If you're in the B2B industry, you've probably heard of account-based sales (ABS).
ABS redefines the typical (solo) sales process. To execute ABS effectively, sales must work strategically with their colleagues in other departments (think Marketing & Customer Success) to provide authentic and personalized outreach.
Account-based sales is a cross-organizational, multi-channel approach that targets high-value accounts. Personalized content is used to establish buying committees within these accounts. This is the main differentiator ABS provides from traditional selling techniques: thoughtful personalization.
In the past, select sales organizations operated in a way that gave the profession a bad-wrap; one-size fits all tactics combined with product-focused selling points that often miscommunicated the intended customer message. Fortunately for us, there have been significant strides in the development of sales methodologies; leading us to a profession that is far more customer-centric and has recently evolved into an art of giving.
The book, Go-Givers Sell More, digs into this concept and defines value as providing more than what someone pays for. It's the idea that selling should be communicating how you are providing a solution to a problem, which ultimately saves money for your customer. ABS enables salespeople to communicate these points to target accounts through multiple channels, keeping the message personal and relevant to that particular prospect's challenges.
The Challenger Sale, published by CEB, cites that there is an average of 6.8 stakeholders involved in every B2B decision. That's nearly 7 people you have to align with to close a deal. Each individual will have their unique set of personal challenges and opinions regarding possible solutions. This means that sales teams must be incredibly targeted in their approach to build meaningful relationships within the buying committee. We need to understand and solve for the individual challenges, while also ensuring that the wider, organizational needs are still met.
Before implementing an ABS approach, you will need to define your ICP or ideal customer profile. This is a checklist that characterizes the types of people that your organization believes will find significant value in your solution. Defining this list an important step, as it provides the framework within which we will begin to craft a personalized approach.
One way to go about this is to list the qualities of some of your most reputable customers that are giving you the most business. Look for some of the most obvious areas of overlap (tech stacks, use cases, relationships, etc.) these clients exhibit and use these when developing your ICP. Doing so will help you target accounts that are, in a sense, prequalified and give you an upper-hand when engaging with them as you already understand a lot about their business.
Once your ICP is defined, you can begin to formulate a list of target accounts. While your list may reflect qualities of successful customers, not every account will be as easy to reach. The sales touches used to engage with each account are going to differ entirely as personalization is the foundation of ABS.
Messages delivered to each stakeholder must pertain to how a purchase decision will help them individually. For instance, if you are reaching out to a CMO, make sure you touch on how your product will decrease lead acquisition costs, or will increase conversion rates. Ensure your tone and design are consistent across all of the messages that are sent within a specific organization/buying committee.
Account-based selling models will vary across businesses and industries. The number one factor that will determine success for any organization is how tightly sales is aligned with their peers in marketing, customer success, and product.
Here is a more tactical approach for ABS implementation after you (and your partners in Marketing, Customer Success, & Product) have defined your ICPs.
1. Identify key-stakeholders in each target account
You have your list of target accounts. Now the question is how to interact with them. This is where doing some research on LinkedIn or Crunchbase can be huge. Note which names are coming up the most within the company and what division they are in. Methods will deviate here as products will have relevance to select departments across organizations. Make a list of 5-10 people that will certainly have an impact on a purchase decision. This will be your buying committee and dictate what type of content should be delivered in which channel.
2. Define metrics that will assess performance
Every salesperson or marketer knows that a campaign is useless without metrics to report on. Some popular key performance indicators (KPIs) include customer lifetime value, acquisition cost, average deal size, and conversion rate. As each ABS campaign will differ, so will the KPIs. Choose metrics that give you the feedback you need to accurately track performance. This will help you decide which channels are optimal for engaging with your target accounts as well.
3. Develop resources for each target account
This is where you can get extremely creative. Whether it be an email, phone call, direct mail, infographic, workshop, webinar, or a case study; reaching stakeholders in a target account is often most effective through an omnichannel approach. This means developing a week-by-week sequence or playbook that will deliver personalized content in multiple channels. Use engaging language and an authentic tone to differentiate your message from what competitors are saying. Stakeholders in a purchase decision will often have some sort of bias that will need to be broken. Grab their attention by making them laugh or teach them something by providing a few statistics that cause them to question their status quo. The marketing department can be a good place to ask for design concepts and advice for developing resources as well.
The only way to test an ABS playbook is to use it! Think through your sales process one last time and make sure it correlates with where your target account sits in their customer journey. Engagement will increase significantly if your content aligns with where they are as a customer (or prospect). Allowing stakeholders to demo your product in the later stages of negotiations can be a game-changer here. While they gain a better understanding of your product, this also shows them you care about their future success. Demonstrating transparency with your product will develop trust and establish you as a more qualified source.
5. Measure the results
Now, was your campaign successful? At this point, we can go back to our predefined KPI's to measure our campaign success. In the B2B world, the value one customer provides could easily be thousands of dollars. However, if you spent a comparable amount on excessive corporate gifts or blanket SEO traffic, it might not have been the best idea. Don't dwell on what you did wrong; work to understand where your ABS campaign needs to be improved, and use this knowledge when implementing your next campaign.
Traditional selling methods don't require nearly the same amount of resources that ABS does. Take the research side of things for instance. An account-based approach requires researching a buying committee within a target account; in many B2C use cases and smaller B2B deals, this is unnecessary (or too costly give the ADV). As a result, there can be disadvantages to ABS, so it's important to evaluate this before getting started.
Pros of ABS:
ABS is rising in popularity in the B2B market
Recognizes and works to satisfy customer desire for personalization
Promotes alignment and collaboration between departments
Increases customer loyalty and advocacy
Ability to research key stakeholders prior to contacting them
Once implemented, new accounts are easier to target
Metrics are easier to track if KPIs are predefined
Content is more targeted and personalized
Cons of ABS:
Departmental alignment is necessary for successful implementations
Requires more resources and input for each target account
Works best for B2B enterprise companies with complex sales processes
Technology limitations - account-based technologies are still being developed and haven't been perfected
Will it Work For You?
Enterprise B2B companies are going to be the most common users of an account-based selling approach. SMBs aren't going to want to allocate the necessary resources that ABS requires to reach out to target accounts with personalized content. Trish Bertuzzi, the author of The Sales Development Playbook, puts it this way: If the average deal size is greater than $50k, it is wise to use an ABS approach.
Before implementing ABS in your department, consider how feasible it would be to align sales, marketing, customer success, and product. Ensure that you have a reliable database so there is sufficient information to build out a strategy. Everyone needs to know their role in the sales process and expectations should be set so there is a degree of transparency.
Once your company has full cultural buy-in, start to map out a timeline. This will help you visualize what resources are going to be needed by when and prepare each department to execute perfectly. By knowing how each department interacts with a target account, you can easily identify key stakeholders and who might be a deal blocker. Ideally, the buying committee of each target account can be established before reps start to connect with them.
Account-based sales is all about relationships. They are the building blocks of every successful deal and should be held in the highest regard. When kindled properly, relationships can lead to referrals and increased advocacy about your product.
Providing value to a customer should be what sales is about. Traditional selling strategies widely lack in this concept and have left many consumers holding bitter thoughts against the sales industry. Fortunately, an account-based approach will enable your department to establish meaningful connections and provide far more for the consumer than what they pay.