Step up your advanced Account-Based Marketing strategies with LinkedIn Ads (DD)

On the heels of LinkedIn officially rolling out its Matched Audiences program, columnist AJ Wilcox explains how you can take advantage of the Account Targeting feature to boost your ABM strategy.

This week, LinkedIn released a fantastic new feature to their ads product that is an absolute game-changer for business-to-business companies. It’s called Account Targeting, and it allows you to upload a list of up to 300,000 company names and target ads to only those companies.

Here’s a story to illustrate the power of this new functionality:

I walked into a marketing team meeting and immediately knew there was a problem. The team was close to hitting their goal, but trending behind the curve, and it looked like we might miss it. The CMO made the decision to dump more cash into social ads — we’re going to hit that goal, come hell or high water.

The effect wasn’t what the team had hoped for.

The sales team was already dialing at capacity, and our sending them additional leads produced three negative outcomes:

  1. Sales folks who used to dial each lead 6x were now only dialing each 1x to 2x.
  2. The flood of leads resulted in sales cherry-picking only their favorite leads and ignoring the others.
  3. Cost per qualified lead sharply increased by 4x; we paid more for leads that the sales team would simply ignore.

It wasn’t a good month for this company, and I learned an important lesson. Next month would not go the same way.

I went to the sales team and took a different angle.

“Everyone give me a list of the 50 companies you would give ANYTHING to work with.” The sales teams obliged and provided 1,050 companies. I created account-based advertising campaigns around them, which means 100 percent of the leads generated from them were leads that the sales team would gladly and dutifully service.

Here’s the lesson: If you want your leads to get worked on, give the sales team the leads they want.

This story illustrates the power of Account-Based Marketing (ABM).

ABM power

On April 24, LinkedIn officially released its ABM feature within its self-service advertising platform (along with several other features — check out advanced strategies for LinkedIn’s Matched Audiences) that allows you to target company names in bulk.

For some background, we’ve always had the ability to target companies on LinkedIn Ads, but we were limited to 100 companies targeted per campaign. And each one had to be typed individually. That means when you wanted to target the Fortune 1000, you needed to have 10 campaigns and type in each company’s name by hand — YUCK!

Now, you can upload a list in .csv form of up to 300,000 company names, and then apply that targeting on top of all of LinkedIn’s existing filters. It’s glorious. Here’s what you can do with these newfound superpowers:

Advanced ABM strategies

  1. Go interview your sales team, like I did, and ask for their top 50 (or more) companies they would kill to work with. Create campaigns targeting just them, and generate leads that your sales team will worship you for generating.
  2. Add all of your competitors into an ABM audience, and then add it as an EXCLUDE to all of your campaigns. This will make you fly under your competition’s radar, as none of them will have any idea what you’re doing.
  3. Add all of your customers into an ABM audience, and add them as an EXCLUDE to all of your campaigns. No need to waste money on people who’ve already purchased.
  4. Take your current customer list and show ads only to them to highlight new product developments and future direction to engage them for upsell opportunities or make them into fans.
  5. Add all of the companies who have generated a lead, and EXCLUDE your current customer list. This will create ground cover to influence the internal purchase committees and keep your brand top of mind.

Use any or all of the above strategies to utilize this new feature, and enjoy some of the highest-quality leads your sales team has ever received.


Of course, in execution, no feature is purely sunshine and rainbows. Here are the limitations in LinkedIn’s current build of the tool:

Match rate feedback

When you upload a list of company names to target, LinkedIn does its best to match them to the companies that it has in the database. (For instance, if you upload “I.B.M.,” you’ll likely match to “IBM.”) Unfortunately, there is no feedback upon uploading on which companies did not properly match — only a percentage displaying how many did match. This can lead to missing out on companies that you’d really like to target.

Minimum audience size

As with the rest of LinkedIn’s new targeting options, the minimum audience size of 300 people is intact. This is unfortunate, because if you hoped to customize your messaging to a specific company, you’d need to broaden your targeting to the point where you were reaching 300 or more people at that company, which is largely unhelpful.

The simple solution for this would be for LinkedIn to allow dynamic variables in its ads so we could put a variable like “Company Name” into the ad copy and have it populated, making the ad copy call out to a very specific audience, while the targeting remains broad.

No list management

Mistakes in list uploads live in the account forever because there’s no list deletion or management of any kind.

How to implement

Now that the functionality is rolled out to all accounts, here’s how to take advantage of it.

Go into the campaign in your Campaign Manager that you’d like to apply the ABM targeting list. Then click on the “Audiences” tab to see the following at the top of the list of targeting facets:

linkedin ads account based marketing audiences

Click on “Create an audience,” and you’ll be greeted by a dialogue box, where you can name your company list and then upload your CSV.

CSV requirements

In order for the sheet to work, it needs the following:

  • Format must be .csv.
  • Sheet must be nothing else except a single column of company names under the column heading “companyname.”

Also, should you want to apply a negative (exclusion) list, simply select “Include” and change it to “Exclude,” which will ensure that no company in that list will be allowed into your targeting.

create an abm audience in linkedin ads

Once you hit “Next,” you’ll be greeted by the Account Lists screen. Navigate back to your campaign targeting, and find the “Target a list of accounts” option. Your list is now created, so click the “See full list” option to find a list of the ABM audiences you’ve created. Select the one you want to use, save the campaign, and the targeting will be applied.

Revisiting your lists

At any time you can revisit your lists to view their details by going to the “Tools” menu and selecting “Matched Audiences.”

linkedin ads tools menu

Notice that it can take up to 48 hours to process your list, so don’t be worried if the list shows a size of <300.

linkedin ads matched audiences list

Tweet me @WilcoxAJ to let me know how you’re using ABM lists on LinkedIn Ads and if you have additional strategies you’ve implemented!

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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