The ultimate guide to account-based sales

account based sales development

Driving in thousands of new sales leads with ads and quick-win tactics can look good on your reporting dashboard, but it doesn't always mean long-term success.

If you're facing low lead-customer conversion and high churn among the leads you do convert, it's a sign that you're targeting the wrong people. In fact, it is estimated that at least 50% of your prospects are not a good fit for what you sell. This can quickly become expensive and even harm your brand depending on the sales strategies you're using.

Instead, account-based sales development takes a quality-over-quantity approach to sales. Rather than trying to bring in the most leads, this strategy focuses on bringing in the right leads. It's not a new way of sales – it's been used for years as outbound best practice – but for many businesses, it's worth returning to and optimizing.

What is account-based sales development?

Here's how account-based sales development (ABSD), or just account-based sales (ABS), works:

  1. You define your ideal customer profile
  2. You build your target account list
  3. You specifically target these companies with Account Executives (AEs), Sales Development Reps (SDRs) and tailored marketing
  4. You measure success based on close rate, contract value, and your cost of acquisition to lifetime value (LTV:CAC) ratio

Account-based selling is about careful planning, automation, personalization and thinking long-term.

On the other hand, account-based sales is not about mass mailing lists, unpersonalized marketing and short-term hacks.

Account-based selling is effective because it's so highly focused. By getting clear on the perfect customers for your business, you can focus on the most profitable marketing and sales activities and personalize your messaging directly to these people. This is a win-win: ABS saves you time and money, while making your brand more compelling for your target customers.

ABS works best for B2B companies with enterprise customers, such as SaaS companies and high-end consulting firms. These companies tend to have longer and more complex sales cycles with various stakeholders involved. If this matches your business, it's worth trying an account-based sales strategy to attract and close your dream list of customers.

OutboundWorks shares that account-based selling starts being effective at an average deal size of around $10,000. That’s because the level of individual attention that ABS requires can’t be justified if that account isn’t worth a certain value to the business.

How to approach account-based sales the right way

A successful account-based sales framework requires you to tick many boxes, starting from the prep work you do and continuing to implementation and monitoring. Here are the best practices to follow if you want to succeed at ABS.

1. Get your Ideal Customer Profile right

Before you can start with ABS, you need to get the groundwork in place. This starts with identifying who your ideal customer is.

Look at your current list of customers and ask these questions:

  • Which types of customers would you like to have more of?
  • Which types of companies are easiest to close?
  • Which have the lowest churn rates?
  • Which companies really get it?

Write down how you can characterize your ideal customers by:

  • Industry
  • Location
  • Company revenue
  • Team size
  • Pain points
  • Goals
  • Product, service or subscription plan they choose

These traits will come together to form your Ideal Customer Profile (or ICP).

2. Define several buyer personas within your ICP

Next, think about who the decision-makers are in these ideal customers' companies. There might be multiple stakeholders, such as the CEO, head of marketing and operations manager. You might want to source at least three contacts per target account, spread across varying titles and seniority levels.

Think about the last successful deals you've closed and who you interacted with. List all of the common stakeholders who have a say in whether or not they do business with you. These are your buyer personas.

For each buyer persona, get clear on their challenges, personal and work goals, and their involvement in the sales process. Get to know these people and continue to better understand how you can reach them, influence them and get them on board.

What's worked for you with previous successful deals, and what have you learned from unsuccessful deals with would-be ideal customers?

3. Build your target account list

Once you know what your ideal customer and buyer personas look like, it's time to create a list of dream companies to close. This is your target account list.

Some ABS experts recommend beginning with a database of 500 target accounts per rep, with at least three contacts sourced per account.

Make sure your target account list is well-organized in your CRM and synced two-ways with your other business tools so you can access the latest contact details in any tool.

4. Implement ABS throughout your company, from marketing to sales to service

Account-based sales development isn't just about sales. It should change the philosophy of your entire company. Here's how your departments should adapt:

Marketing – Account-based marketing is another term you might've heard. Your marketers create the content and messaging you need to pitch, nurture and close target leads. They should know exactly what personas and targets they're creating content for, while sales should have easy access to all content in one library. When marketers execute demand generation campaigns, they should do it with the ABS strategies down the funnel in mind.

Support – Your Onboarding and Customer Support Managers need to provide a seamless handover from the personalized sales process each new customer has experienced. You'll likely need to offer custom onboarding and support, especially if it's an enterprise deal. To provide personal support to a growing number of customers, make sure you have a great automation strategy for the work that can be streamlined.

5. Use content the right way

The best content for account-based selling has certain things in common:

  • It's created with a clear strategy, goal and personas in mind
  • It can be assigned to a specific moment on your buyer's journey and has a clear "next step" call-to-action
  • It's personalized wherever possible
  • It's actually used by your sales reps

The content you share with prospects could include blog posts, ebooks, resources, infographics and other enablement content created by your marketing team. This can accompany sales-created content such as demo calls, sales videos, voicemails and personalized email nurturing sequences.

The best account-based sales enablement content is highly personalized, such as custom reports, workshops or webinars with Q&A time focused on goals and pain points. Although this content requires extra effort, it can deliver an impressive ROI. Make sure you have the tracking in place to help you to understand the results you get and decide if it's worth investing more.

6. Use automation to free up time for personal contact

ABS isn't a "set it and forget it" sales strategy. It takes time and effort to build up a relationship with each customer and win their trust in your business. However, there's a lot you can and should automate to reduce human error and free up more of your time for the most important interactions.

Here's what's worth automating in your account-based sales strategy:

  • Internal reminders, tasks and workflows to keep Account Executives and SDRs on track and keep their pipeline moving
  • Email workflows with plenty of personalization tokens, plus follow up emails after no reply
  • Lead scoring to recognize the highest value deals
  • Close likelihood scoring to know which leads are closest to a deal

Have a look at our guide to some simple automations to get started with:

To get the most out of automation, make sure you keep your apps in sync so all your databases are correct and up-to-date.

7. Track the right metrics to show if ABS is working

You can't do account-based selling blind. You need to have the numbers to show what's working and what isn't. The best ABS metrics to track are:

  • SDR success metrics, like number of meetings set, average deal value and total deal value per period
  • Average Contract Value (ACV) or Lifetime Value (LTV)
  • Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) and your LTV:CAC ratio to prove that increased spending for account-based sales is worth the investment

With these best practices in your ABS toolkit, you're in the best position to bring in high-value customers that really understand your product. And with tracking in place, you'll get a clear image of how it impacts your bottom line.

Make sure your account-based selling runs like clockwork by getting your apps in sync. Use PieSync to create a two-way flow of contact data between all of your key sales and marketing tools, so you never waste time hunting down the right data or wondering what's accurate. Try it out now with a free trial.

About Lucy Fuggle

Lucy Fuggle writes for PieSync, the two-way contact sync tool for hundreds of apps. She also works with her clients to make their brand matter with a content-rich marketing strategy.