ABM – What’s beyond the target account list? Part 2

3rd February 2022

A great way to explore the question ‘what’s beyond the target account list’ in ABM, which we started to do in the first blog of this series, is to understand the capabilities required to run a dedicated account-based program. 

We use the idea of the Magnificent Seven ABM capabilities, which is a form of shorthand for a much more comprehensive ABM assessment model used to help our clients plan their ABM journey.   

1. Set objectives and a timeline matched to you and your audience  

This doesn’t sound magnificent at all.  Surely, setting ABM objectives and timelines should be the straightforward part of the program? Unfortunately, poor objectives and unrealistic timelines hobble many ABM programs from the start! 

All too often, the ABM objectives set are beyond the capabilities of the organisation setting them. To make matters worse, the timeline for those objectives often reflects the urgency of the ABM program’s goals, not the circumstances of the target account (s)! 

Our approach to remedying this is to ensure the right information is in place before the objectives are set.  First, we conduct a comprehensive ABM assessment based on well-defined ABM success factors, each with multiple elements.  We then review the business requirements that are driving the ABM program together with the needs of the stakeholders and an overview of the audience. We are then ready to agree specific ABM objectives with the client. 

2. Identify and segment the target audience.  

As we discussed in part 1 of this blog, in a one to many or one to few models this process includes identification, validation, data enrichment, profiling, modelling and segmentation. It’s by far the biggest stage in the playbook we use to set up an ABM program, and for good reason: well-chosen accounts don’t guarantee success, but poor account selection inevitably results in failure! The time and resources required to produce what we refer to as a modelled account list based on matching accounts to carefully constructed profiles is very different to an appended account list which is mainly geared just to record accuracy and completion. 

Naturally, this is very different in one-to-one ABM programs.  Here, account discovery replaces account identification. This requires an extensive effort to pull together a wide variety of information, an outline of which is described here: 

  • Account objectives – goals, objectives and measures of success 

  • Target audience - target buying centers, buying team profiles and personas 

  • Account profile – Account structure including subsidiaries, org structure, IT Budget, Installed base and competitors 

  • Account history - Installed product/ use case(s), account contacts, Marketing touchpoints, account specific content 

  • Account priorities - Internal & external drivers, company strategy and direction, Business Unit/dept strategy and direction, executive priorities, key initiatives and measures of success 

  • Lookalike accounts - Purchasing drivers, inflection points for change, initiatives and measures of success, successful content, testimonials/ case studies 

3. Acquire actionable audience insights  

Reviewing the one-to-one account discovery process indicates how much work is necessary to derive the insights necessary to create a personalized account experience. This is made more challenging by the multitude of technology options and data sources available. The technology needs some level of integration and the data needs appending, consolidating and normalizing. And that just gets you good data! – the jump from audience data to insights is big one and relies on context. 

That context usually comes from human interactions, particularly from customer facing teams or from focused research. Aligning data with the stages of the buyer’s journey can also provide a helpful contextual framework, as can a good taxonomy. With work queries such as ‘show me the topics most consumed by senior roles in EMEA prior to product selection’ become entirely feasible. 

Sales has access to the most powerful set of insights of all in the form of coaches/champions in the buying team. These individuals, who are effectively sponsoring your solution, have an insider’s view of the target account’s organization, challenges, and key personnel. Depending on their disposition they may reveal advocates and detractors in the buying team, the relative weighting of product requirements by stakeholders or the reaction to a competitive presentation. The ABM team needs to be set up to enable these kinds of human interactions to be shared and combined with other data points to develop an effective 360-degree view of the account. 

4. Personalize content at scale 

The goal of personalization is content relevant to your audience. Being relevant to your audience at scale is challenging but achievable if you design your program to be repeatable. Here are some of the most considerations we find most useful. 

  • Segment your audience to identify similarities that you can use for personalization purposes.  Examples of this include geographical location or audience seniority. 

  • Track and score topic consumption against your segments using both first- and third-party data. 

  • Aggregate the collective needs of buying team and so that you can address them as a team, rather than as individuals.  Address their needs through a set of lenses such as operational, financial and strategic.  Layer on individual persona needs once you have the needs of the entire team covered and don’t spread your efforts too thinly.  It is better to do a good job on the buying team collectively and the decision maker than to attempt another six or seven personas that are not deep enough to be actionable. 

  • Populate the buyer’s journey with a set of buying tasks and ensure your content helps to complete each of them – from understanding the problem, though developing a set of requirements to building a business case. 

  • Map your content to the buyer’s journey, focusing on making the tasks the buying team undertake as easy as possible. 

  • Ensure you cater for the range of content preferences any buying team is likely to have – long form versus short form, written matter versus audio and video etc. 

  • Review the various channels of interaction from an experience perspective.   Test whether the interactions add up to a coherent journey for the buying team. 

5. Drive account engagement 

Following the logic of the magnificent seven capabilities, at this point you have good segmentation, a strong set of audience insights and you are creating personalised, relevant content.  This is all for naught if your prospects and customers don’t engage with it.  Sustained account engagement requires a variety of skills, teamwork and a certain amount of talent. If we take an example of the creative variations used heavily in targeted advertising, this requires creative copy and design skills partnered with analysis. Small variations can produce significant differences in audience engagement and gradually truly effective ads are created and served. 

This is generally how engagement works – it is the partnership of creativity or human interest with a factual source – you can’t rely solely on data or algorithms. 

An example that springs to mind was a CTO blog with a very strong following. The blog’s factual elements came from the author’s status as a Microsoft MVP and role as a CTO.  The human interest came from his storytelling abilities which he used to weave tales of his adventures piloting a small aircraft around the southern US and the exploits of his cat! The culture of your company plays a part here – some organisations foster a culture that will assist with engaging your audience by promoting the sharing of human-interest stories. Unfortunately, others do not and tend to drive down engagement because the output of the company tends towards the dry and corporate.   

The ‘when’ of account engagement is also important, which you can cater for by identifying the trigger points in the buyer’s journey which move the purchase to the next stage. Whilst increased engagement across your target audience is always a positive sign If you focus on driving engagement at identified inflection points this will drive uplifts in your results.  

6. Align Sales and Marketing (behavior not sentiment!) 

The alignment of sales and marketing is crucial for ABM and needs to be built into the day-to-day work of both teams. A great strategy for this is to focus your ABM program squarely on meeting the needs of the buying team but align that work with meeting the needs of sellers. Understanding the buying team is something both Sales and Marketing can get behind and will help develop a common language, understanding and purpose. Using this as a start point to develop a playbook or set of playbooks to meet the needs of sellers ensures both the needs of buyers and sellers can be met. 

Start by determining the objectives and tasks of the buying team at each stage, working through each of them and establishing how you can help them meet these. This can be achieved through workshops with Marketing, Sales and other customer facing teams. 

With the buyer’s journey laid out, the marketing team is then in a far better position to start to understand the seller’s objectives at each stage of the sales cycle. This information usually resides in your CRM system and should be well defined. By gaining an understanding of how to deliver against the needs of both selling and buying teams marketing will be far better aligned with Sales and able to help the Sales teams deliver on their targets. 

7. Analyze and learn from results for continual development 

Most organisations conduct some kind of closed account analysis, but they often don’t produce the insights they are intended to.  This is often because those Sales engagements are not correlated with the Marketing touchpoints and with intent data.  Sometimes this is because the Sales engagements stored in the CRM are not recorded consistently enough to be usable. Producing an account timeline that helps tell the story of the account by combining the Sales and Marketing touchpoints can produce useful insights. If its construction is a collaborative effort by Sales and Marketing, it will also help drive alignment between the two teams. 

By consistently analysing and comparing closed/won to closed/lost accounts you will develop increasingly useful insights. It often takes a bit of a detective work at the beginning as you are often working around a few holes in the data, but as the data becomes more complete, more consistent and better understood, meaningful patterns will emerge that can be used to build better content, eliminate friction points in the buyer’s journey, reduce the Sales cycle and of course improve your win rate. 


That concludes our walk through of the Magnificent Seven ABM capabilities. The journey to acquire them is a rich and interesting one, and the trick enroute is to ensure that your ABM goals are in line with your ABM capabilities, or your plan to develop them. 

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