“There’s No Sense Sending Sales on a Wild Goose Chase”

February 18, 2016 Mark Emmons

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LeanData and demandDrive are collaborating on a two-part project about the importance of target accounts in an Account-Based Marketing strategy. Here is LeanData’s post.

Some B2B companies look for customers based on intuition. Old-fashioned gut feelings. Hunches. They’re convinced that they just “know” who will want to buy their product or solution.

This is also how the lowest-performers search for new business.

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing sales and marketing teams is accurately determining who would be the most likely buyers. Savvy business professionals meet that challenge by adopting a data-driven approach to identifying their best chances for successful deals.

That means building a smart target-account list.

“There’s no sense sending sales on a wild goose chase where you have absolutely no chance,” said Sean Zinsmeister, senior director of product marketing at Infer, a predictive analytics company. “You don’t want to waste dollars focusing on accounts that are not likely to convert and increase pipeline. It’s really important to align sales and marketing on the efforts that have real impact.

“And it all starts with target accounts,” he added.

For Lars Nilsson, it comes down to a single word: focus. Nilsson, the vice president of global inside sales at Cloudera, has popularized the phrase “Account-Based Sales Development” to describe the emerging strategy of launching customized, SDR-run campaigns into specific accounts. But it’s impossible to do, he cautioned, unless you accurately determine which are the best accounts to hunt in the first place.

“In our heart of hearts, we think that if companies understood our value proposition, they would be interested in our solution,” Nilsson explained. “But the reality is focus becomes your best friend. Not every company is a prospect. That ocean is too big to boil. You can’t be everything to everyone. You have to decide where you can have success and then go after that.”

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Chasing two rabbits

Creating a target-account list echoes the age-old words of wisdom about how if you chase two rabbits, both will escape. Instead, concentrate on the bunny that you probably can catch. That hunt involves a combination of examining historical results, advances in analytics and, yes, a touch of good ol’ intuition.

It begins by getting the sales, marketing and product teams all on the same page. Alignment is a core tenet of Account-Based Marketing (ABM) — the concentration of efforts on accounts most likely to become customers. Together, they conduct a thorough analysis of your existing customer base to determine firmographic similarities like industry, company size, revenue and so on. This allows you to establish your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) — which then can be matched against the wider world of your Total Addressable Market.

This process should involve more than just the executive team, said Sam Laber, director of marketing at Datanyze, a sales intelligence platform. He suggested having the sales development reps be part of the discussion because they have the most day-to-day contact with prospects.

“Your SDRs can have a great perspective because they’re on the front lines,” Laber said. “They can be your best resources in knowing where to focus because they’re interacting with potential customers. They’re able to collect tons of information about the type of responses they’re getting, and who they’re getting them from. Listening to what they’re seeing allows you to be creative in building target lists.”

The net result probably will be an overwhelming number of potential targets. But this is when you need to show discipline, added Brian Birkett, vice president of sales at LeanData. That list has to be ruthlessly pared down to a manageable size.

“You only have limited time and resources,” Birkett said. “So anything you can do to provide additional focus goes a long way. In business, you’re always looking for something that gives you an advantage. When you’re just thinking about the people who are most likely to buy, you’re getting that edge.”

It’s true that none of this so far is rocket science.  But this is science — analytics. And businesses specializing in predictive analytics and sales intelligence have become extremely useful in helping companies identify potential customers.

Marketing, sales and product teams may think they understand their audiences. But assumptions can be flawed. There also can be disagreements.

“There can be too many opinions dividing the teams,” Zinsmeister said. “There needs to be an objective stance that can bring them together in agreement. Predictive can bridge that divide. You also want to dig where the ground is softest. Predictive gives you the data to do that.”

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Read demandDrive’s blog post here

In a nutshell, analytics can question, augment or validate a target list. Predictive and machine learning removes conjecture by gathering and analyzing countless thousands of data points and signals that simply are beyond the grasp of human beings to crunch.

That can prioritize the accounts in your known universe as well as surface prime targets that might not have been on your radar.

“It’s just taking the guesswork out,” Laber added. “It can help companies better understand the available market.”

Even with the best data available, though, it still comes down to sales and marketing teams working together. This effort requires real cooperation – combining account mapping and market research to narrow the scope of companies to prospect. This ensures that you’re focusing on accounts that not only fit the bill for industry and size, but also contains companies that will drive the most sales revenue.

But the journey begins with understanding who are your best targets.

“The worst thing possible is being on the wrong side of maybe,” Zinsmeister added. “You don’t want to be wasting time, money and energy on a strategy where there is no confidence.”

To learn more about how to amplify and validate target lists to show your executive team how you are activating qualified opportunities, read demandDrive’s blog post here.

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