TOPO Analyst Eric Wittlake Spotlights Importance Of A Clear ICP For ABM Success

Klaudia Tirico
Written by
Klaudia Tirico

Account-based marketing has become as a top initiative for growing companies, as it gives organizations a clearer picture of target audiences’ needs and pain points. It also positions marketing and sales teams to deliver more personalized messaging to close more deals and develop strong relationships with clients. In fact, new research from TOPO highlighted in the company’s 2019 Account-Based Benchmark Report found that for every five accounts targeted, ABM organizations create a new sales opportunity — much higher than a traditional volume approach.

The research — which surveyed more than 150 practitioners at leading account-based organizations — revealed many key strategies and tactics that successful ABM teams have employed to drive business growth. The results include:

ABM In Action caught up with Eric Wittlake, Senior Analyst, Marketing Practice for TOPO Inc. and author of the report, to learn more about the research. Wittlake also shared insights on current ABM challenges and priorities, as well as his predictions for the future of B2B account-based initiatives.


ABM In Action: TOPO recently released its 2019 Account-Based Benchmark Report. What were some of the most surprising insights you found in your research?

Eric Wittlake: There are two things that stand out most to me in the results. The first is just how much more efficient an account-based approach is.

Companies, on average, are creating opportunities with 21% of their target accounts! ABM enables marketers to make decisions about where to focus their efforts, which a traditional volume approach simply doesn’t allow.

The second finding that really stood out was the importance of the Ideal Customer Profile, or ICP. Companies that have a strong ICP report winning 68% more of their target accounts. That is a huge difference, and one of the most significant drivers of improved results in the entire benchmark.

ABMIA: Can you share any successful strategies around developing an ICP that drives these high win rates? What are best-in-class ABM practitioners doing?

Wittlake: We see companies that combine data about what’s happening in the business (win rates, retention, value) with perspective about where they will see the best fit and most value going forward have the strongest results. Data alone, or perspective alone, is not as effective when developing the ICP. We really need to bring both to the table.


ABMIA: What did you find as the most common challenges for ABM practitioners? Is getting/maintaining sales & marketing alignment still a struggle?

Wittlake: Respondents reported that scaling was a top challenge, and the top three challenges were all related to execution. From that perspective, alignment isn’t as big of a struggle as it once was.

That said, alignment is still an issue. Often it surfaces later in the process of developing or executing the account-based strategy. For example, we see cross-functional execution challenges frequently stem from different priorities across teams.

ABMIA: Can you share any tips that could help alleviate some of these challenges?

Wittlake: Let’s look at scale specifically, since it is such a common challenge right now. We really look at three separate levers we can use to scale up our programs.

First, we can increase what we do with each account. This could be adding another tactic, like direct mail, or pursuing more contacts at a time in each account. Second, we can go after each account more often. On average, companies with 1,000+ accounts are only actively targeting about a quarter of them at a time. Can we increase that to a third or half? Both of these options let you scale within the existing list.

The third lever is to expand the list. This will typically lower average deal sizes and needs to be weighed against the ability to scale within the existing target account list.

ABMIA:  The report found that more companies are increasing their budgets for ABM. What do you think are some of the key factors driving that boost in spend?

Wittlake: Performance. Their account-based strategy is delivering for the business, and under the general heading of optimization, is getting more budget. Increasing budgets are a key driver of the challenge today of scaling our investments and our results.

ABMIA: Looking into the future, how do you think ABM strategies will evolve?

Wittlake: First, it will become easier, and with it, we will spend less time on how to build and more time on how to operationalize. As we make that change, our account-based initiatives will become more repeatable and predictable for the business.

The second change I’m watching for is broader adoption of today’s account-based execution. In particular, I expect to see more sophisticated pipeline acceleration programs and customer marketing initiatives.