Account-Based Sales (ABS) is hardly a new concept, but today, many business leaders are giving it more than just a second look.
Gartner predicted it will become the default selling framework for most tech vendors that exceed $5 million in annual revenue. Moreover, 7 out of 10 surveyed corporate leaders revealed they are increasing their budget to improve their account-based strategies.
There are many factors driving the dramatic shift towards account-based selling:
- Customer centricity, which is a key tenet of ABS, has become the new mantra.
- There has been an uptick in the required number of approvals, especially in enterprise sales. Thus, making the sales process more complex.
- The ROI on ABS adoption has been clearly demonstrated over the years. Interdepartmental alignment, process improvements, and brand loyalty are among the key benefits.
If you think your sales teams can improve their performance, perhaps it’s high time for you to give ABS a second look.
- What is account-based sales?
- Is ABS for you?
- When is the right time to implement an ABS strategy?
- How to implement ABS in your organization
- What is the role of Marketing in ABS?
- How important is lead nurturing in ABS?
- How do you align ABS with the customer journey?
- What tools do you need for ABS?
- Your own ABS checklist
What Is Account-Based Selling?
The goal in account-based selling is to manage each valued account as an independent and scalable revenue stream to be nurtured over the long term.
Using ABS, entire teams engage with multiple stakeholders at a single prospective company. This is in contrast to the usual selling approach of assigning one salesperson to engage a customer.
The idea is to use laser-precise tactics and multiple touchpoints to catch a single high-value customer. We remove the whole idea of casting a wide, generic net to catch plenty of low-value customers.
Given its cross-functional applications, the account-based model spawned near-identical terms in marketing and business development. It now spans account-based marketing (ABM), and account-based sales development (ABSD).
Is Account-Based Sales for You?
In the right conditions, account-based sales consistently delivers on its revenue-boosting promises.
But ABS is NOT for everyone. In fact, a mismatch between your business model and account-based sales can do more harm than good. It really depends on the type and purchasing behavior of the customers you engage.
As a rule of thumb, account-based sales is a good fit for B2B companies where:
- Sales interactions are complex and involve lengthier cycles
- Major purchases require the tiered approval of several decision-makers
- Opportunities for upselling, cross-selling, etc., are unusually high
Account-based sales in B2C sales
On the other hand, the hyper-personalized focus required by account-based selling is a massive overkill in a B2C environment. ABS applied in such environments will likely just ramp up the metrics you’d like to trim — things like opportunity costs, operational expenses, and attrition rates.
In addition to significant resource reallocation, ABS also entails a paradigm shift in your company culture. Obviously, that means any mismatch will negatively disrupt both people and profit at your company.
Start by defining your ICP
When considering account-based sales, it is important to clearly define your ideal customer profile (ICP) and the different buyer personas you need to engage.
First, the most crucial aspect in your account based sales process is identifying your ICP:
- Which key stakeholders are you looking to get in front of?
- Which accounts are you trying to get your message to?
- What industry is the best fit for your solution?
Figuring out the answers to those questions helps with the identification process. When I first got into my SDR role, I looked at our customer list to figure out who we were targeting and what companies we were looking to get in front of.
If your ideal customers are mostly small businesses whose transactional behavior is relatively simple, then ABS is not for you.
On the other hand, if you’re scaling your startup, you might want to consider alternative strategies. For example, one small cross-sectional team may implement ABS for high-value customers.
Targeting the Right Stakeholders
Once you have identified the best-fit accounts, the next step is to target the key stakeholders you want to reach.
Let’s say you’re selling enterprise marketing software. Ideally, you’d want to target B2B marketers – but more specifically demand generation managers, account based marketers, CMOs, VPs of Marketing and Directors of Digital Marketing.
You need to get in front of those people on a daily basis. How do I apply this? Its simple — when I go in front of a company, I know exactly who I’m targeting.
I’m not looking at the VP of finance; I’m not looking at the engineering team; I’m not looking at customer success. I’m looking at specific marketers. When you’re going into account-based selling, you’re looking at the overall account, not just this one person and treating them as a lead.
According to Gartner research:
In a typical firm with 100-500 employees, an average of 7 people are involved in most buying decisions.
Therefore, it’s super important to make sure you’re touching those key people that would make the decision. Don’t get caught up with just focusing on one person.
When Is the Right Time to Implement an ABS Strategy?
Ask yourself these questions:
- How ready is your organization to adopt this new sales approach? Do your sales teams have the experience and business acumen to tackle target accounts?
- Do you have both corporate and cultural buy-in?
- When it comes to customer data, do you have sufficient information to build out your ABS strategy?
If you answer “yes” to each of these questions, you’re ready to get started with an ABS strategy. If not, you may need to do more prep-work to effectively transition to an ABS approach.
How to Implement Account-Based Sales in Your Organization
Here is a 6-step process to get started in account-based selling.
Step 1: Assess the cultural fit of ABS in your company
A team’s attachment to conventional selling methodologies might cause resistance to any shift from the workflows they are familiar with. Break that resistance by demonstrating the overall benefits of change.
Step 2: Create your ideal customer profile (ICP)
Top management needs to thoroughly research and categorize your customers, then identify the attributes of your best customers.
Use these key attributes to help you create effective customer segmentation:
- Annual revenue
- Employee size
- Current subscriptions etc.
Step 3: Establish the buyer personas your team expects to engage
You need to clearly identify the personas that represent the key stakeholders, influencers, and decision-makers at your target enterprises.
Once you have that, you can form the relevant units to execute the ABS strategy as a single team. Define roles and set expectations for each unit and team member. Typical roles in a crack ABS team include:
- Account executives
- Sales development reps
- Support representatives
- Customer success managers
Step 4: Identify and set relevant metrics to assess performance
Common account-based sales metrics include the following:
- Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) – the cost you incur on average to convert one account
- Average Deal Size (ADS) – the average value of the sales or service contract you have with customers
- Lifetime Value (LTV) – the value generated from each customer over time
But ultimately, it’s up to you to determine the metrics that give you the feedback you need to track performance. Based on what the data tells you, you can find your strengths and weaknesses.
That will help you determine the sales tools, marketing assets, sales enablement materials, etc., that you need to achieve your performance benchmarks.
Step 5: Create the required ABS resources
Messaging and content creation in account-based selling is highly customized per target account and decision-maker. Spend time researching each stakeholder’s goals and pain points.
Sales and Marketing should collaborate in developing compelling content for each milestone in specific buyer journeys.
Tailoring the Right Message
A critical factor within the account based selling process is making sure your message is tailored to that specific account and key stakeholder.
For example, if you’re reaching out to a demand generation manager within the tech software industry, you need to understand what their pain points are. A generic message is going to get ignored because they are already receiving tons of those.
I went to Sirius Decisions this year and asked a lot of marketers how many solicitation emails they receive a day. They told me they receive between 100 to 200 emails a day.
Here’s exactly why you will fail:
- Your message isn’t tailored to what they need.
- If you didn’t properly align your value prop to their exact pain points.
- You have no clue what their KPIs are.
If you can’t get in front of the key stakeholders, then you’re not going to get the meeting. So really think about the message you’re creating.
How to Personalize Your Messaging
Go stalk their LinkedIn and their Twitter. What are they talking about? Maybe they have a favorite show that they watch, and you can relate to that in your call or email.
Perhaps you see something on Owler and you say, “Hey, congratulations on this award or accomplishment.”
Maybe someone just got nominated for something. There are a lot of things you can do that take just 5 minutes of research. You’ve got to tailor that message so that you can get that demo.
If you don’t, you’re going to see a lot less success because you’re going to be blasting out emails. When I first started as an SDR, I was not doing as much research as I should have.
Now I’ve actually taken a very specific approach to personalize my message so that people see that I took time to care about their business and see them as an individual.
Because as the great Theodore Roosevelt said:
“Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
So, those are three elements that are crucial for an effective account based sales process.
Account based selling is critical for SDR’s because there’s more automation, blasting and lack of personalization than ever before.
Step 6: Execute
The best plan in the world means nothing if you don’t execute on it.
Create meaningful experiences for customers and orchestrate their success through hyper-personalized solutions. Align your engagement with their customer journey — offering value at every stage of the cycle.
And remember to track results, so you know how to optimize your process and improve results.
What Is the Role of Marketing in ABS?
Successful customer engagement is driven primarily by marketing-related processes.
In a typical ABS cross-departmental team, marketers develop content and experiences aimed at guiding prospects towards a purchase. Marketers also analyze and predict prospect behavior by studying the results of these account-specific interactions.
Marketing is what fuels the emotional incentive to get your prospects to opt in, download, watch, subscribe, buy, etc.
Want to learn more about account-based prospecting? Read our guide here.
How Important Is Lead Nurturing in ABS?
Lead nurturing is typically most effective with small businesses that have, at most, three decision-makers. But it doesn’t mean you can’t apply lead nurturing tactics for bigger accounts.
Account-based nurturing can still work in a B2B environment — especially if you use highly customized content to trigger account-based engagement.
Keep in mind, though…
In account-based nurturing, you need to engage multiple stakeholders in an organization with differentiated messaging based on their buyer personas. You also need to consider which stage each occupies in their specific buyer journey. Then respond dynamically to their actions and behavior and slow the pace if the buyer journey decelerates.
How Do You Align ABS with the Buyer Journey?
While they may have different needs, every stakeholder in an organization typically goes through the same stages in the buyer journey. Depending on the framework you use, this journey often includes Awareness, Interest, Consideration, Purchase, and Advocacy.
The attention of a chief financial officer (CFO), for example, might be captured via messaging that highlights a product’s moderating effect on operational costs.
Meanwhile, messaging that presents a product as a competitive advantage within a niche might compel a CEO.
The trick is to gather adequate customer data about each stakeholder. Then, generate insight from this data and strategically engage these decision-makers.
What Tools Do You Need for ABS?
Technology can help you execute account-based sales with better precision and broader scale.
You can start with addons and APIs that can enhance your existing CRM. From there, you can improve your process with the right sales automation tools to make it repeatable.
Your goal is to create a customized sales tech stack that keeps Sales, Marketing, and Customer Success on the same page, with the same data and customer information.
A Checklist to Get You Started
Given the continually shifting business landscape, your organization might need to take its own journey as well. Here’s a checklist to tick off in case you decide to take the ABS route:
- Meet all criteria (customer demographic, organizational readiness, etc) for ABS adoption
- Identify target high-value accounts
- Spot decision-makers and influencers in each account
- Define Ideal Customer Profile (ICP)
- Determine buyer personas
- Form cross-departmental team, assign roles, and set expectations
- Establish relevant performance metrics
- Create an inventory of existing tools
- Compile a list of required tools for ABS implementation
- Collate list of seed B2B marketing, sales, and customer success collateral
- Vet initial list of staff training requirements
- Compute required initial budget for ABS implementation
- Estimate a timeline for sales transformation
Also published on Medium.