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How To Build An Account Based Sales Development Program From The Ground Up

Account Based Sales Development Program
EngagioPartnerPlatinumSales Development

It’s been said that selling has changed more in the last 10 years than it has in the previous 100 years. This is especially true in B2B markets. The evidence is everywhere: more tools, longer sales cycles, and bigger deal sizes. We can point to many things to find the cause, such as more rapid technological innovation than ever before, more competitive markets worldwide, or simply chasing larger and larger stacks of money.

All of these are factors, but to find the real reason at the core of everything else, we must look one layer deeper. So, what’s the real cause of this massive change?

The customer.

What does that mean for us? The sale is more complex and requires us to step up our game. We must align sales, marketing, and customer success. We must become more strategic in our sales process. We must deliver a better experience to our customer. In short, we must innovate.

Luckily, a new movement is taking place that adopts these practices. Some may have heard of Account Based Market (ABM), others may have heard it called Account Based Sales Development (ABSD). At Engagio, we call it Account Based Everything (ABE).

It’s more than just a marketing campaign or a sales process. ABE is a mindset.

The Foundation of an Account Based Sales Development Program

We define Account Based Everything as, “A strategic go-to-market approach that orchestrates personal marketing, sales, success efforts to drive engagement and conversions at named accounts.”

There’s a lot that goes into this definition, and a lot that goes into ABSD, which is why we wrote the Clear and Complete Guide to Account Based Sales Development. Nonetheless, it all starts with the customer and selecting the right accounts, and that’s what I want to focus on here.

It’s great that the ABM movement has taken off like a rocket in the last 18-24 months, but it’s not enough to create the demand necessary for sustained efforts. TOPO, a leading research and analyst firm, reports that ABM efforts are only getting 15-20% penetration into target accounts.

That’s why Account Based Sales Development is so important to get right.

If we focus our efforts on a more narrowly defined number of highly valued accounts, we must allocate substantial time and energy into finding and defining those accounts. Account Selection is the foundation of an ABSD program.

Jon Miller, co-founder of Engagio, states, “The goal of the account selection process is to optimize your sales and marketing resources – time, headcount and budget – by focusing them on the accounts most likely to drive big revenue.”

In the past, managers would give their SDRs free rein to prospect whomever they wanted. The smarter managers would write down a list of target accounts s/he hand-picked based on gut-feel or, at best, data collected in their CRM. Today, technology enables us to become laser-focused on who we should target. It’s worth repeating: your entire account based program hinges on the account selection process.

The Big Three Types of Data Required

There are three types of data inputs you must take into account in the selection phase: firmographic data, technographic data, and behavior data.

Company Profile Data (Firmographics)

Think of it this way: Just as demographics are characteristics of people, firmographics are characteristics of organizations. Look at the characteristics of a company that closely correlate with a higher likelihood of closing.

Some common firmographic data points include:

  • Organization size
  • Industry, market and vertical
  • Projected financials
  • Growth trends
  • Number of locations
  • Status or structure
  • Market share or industry position

If you’re willing to do some manual work, you can piece together this information from sites like LinkedIn (use Sales Navigator for more refined searches), AngelList, CrunchBase, etc.

You can also use some vendors that will provide this firmographic data for you. The best sources are:

Technology Stack (Technographics)

Additionally, collecting and analyzing technographic data on accounts can add more to the picture. This form of data is relatively new, and highly relevant in today’s high-tech environment. If you know what technologies power an organization, you can acquire valuable knowledge on how that organization functions.

Some technographic data points include:

  • Technologies used by their competitors
  • Technologies used by complementary product or services
  • Technologies that signal status (e.g., a startup won’t be using Netsuite)

The best sources of technographic information are:

  • Datanyze
  • HG Data
  • BuiltWith
  • Job descriptions (hint: look at required skills)
  • LinkedIn (hint: look at skill endorsements for their employees)

Buyer Behavior (Behavioral Data)

Here’s where it gets a little tricky, but also can lead to a lot more valuable insights. Behavioral data is less concrete, thus takes more thought and creativity. It could range from intent and engagement data to trigger events. Intent and engagement indicates interest and can be presented as a content form fill, blog comment, tweet, etc.

Craig Elias, author of the book SHiFT, is an authority on trigger events in sales. His data suggests that a change in vendors is triggered by changing account managers 28% of the time. This behavioral data signals interest, from which you can decide the challenge they’re facing and how you can help solve it.

Some behavioral data points include:

  • Interactions with your content (eBooks, webinar, whitepapers, etc.)
  • Job postings
  • News regarding the company as a whole – company updates (e.g., a round of funding, welcoming a new executive, acquisitions)

The best sources of this information are:

If you want to take your data to the next level, you can get and use predictive and intent data. Check out companies like Everstring, Infer, Lattice Engines, Mintigo, and LeadSpace. That is a topic for another post, but it’s a very interesting space to get involved in.

The one important key to remember is that an increase in data doesn’t always lead to an increase in insights. You have to sit down with your team and make sense of the data. Use these three types of data to analyze target accounts and you’ll be better prepared to accurately predict success.

How to Choose the Right Data Vendors for ABSD

The good news is that there are plenty of companies and vendors that deliver the data points listed above. The bad news is it’s hard to tell the difference until it’s too late.

Every vendor has strengths and weaknesses, so that’s why it’s important to take the time to select the right one for you, your company and your industry. Follow these 6 steps to find the right vendors that can provide you with the right information on target accounts and key buyers within those accounts.

1) Set The Baseline Data You need

Define the absolute minimum criteria the data provider must supply. This is typically the information that old school prospecting needs, but for ABSD, think of this as table stakes — if they can’t meet the minimum threshold, it’s time to move on to the next vendor.

The most common data points you need are:

  • First and Last Name
  • Company
  • Title
  • Phone
  • Email
  • Physical Address
  • Revenue
  • Number of Employees
  • Company Site

2) Investigate the Reputation of the Provider

Good products and services get other people talking about them. If you can’t find multiple people who have good things to say about a product or service, beware. There are plenty of sites out there dedicated to reviewing products, so make sure you do your homework. Check out and read reviews on sites like G2 Crowd, TrustRadius and Salesforce AppExchange (if applicable). It’s pretty common for customers both happy and dissatisfied to leave a comment on a social media, so hop over to the company’s Facebook and Twitter profiles. You can even go one step further and ask for referrals to current customers and clients.

You will also probably want to avoid offshore services that are likely running sweatshops with the most basic web scraping tools. It’s tempting because of the low cost per lead and the sheer volume they can provide. However, the low price comes at an extremely high cost: poor quality.

3) Examine Data Accuracy and Integrity

Data has a limited shelf life. The Department of Labor reports that more than 10 million people change jobs each year in the US, which continues to grow as employee tenure declines.

The most reputable and accurate data providers diligently maintain and update data. The best vendors will work with you to match the criteria you need and replace inaccurate data. Many offer to give you a refund or replace every bad lead sent your way.

Some vendors tout a 95% accuracy rate; however, most aren’t truly able to deliver on the promise. It’s up to you to substantiate this claim, so ask for a sample data set to test. A more realistic benchmark to aim for is 80% accurate data.

If that sounds a little low, don’t worry — you can enrich your data and filling in the gaps by cross-referencing with other providers. Which brings me to another important point — don’t rely on any one single provider.

4) Get on the Phone with a Rep

You should have the information you need to narrow your list down to a few providers. Now, it’s time to call and ask some key questions, such as:

  • How accurate is your information? (Again, take this with a grain of salt)
  • Do you test and maintain the quality of your database for accurate information? If how frequently?
  • Do you filter out spam traps, honeypots, blacklisted domains, and anything else that would hurt my Sender Score?
  • What kind of QA program do you have in place?

Make sure to dig a little deeper with every question to get the full picture of how they get their information and check its accuracy. Don’t let flaky or ambiguous answers slide.

When you talk to a rep, asses how easy it is to work with the vendor. No matter how accurate their data is, they must be responsive and provide a good overall experience.

5) Get a Sample Set of Data

SiriusDecisions, an analyst firm, found that 60% of vendors were operating with an unreliable contact database.

It’s standard practice for vendors to provide a sample set of random data that meets some of your basic segmentation requirements. Before you drop that list into your outbound platform, and hit “go,” make sure to do some verification of your own. Run the data through a service you already have, like Brightverify or

Some vendors will also offer to test your existing data to make sure they do not provide duplicate records in data sets that you purchase. They can also gauge the state of your current data health and make recommendations for maintenance.

6) Choose Your Vendors

Finally, choose your vendors (yes, you want more than one). Never rely on a single source for anything, especially sales intelligence and data providers. A mentor of mine used to say: “One is the most dangerous number in business.” You should not become reliant on one source for leads… or anything else in your sales process.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to building your ABSD program. If you want to learn how to align your team, orchestrate and launch personalized campaigns at scale, then measure and adjust, check out Engagio’s Clear and Complete Guide to Account Based Sales Development today.

In this comprehensive book, you’ll discover:

  • The Who, What, and Where of Account Based Sales Development
  • The incredible power of Account Based Sales Development “Plays.”
  • What truly personalized and relevant outreach looks like (hint: nothing like “robo-spam”).
  • The real role of data in building profiles and personas.
  • Why “human email” is the must-have weapon in your sales development arsenal.
  • How team selling concepts will take your prospecting to the next level and beyond.

This is a sponsored guest post from a Sales Hacker partner.

Brandon Redlinger

Brandon Redlinger heads the growth team at Engagio. He previously ran Growth at PersistIQ which helps sales reps deliver truly personalized outbound sales at scale. He has been in sales and marketing his entire career, leading teams across the country from NYC to Denver to the San Francisco Bay Area. In his spare time, you will find him buried in a book, hitting the gym or on an adventure exploring the world. You can follow him on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.