How to Define Your Target Accounts in Account-Based Sales Development

September 23, 2016 Jon Miller

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:

Firmographics – company revenue, growth rate, number of employees, industry, location, structure…

Pain points – Are they experiencing the problems you solve?

Technology profile – What other systems do they use?

Behaviors – Do your best prospects do similar things? Past behavior is a great guide to future decisions.

Strategy – Are they pursuing a strategy that’s consistent with deploying your solutions?

Region – Do you have sales coverage in their region or country?

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.

Level 1 is a blunt selection: you let sales reps select the accounts they feel are the best fit. Not very scientific (but better than throwing a dart at a directory).

Level 2 uses basic data, collected manually, loaded into a spreadsheet and scored, to help guide the reps to the accounts closest to the ICP.

Level 3 adds in more specific data (e.g. intent, sales triggers, etc.) and adds nuance to your scoring and modeling.

Level 4 uses predictive analytics tools to crunch big data sets to drive a complex model.

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.

A very big point: 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

Putting Your Accounts Into 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:

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

Aim High

The Bridge Group clusters target accounts into four buckets:

A: A-List Accounts: The named or strategic accounts on your dream client list. The deals that can change your company.

B: Bread & Butter: Your sweet spot customers. There may be too many to identify by name (there may be thousands), but you can do it by characteristics.

C: Compelling Events: Companies in which a need is created suddenly by a trigger event.

D: Dead Ends:  Companies that can’t or won’t buy from you.

The Bridge Group advises focusing your outbound SDRs on the A list and let the inbound team focus on B (To us, a case can be made for adding C accounts into the SD list if they meet core criteria).

How Many Accounts Should You 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:

  • Your expected deal sizes

  • The length of the sales cycle

  • Your available sales resources

  • Your current level of engagement with major prospects

  • The intensiveness of your account-based strategy

A Resource View

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.

You can also look at it based on your outbound SDR capacity. According to TOPO, the ideal number of accounts per Sales Development Rep is 88 at a time (That is of course an average, the right actual number will vary by deal size and complexity). The question is, how often can you contact a given account? Assuming every six months is the right frequency, then the right total number of accounts is 6 x 88 = 528… or about 500 accounts per outbound SDR.

But remember, there are big assumptions built into that calculation. In practice, the number of accounts in an Account Based Everything program and the number of SDRs per account varies quite a bit.

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 (Datanyze's very own co-founder & CRO, Ben Sardella, even gets mentioned).

In it, you’ll also discover:

  • The Who, What and Where of Account-Based Sales Development

  • The incredible power of Account-Based Sales Development “Plays.”

  • What truly personalized and relevant outreach looks like (hint: nothing like “robo-spam”).

  • The real role of data in building profiles and personas.

  • Why “human email” is the must-have weapon in your sales development arsenal.

  • How team selling concepts will take your prospecting to the next level and beyond.

Download the full book for free!

Featured Image Source: Grey metal cylindrical equipment on corner of brown metal rails near body of water by peakpx CC0

About the Author

Jon Miller

CEO and Co-founder of Engagio. Former co-founder of Marketo. Marketing speaker and blogger, entrepreneur and adviser.

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