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Account-Based Retargeting Ads: The Complete Guide For Saas

As a startup turns into a scale-up, the focus shifts beyond just increasing traffic at the top of the funnel.

We see early, evangelistic, founder-led sales and marketing step aside for new dedicated hires. These teams have three objectives:

1. Cast more nets - find more places to capture and convert audiences of your ideal customers

2. Cast wider nets - find scalable, repeatable channels, campaigns, and content

3. Optimize funnel for conversions - focus messaging and engagement with subsets of your target audience

A retargeting ad strategy hits on all three objectives.

Retargeting ads can cast more nets by bidding for ad inventory across a broader range of display networks. You can cast wider nets easily since the available inventory, impressions, and clicks is easily scalable (albeit with budget). Finally, you can optimize your funnel for conversion by retargeting people and companies throughout the funnel.

Retargeting ads can be a quick, relatively cheap investment to increase (or even double) your lead-to-customer conversion rate. However, we’ve noticed data-driven marketing teams using retargeting ads in different way.

In this Spotted post, we want to share the five tactics from a retargeting Playbook we've observed some Hull customers using.

Used together, some customers are reporting increases in lead-to-customer conversion rates from 1% to 6% for certain cohorts and campaigns.


Tactical Takeaway #1: Traditional retargeting ads vs. Account-based retargeting ads

Leaky buckets aren't easily fixed with leaky nets.

Traditional retargeting works by dropping a pixel on a website visitors device. That one particular user on that one particular device can then be served ads.

Suddenly, every website visitor is a "lead" to chase...

Sales doesn't work like this. Neither should marketing.

We observe marketers in the fastest growing SaaS companies take ownership of the sales qualifying questions, and try to answer (then filter leads) further up in the funnel. Like with retargeting:

  • Is the device a work device?
  • Is the user an employee of a potential best-fit customer?
  • Is the user a potential buyer? Do they have budget?
  • Is the user a potential user? Do they have the right skills?
  • Who else does this user need to do to be convinced to buy your software?

Traditional retargeting platforms and pixels give none of these answers.

It's difficult to learn more about the specific individual visiting your website (though more networks feed some insights back to you.

See Facebook Insights, LinkedIn Website Demographics, and Google Analytics - but this aggregated, sampled, anonymized data leaves something to be desired, even for B2C).

The shift we’ve seen data-driven B2B marketing scale-ups is they retarget at the account level, not the person level. Here’s how.

Tactical Takeaway #2: Anonymous website visitors vs. Company-identified website visitors

In B2B we care first and foremost about the company, not the individual. Real businesses are also easier to identify on your website than individual anonymous website visitors.

Since most businesses use office space with a common IP address, it’s possible to identify companies based on the IP address of a website visitor. The IP address is easy to capture through most web analytics tools.

Reverse IP lookup services can transform an IP address to a company name. You can find these in databases such as Clearbit Reveal which can enrich your analytics records with a website name.

Here’s what Google Analytics looks like once it is enriched with Clearbit Reveal data.

Voila! You know who is on your website (at account level).

However, we noticed companies try and fail to instrument ABM strategies from a generic list of account names.

Tactical Takeaway #3: "Smart" vs. "Dumb" account-based retargeting ads

There are two pitfalls to account-based retargeting.

First, not every company is a potential prospect. We've observed companies attempt account-based retargeting without syncing with their "source of customer truth" - to exclude existing customers, opportunities, partners, and competitors.

The two most common patterns here are to connect a CRM like Salesforce, or a SQL database with all user signup data and then de-dupe accounts.

Second, sales doesn't want to speak to everyone. They want to speak to the best-fit accounts who are likely to close. So marketing shouldn't retarget everyone - only the best fit accounts.

To identify best-fit accounts, we see companies enrich their records of company names and run lead scoring. Common measures of account fit like Industry Employee count Revenue Location can be fetched from databases like Clearbit Enrichment, and then synced through a predictive lead scoring platform like Madkudu.

Together, this helps filter out just the "real" best-fit companies that fit your ideal customer profile.

Voila! You have a list of accounts who visited your website that are potential buyers.

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Tactical Takeaway #4: Retargeting every stakeholder in a target account vs. one individual

The problem with a list of accounts is we still need to display ads to individual people.

LinkedIn and Facebook offer targeting options where you can enter a list of company names manually into their audience builders.

For example, the list of accounts from Clearbit Reveal in Google Analytics earlier.

But this sucks at any scale.

You don't know if you're truly targeting the right individuals. You're often limited to generalized job roles, have only a limited set of platforms to run ads on, and are tied to updating audiences manually when the accounts convert.

Native audiences for account-based retargeting ads is not the way we see teams managing their campaigns.

Instead, we notice startups-becoming-scale-ups own the data themselves, and synchronize data with their sales CRM. Transforming a list of accounts into a list of prospects is also a familiar process for outbound sales and marketing teams.

Hull customers run segments of their best-fit target accounts through the Clearbit Prospector integration. This looks up individuals at the target companies by job role, job title, seniority, and more.

With the response from Clearbit Prospector, Hull automatically creates a new Profile for each with a name, email, job title, job role, and seniority, and associates with the matching account by domain name.

The most successful companies with this strategy broaden their audience by targeting multiple job roles within an organization. They then personalize the message to segments of each of these job roles.

We noticed too that some Hull customers run enrichment and scoring with 3rd party data on top of these prospects too so they can segment and personalize their messaging in other tools.

With a list of prospects from companies that visited your website inside Hull, they have full control over who they do (and don't) sync to retargeting ad platforms.

Tactical Takeaway #5: Dynamic vs. static retargeting ad audiences

To target specific individuals (instead of their audience building filters), most ad platforms offer either a CSV upload or an API for integrations to work with.

Even with an army of interns or mechnical turk, static ad audiences can't keep up with the number of new prospects added to audiences and the updating of audiences (as accounts progress) from a retargeting campaign. Reveal-retargeting all your site traffic creates a lot of prospects.

Dynamic audiences through integrations enables this stream of prospects to be constantly updated and refreshed, including your enrichment data to improve match rates and create ad audiences.

Hull can segment and sync any Profile to Facebook Custom Audiences automatically. We notice Hull customers using this integration to build and update their Reveal-retargeting audiences.

Tactical Takeaway #6: Account-based ad nurture

With dynamic account-level retargeting audiences, you can update entire audiences in real-time based on any accounts progress through the customer lifecycle.

We noticed two use cases here:

  1. Disengage ads after paid conversion - this prevents wasted ad spend and confusing offers. Not every prospect at an account will hit a burn pixel. Dynamic audiences ensure you’re only retargeting individuals before the conversion.

  2. Saturate ads to stakeholders who are close to paid conversion - it pays to accelerate pipeline, and further down the funnel with a small, high value audience, it can make sense to outbid everyone else for the inventory amongst your target

Best-fit criteria for account-based retargeting ads

We've observed the best results amongst companies who:

1. Found Product-Market fit

Clear market need at a price point and model that works for a business. They're ready to scale.

2. Established the basic sales & marketing funnel

The core elements of the funnel are established including:

  • At least once reliable traffic source for bringing in leads (e.g. SEO, blog content, partnerships)
  • At least once conversion point (e.g. free trial signup)
  • Path to revenue from retargeted website visitors
  • Core tech stack including at least one email and web analytics tool
  • Sales team (however early) if your pricing model supports it

3. Existing "successful" retargeting ad campaigns

... that you have been able to attribute any closed won revenue to (at any cost).

This indicates both the channel (ads) and your messaging, campaign, and ad creative is working — you just need to display it in front of more (and better targeted) prospects.

The additional setup work is largely changing the data flow. This can be done in less than one hour in Hull. You can then work on expanding your creative with your new targeting options too.

4. You sell to small-to-mid-market companies

For SaaS companies selling to enterprise companies - "elephant hunters", there are often too many website visitors and too many people in the buying cycle to meaningfully engage all the correct stakeholders with this strategy.

We haven't seen companies selling at Enterprise level be successful with this strategy. For this level, creating retargeting audiences with engaged leads (who have given you their email address)

For SaaS companies selling to very small customers - "mice" or "flies" - they're often too small to register reliably on the Reverse IP lookup databases. They have the characteristics of a B2C transaction.

For this level (where you're targeting a high volume of smaller accounts), create and run traditional retargeting audiences at the person level, not account level.

BONUS: You can sell to many separate departments within an organization

This assumes you have a clear Product-Market fit with multiple departments within an organization, for instance selling additional software licenses or seats.

  • Communication tools (e.g. Slack)
  • Per seat pricing models
  • Two-sided marketplaces (e.g. Document signing)

Prospecting across more departments maximizes the size of your retargeting audiences within an organization, and increases the chance of conversion. The best performing companies we've observed have created audiences of more than 5 people within an organization.

Results we've seen

We've observed amongst Hull customers who fit these criteria to achieve:

  • 1% to 6% lead-to-customer conversion rate on some campaigns and cohorts
  • 7.5X return on investment including all data, tooling, and ad spend
  • Triple their ad budget in the next quarter - the higher conversions moves the efficient frontier for ad spend further out.

Get started with account-based marketing orchestration

Orchestrate account engagement across all your sales & marketing tools in real-time from Hull’s B2B customer data platform.

Explore Hull's account based marketing playbook

What you should do now

  1. Test drive Hull with our 14 day free trial - and see how to unify & sync all your tools, teams & data (like we did for all these companies), or book a demo with a product expert.

  2. If you'd like to learn our best practice for customer data integration, read our free Guide to Getting Started with Customer Data Integration.

  3. If you enjoyed this article, perhaps your team will too? Why not share it with the links below.

Ed fry
Ed Fry

Prev 'Ed of Growth at Hull, working on all things content, acquisition & conversion. Conference speaker, flight hacker, prev. employee #1 at inbound.org (acq. HubSpot). Now at Behind The Growth

If you've questions or ideas, I'd love to geek out together on Twitter or LinkedIn. 👇