Account-Based Selling for the Modern Rep: Best Tools to Target and Grow Accounts

Oct 11, 2018

Account-based selling isn’t new. However, with the rise of smart sales technology, this sales technique has experienced a resurgence and increased popularity amongst B2B companies.

Now, it is easier than ever to identify and target ideal customers—a core component of account-based selling—with the use of sales data analysis tools and outside sales automation.

If implemented properly, account-based sales can take a company to a whole new level. This does not mean, though, that account-based selling is the ideal technique for every company—if it is not a good fit or isn’t executed poorly, it can be counterproductive.

Read on to discover everything you need to know about account-based sales to see if it is right for your sales team. Plus, we’ll walk you through how to use the best tools for targeting and growing accounts.


What are Account-Based Sales (or ABS)?

In account-based sales, each target is treated as a market of one.

Instead of one salesperson going after one client, the entire company comes together and targets multiple people within an organization that they feel is the right fit for them.

The entire company is focused on specific, high-paying accounts and gear their content specifically for that client. This requires coordination across all departments for each sale.

It is mostly used in the B2B market because it is a multi-touch strategy that is too hands-on for the B2C market.

There are several terms that encompass the account-based movement—all of which refer to the tactic of focusing your clientele on high-value contracts, as opposed to smaller short-term sales. Some of the most popular terms are:

  • Account-Based Sales (ABS)
  • Account-Based Marketing (ABM)
  • Account-Based Sales Development (ABSD)

Some sales experts argue that instead of calling it ABS, we should really be referring to the sales technique as “Account-Based Everything” (ABE) because of the collaboration required within the model.

No salesperson is truly alone in their pursuit of a contract, and everyone—from executives, marketing, finance, and customer service—comes together throughout the sales cycle.

With ABS, not only does the entire company collaborate on the sale, but this team approach continues after the sale is made:

  • Customer service teams develop an onboarding experience specific to the client to ensure they get the most out of their product or service.
  • Executives continue to have regular check-ins to make sure that the client is content and to see any room for improvement.
  • Sales and marketing teams continue to work together to identify any upsell or cross-sell opportunities.

Step 1: Determine if Account-Based Sales Right for You

Account-based selling is not right for every company. Besides being more ideal for the B2B market, there are other factors to consider in the development of the ABS framework for your company.

Here are some things to consider as you decide whether to put ABS into action for your sales team.

Your typical account size

The incredible amount of manpower and budget required for each and every target means that each contract has to be of significant size.

If you are working with mostly small to medium businesses, then the profit will not likely outweigh the cost of doing business.

ABS is ideal if your company’s target accounts are large enterprises. The average contract value (ACV) and the lifetime value (LTV) needs to be large enough to cover the expenses of your ABS business.

Your product or offering

ABS works best if you have multiple products or services.

If you offer a variety of packages, add-ons or complementary services that a customer might want down the road, then an ABS model would make sense.

If you have only one product or service, however, without an eventual sale after the initial one, then the resources and time you would have to dedicate to ABS will not likely be profitable.

Your sales cycle

When dealing with large enterprises, the decision to buy a product or service is typically a long and drawn-out process.

The ABS model works best for this longer type of selling because the nature of the model will help to speed up the process.

There will be a faster rate of business because your company will assist them at multiple levels to make it as seamless as possible. If the typical sales cycle for your company is 3+ months—which is typically true of large, B2B enterprises—then account-based could be the right way to go.

Your ideal client

At the heart of ABS is the ideal client. You do not want to spend all your time and resources on a dead-end, so understanding what client is ideal for your business is essential.

If you are still trying to find what niche or clientele your product works best with, then you should probably hold off on ABS.

However, do look into your sales data to see if there are any patterns. Perhaps you find that you do have an ideal client by using sales data analysis tools (which we will talk amount more in the next section).

Your target company’s structure

The typical B2B enterprise has 6.8 people involved in the decision-making process for products or services. In this type of environment, ABS is ideal because it is especially suited for working with multiple buyers at the same target company.

By creating multiple buyer personas and connecting with multiple people at the target company, your sales team will be specially situated to create a smooth transaction that will not be dependent on one contact alone.

This means that if one of your contacts should go away for whatever reason (leave the company or take a leave of absence, for example), you will still have other contacts and it should not affect your business.

Don’t fit these requirements but still want to try ABS?

The ABS model is not necessarily an all-or-nothing decision for your sales team.

Many companies may work with both small to mid-sized businesses as well as enterprises. In this case, some decide to set up dedicated teams to work on accounts, while the rest of the company works with smaller contracts.

This double-pronged method is referred to as “tiger teams,” and it works to bring in the best of both worlds.

Sometimes, sales teams will use tiger teams to test ABS and see how successful the method is for their brand and company. For example, they may start a smaller team on ABS to see how it goes and then, if the results are good, gradually transition the rest of the team.

This will give you the chance to track and measure its success without risking the entire company.

Step 2: Create Ideal Customer Profiles for Account-Based Selling

Now that we’ve determined that ABS is a good fit for your company, it’s time to get started! And that means finding a sales target for your company by creating an Ideal Customer Profile (or ICP).

An Ideal Customer Profile is a detailed look at the successful accounts that you landed in the past that can help you predict which leads will be best for you to target in the future.

As you build your ICP, sales data analysis tools are crucial. You should ask questions like:

  • Is there a specific type of business that your product works best for?
  • Or, is there a location where your product solves an issue?
  • What do your best customers all have in common?
  • What are their struggles, priorities, preferences?
  • Do they have a specific style they like?
  • What do your long-term contract companies look like?

Keep in mind that, at this stage, you’re evaluating the specific companies you work with—not necessarily the people you interact with at the companies.

To explain differently, you may be familiar with building “Customer Avatars.” This is similar, but since we’re going through an ABS lens, it’s more like “Account Avatars.”

Precision is key

In the account-based model, there is little room for error in finding a sales target

After all, you are going to invest a ton of time, money, and salesperson-power towards acquiring each account. So, even more than in other sales models, you need to be absolutely sure each lead is worth it.

Fortunately, an in-depth, detailed ICP can help keep your team laser-focused on the right leads. While it’s crucial that you don’t ignore your instincts, you should also utilize tools to help you evaluate ideal targets more objectively.

Best tools for defining your ICP in account-based sales

As you build your ICP, the best place to look is your history—what types of clients have you historically had the most success with? The answer should be in your CRM.

If you’re unfamiliar, a CRM is a Customer Relationship Management software that helps your team to track all touchpoints (or interactions) with clients and the results of those touchpoints. Some of the most well-known CRMs are Salesforce and Hubspot.

Most CRMs will have analysis tools inside of them that will help you to make sense of your data to identify which accounts have brought you the most success and then further identify the factors they all have in common.

Best tools for finding accounts in account-based sales

Of course, simply defining your ideal customer isn’t enough—you will eventually need to put your ICP into action and find real-life prospects that fit the profile in a process called lead generation.

Lead generation really falls under the umbrella of account-based marketing—but marketing and sales go hand-in-hand, especially in the account-based model.

There are many approaches to lead generation to consider, and many high-quality tools designed to help you do each one. For example:

  • Email automation (Send them with ActiveCampaign)
  • Smart opt-in forms (Enrich them with Lusha)
  • Demos and in-person meetings (Book them with Calendly)
  • Landing pages (Build them with LeadPages)
  • Content marketing with opt-ins (Capture them with OptinMonster)
  • Tailored messages for each of your leads (Communicate better with Crystal)

As you build out your funnel, be sure you have the ability to analyze the effectiveness at every step of the way. That way, you can make sure your landing pages are actually attracting your ICP, for example.

Step 3: Create Buyer Personas for Account-Based Selling

Because of the nature of account-based sales, you’ll likely find that each account has several key players. For example, for each account, you may interact with a department head, the CEO, and the CFO before closing the sale.

In B2B, the number of decision-makers within each business is increasing. So, once you have found the ideal account-type you want to do business with, it is time to look deeply into the specific key players within the company.

To do this, create buyer personas for each key player involved in the sales process.

Involve your entire sales team

Unfortunately, we don’t tend to record this type of information as we sell, so your team probably won’t have data points to analyze. But that’s okay because we will create them.

For this part of the process, invite your entire sales team to help. Ask them to independently build out avatars for the main buyers they interact with and then cross-reference everyone’s answers to find the common threads.

Ask your team to specifically think about each person’s…

  • Role in the company
  • Motivations
  • Challenges
  • Professional goals
  • Pain points
  • Favorite forms of communication
  • Core KPI

Best tools for creating buyer personas in account-based sales

One awesome and fun to use tool is Hubspot’s “Make My Persona” site. It’s free and will walk you through all the essential questions your team should ask themselves about each of the key players.

Beyond this, there are hundreds of buyer avatar templates you can find online. The most important thing to consider is if there is a unique data point you should include that is relevant to your business.

Best tools for targeting specific buyers in account-based sales

We already looked at how to generate leads on a company level, but going after the individual buyers is helpful to consider as well.

  • Engage on social media (Schedule posts with Hootsuite)
  • Visit buyers in-person (Optimize your visits with MapMyCustomers)
  • Email them directly (Find their email address with Hunter)
  • Speak over the phone (Have better conversations with Gong)

Keep in mind that we’ve covered several forms of communication above, but each key player should have a favorite form of communication. For example, if you know that CEOs tend to prefer in-person meetings, schedule one to have the best impact!

The good news is that while you will have many key players to consider for each account, they’re like dominoes—once you get one key player on your side, the others will come over more easily since you now have an advocate.

Step 4: Maintaining Accounts within Account-Based Companies

The account-based model does not end at the initial sale. Customer service is key to keeping customers and generating future sales. After all, it’s been proven time and time again that the most valuable customers are the ones you already have.

In order to keep clients happy, you need to nurture the accounts. And since (unlike in B2C) you have fewer accounts, you should have more time and attention to give!

According to Nuance, 2 out of 3 customers report that they prefer to help themselves rather than seek external help. This means that you should focus a significant amount of your attention on arming every customer with the tools they need to solve problems on their own—and then contact you easily if they need to.

However, having self-sufficient clients doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check-in regularly!

The size, needs, and demands of your customers change, so being able to offer them relevant products and services are a key part of the ABS model. By conducting executive check-ins and maintaining contact with your clients, you will have a chance to upsell, cross-sell and even receive referrals.

Best tools for nurturing accounts in account-based sales

  • Field spur-of-the-moment questions (Automate a chatbot with Intercom)
  • Offer training sessions for new features (Host it with Zoom)
  • Schedule check-ins (Automate your outreach with Hiver)
  • Ask for referrals (Build your referral system with ReferralCandy)
  • Lower response time (Measure how long it takes with Zendesk)

Account-Based Movement for the Future

Even though ABS has been around for a while, it’s the model of the future for B2B.

It fits seamlessly with modern technology to create more accurate profiles and personas. Outside sales automation and sales data analysis tools make it ideal for finding the perfect clients to create large, long-term contracts.

By identifying and finding the right clients worth your time, you can take more control over the future of your business!