How to Build Your Target Account List: A Guide

As an Account-Based Marketing (ABM) company, we’re always looking for ways to fine-tune our own strategy. Whether we’re testing a new tactic, onboarding a new technology or completely reimagining how we approach an existing program, our marketing team is no stranger to constant iteration.

The same can be said for our account selection efforts. In the past five years, we’ve tried quite a few models on for size, from cherry picking individual accounts to leveraging more sophisticated technology like predictive analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Below, we’ll share our methodology(s) for building our own target account list and some best practices you can use as you start thinking about your own.

The evolution of our list.

Phase 1: manual account selection
Our first attempt at building a target account list was largely manual. A few folks from the marketing team got together with Sales (there were only eight of them at the time) and worked together to build a list of accounts they thought seemed like a good fits for our technology. While this method was certainly effective—we found that the accounts on our target account list were actually outperforming out inbound efforts—it wasn’t scalable.

Phase 2: predictive analytics
So the next step was investing in technology. Unfortunately for us, there weren’t that many ABM specific technologies on the market at the time—so we turned to our next best option: predictive technology. However, almost all the predictive solutions we evaluated were focused on individuals, not accounts. This required us to build some custom roles in our CRM system and aggregate and roll the scores up to an account level. Using this account score, we were able to expand our list to include 3,000 accounts and start executing programs against them. But given the limited nature of predictive data, we saw a percentage of our pipeline was decreasing over time—which meant we needed to evolve our model again.

Phase 3: artificial intelligence-based tools
One of our customers told us about a clever new technology called Spiderbook (in fact, we liked them so much that we actually ended up acquiring them. If you’re interested, you can read more about that here), which not only brought in the data from our CRM solution, but also relied on AI technology to scour the Internet and deliver intent signals and helped us identify companies that weren’t even on our radar. Using our own Account Selection technology, we were able to grow our list to include 4,000 accounts. This list, which we’ve dubbed the DB4K internally, acts as our current target account list. We iterate on, segment, run programs for and measure against those 4,000 accounts.

The list management process.
At Demandbase, we iterate on our target account list on quarterly basis. But while that’s a standard best practice, depending on your stage and experience, you can review and refresh your list more frequently—on a bi-weekly or monthly basis.

Keep in mind: this doesn’t mean you have to completely rehaul your list, but you should spend some time removing closed accounts and bringing in new opportunities that are showing intent signals. It requires some time, but you’ll quickly realize that updating your list actually makes your efforts more effective.

The best practices for account selection.

Start Small. Prove the success of your model and grow your efforts from there. As you start to see success with your initial list, you can add in more accounts and phase in technology when you’re ready to scale your efforts.

Test, Test, Test. A/B test your account selection efforts. Divide your list by method: half with a hand-selected or predictive model and half with an AI tool. Run ABM programs accordingly and compare and contrast your efforts.

Evaluate AI based solutions. Test different AI-based account selection models and identify key areas for growth. You can learn more about our own Account Selection solution here.

Keep Sales in the Loop. Regardless of the model you choose, building and maintaining your target account list is a collaborative effort. In most cases, you’ll need to build an ABM leadership team, who will manage this list, keep track of Sales and Marketing efforts and report successes and failures.

If you’re interested in learning more about what that team looks like, check out this blog post, which covers our own ABM Leadership Team and includes some best practices for building your own.