It’s well understood that at the heart of a successful ABM campaign is clear alignment of target accounts with a sound business strategy. But how do organizations embracing an account-based approach identify the most valuable companies to pursue?
While the term ideal account profile (IAP) may be new, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of the term ideal customer profile (ICP). The reason we prefer the term IAP is that it’s crucial to think about the attributes and characteristics at an account level. Using the term ICP can easily lead to a practice of profiling people, not accounts.
It’s important to recognize that developing an IAP is not an academic exercise but rather a strategic tool that will shape how you go to market and who you choose to proactively engage.
The term “ideal” may mean different things to different organizations. Ahead of building your IAP, it’s worth defining what’s important to your organization. For example, “ideal” may mean highest revenue, most profitable or even lowest risk of churn. Gaining agreement around the notion of an ideal account helps create the alignment for future stages of building your IAP.
To start defining your IAP, you need clarity on how you create value for your target customers and which types of customers you’ve been most successful with in the past. The framework for building an IAP is a structured and repeatable process that involves 4 stages.
Figure 1: Overview of the ideal account profile creation process
Let’s look at each phase of the process and review a few best practices as you start to think about how you create value for your ideal accounts.
Stage 1: Qualitative research
A structured approach to developing your IAP begins with understanding how you bring value to customers and what types of accounts you bring the most value to. Speaking with customers (previous and current) as well as internal stakeholders at all levels will help you gain some of that understanding, allowing you to capture the traits that represent an ideal account.
Once you surface the traits or characteristics of an ideal account, you can use them as either gating or weighting criteria for assessing the relative fit of other target accounts. There are numerous different characteristics that can serve as your gating or weighting criteria; together, they form what we refer to as an “assessment pipeline.” The table below captures just a few potential criteria.
Table 1: Sample gating and weighting criteria that can be used in building an IAP
One final consideration when choosing the traits for building an IAP is that there may be meaningful characteristics that are less easily defined. It’s important not to disregard these but rather think critically about how they can be captured and measured.
For example, some organizations may wish to target companies that put a specific emphasis on work-life balance for their employees. While not as easily quantified as top line revenue, for example, a characteristic like this could be discerned from employment brand positioning, press releases or other data sources.
Stage 2: Quantitative modeling
The second stage of the IAP process involves taking a sample set of potential target accounts that are believed to be “ideal” and running them through the assessment pipeline you previously defined. The first pass through the pipeline will allow you to gain an understanding of what a potential IAP might look like and how accounts score. This stage gives you a sense of how your target account lists shape up after passing through a series of weights and gates.
“Weighting” factors are those that, when measured, contribute to a scoring model. For example, you might choose to score target accounts with a wider geographic distribution higher, based on how many regional offices or operations there are. “Gating” factors are those that directly determine whether or not an account fits in your IAP. For example, you may choose to only target organizations with annualized revenues of $100 million or higher.
One of the most challenging aspects of this stage is ensuring that the gating and weighting criteria that you defined in the qualitative stage can be measured and sourced reliably. You’ll need to think creatively about a wide range of first-party and third-party data sources.
A note on predictive tools to support qualitative research
While not necessary at this stage, consideration can be given to using predictive tools in order to uncover additional gating and weighting criteria that may be supportive of your IAP. Predictive platforms such as Mintigo or 6Sense can help to identify additional traits that further evolve how your IAP shapes up by analyzing a positive set of high-value past or current customers. Intent providers such as Demandbase or Bombora also present opportunities to prioritize the best “fit” accounts to target now because we can see they are actively in-market for a solution.
It’s important to recognize that leveraging predictive platforms or intent providers is not required at this early stage, and if used, should be considered an input into the process.
Stage 3: Validation
Closely tied to the previous stage, the validation stage is where your gut comes into play. This phase involves reconvening with a group of internal stakeholders (tip: those who you interviewed during stage 1 should be included here) to give feedback on how your IAP lists have shaped out. If things have gone well, you’ll likely gain positive feedback and strong internal alignment right out of the gate.
During this stage, you’ll review the outcomes from the modeling stage, which may be in the form of one or more segmented lists of target accounts.
Figure 2: Sample segmentation of target account lists based on an ideal account profile
The most probable outcome here is modifying the criteria of some of your gates to let more or fewer accounts through the funnel. Depending on the feedback from your stakeholder group, the validation stage may lead you to rerun the quantitative steps in an iterative manner.
Stage 4: Deployment and scaling
Once there’s alignment that the assessment pipeline and quantitative model accurately represent your ideal account profile, the final stage is scaling the operation. This involves using a wider range of data sources and likely predictive modeling tools in order to pass a much larger data set through your now validated model, creating one or more lists of ideal accounts.
Equipped with a basic understanding of how the ideal account profiling process works, it’s important for you to think about the impact an IAP can have on your efforts moving towards ABM strategies. Your IAP will enable you to better align downstream ABM campaigns to the target accounts that you’re most likely to succeed with.
TOPO’s 2019 Account Based Benchmark Report found organizations with a strong ideal customer profile (ICP) achieve 68% higher account win rates. What this means is that in the long run, you’re setting yourself up to build high-value, long-term relationships.
Finally, note that building your IAP and using it as the basis for strategic marketing efforts requires discipline. While target accounts not in your IAP may still be suitable customers, your high-touch, active efforts to market to new accounts need to focus on those that fit the profile.