Account Based Selling (ABS) is a system that is executed by strategically setting up a specific business model based on an iterative process that centers around buying propensity and hyper-personalization. Companies are starting to trade in the “spray and pray” tactics of the past for a more specialized approach to selling. After being part of many conversations and conferences discussing every aspect of ABS, I wanted to share a few of my ideas and the impact it is already starting to have at my company.
The first questions that come up when switching to an ABS model tend to be, “Where do you start?”, “What accounts should you target?”, “How do you set up your CRM?”, and “How does your sales organization have to interact with others within your company to be successful?” The first step is marketing, operations, sales and customer service coming together to build a buying propensity model. Using a breakdown of a current roster of clients and charting some specific behaviors and personas will help define a model that will allow you to rank all of the accounts in your database as well as look for more accounts that score high on the model. This step sets the team up for success by building out a large prospecting list that - according to the data - all have a reasonably strong propensity to buy. Companies are assigned scores, separated into tiers and then segmented into groups that are assigned to the sales development team.
From an operational standpoint, choosing the parameters for the initial scoring model is a beast of a task, as companies are generally looking to expand their reach by penetrating new markets. My company started with data points that could be tracked universally and then layered into a behavioral score (the prospects are coming to our webinars, asking for demos, clicking through our website, etc.). The combination of company data and prospect behavior leads to a scoring methodology that helps target a specific target list as well as rank the rest of the companies and contacts that are currently in the CRM.
Once the accounts have been scored, tiered, segmented and assigned, the SDR team can begin their initial approach. A major differentiator of ABS is hyper-personalization. One of the approaches that my company took with our current team was to set up workshops around social selling specialization. Our team uses LinkedIn Sales Navigator as a way to connect with prospects, so part one of the preparation process was an evaluation of the team’s LinkedIn profiles. As they reach out to prospects, and as those same prospects in turn view the SDR’s profiles, we wanted to present a branded and unified message of who the SDR team is.
Beyond the initial workshops, I worked with each individual on the team to build a branded profile that communicated a more personalized view of the SDRs. They each wrote a summary that included their business and personal goals as well as interesting things about themselves. That tactic allows for prospects to get a more personalized view of the SDR they are speaking with. Generally, LinkedIn profiles read like a resume with bullet-pointed lists of job responsibilities sometimes dating back to summer jobs in high school. Now each of our SDRs tell a more personalized story through their business media that sets them apart as uniquely qualified individuals. When setting up business media (such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Vine, Snapchat, Instagram or any other tool that can be used to share content and connect with people) it is important to make sure that the message being communicated is clear. In the case of our team, the overall message was, “I care about the industry that I am in, and I am excited for my network to watch my journey to becoming a thought leader and expert in my field.”
Hyper-personalization has become the running theme of ABS. It isn’t about the steps of the sale as much anymore as it is about the rapport building through finding commonalities or challenges to discuss. When a SDR has a specific message that has been constructed for a prospect broken down by industry, title and company size, it is much more likely to resonate than a general “company line.” As a Director of Sales Operations, I am often the target of hyper-personalization. SDRs reach out to me by quoting passages from my book or from one of my favorite authors. Even though it happens frequently, I am still impressed by the considerable amount of time and effort it takes to learn enough about me to write a subject line that gets my attention or an email that speaks directly to me. I love to read the emails I get because of the creativity that they show. I will often take demos or return calls just because I feel that the person earned that right by the time and effort they put into reaching out to me.
Hyper-personalization is also a measurable system. Building out different types of messaging for voicemail, in-mail and email and then tracking the open and response rates show the team what kind of personal content is resonating and what content may be taking the hyper-personalization a bit too far. Professional interest or curiosity can come across very well, while overly personalized content could potentially come across as too informal. The easiest way to personalize is by using a subject line or an opening or closing paragraph (or all three) to highlight something about the prospect. It is best practice to reference something related to their business persona. If they publish more personal information in their business media, then that may be referenced, as well.
The team uses tools within their tech stack to measure the success of their strategic touches. A cadence is set that includes calls, emails, in-mails and voicemails within a defined period of time. Once the cadence is complete, the account is either considered in progress if there was some connection, or it is closed, re-prioritized and/or reassigned. This allows the team not to get too bogged down in individual accounts over a long period of time. With this targeted approach, it is quite possible for a single team member to reach out to several contacts at different levels in a few hundred companies or accounts each month. One of the best parts of this model is the confidence it instills in the SDR team. As they reach out, they understand that there is already a propensity in some way for the prospect to buy, they have been trained and understand the persona of the buyer they are reaching out to and they have goals set that are in line with standard sales practices as they are reaching out to the likeliest candidates to buy consistently.
Time management for the development team is crucial as they now have activity metrics to attain while managing their accounts, working a cadence of required activities and doing the necessary research for hyper-personalization. There are peak call times during the day (8 to 10 am and 4 to 5 pm) that should be taken advantage of and the SDR team members who keep a very full schedule inside of their CRM never lack for things to keep them busy during the day. My current team sets over 50 tasks a day within their accounts including the scheduling out of the steps and the reaching out cadence. Once everything is built out and a system is in place, the rep will always have something to do and will be consistently moving accounts out or forward in the process.
The management team is responsible for staying on top of scoring and refreshing the accounts as well as imparting best practices for organizing their day. My general preference is a team meeting in the morning followed by a call blitz. Directly after the call blitz is a great time for follow up emails. That cycle can be repeated every few hours during the day with a few breaks taken for business media research. It is incredibly helpful in this system to set alerts. Google Alerts are great for getting industry or company info, and LinkedIn Navigator alerts are great for getting timely information at the contact level. It’s important to know when someone changes positions or starts with or leaves a company. The time spent researching people is wasted when you don’t follow them closely enough to understand their role in the buying process.
It looks a lot like the success of any type of selling. There are more conversations that lead to more demos which lead to more closed deals. Hopefully those deals are closing faster and in bigger amounts because there is a deeper strategy at work. The focus in the process relies heavily on the SDR team. They are the ones proactively filling the funnel with opportunities to win new business. When I was a monster dialer way back in the day, I had a list and had to make over a hundred dials a day. That resulted in a few conversations and even fewer demos. Now because of the strategy behind the process and a more personalized and targeted approach to messaging, the SDR team does not need as many initial attempts to generate a strong pipeline of opportunities to actually close. If a SDR owns 200 accounts a month and is asked to convert 20 of them to qualified opportunities, they can focus their time down on those accounts. They can work with the company leadership to craft the best approach. Then they can work through their cadence with confidence that there will be impact and opportunity because they have been set up for success.
A few key indicators of early success is an increase in average deal size and a decrease in the length of the sales cycle. If you are closing bigger deals at a faster rate, it’s going to be a great year! The day to day is measured by the connections, demos set and qualified opportunities created or passed to the Account Executive team. A successful rep is progressing every day. The best reps understand the accounts that they own and start each month with a plan of how they are going to penetrate them and exceed all goals and expectations.
The general theme of ABS is using the available data to set up for success any individual charged with reaching into an account. As we get deeper and deeper into ABS, we develop better scoring models, stronger and more hyper-personalized messaging and enough data to understand the impact of the transition on the company. I believe that this model as it works within the SaaS company where I am currently a leader is going to be transformational in the coming years. As we go up market and expand our international presence, we will show we are a company with an incredible offering and sales organization.