You are here

ABM account selection: How to determine the best accounts

Mike Boogaard explains how to narrow your focus on your best accounts while still achieving your desired ROI

Account selection is without a doubt the single most important step in the ABM process. As one of the first steps, it has an impact on the efficacy of every subsequent step. Get it wrong and there is no engagement strategy, content or tactic that will right the wrong. There is a plethora of information available on accounts selection (here is a useful guide), but how do you truly define and narrow in on your best accounts?

Defining your best accounts

To get from the total number of accounts in your market (total addressable market) to the ideal number of accounts for an ABM strategy, will require filtering and probably mean setting aside some great opportunities in favour of the very strongest.

The best way of narrowing in is by clearly defining your ideal customer profile (template). The ICP is typically made up of three core parts:

Firmographics: Ideal account size, location, number of employees and sector/industry.

Technographics: The account’s relationship to technology, their state of digital maturity, install base.

Sociographics: The account’s issues and challenges, their priorities and the opportunities related to the ideal account and account intent (behavioural data related to accounts).

Good data is key to this process. In addition to first-party CRM data, you’ll also want to collate anecdotal data from sales and third-party data (for example, install and intent data).

By cross-referencing your market with your ICP, you will be able to establish the list of ideal accounts. However, one further filter - prioritisation - will help segment these into the best accounts. Based on the account’s fit with your ICP and factors such as existing sales relationships with the accounts, level of inside knowledge about the accounts and their look-alike proximity with existing customers, you can identify your best accounts.

'Best' is a smaller number than you think

At first glance, it seems logical that businesses should create an ICP, find as many accounts that fit it as possible, and then use these for their ABM campaign. However, although this behaviour suits a one-to-many marketing strategy, it is ill-suited to one-to-one or one-to-few ABM because it reduces your ability to create something that your audience really cares about. 

Instead, and although counterintuitive, you want to find your minimum viable audience (MVA) - the minimum number of accounts that still allows you to achieve your required ROI. 

The idea is that focusing on a smaller amount of best accounts makes it much easier to create highly personal and meaningful engagements that speak to those account’s specific personnel, issues, and opportunities. It also allows you to test your programme more effectively, improve and amend both your content and strategy quicker, and then rinse and repeat. It is the quickest and least expensive way to execute an ABM programme, without blowing your entire budget on a single roll of the dice.

Scaling the number of ABM accounts

Once you have established a successful approach, tested on your MVA, the tempting option is to apply your ABM strategy to the full target account list. Whilst this can be viable in some cases (where all your target accounts share identical traits), more often than not the success is rarely replicated as the scaling reduces the ability to remain relevant. A more effective option is to split all your accounts into MVA clusters, according to industry or other common factors. Then rolling out your programme, personalising to each of the traits of each MVA cluster. Depending on your marketing and sales resources, you can run several cluster programmes at once instead of one large programme.

Less is more

If putting fewer eggs in smaller baskets makes you uncomfortable, you are not alone. In almost every customer scenario I’ve come across when starting with ABM, the biggest struggle is to convince the business to reduce the number of target accounts and to set aside some decent opportunities in favour of the very best. But the key to ABM success lies in personal (not just personalised) communication with your future customers. To do this effectively, you need to make choices, which is why the account selection is so vital. Take your time, use all the data available and continuously test, and eventually each of your desired accounts will work their way to 'best' status.

As Seth Godin put it: "When you seek to engage with everyone, you rarely delight anyone."