your target account and the prospect team will soon be dropping all around you like those jigsaw puzzle pieces. As you pick them up, you’ll see how they fit into each other. And the narrative picture will unpixelate.

It’s a fascinating exercise. Go for it.


1. https://www.oset.io/articles/why-account-based-marketing-makes-more-sense
2. According to a benchmark 2014 B2B survey conducted by industry leading best practice provider CEB (now part of Gartner) and predictive intelligence company Motista; see:https://www.salesforce.com/blog/2016/01/account-based-marketing-consensus-sale.html
3. https://www.b2binternational.com/publications/b2b-marketing/. The writers include the CFO, R&D Director, Production Director, Purchasing Director, Head of Legal, CEO and a number of upper management department heads. Consider also the customer stakeholder profiles discovered by HBR’s research, for which see https://hbr.org/2012/07/the-end-of-solution-sales
4. https://blog.marketo.com/2013/08/be-an-account-based-marketing-champ-in-5-simple-steps.html
5. The “Variables” section at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Firmographics has a comprehensive list
6.  http://corp.yonyx.com/customer-service/importance-of-sharing-your-vision-with-customers/
7. https://hbr.org/2014/03/choosing-the-right-customer
8. http://www.pardot.com/buyer-journey/
 9. https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/7-effective-lead-nurturing-tactics