Accounts are People, Too—Applying Personas Through Account-Based Marketing

Blog Post
May 22, 2018

In this second installment of our four-part series about account-based marketing, we’ll venture into selective accounting and developing personas by analyzing the events that shape the client’s needs. If you haven't yet, check out the first part in this series about the five essential ingredients to building an ABM strategy.


Here’s a brainteaser for seasoned marketers: Personalization may be a cornerstone of engagement, but a client doesn’t have to be a person to have a personality.

Character can be applied to a host of things, even at the granular level, through external factors ranging from corporate culture to regulatory events to industry consolidation. Envision, for example, that your client is not a person but an account tended to by a team of people. The account, like each team member, is susceptible to a cycle of activities that will (with little notice) dramatically shift its mood and operational trajectory.

In short, an account can have a persona. Understand the persona, and you can anticipate pending shifts in its needs and operations.  

When it comes to account-based marketing—the practice of engaging specific accounts, not individuals or industries—grasping the persona begins with strategically choosing those key accounts. I call this selective accounting. Only then can the persona-building begin.

Selective Accounting: Tailoring Service to Account Needs

In the ABM process, account selection is akin to determining which client is in the greatest need of your products or services or which is most likely to respond to your offer. You decipher the most promising accounts for your offer, and then segment them into tiers that align with the overall ABM strategy. The strategy should be driven by what you want to accomplish, such as to maximize the penetration of a new service.

Here’s how it's done:

  1. Pool the most promising accounts. Establish a collection of accounts that represent the best fit and potential for your proposed service or product. Be selective; having too many accounts can compromise focus and dilute the weight of the messaging you will soon develop.
  2. Separate out common traits. Further segment these accounts into sub-groups with similar characteristics, using guidelines such as market trends, corporate calendar events or seasonality. This step is essential for determining how to direct your marketing efforts (and spend) and to personalize your message.
  3. Tier accounts by importance. Lastly, prioritize these subgroups based on size, value and their strategic fit with your end goal. This step is essential for managing the number of accounts you pursue, enabling you to learn and make adjustments along the way.

Now it’s time to get personal and build personas, not just for the account, but also for those who manage it.

Account Face: Applying and Tracking Account-Level Personas

First, follow their interests (and events). Begin by examining the account-client’s journey through awareness, consideration, purchase and use. It takes two steps:

  • Understanding how the different types of accounts buy, factoring in nuances among them. For example, two or three people may oversee a small-item purchase account, while five or six tend to one that involves larger or more complex purchases. You can learn the needs and patterns of activity through social listening, desk research, primary research/interviews, data analysis, workshops and so on.
  • Based on your findings, you can now get specific to the selected accounts. This requires listening to accounts, researching them and profiling both them and their likely buyer journeys. There is a trove of easy-to-access content that provides keen insight. Public company earnings calls—and particularly the analyst Q&A sessions that follow—can provide a wealth of knowledge into emerging challenges and industry events. (Some sites, such as Seeking Alpha, offer transcripts).  Much can be gleaned from press releases, which often provide the context of a company initiative, as well as from public records filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. A proxy statement could include, for instance, a shareholder proposal to enforce tighter environmental guidelines. All of this information can go int building out an account-level persona.
  • Up Close and Personal: Developing Account Team Personas

    Now you are informed enough about the account to familiarize yourself with the individuals managing it. See their faces. Understand and describe the different types of individuals who are involved in the buying process, either discretely or as part of multi-person buying groups. This translates into mini pen portraits of each persona that summarize their key characteristics, priorities, topics of interest, jobs and role in the buying process.

    You can attain added perspective through a mix of real-time data insights, calibrated with seasonal events such as holidays, vacations or regular quarterly sales meetings. Social media accounts can expose an individual’s preferences from art to sports. Even the tone and tenor of emails can reveal facets of an individual’s personality. If several people manage the account, consider the dynamics of their varying personalities. Remember, your product or service is secondary to the target. Focus on the personas, otherwise, you risk losing sight of the clients’ needs.

    Prepare for the Payoff

    The passage to effective ABM requires careful planning and preparation. Rushing into it without understanding the shifting needs of the account-client is like pursuing the Holy Grail on a rumor. Reliable data analytics will unearth issues and challenges that are specific to an account.

    Once you understand the regulations, contract guidelines and industry trends that shape the client account’s world, you can anticipate the specific needs or challenges ahead and offer the logical solutions.

    In the next installment of this four-part series, we will navigate the tricky currents that guide developing relevant communications. In the meantime, you might want to check out: Stepping through the 4 Ps—A Guide for Successful Account-Based Marketing..