Nail Your Targeting So Your Campaigns Don’t Suck

Mark Huber

Jun 24, 2021

Let’s say your company sells conversation marketing software. And let’s say your company isn’t named Drift.

You’re Head of Demand Generation, or Revenue Marketing, or whatever your title is (just not growth guru or growth ninja, please God no).

In any case, you own a pipeline number—and you need to figure out who you should be targeting. 

Do you set up an account-based marketing (ABM) program, double down on the demand gen, or go for something in-between?

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: you’ll likely get a lot of value by taking a blended ABM + demand gen approach. (See my first post for more of the big picture.)

So, definitely-not-Drift marketer, this one’s for you. I cover both the wrong and right way to do both ABM and demand gen targeting. And, for good measure, I dig into what focusing your efforts looks like when you’re blending the two. 

If I’ve done my job right, you’ll walk away with a new understanding of:

  • What’s foundational to demand gen (hint: it’s building relevant audiences)
  • What’s foundational to ABM (hint: it’s building effective account lists)
  • How to (and how not to) build those effective target account lists and relevant audiences

This is part 2 of our ABM/demand gen series. If the first started at the 30,000 foot level, this article levels out at 10,000 feet: the do’s and don’ts of both ABM and Demand Gen, and how to blend them together. Next up: ground level, where I’ll dig into the specifics of targeting, setting up campaigns and how to measure success. 

Build an audience with relevant demand gen targeting 

As ABM has gotten more popular over the last few years, I feel like demand gen has gotten a bad rap. 

Good demand generation doesn’t mean filling your funnel with garbage and hoping to come away with a handful of qualified leads. 

Before you start building an audience that will convert, you need to understand which accounts will: 

  • Buy the fastest
  • Spend the most
  • Be the easiest to manage and most likely to renew

How (not) to build an audience

If you really want to tank un-Drift’s (impressive) growth and piss off the sales team, here’s the way to do it:

  • Take a shotgun approach (sprinkle some social ads here, try out a webinar there) and call it “demand gen.”
  • Target solely based on industries and job titles, without layering on any additional information
  • Don’t look at your own data to determine which accounts (and attributes) you’re having the most success with 
  • Avoid talking with key people (those that fit your personas) to get qualitative findings to inform your targeting

How to (actually) build an audience

Put a few pieces in place, first:

  • Get to a solid understanding of your actual Ideal Customer Profile (ICP). Use your own data (and enrich it, when possible) to figure out who you should be targeting
  • Use both qualitative and quantitative research to flesh out your ICP beyond a handful of bullets and a few talking points
  • Remember: marketers don’t always know best. Talk to every key function in your company (Sales, Marketing, Customer Success, Product, Engineering, and the Leadership team) to figure out what each team thinks your ICP is

I’m not going to tell you how to have those internal conversations, but here’s a bit more on those first two bullets. 

First up: go into your CRM and pull a list of your customer accounts. Sort them by ARR (Annual Recurring Revenue), TCV (Total Contract Value), LTV (Lifetime Value) and Renewals/Upsells. Put on your data analyst hat to identify any patterns and consistencies across the accounts you’ve pulled, looking for:

  • Who the best fit for your product/services is (and why)
  • Who is most likely to renew at higher ARR (and why)

Next: you need to figure out how to segment these accounts for your campaigns. Do the patterns highlight segmentation by industry? Company size? Whether the account has a particular function? Something else? 

Once you have these segments, go talk to people (gasp) from each segment and confirm with qualitative data why you have the highest probability to win with each segment.

You can talk with both current customers that fit the segment and prospects you’d be reaching out to anyway (not every call has to be a demo, y’all). 

Side note: when thinking about your ICP and these segments, think about as many characteristics as possible. Look at things like:

  • Industry
  • Revenue
  • Geography
  • Employee headcount
  • Customer base
  • Technology stack (technographic data, if you wanna get fancy)
  • New investments and expansions

Next level: Blending demand gen with your ABM efforts

In my first post, I mentioned that you can use demand gen to:

  • Target companies and prospects that still meet your Ideal Customer Profile
  • Focus on educating the market on big macro changes
  • Make sure you’re not leaving good revenue on the table

That’s because very few companies can afford to go 100% all-in on ABM. Unless you truly can only sell into a specific, known list of accounts, you’re leaving good revenue on the table from accounts that still meet your ICP.

But how can you be sure you’re not doubling up efforts? 

Most people think they’re actually doing “ABM” when in reality, they’re just marketing to a list of accounts—using the same old campaigns. You can market to these accounts with your demand gen programs, without any real difference in tactics and outreach—just with a much more targeted audience. 

If you still want to build a separate audience and use it in parallel to your ABM list: take the attributes you’ve identified in your ICP and turn this into an audience for your demand gen campaigns.

You can start by targeting specific industries, headcounts, annual revenue numbers (if they’re available) and technologies. Once you’ve selected these attributes, you can add the specific job titles you want to target.

For the not-Drift example: you can add titles like Director of Demand Generation, VP of Marketing, or Head of Growth. It entirely depends on the job titles you’re already seeing the most success with from your Salesforce reports. 

I recommend targeting people who may influence the evaluation and purchasing decision at an account, too. There’s no harm getting in front of someone in Marketing Ops with your targeting if they influence the final decision at the end of the day.

Now for the content-marketing-sized elephant in the room: you can definitely do all of this with or without Metadata, building the audiences natively in LinkedIn or Facebook. It’s just more challenging since each channel has its own targeting criteria with varying levels of granularity. 

ABM targeting / Building target account lists

At least 50% of the success of your ABM program is dictated by the quality of your account list. 

Is that based on scientific analysis? No. Is it based on our understanding of ABM? Absolutely. 

In other words: clever copy can only go so far. You have to make sure you’re targeting the right folks at the right time. 

Building out target account lists is often a rushed affair: haggard marketers pulling quick lists without collaborating with sales. 

For ABM, how do you get past “Wouldn’t it be nice if they were a customer?”

How (not) to build a target list

If you want to get real frustrated real fast, here’s how to build out a target account list for your ABM campaign:

  • Focus your list on the accounts with the largest potential Average Contract Value. 
  • Better yet, base your entire list on the logos that your CEO would look cool on your website. 
  • Don’t ground your target list against your competitive advantage or whether you’re well-positioned to actually win these accounts. None of that matters. 
  • Have sales put the target account list together, and just run air cover for the accounts they’re reaching out to (they’re totally gonna see those display ads). 
  • Leave realism at the door. (Wouldn’t it be nice for Salesforce to use Metadata? Absolutely, it’d be amazing. But I’m not Dave Gerhardt… yet) 

How to (actually) build a target list

A few things to keep in mind: 

  • Focus on creating a single set of target accounts across sales and marketing
  • There should be a ton of collaboration between sales and marketing; the first pass at a target account list is never the best version. Coordination is even more important as you both start to target the same accounts  
  • You can use the detailed ICP notes from the closed-won analysis outlined above—just build on top of it for your target account list

With your freshly-uncovered insights from demand gen, you can use additional competitive intel to flesh out your ABM lists. Consider things like:

  • Technographic data to see which accounts are using complementary and/or competing technologies
  • Relationships your employees may have with decision-makers and members of the buying committee 
  • Intent data to identify who may be in-market right now

A word of warning: the true owner of your target account list should be your Marketing Leader (that’s with a capital L—a VP, at the very least). You can’t build an effective ABM list without buy-in and true collaboration with your Sales Leader (again, with a capital L—your CRO or Head of Sales).

Starting at the top and then delegating down the org makes sure everyone is on the same page from the start. 

Next level: Blending ABM with your demand gen efforts

In my first post, I mentioned that you can use ABM to:

  • Focus on the right accounts where you are most likely to win
  • Provide much more personalized experiences for your buyers
  • Improve your coordination across Sales and Marketing (if it’s done well; see above)

But what about making sure your ABM efforts match what you’ve accomplished as you make inroads with demand gen?

The first thing I’d do: go into Salesforce (as one does) and start pulling a few different reports with different timeframes:

  1. Closed/won deals over the last three, six, and 12 months
  2. Closed/lost deals over the last three, six, and 12 months (pull the loss reason if it’s a requirement)
  3. Renewals and upsells from the last three, six, and 12 months

What you’re trying to do: identify commonalities within each of these reports, then turn these commonalities into account attributes.

The end goal is to zero in on specific segments of accounts where you know you can win. That’s better than any guessing game solution out there. 

This process also helps you better understand questions like:

  • Are there technologies that work really well with your software? Are there any technologies that are a really bad fit for your software?
  • What’s the makeup of these companies? Are they VC-backed startups that just took on recent funding? Are they older, private companies?
  • What’s the makeup of their marketing team? Is there a specific size team you have the most success with? Does your software replace the need for having inbound SDRs? 

If you don’t have a ton of historical data to pull from, you can still get creative. A few ideas: 

  • Go to definitely-not-Drift’s website and your competitors’ websites. Find the names of companies they use in their case studies, the social proof they quote 
  • Build account lists in something like ZoomInfo and add specific technologies you know your software plays well with. You can even target companies who use not-Drift or Live Chats
  • Scrape publicly available information to track company funding, employee growth, a bit of the tech stack, and more 

You can layer any intent data you have on top of your target account list to see whether you should prioritize any accounts based on this.

Once you’ve got a full list of accounts (there isn’t a magic number; it depends entirely on your average deal size and cycle, plus how ready your team is to actually do personalized marketing), review this with your sales team so you can get their feedback and sign-off. 

Finally, turn the account list into different tiers. We recommend starting with no more than three tiers to start (mostly to keep everyone sane).

You know the drill: your top tier (in the 10s of accounts) gets your most personalized outreach, and so on. 

The key is to do your homework, review the initial list with sales (make sure to explain what went into your homework) confirm that everyone agrees on the accounts and tiers.

Badabing, badaboom. You have an ABM campaign that aligns both with sales and with your demand gen efforts, and you’re well on your way to stellar growth for I-promise-it’s-not-Drift. 

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