Those hot takes circulating around the web, arguing that “inbound marketing is dead,” may be exaggerated, but it’s certainly true that account-based marketing (ABM) is on the rise. Marketers appreciate the way that ABM increases lead engagement levels and shortens sales cycles, but fully committing to ABM as a new marketing strategy comes with its own challenges.
When done right, ABM can be a highly effective way to attract and nurture targeted leads, but it requires a lot of planning to get there. One of the main pillars for success at account-based marketing is to begin with the right targets who appear to be good fits for the organization.
The Pareto principle is certainly relevant in this context. If 20% of your potential prospects will eventually generate 80% of your revenue, then sales and marketing teams are under a lot of pressure to identify the right ones. It can be tricky to decide if the company you stumbled upon on LinkedIn would be a great future customer, and even getting an inquiry isn’t a guarantee that their company is a good prospect.
So how can you spot the right target at 50 paces? While it’s practically impossible to be right 100% of the time, we’ve gathered five tips for finding and recognizing the right prospects for your ABM campaigns.
1. Create your ideal customer profile
Before you can decide if a given prospect would be a top customer, you need to know what a top customer looks like, and that requires building an ideal customer profile, or ICP.
Some common defining features to look for include:
- Revenue potential, i.e. how much are they likely to spend to resolve the pain points addressed by your solution. Consider both short-term revenue over the next 1-5 years, and LCV over the next 5, 10, or even 20 years.
- Company size. ABM works best for enterprise rather than small and medium businesses, but that still leaves a broad range of possibilities.
- Specific industries, verticals, or sectors. Think about looking beyond the sector you’ve traditionally addressed to include neighboring verticals and industries.
- Geographic location. Make sure you have the ability to serve these businesses well, considering where they’re based.
One fundamental way of creating this definition is to ask yourself “which one deal from last year do we want to replicate?” Analyze that deal to figure out what exactly made them such a good customer, so you can hunt for other companies that share similar characteristics.
2. Search for new prospects
Sometimes you stumble over potential targets while carrying out other research, but very often you’ll need to actively hunt for new possibilities.
Places to direct your search include:
- LinkedIn, either using its Sales Navigator tool or by carrying out your own searches.
- Enterprise directories and databases for companies in specific industries
- Your own CRM, Salesforce, and other sales and marketing tracking tools
- Smart Google searches
- Alternative data sources that can reveal niche industry leaders and their top competitors, based on web traffic and audience interest data
3. Gather business intelligence
The work isn’t over when you’ve drawn up a list of possibilities. Now you need to investigate each company so you can decide how much to prioritize it as a prospect. Consult both internal sources, like sales management tools, and external sources, like the company’s own website and business reports, as well as third-party data vendors.
These give you firmographic data, which might help answer questions like what their budget is for your kind of solution, whether their company and department size matches those of your best customers, and if the company culture is similar to your existing clients.
If you’re selling tech, it’s also worth exploring technographic data, which means discovering which tech the prospect already uses or is considering investing in. You might find that their current solution partners well with yours, or conversely, that their existing tech stack doesn’t play well with your tech. Either way, you’ll have a better idea of how likely they are to be interested in your product.
4. Assess their engagement and intent
Imagine you’ve found a company which is an excellent match for your solution, but are they interested in you? The answer lies between two factors: intent and engagement.
Ideally, they’ll show purchase intent, meaning they are thinking of buying a solution like yours, or would be in the near future. You can track intent by looking at their search behavior on third party websites that share this information and checking for content engagement signals.
Once they’re in your ABM funnel, the strongest signals come when they engage with your marketing content. Check your CRM, social media, and owned assets to see if anyone from that company has visited your website recently, downloaded a white paper, or subscribed to your newsletters. This is less relevant in the prospecting stage, but you might find some gems.
Don’t write off prospects that are a good fit for your ICP, but lack either intent or engagement. A company that engaged with your content, but isn’t showing purchase intent, could be an excellent prospect a few months down the road. And someone that shows purchase intent but hasn’t engaged with your content might just need someone to send some blog posts their way.
5. Identify the right contact within the company
Success in identifying prospects can rest at least as much with connecting with the right person at the company as with finding the right company.
If you’ve narrowed down your account hunt to companies that match your ICP, and they’ve shown purchase intent and/or interacted with your content, you still need to talk to the right person within the organization. Targeting the wrong contact can result in a deal going unfilled.
Use LinkedIn and/or the company’s About pages to figure out who is the best person to talk to. For example, the CEO probably shouldn’t be your first contact, but depending on what your product is, the HR executive assistant, VP of finance, or marketing manager might be a good fit. Don’t forget to check your CRM first in case someone has already reached out to you.
The right prospects are waiting for you
There are appropriate prospects waiting for every enterprise; you just have to put in the work to find them. By creating an ICP, actively gathering a range of data about a prospect’s company, tech stack, intent, and engagement, and connecting with the right champion within the organization, you can build a solid set of accounts that will power your ABM strategy to success.