Account-based selling, a concept that started as an industry-buzzword, has quickly transformed into a viable, successful sales strategy. In fact, some companies have seen as much as a 75% increase in deal size and a 150% increase in lifetime customer value after implementing an account-based selling strategy (source).
But, what is account-based selling and why are so many companies adopting the practice? Today we answer these two questions (and more!) in this quick guide to account-based selling. Keep reading!
What is Account-Based Selling?
For those who aren’t familiar, account-based selling is a strategy in which marketers and sales reps treat an individual company as a market of one. Then, sales reps nurture these companies through the buyer’s cycle using highly personalized, targeted messaging.
When executed effectively, account-based selling speaks to the interests and pain points of all key stakeholders within a company’s target accounts—effectively converting them into paying customers.
Why Does Account-Based Selling Work?
In our current content-saturated sales climate, personalization has quickly become the gold standard. Nothing cuts through the noise and clutter quite like a message tailored to one buyer’s specific wants and needs—and that’s exactly what account-based selling does.
Ready to get started? Here are five steps to account-based selling success:
1) Prioritize Sales and Marketing Alignment
The foundation of any effective account-based sales or marketing strategy is alignment between the sales and marketing teams. Without a coordinated effort between the two, your account-based sales strategy is doomed.
The good news is, an account-based methodology inherently facilitates better sales and marketing alignment. It forces the two teams to work together, rather than against each other. If you’re struggling to get both departments on board, try some of these tips:
- Plan: Develop a shared plan that maps leads to prospects and prospects to revenue—and stick to it.
- Define: Agree upon the definition of a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) and a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)—and hold both teams accountable.
- Analyze: Take a full funnel view of conversion rates and costs to truly understand where leads come from and how they convert.
- Connect: Hold a weekly meeting between sales and marketing leadership with a set agenda.
- Question: Constantly challenge assumptions and improve the customer acquisition and retention processes.
2) Build Your Ideal Customer Profile
An Ideal Customer Profile—or an ICP—is made up of firmographic and behavioral characteristics that define your most valuable customers. Creating an ICP allows you to develop measurable strategies to attract and convert top buyers.
An ICP can inform your entire business strategy from content creation to sales outreach by answering critical questions about the people who need your products—questions such as:
- What are your best customers’ buying motivations and triggers?
- Where and how do your best customers prefer to be engaged?
- What type of messaging resonates with your best customers?
To create an ICP, use a combination of qualitative and quantitative analysis. A good place to start is with data points such as company revenue, number of employees, industry, location, or common job titles. If you find you need more information to work off, dig a little deeper and look at metrics like lifetime customer value, referrals, product usage, customer advocacy, brand prominence, and more.
The goal is to analyze your best customers and find common threads between them—and ultimately, engage accounts who also have these characteristics.
3) Identify Your Target Accounts
The next, and arguably most important, step is to identify your target accounts. There are two key considerations that come into play here—account coverage and account quality.
Let’s start with account coverage. This phrase refers to your team’s ability to identify and penetrate a large number of key accounts. Here’s why account coverage is a vital component to any account-based selling strategy: If you have many target accounts but low levels of account penetration, you’ll have a difficult time converting those accounts into customers. On the flip side, if you have only a few target accounts with optimal account penetration, you’ll only ever be able to close a few deals. This image illustrates what we mean:
Concept adapted from Bizible
To understand and measure account coverage, use these two metrics:
- Percentage of accounts you’ve engaged within your target market.
- Percentage of key personnel you’ve engaged with from within each of your target accounts.
Up next is account quality. Use the Ideal Customer Profile you developed in step two and identify companies that match those key characteristics. We recommend you score each account, just as you would an individual lead.
Here’s an example: If your ideal customers generate X amount of revenue, have X amount of employees, work in X industry, and don’t currently have a product like yours, they receive a score of ‘100’. For every marker they miss, they go down ten points.
This score will help your team prioritize accounts and follow up with them accordingly. Remember, you can have perfect account coverage, but if your account targeting strategy is off, you’ll never generate revenue with your account-based selling strategy.
Companies who have the most success strike the perfect balance between account coverage and account quality.
4) Develop a content and outreach strategy that speaks to your target accounts.
Here’s the part of the account-based selling process where your sales and marketing teams must really be in sync. Remember, the goal of account-based selling is to treat each company like a market of one. Not only do you have to speak to each company’s specific needs, but you also need to speak to each contact’s specific needs as well. This includes each contact’s stage of the buyer’s journey, their specific job responsibilities, and any other concerns they may have.
Content development typically falls in the hands of marketing, but, as a sales rep, you know your accounts and customers best. Therefore, it’s your job to communicate with your marketing team about the types of content they need to create and also provide feedback when you think something looks off.
If you’re interested in the content portion of account-based marketing, here’s a helpful article: 7 Pieces of Marketing Collateral to Include in Your Sales Process.
5) Measure, Test, and Optimize
We’ll let you in on a little secret—the key to successful account-based selling lies in your data and analytics. Think about it: You need customer and prospect data to form your ICP, you need analytics regarding your content and outreach strategy, and you also need performance metrics to determine how successful your efforts are.
Account-based selling is truly a data-driven sales strategy. Each and every decision you make can—and should—be backed by data. That way, you can run tests and optimize your campaigns to generate the best results. Here are a few key metrics to track, some of which have already been mentioned in this article:
- Percentage of key contacts you’ve engaged from each target account.
- Percentage of accounts you’ve engaged from within your target market.
- Account quality score.
- Opportunities and revenue generated.
- Account engagement
- Improvement over time
As with any other strategy, you might not be successful the first time around—and that’s okay! Collect your success metrics, make some changes, and try again. The key is to hone in on what works for each account, and scale your success to similar businesses.
Because we’ve just thrown a lot of information at you—we want to review what we feel are the most important components of an account-based selling strategy. In no particular order:
- Sales and marketing alignment
- Deep understanding of your ideal customer profile
- Strong grasp of the companies within your target market
- Thorough knowledge of the contacts within your key accounts
- High-quality account selection
- Optimal account coverage
- Hyper-personalized content and sales outreach
- Access to data and analytics
If you can master these crucial steps and build a sales team, an organization with an account-based mentality, and a technology stack that support your initiatives, you’ll reap the benefits of an account-based selling strategy.