A Beginner’s Guide to Account-Based Selling

account-based selling

Account-based selling isn’t a new concept– but it’s recently exploded as a common practice in sales and marketing circles. Although many predicted the account-based framework would be nothing more than a short-lived trend, it’s actually proven to be a highly effective sales strategy. In fact, 86% of sales and marketing professionals have begun using targeted account strategies to generate new business for their companies (source).

If you haven’t yet explored account-based selling, it can seem like quite the challenge. So today, we teach you the basics of account-based selling—what it is, why it works, and what resources you need to get started. Keep reading!

What is account-based selling?

An account-based selling strategy treats each account as a market of one. This strategy targets companies, or ‘accounts’,  rather than single contacts, or leads,  within the company. As part of an account based strategy, a business identifies a set of target accounts. Then, sales and marketing departments work together to offer targeted content to contacts within target accounts. This process is used to nurture them through the buyer’s funnel until they ultimately become a customer.

Account-based selling is effective because it appeals to the interests and concerns of all key stakeholders within a buying committee. And, in a time where personalization is necessary to cut through the crowded content landscape, an account-based selling strategy offers prospects tailor-made content.

Keys to a Successful Account-Based Selling Strategy

Although this is by no means a comprehensive guide, here are the basic steps you must take to ensure account-based selling success:

1.     Internal Alignment

Account-based selling is neither a sales nor a marketing initiative– it’s an all-encompassing approach that requires collaboration and input from both departments. As a result, if your sales and marketing teams don’t see eye-to-eye, your account-based strategy will never be successful.

Improve your sales and marketing alignment with these tips:

Operate under the same goals: If your sales and marketing teams are working toward separate goals, they are less likely to be engaged with one another and gives them competing initiatives. A common goal gives the two departments motivation to work together.

Shared reporting: If each team has access to separate dashboards, metrics, or even worse—no analytics at all, there will be a big divide between the two departments. Keep everyone on the same page by using shared dashboards and reports.

Tools and technologies: Although sales and marketing automation tools are a must-have in the modern business world, it’s important that you don’t rely on technology to facilitate alignment. Sales and marketing alignment relies on open communication and human interaction more than anything else.

Feedback: Develop strategic processes to send and receive feedback. Whether conducted during in-person meetings or through email communication it’s important to hear each other out and implement methods for improvement.

Once your teams are aligned, you can move on to the next step of the process.

2.    Create an Ideal Customer Profile.

Account-based selling success hinges on the quality and quantity of accounts you target– therefore, it’s crucial that you target the right companies. Enter, your ideal customer profile.

An Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) is a fictional profile containing firmographic and behavioral characteristics that represent your most valuable customers.  A well-defined ICP allows you to identify key accounts and develop messaging to attract them and convert them into buyers.

In order to create your ICP, you must look at a combination of qualitative and quantitative data surrounding your best customers—specifically the companies they work at—and identify common threads between them. Do they come from companies of a certain size? Are they all within the same industry? Do they use other key technologies that integrate with your product or service?

Your ICP can be as detailed or simple as you’d like– but the more specific, the better. Determine which relevant traits your best customers have in common. Then, use this data to guide your account targeting process.

3.    Create specific buyer personas.

Now that you have an idea of what types of accounts to target, you need to know how to engage with the important contacts within those accounts. That’s where buyer personas come into play and—often times work hand-in-hand with your ICP.

Buyer personas are profiles of your ideal buyers built, like your ICP,  on quantitative research, anecdotal observations, and existing customer data. Marketers traditionally use buyer personas to identify and engage with the best prospects, but personas also serve an important purpose in an account-based selling strategy. Consider this, the average B2B purchase involves 6.8 stakeholders (source). Buyer personas help you understand, not only who the decision-makers are at your target company, but also the dynamics between them, their buying preferences, and much more.

Buyer persona creation is very similar to the process used to create an ICP. Look at the top accounts you’ve sold to in the past. But this time, shift your focus to the contacts within those top accounts. If you’re not sure where to start, use the following questions to guide your research.

  • What are your best customers individual paint points and concerns?
  • Which kind of content do your best customers engage with?
  • What role does each member of the buying committee play in the decision-making process?

Whether you make your buyer personas part of your ICP or separate profiles altogether, they are an essential component of your account-based selling strategy.

4.    Develop your account targeting strategy.

So far, we’ve spent a large part of this article discussing the characteristics of your best customers—and for good reason! To achieve account-based selling success, you must target and engage accounts that are an ideal fit for your product. Aside from choosing accounts that match your ICP, there are two other key considerations you must make during the account targeting process: Account coverage and account quality.

Account coverage: The number of target accounts you both identify and the number of key stakeholders you engage with from each account. If you have high engagement but only a small amount of accounts, you’ll close deals– but not many of them. On the flip side, if you reach a ton of target accounts but have poor engagement, you’ll struggle to convert them into buyers. So, you want to strive for a high amount of accounts and high account engagement.

Account quality: Great account coverage doesn’t mean much if you’re going after the wrong accounts. To measure account quality, compare accounts to your Ideal Customer Profile. If you’re familiar with lead scoring, use the same principle here. Assign scores for each characteristic of your ICP, from industry to revenue to number of employees. Then score each account according to those characteristics, removing points for every characteristic they lack. This scoring system will allow you to prioritize outreach and manage your time efficiently.

5.    Build a targeted outreach strategy.

Account-based selling relies on highly targeted, personalized sales outreach—not just in terms of the company but also in terms of each key stakeholder within an account. This includes each contact’s specific job responsibilities, their purchase preferences, and their role within the larger organizational structure.

Although content creation typically falls into the hands of marketers—it’s your job as a sales rep to communicate your needs to the marketing department. What types of collateral do you need to convert more buyers? Are you lacking materials that speak to a certain industry’s needs or pain points? What tone and language do your buyers prefer? All of these considerations must be communicated clearly in order to see success with account-based selling.

Here’s an example: You sell an HR software that manages hiring and onboarding processes. Recently, you acquired a big account within the healthcare industry. Instead of sending your one-size-fits-all outreach email to the HR director, you develop and send emails to the following people:

Director of HR: You send an email to the director that focuses on how your platform allows high-level HR professionals to oversee large departments and different HR functions within the healthcare industry—all from one centralized dashboard. You attach a case study using one of their largest competitors in the industry.

HR Managers: This email goes to all HR managers within the company. You know these people are responsible for reporting to higher-level employees and that they don’t have much time for administrative work. So you focus specifically on the ease of reporting with your platform and automated workflows that streamline tedious processes. You include a video of a product demo.

HR Assistants: Lastly, you send an email to all HR assistants explaining how your platform frees up time for them to spend more time on meaningful HR activities—something you know is a pain point for this particular job title. You include a calculator that shows how much time the prospect wastes on menial tasks and how much time your product saves.

This outreach sequence accomplishes the following: It familiarizes each member of the buying committee with your brand and product. It focusses on only the things each person cares about. And it facilitates conversation about your platform on all levels. So, no matter who’s tasked with purchasing this type of software, they already know about your product and have a personal, vested interest in your particular version it. All because you were able to communicate how it solves their particular needs.

6.    Campaign analysis and testing

The popularity of account-based selling is attributed to the rise of data, analytics, and sales technology. Data drives every aspect of an account-based selling strategy. For this reason, it’s important that you prioritize the data within your sales contact database and also take the time to analyze your account-based selling results.

We already discussed tracking account coverage and account quality, but you must also keep an eye on other metrics. These include the number of opportunities you generate, account engagement, and your improvement over time.

Final Thoughts

As you can tell, account-based selling is no small undertaking. It’s a strategy that requires preparation and collaboration across your entire organization. Don’t worry, though. No one jumps into a new strategy without hitting some bumps along the way.

But, strong alignment, understanding, and access to data you can make the shift to account-based selling. Once you start seeing results, you’ll wonder why you didn’t make the switch sooner!