What is account based selling?
Account based selling might be one of the hottest trends in B2B sales right now, but it’s more than just a buzzword! Simply put, it takes insights from marketing to make sales more effective by helping the sales rep to address the needs of a whole account, rather than just a single lead. Similar to the concept of enterprise selling, account-based selling is about working with all of the decision makers who need to sign off on a purchase in order to close the deal.
Why should you use an account based selling approach?
Account based selling offers a variety of advantages to a sales rep: it allows you to pursue leads strategically for greater effectiveness, it makes it easier to track outcomes, and it helps to maintain brand reputation by positioning the rep as someone who possess helpful knowledge and can add value to their customers.
If you think that account based selling might be for you, read on for a step-by-step guide to implementing it and getting the sales results that you want.
10 steps to implement account-based selling:
1. Build a customer profile
The first step to get started with account based selling is to build up a profile of the kinds of customers you wish to attract. You have to know which companies are out there who could benefit from your product in order to be able to sell to them, after all! But where should you start when trying to define a customer profile? Use these techniques to build up a picture of the type of customer who will be attracted to your product.
1a. Start with your account wish list
What would your dream account to land be? Is there a particular company that you’ve always kept an eye on? Have you seen an account recently and thought, “Yes, that’s what I want”? Create a list of companies who you would love to have for your accounts list.
1b.Look at your current and former accounts
Put together a list of the current and former accounts which you or your company have worked on. Take this historical data and try to find out about the size, location, and topic of these companies with whom you have had accounts in the past.
1c. Create a customer profile
Take a look at your wish list and your accounts list and identify common themes. Are they all large companies, or are there some medium-sized companies there too? Are they mostly well-established big names in their fields, or are some of them more recently created startups? What fields do they operate in? Use these facts as the basis to draw up a profile of the type of accounts that you wish to land with your account-based selling strategy.
When drawing up your customer profile, also think about the product or service which your company offers. To whom would it be most useful? Which companies could benefit from your product but do not currently use it? Could it be sold across fields? Identify any arenas where your product could be sold but is not currently used, and add these to your customer profile.
2. Use your profile to narrow down your lead list
Now you’ve spent some time defining the ideal accounts you want to secure, you can go back to your lead list and look at it with fresh eyes. The key at this stage is to weed out the irrelevancies in order to select the customers who will benefit most from your product. You can use these steps to trim your lead list into order:
2a. Take a fresh look at your lead list
Go through your list of leads and compare each company to your customer profile. Do a bit of research if your need to – you should look up information on the size and history of each company if you don’t already have it, for example – but you don’t need to research extensively.
2b. Identify companies on your lead list which match your ideal customer profile
The aim here is to make a cursory analysis of each prospective customer and see how closely they match your ideal customer profile. Be ruthless in culling your list! Account-based selling strategies require putting a lot of time and effort into each lead, so you want to select only the leads with the highest potential for conversion to focus on. Seeing how similar companies are to you ideal customer will help you to identify leads which are a good place to focus your efforts. Select a small number of high-quality leads to focus on.
2c. Prioritize the names on your lead list
Once you’ve identified strong leads using your customer profile, you’ll want to prioritize these leads so that you know which to focus on first. The strongest leads are those with whom you have been active recently, or who have worked with other members of your team in the past. Companies who already know you and are familiar with your products are much more likely to close a deal with you, so approach them first.
[tweet “Account Based Selling begins with your personal sales goals”]
Next in priority comes inbound leads, who signaled their interest in your product when they signed up for your newsletter, or registered to download content or software. These are also potentially strong leads as the customers have sampled some of your content and (hopefully!) found it useful and worthwhile. You can build on this engagement by providing more information and a personal touch-point in order to convert this lead successfully.
Finally, there are the cold leads, with whom you have had no contact. These leads are difficult (but not impossible) to convert, so put them lowest on your priority list. Fileboard’s patented follow up system has these priorities built in, so you’ll have these prospects at your fingertips in order of interest.
3. Quality over quantity
Now you should have a list of leads prioritized so that you know which to tackle first. Here is where one of the fundamental principles of account-based selling comes in: less is more. You want to focus on getting a small number of high-quality leads and working them extensively, rather than casting your net very wide and only engaging with each lead in a shallow way. Each lead will take a considerable amount of time to screen and to engage with, so make sure you’re spending your time wisely by focusing on the accounts where you’re most likely to succeed. When it comes to your account-based selling strategy, go for quality, not quantity.
3a. Putting it into practice
What does that mean in practice? You need to remember that ensuring each lead is high-quality and conscientiously following up with them will take quite a bit more time than you’re used to spending on a single lead. As an example, you might drop from engaging with 15 leads in a time period down to 10 leads – but the majority of the 15 leads would not be a match for your customer profile and so are not likely to convert, whereas using the account-based selling strategy, the 10 leads would be closely aligned with your profile and hence be very interested in your product. This gives you a better chance at closing those big accounts.
4. Know your customers
Of course, you’ll need to spend some time getting to know your customers. In order to sell effectively, you have to be armed with knowledge about your customer and their needs before you make contact. So once you have your lead list, head back to research each company thoroughly. Put aside more time than you usually would for this research process and work through as much information as you can to understand your customer’s business.
4a. Read the company’s website
Start with your target company’s website, reading up about the structure of their organization and any recent news articles or press releases they have posted. Also, don’t forget to see if they have a corporate blog which you can access. Reading a blog can give you insights into the day-to-day practices of a company and what time-sensitive issues they might be dealing with.
4b. Researching a public company
For publicly-traded companies, you can find lots of information about them from their 10-K annual report and SEC filings (if they do business in the United States). The Security and Exchange Commission’s EDGAR database is free and publicly accessible, although the information you get from it can take a while to sift through. Start with the chairman’s letter to give you an idea of the priorities of the company for the year, then look at the cash flow statement to understand the financial health of the company.
4c. Researching a private company
For researching private companies and startups, there are other tools you can use. You can check LinkedIn for information about the company and its staff, and you can also use Crunchbase to find lots of information about a company compiled into one page. For startups, AngelList will show you information on a company including their top customers and what industries are currently trending. Information from these sites will help you to build up a picture of the company, its goals, and how it operates.
5. Dig deeper
This is where account-based selling really distinguishes itself. You’ve done research on your lead already, but now you need to dig even deeper to identify the key players in decision making. A frequently-reported study published by CEB in 2015 found that on average, more than 5 decision makers must sign off on a B2B purchase. It’s not enough to make contact with just one person, as even if you convince them, they may not convince the other decision makers in their company to close the deal with you. Your job as a sales rep is to get to know all of the decision makers in a company, and to approach them as a whole.
5a. Understand customer consensus
In order to sell effectively in a modern B2B setting, you have to persuade a whole team of the values of your product. If you’re selling an IT product, for example, then traditionally you would have sold to the CIO and their team. With an account-based sales approach, you would approach the chief marketing officer, chief financial officer, legal department, and the procurement executives as well as the CIO. The ability of groups of disparate agents to come together to make a sales-related decision is referred to as customer consensus, and you’ll need to understand the psychology of group decision making to be a successful salesperson in this context.
5b. Make use of social channels
Even when you know that you need to approach several decision makers, it can be hard to identify those decision makers from outside the company. You’ll probably find an organizational chart on the company’s website, but that might not be accurate in letting you know who really makes the decisions. So it’s time to get the unofficial scoop by making use of social channels. If you have connections with people in the company on LinkedIn, Twitter, or other social networks, then use them not just for selling but also for information gathering. Ask who is involved in the decision making process, and who you need to talk to in order to make things happen. Once you get one lead on your side, they can share information with you on who else in their company you need to win round to close the deal.
5c. Call and ask for more information
You might be surprised at how much information you can gather by simply calling and speaking with gatekeepers. Call your target company and ask if they can tell you who the best person to speak to is, or if they can recommend which person or department you should contact. You can also get information about current projects, and maybe even find out about difficulties which the company is having that your product could help with. It never hurts to ask, so be polite and upfront and you might get valuable first-hand information about your target company and their decision-making process.
5d. Make yourself a resource for your lead
In order to extract the maximum amount of useful information from your lead, you need to build a mutually beneficial relationship with them. That means that you need to be providing them with value, even during the research phase. Make sure that you’re thoroughly knowledgeable about the positioning of your product within your field, and find out about the problems and pain points faced by their company in particular. Show your lead that beyond just understanding your product, you have a clear picture of how the product can benefit their company specifically. Building this kind of relationship with your lead will help them to see you as someone who is on their team and adds value to their work, rather than them seeing you as an outsider.
[tweet “Working as a resource for your leads and clients puts you in a strong selling position”]
5e. Bring all your research together to see the structure of the company
Now you’ve done extensive research through both reading official company information and using social channels for a first-hand picture of the company’s processes, it’s time to bring all this information together to see who the key decision-makers are. Make a note of names or titles which you see referred to frequently, as well as any committees, teams, or departments who need to sign off on a sale. Once you have this information, you can use it to sell effectively to the whole decision-making chain.
6. Personalize your sales materials
Another important aspect of account-based selling is the personalization of your materials for each lead. You should never be sending out generic emails or working from a generic phone script! Customers can tell when you are going through the motions, and will disengage quickly if you don’t make your pitch relevant to them personally. So let’s consider how you can personalize your materials to score that account.
6a. Tell your lead what you can do for them
When you’re excited your product, it’s tempting to give details about the product, your company, and yourself when talking to your leads. Resist this impulse, however, and focus instead on what you can do for them. Talk about the pain points or difficulties which you know that their company is experiencing, and then you can talk about how your product will help alleviate these. Talk less about yourself and more about the customer. The key here is to make sure that all of the information you provide is relevant to the company. Go back to your research if necessary so that you can tailor the information to their needs specifically.
Also, remember not to info-dump on your first sales call. You want to provide the highlights of the most relevant information to the customer, not bombard them with small details which they won’t remember and which may distract from your key message.
6b. Value comes from relevancy
When personalizing your emails, phone scripts, or other sales materials, recognize that the way to add value to your customers is by making your information relevant to them. Modify your materials so that the features which will bring the most benefits to the customer are near the beginning of your pitch. Also, do mention the research that you’ve done – for example, tell them that you heard they were looking to move into an international market, and your product’s localization features will make this easier for them.
Anticipate the needs that the customer might have in the future, based on your research, and present your product as helping overcome challenges which the customer might have not even thought of yet. This is the difference between an annoying salesperson who is trying to push their product, and a valuable resource who has knowledge, insight, and tools to offer the company.
6c. React speedily
Another key requirement of an account-based sales strategy is the ability to move quickly to get information to your prospects in a timely manner. If you know that your target company has a big event coming up soon, or if they are preparing for a big acquisition or new client, then you need to move fast to demonstrate how your product could help them with time-sensitive tasks. Once you have made contact with an account, don’t let the connection wither by waiting too long to follow up – instead, keep abreast of changes happening within the company and keep offering added value to build and maintain this connection.
7. Pick your outreach channels carefully
You already know how important it is to choose the correct outreach channel for each lead. This is especially true in an account-based sales strategy, where you want to prove your value to a potential customer and make them feel at ease and comfortable when communicating with you. Make sure that you think through all your options when it comes to outreach channels, and choose your method of communication with care.
7a. Traditional outreach channels: phone and email
Your go-to outreach channels are always going to be phone and email, so make sure that your pitches are smooth and well-practiced. Bear in mind that your leads will have plenty of other things competing for their attention, so try to contact them during a period when they will have some free time to consider your product. Your research into the company can help you here: find times after big projects have been completed, or far enough before big deadlines that your lead will have the time to talk with you. Careful timing can help you present yourself as a useful resource which will make your customer’s life easier.
7b. Other outreach channels: social media
Nowadays, plenty of people don’t like to be contacted on the phone, and they may ignore or discard your emails very quickly. In some circumstances, it can help to make use of social media channels for outreach instead. If you see that your target company is very active on twitter, for example, then trying reaching out through a tweet. You can also make use of LinkedIn or Facebook connections to provide information for your lead in a more casual setting.
7c. Co-ordinate a multi-channel strategy
The most effective sales strategies use a multi-channel approach, whereby you might use a phone call as first point of contact, and then follow up on Twitter and LinkedIn. Don’t forget to tailor your materials to make them appropriate for the channel as well as the customer – for example, on Twitter you can engage in a casual way and you’ll need content which is short and punchy, while on LinkedIn you should present yourself more professionally and you can give more details about your company and product.
8. Track your outcomes
Having personalized your campaign materials and sent them out, your job isn’t done yet! You also want to be tracking the effectiveness of your campaigns, so that you can refine and improve them for next time. This is particularly important in account-based sales, as you are focusing on a small number of accounts so you need to make your engagement as effective as possible. Let’s consider some of the methods that you can use to track your outcomes.
8a. Track account activity and goals
You probably already have tools for tracking engagement, like looking at email views, click through rates, or website visits. Take advantage of this wealth of information to see exactly which of your outreaches was the most effective, and which channels gained you the most engagement. Also, make sure that you have defined your goals, so that you know which outcomes to measure. Give yourself a specific target – to increase newsletter subscriptions by 30%, for example – and look at your tracking information to see whether you’re hitting these goals, or if there’s room to improve.
9. Learn, reiterate, and optimize
Sales is an ongoing process, so make sure that you always have time in your schedule for learning about the effectiveness of your methods and constantly improving them based on the latest data.
9a. Learn from your tracking data
Now you have all your tracking data, start analyzing to see which engagements were effective and what features your effective engagements had in common. Was there a particular channel, campaign, or tagline which brought in better engagement than others? Perhaps you found that there was a particular time of day at which it was best to send out your email shots, or that there is a particular feature of your product which customers were excited by. Take a note of all of this information so you can build up a picture of what your most effective engagement looked like.
9b. Improve your sales materials and techniques
You can take these insights and apply to them to your next campaign. You should constantly be updating and modifying your materials in a two-fold manner: first, personalize content for each lead and second, update content based on what you know to have been effective in the past. This will help you to build up the strongest materials possible to appeal directly to your leads.
10. Build long term relationships with clients
A final key principle of account-based selling is the importance of building long-term relationships with your customers. You want to build the kind of relationship in which the customer not only likes your product, but also trusts and values your insight personally. You can achieve this kind of relationship by offering value to the customer, and by making their onboarding process as smooth and as low-stress as possible.
10a. Pass relevant information to you marketing and customer success departments
You need to make sure that all the research about the customer which you did and the groundwork that you laid with them is not wasted, so don’t keep your research just within the sales team. Pass the information on to your marketing and customer success departments, so that they can give the customer as personalized an experience as you did.
10b. Guide the client through the onboarding process
Once you’ve closed the deal and passed the customer on to your customer success department for on-boarding, your job as a sales rep isn’t finished yet! You should make sure that the whole onboarding process is smooth and problem-free, so keep an eye on the progress of onboarding accounts so you can support the process where necessary.
10c. Maintain contact with your customers
One final principle of account-based selling is the maintaining of strong relationships with your customers. So do check in with them occasionally throughout the onboarding process and beyond, to make sure that they’re happy with the service they are receiving. Building these strong long-term relationships with your customers will make you really stand out in the world of sales.
Your sales team needs to learn Account Based Selling!
Account-based selling is a powerful strategy for B2B sales. By acknowledging and researching the complex structures of decision making which exist within your target companies, you can create a campaign aimed at winning around the whole team rather than just one person. This can help you to land those big accounts that you want.
Spend time developing quality leads and focusing your efforts where they’ll do the most good, rather than spreading yourself too thin so that you only engage with leads in a shallow way. Remember the importance of personalizing your message and providing value to your customers, as this will help you to build a solid long-term relationship with them.
Follow these steps to make account based selling part of your strategy and to close the deal on those big accounts that you’ve always dreamed of landing.