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How to Define Your Target Accounts in Account Based Sales Development

Sept. 27, 2016 · Jeremy Boudinet · 8 Minute Read

An excerpt from Jon Miller's new eBook, The Clear and Complete Guide to Account Based Sales Development, the best Account Based eBook since Bridging the Gap: The Ultimate Guide to Account Based Sales and Marketing.

Across B2B sales, the hottest topic in the last 12 months has been account based sales development. With an increasingly complex sales and buying process, getting organizational alignment is imperative. In this excerpt from The Clear and Complete Guide to Account Based Sales Development, we’ll cover the most important piece of Account Based Sales Development: Defining your target accounts.

The idea is simple: you need to focus 100% of your efforts on the right targets. Not 80% or 90%. 100%.

In old-school prospecting, companies let the recent graduates who populated the sales development team decide who they wanted to call. In enlightened Account Based Sales Development (ABSD), this is a strategic decision, made from above and at the start.

Define Your Ideal Customer Profile

Your account selection process comes down to a specific definition of your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP), the companies that best match your goals. This is also a core part of your organization’s Account Based Marketing program. A strong definition will include the key dimensions that define the high-value accounts that are most likely to buy, including things like:

  1. Firmographics
  2. Pain points
  3. Technology profile
  4. Behaviors
  5. Strategy
  6. Region

One way to decide on your ICP is to reverse engineer your existing best customers to see what they have in common. Another is to analyze the best customers of your closest competitors: where are they winning and why?

Select Your Target Accounts

Once you know the specific profile of an ideal account, it’s time to actually pick the accounts; to name the companies you’ll be targeting.

On this front, there’s a maturity spectrum, with increasing accuracy and sophistication as you move up and take a tiered approach. The ABE Account Selection Maturity Model starts with simple sales rep account selection and progresses through to full predictive analytics. Consider each of these four levels:

Level 1: Rep Self-Selection: Picking accounts manually is all about gut feeling. Sales teams generally know who their best customers are, and what they look like. This collaborative decision is based on intuition and experience, and won’t be wildly off-base.

Level 2: Basic Data: At this level, marketers add in manually collected data such as company size and simple scoring to weigh their best options. By adding a bit of analysis, more opportunities can be uncovered, and the right level of value can be assigned to target accounts.

Level 3: Advanced Data: Every existing database is only as useful as the data within. At this stage of account selection maturity, add purchased data about prospective accounts from third-party vendors, such as technographic insights (which technologies are used at target accounts) and intent data (which identifies who is showing in-market behavior). In addition, to account for this new layer of insights, more advanced scoring or modeling is necessary to weigh accounts and prioritize the list.

Level 4: Predictive Analytics: Taking a more sophisticated approach to building a target account list for Account Based Everything includes the use of predictive scoring and modeling. This approach uses data analysis to choose the companies most likely to buy based on the ones who have already bought or become opportunities. All types of information used in previous levels (plus more) are aggregated and analyzed in a complex model that would be nearly impossible to execute manually.

account based sales data

Clearly, the accuracy and completeness of your account selection improves as you move up the maturity spectrum. Do what you need to do – but be advised: time, money and effort spent on rigorous account selection will be repaid many times over in the number and quality of opportunities you generate.

Pro tip: it’s critical to involve the Account Executive in picking the target accounts. You need their insight and their buy-in.  Otherwise, you risk developing an account and bringing it to Sales – only to have them say they’re not interested. They key is to develop the accounts they care about.

“Data is a never ending problem. Prospectors have a clear idea of which companies should be a good fit, and which shouldn’t.”

-- Aaron Ross, Predictable Revenue

Segment Your Targets By Tiers

Not all accounts are the same. So you’ll also need to organize your target accounts into tiers, based on how valuable they might be (and how much research and personalization will go into each one).  

We’ll cover this in more depth in the Research section of our Clear and Complete Guide to Account Based Sales Development, but for now, just think about how you might split your target accounts into tiers, applying a different treatment strategy to each tier:

account based sales

At Engagio, we advocate using a version of Account Based Sales Development for all tiers, not just the top.

Determining the Right Number of Accounts to Target

The number of accounts you choose to target for each Tier in your ABSD program – and the number of accounts per AE and SDR – will depend on things like:

  1. Your expected deal sizes
  2. The length of the sales cycle
  3. Your available sales resources
  4. Your current level of engagement with major prospects
  5. The intensiveness of your account-based strategy

We think the best way to select target accounts is by looking at how many resources you have to invest. And that depends on how you handle the different tiers or styles of Account Based Everything. A given enterprise Account Executive may only be handle a few Tier 1 accounts, but a corporate rep could probably handle a few hundred Tier 3 target accounts at a time. Put another way, the right number of accounts is the number that your team can handle in a tier-appropriate way.

We know one company where management felt their reps could have 100 named accounts at a time – but they gave each one 150 accounts so the reps wouldn’t feel like their territories were too small.

account based sales engagio

Once you have your tiered accounts, you can start mapping out the actions your team should take and the channels you should use to engage in those accounts. We cover that and a whole lot more in The Clear and Complete Guide to Account Based Sales Development.

In it, you’ll also discover:

Download the full book as well as companion text Bridging the Gap: The Ultimate Guide to Account Based Sales and Marketing Alignment for free!

Further Resources: Account Based Technology

To find the most useful tools for running an account based sales development strategy, check out these lists by Docurated and KnowledgeTree profiling the software solutions preferred by today's leading ABSD practitioners.

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