Rethinking Segmentation at the Account Level

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My husband and I recently moved our family to a new home. In the process, we took the opportunity to purge items that had outlived their usefulness or that in the words of Marie Kondo, “No longer brought us joy.” Boy did it feel good to drop some dead weight!

In the mindset of getting back to basics, I want to revisit one of the tried and true principles of good database marketing: segmentation. The popularity of account-based marketing (ABM) has marketing teams rethinking segmentation.

If you’re pursuing a precision or programmatic account-based strategy (by our definition, a precision account strategy includes somewhere around 10-100 target accounts, whereas a programmatic account strategy involves more than 100 accounts) you are going to come across the need to group these accounts (and the individuals in them) by like attributes. But, if you’re going into your account-based approach with a segmentation strategy geared toward the individual, you better look out for the following grenades:

Grenade #1 – Segmentation by Role or Title:

Typically, this wouldn’t be a bad idea! But consider this: the average buying center can contain up to 10 individuals with different job titles, roles, challenges, hopes, and dreams. Multiply that times a target account list of a 100+ and you’ve lost your ability to scale (and given me a headache).

Grenade #2 – Segmentation by Buyer Persona:

Again, not usually a bad idea. But in an account-based situation, you want to get your buying center to collaborate around a solution, and segmentation by persona can have you addressing different person archetypes at the expense or exclusion of the other. A common example of this in tech is the assumption that an application developer doesn’t care about the business side of development – when that’s seldom the case. We exclude personas from relevant messaging in our quest to differentiate – and that’s not usually beneficial.

When you’re compiling marketing and sales plays geared toward a group of accounts, the segmentation strategy has to be different. Let’s talk about some ways to think through those groupings:

There are a couple “gimmies” in here, so let’s get through those first: 

  • Account Industry or Vertical: If the application of your solution, the buying centers, or the business challenges differ by industry or vertical – this is a logical place to start.
  • Level of market maturity: How entrenched is the awareness of your solution and the problem that it solves within your group of accounts? Some organizations might be solving the business problem already, but in a different way. Some organizations may not have acknowledged the problem at all.
  • Account size: You’re going to have a different plan for accounts of different sizes regardless of their revenue potential. Accounts that are large and geographically dispersed will have a different treatment from those that are small and localized. 

There are some less common strategies for account-level segmentation that you might also want to consider:

  • Buying center dynamics: Some organization types have common blockers, or departments that are associated with certain behaviors. Having a good grasp on the dynamics of a buying center allows you to foster better collaboration in solution research and decision-making process.
  • Coverage or Depth of Existing relationship: Think about whether or not your organization has existing relationships with the accounts in your target list. Establishing a new relationship requires different tactics than deepening or strengthening an existing one.
  • Revenue potential: Have you done the math? Your treatment of accounts and the funds available to deepen your relationship will differ by the revenue potential they afford.
  • Your Domain Expertise: Messaging, voicemail scripts, and content play a significant role in how your account-based play is designed. You may choose to segment your accounts by your own domain expertise, allowing you to run plays immediately within accounts where your expertise is strong while you create more material or obtain more experience in other areas.
  • Common Internal Challenges: Do your accounts share any internal business, operational, or IT challenges or initiatives? For example, a new piece of legislation could force technology or personnel changes in order to maintain compliance, or declining revenues could be resulting in layoffs (or expansion into new areas).
  • External Influences or Trends: Your accounts may be under the influence of external trends or variables and reacting to them in-kind.  For example, the financial services industry had to move quickly to adapt to the millennial customer’s desire to do more banking through applications on mobile devices. While different organizations solved this problem differently, it was a dominant, shared trend that the accounts were forced to respond to.

Segmentation is a powerful input to designing resonant, relevant plays for your target accounts. In a future post, I’ll revisit segmentation and how it intersects with and impacts the account research and insights process.