These days in B2B, everyone is talking about account-based sales (ABS) and marketing because of good and valid reasons. An average of more than 5.4 individuals is involved in the current B2B buying decisions, according to Gartner. An ABS approach can effectively drive success rates by creating engagements with all the stakeholders at a target account, helping them to build consensus and you a “yes”.

No one wants to feel like a number, instead, we want to feel important and seek a lot of attention. As customers become more empowered with information, they want to feel important and most valued customers.

And to successfully deliver on these customers expectation you need account-based marketing (ABM) and account based sales (ABS).

Account based selling is a unique strategy. Instead of targeting and appealing to masses, ABS lets you target and appeal to specific accounts in a hyper-personalized manner.

What is account based selling

Account based selling is a multi-channel and multi-touch well coordinated throughout the company to target and peruse important and high-value account(s).

Although, there are a lot of names for account-based strategy; account-based sales (ABS), account-based marketing (ABM), and account-based sales development (ABSD).

An efficient account based strategy requires proper coordination between all departments. Your sales, marketing, customer success, finance, engineering, product, and C-suite teams should be aligned properly for a successful account based selling.

Irrespective of its name, this strategy is quite new; B2B sales representatives have been using account level strategy for a very long time.

But, there are no hand-offs in account-based strategy. Instead, all departments (especially sales and marketing) work together in alignment from the very beginning and throughout their revenue cycle.

Senior executives are also involved in closing the sales with ABS strategy, providing strategic direction, meeting stakeholders at target accounts, helping the ABS team acquire important resources, etc.

With the help of ABS, you can easily maintain the account level focus on each account after sales. Customer success managers provide personalized experiences and then work towards developing a relationship with several stakeholders at each level, instead of a single stakeholder or advocate.

In the meantime, marketers and account managers work in alignment to find cross-sell and up-sell opportunities. And the product team takes insight from customer stakeholders to develop new features, and use cases.

Who should use account-based selling?

Efficiently executing an ABS strategy needs organization-wise buy-in. Before you upgrade your existing business model, decide if you are the right fit, using the following questions;

1.Who are your customers?

Are you selling to SMBs then ABS is not for you. As you cannot efficiently dedicate the required resource and manpower to each account.

But, if you are selling to mid-market customers then ABS could be a great fit for you.

And if you are selling complex or enterprise solutions, then you probably are already targeting a specific number of high-value accounts.

2.How well do you know your ideal customers?

The targeting of you ABS requires laser precision of your all your 1target accounts. Are you still in the process of determining your product-market fit, or you still don’t have access to sufficient data or paying customers to find their similar characteristics, then you should hold the launch of your ABS program.

3.How many stakeholders at your target accounts are involved in your average deal?

When the total number of stakeholders at target accounts increases, so does the need for ABS strategy. Targeting each stakeholder within each account reduces the overall risk for the deal from your contacts changing their jobs, go on sabbatical, get sick, etc. Meanwhile, it also helps you to identify potential roadblocks and resolve them before they can stall or stop the ongoing deal.

4.What is your average sales cycle?

The complexity of your deals and the average time of your sales cycle are critically correlated. And if your average sales cycle takes more than three months, ABS is a good fit for your company.

5.What is the nature of your solution?

Since ABS delivers highly integrated experiences across marketing, sales, and customer success, it is highly fit for subscription-based solutions. Your customer churn rate is sure to decrease when your messages are clear and consistent and at the same time you uphold your claims. It also opens a unique opportunity to cross-sell and up-sell, Turning your ABS into a highly optimized approach when you provide a range of packages, add-ons, tiers, or complementary services.

ABS or something else?

If you are selling to midmarket companies and enterprise companies as well, launching a full-scale ABS strategy may not be in your best interests. In this scenario, your ABS efforts will be better suited for your enterprise customers but ineffective for your midmarket customers.

But luckily, companies have found a way around it known as “Tiger Teams”. These teams of highly specialized professional are dedicated to working on selected accounts that could potentially yield in bigger deals. In simple words, it is ABS for targeting midmarket companies.

A combined strategy is also effective if you are planning to move up-market. You can target and pursue your best-fit customers while you optimize your strategy. When you have acquired several paying customers, found key drivers for the accounts, build an effective marketing strategy and upgraded your solution to be highly robust, then shift your entire sales team to an ABS.

Account based selling tactics

ABS focuses mainly on four principles; customer centricity, alignment between sales and marketing teams, relationship focus, and personalized campaigns. That being said, different companies have developed different tactics over the years based on the resources, size, and target accounts.

For a company to optimize its ABS strategy and see better results, they have to optimize their ABS program based on their own requirements, in relation to their target accounts. Let’s take an example; a small company may not have the resources to invite all the stakeholders of their target accounts for a dinner. While an enterprise level company may be interested in more than just a targeted email marketing campaign.

Strategic ABS: one-to-one

The one-to-one approach commonly known as strategic ABS is the primary approach to account based selling. At the same time, it needs the most of your marketing resources and parallelly delivers the highest return on investment (ROI) amount among all three tactics of ABS.

Strategic ABS is usually carried out by a few key members from the marketing team of a company- the small percentage of target accounts that could bring your sales team the biggest deals they are trying to close. These target accounts also pose greater churn risk, and the biggest cross-sell and up-sell opportunity, and as a result efficiently targeting them across channels with highly personalized campaigns is very critical to its success.

In simple words, strategic ABM is the biggest gun used to shoot bigger customers who could not have been shot using a small gun. ABS campaign is usually implemented by enterprise companies that can normally afford costly gifts, highly customized sales stacks, and these are required just to kick-off ABS program.

Although, it may appear that these goals of these events are to show off your marketing spends which are not correct. Instead, the purpose of your ABS is to get your sales representatives in the same room as key decision makers at your target accounts. Your sales representatives can easily turn a happy hour into a business meeting, or a business meeting into a six-figure deal. The resources, time, efforts, and your marketing spends will be totally worth.

ABS Lite: one-to-few

One-to-few ABS known as ABS lite is commonly used to target smaller groups target accounts having similar needs and characteristics. Although it follows the same principle as strategic ABS but requires lower marketing spends and is usually carried out by mid-level marketers and sales representative of your company.

ABS lite targets key accounts having smaller revenue or cross-sell and up-sell opportunities compared to the accounts you are targeting individually. Let consider an example, let’s say that 42% of your total target accounts have the same revenue potential as the 12% mentioned above. Then, that 42% are the accounts whom you can target using an ABS lite approach.

Target accounts could be categorized based on their revenue, size, industry, their problems, etc, or a combination of these. Here, the campaign can be slightly personalized for each target accounts but stays almost consistent across your target accounts.

These approaches may use tactics like small gifts, happy hours at events within your industry, etc. These approaches will still appeal to your target accounts but your marketing spend in this case will be less than strategic ABS.

Programmatic ABS: one-to-many

One-to-many ABS commonly known as programmatic ABS is the newest approach and latest addition to ABS tactic. This tactic is used to scale ABS to a pool of target accounts. Here, the traditional process of generating, nurturing, and tracking your leads considering as an individual, shifts to account-based approach that became possible only because of the latest technologies that enable razor-focus targeting, analytics, and personalization.

Even though email marketing campaigns and paid ads social media and Google ads, a marketer can target and easily reach hundreds or thousands of target accounts. But, there will be very little or no personalization at all. Instead, the campaign will target the accounts and appeal to their general requirements.

The key to launching programmatic ABS effectively is all about optimization. When you want to target a larger audience that can give you the desired result, then you should narrow it till the point where your messages are applicable to all your target accounts.

How to build your list of target accounts

Now that you have understood the account based targeting tactics and the types of account you can target based on your business model also the individuals within each target accounts you’ll connect and engage using personalized content, you are ready to create the first list of your target accounts.

ABS experts strongly suggest creating a different target account list for each ABS targeting approach discussed above. You should dedicate the different level of resources, personalization.

Ensure that your sales team assists you while selecting your list of target accounts. Your sales team will play a key role in converting these prospects into paying customers. And at the same time, if your sales team thinks that a target account on your list is not a good fit, you can save your resources and efforts that could have been waster trying to target and appeal to that account.

How to use content in ABS

Similar to your inbound marketing strategy, ABS also depends heavily on content personalized to a specific audience. Each ABS tactic uses different content and offers based on their position in your sales pipeline. Marketers and sales representatives should collaborate to identify the best content for different accounts.

The different types of content that can be used for your prospecting approach are following;

Low effort

Email: You can use personalized email to connect with the stakeholders within each of your target accounts.

Voicemail: Provides a quick tip or warm up your prospects for your email to provide high value.

Mail:Letters and packages can help you to quickly get one’s attention when used properly.

Blogs, infographics, and small videos: Quickly connect and engage with your contacts at your target accounts using easily consumable contents.

Social media: Connect and engage with your contacts at your target accounts on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.

Report: Establish your company as a thought leader in your industry by publishing relevant research, surveys, and data.

Medium effort

Custom report:Build a report and outline any vulnerabilities, strategies, and unique suggestion for your target accounts.

Webinars:Target contacts from a single account. You can host a webinar titled, “How (account name) can (get the most out of XYZ)” and send the invite, only to contacts within this account.

Workshop:Plan and host a workshop on topics that your stakeholder are interested in. Example, if your account’s buying committees usually have IT Managers, then you can invite them to your complimentary workshop session on data hygiene best practices.

Business case: Showcase the potential ROI of your product or service using the data you collected during account discovery and from your research.

High effort

Trials: Letting your potential customers try your product before they buy can be beneficial for both. Your prospects feel safe about purchasing your product as they have tried your product and are verified the end user of the product will actually like it. Apart from this, they are more likely to close the sale as they have invested resources and their time into learning to use your product.

Company workshop: you can offer your prospects to run a workshop on their company premises or a series of workshops for each of your accounts.

The contents that can be used after the sales are following;

Customer satisfaction is the primary element driving the success of ABS. And if your customers are not happy after buying your product, they will not upgrade, repeat their purchase, buy more, and neither will they engage with the stakeholders from your other target accounts.

So, it is critical to keep providing good content and guidance after the sale has completed.

Training sessions: Offer to help your customers maximize their value from using your product or service by training them how to use specific options or features, avoid similar problems, prepare yourself for certain situations, etc.

Executive check-ins: You should have a quarterly meeting among executives from your customer accounts and your company to identify what’s working out well, room for improvement, and any roadblocks they have faced so far. These meetings will enable your customers to explore their opportunities for any up-sell, cross-sell, and any opportunities for referrals, at the same time provide a demo for your upcoming product or service that are relevant to your customers and could be highly useful to them.

User events: Build enthusiasm among your customers for your product and company from user events by bringing your customers together and share their experience and expertise related to your product and company.

Build your ABS team

An effective ABS team has members from various teams like marketing, sales, customer success, implementation, etc.

Following are the primary roles of an ABS team;

Marketers: Creates the content strategy and develops an overall playbook, coordinates marketing campaigns and keeps a track on the effectiveness and success of the program.

Sales representatives: Researches the accounts and update the CRM, uses personalized content and messaging created to build relationships with multiple stakeholders from your target accounts.

Account executive: Conduct meetings internally, optimize account strategy, works as primary liaison to the target account and try to be their trusted advisor.

Support representative: Keep all the internal teams up-to-date on target accounts quickly identify any issues as soon as the surface.
How you should structure your ABS team depends on your company’s size, revenue, maturity, and objective. To maximize the average value from your target accounts, add multiple account executives for one sales representative. And if you want to acquire more customers, add multiple sales representatives for one account executive.

Important metrics of ABS

In order to successfully gauge your ABS program success, you should track the average contract value (ACV) and lifetime value (LTV) for your target accounts. Since you are dedicating more resources to each target account, your total customer acquisition cost (CAC) will increase. Compare your current LTV: CAC ratio to the previous one. And, if your previous LTV: CAC ratio was 2:1 and the current ratio is 4:1, you are on the right path. The increase in resources, time, and efforts to acquire a new account is highly justified by the increase in profits.

Moving to the upper market segment commonly results in the extended sales process, as there is a higher number of decision makers, internal loops to jump through, and any other issue complicating deal. Although, you may expect a longer sales cycle with ABS, although, it does not happen necessarily.

Sure, bigger deals having complicated buying committee takes longer time, but as an account based method enables you to shift your priority on fewer accounts and apply your resources to deal with them, sales process time usually gets short.

How to implement an ABS

According to the ABS experts, one of the biggest challenges of ABS practitioners is the lack of proper understanding around the transition.

And if you are using a broad approach, then switching to ABS program out of the blue sky is very risky. Your incoming lead flow may totally dry up even before you have any success with the new ABS program.

To avoid the above-mentioned scenario, you should shift to the new ABS program in stages. Once you have created your ideal customer profile (ICP) and shortlisted the accounts that match your ICP, dedicate 33% of your company into tiger teams.

After your tiger team has seen some traction, dedicate more than 50% of your company to your tiger team, then dedicate 75% and finally 100%. How long your ABS transition should take varies a lot, but most organizations vastly outperform their sales forecast, plan, and objective between one to two years.

A company that registers initial success usually has transparent alignment between their sales and marketing teams.

Following are the steps required to implement an effective ABS process;

  • Review best customers
  • Create ICP
  • Create buyer personas
  • Develop a content strategy
  • Build a target account list
  • Segment these target accounts into tiers
  • Allocate one-third of the sales development team to pursue target accounts
  • Decide which metrics to track
  • Move next 20% of your team to ABS
  • Analyze content strategy to decide where to optimize
  • Move next 25% of your team to ABS
  • Review key metrics
  • Move last 15% of your team to ABS

Now, you can clearly understand that implementing an ABS program is not a small task. It is a lengthy program that needs resources, time, efforts, and collaboration between teams across your entire company. But, if you follow the instruction in this guide and build a strong alignment between your teams, develop a thorough understanding, and have access to good data, you can make the shift quite smooth.

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