Account-based sales (ABS) is one of the year’s most buzzed-about buzzwords. You’re reading about its many merits, your boss is referring to it in meetings, and you might already be implementing it in your sales strategy.
But account-based selling can be an expensive, time-consuming business. So, before you go all in on ABS, make sure you’re taking the right approach, getting buy-in from your executives, and avoiding these common mistakes.
5 Common Mistakes in Account-Based Sales
1. You don’t have an existing prospect relationship
Some experts believe account-based selling can be used on new prospects, while others feel it should be reserved for existing clients. I fall into the latter school of thought.
I don’t think you can formulate a successful account-based strategy unless you have a strong relationship with the company already. Think about it. When you’re making an account-based sale, you’re likely tailoring your offer, and maybe even your product/service, to the unique needs of a single business.
To do this well, you need to understand the company’s structure, goals, priorities, and pain points even better than the people who work there. That understanding requires trust between the buyer and vendor -- the kind of relationship that usually only happens after a sale.
You might have sold an integration to this customer or signed them up for a free baseline account with your company, but they should have a contract with you before you embark on an account-based approach.
2. You’re not multithreading your opportunity
When you take an account-based approach to sales, you should be having many conversations concurrently. In other words, you know you’re running a successful ABS strategy when you’re constantly overwhelmed.
In traditional sales, you build a relationship with your champion and ask them to connect you with the right people at the right time. That leads to many consecutive conversations. In account-based sales, it’s important to have these conversations on an ongoing cadence, simultaneously.
Because ABS deals are usually asking for more money from bigger, more complex companies, they’re often accompanied by longer sales cycles.
That means it’s important to remain at the top of your champions’ minds throughout the duration of the sales process. You can’t do that with a consecutive approach to communication. It might take you several months to get to some key stakeholders.
Instead, have ongoing conversations with each department champion. Understand their shifting priorities, budgets, and pain points so that you’re always on their radar and the first to offer solutions to their evolving needs.
3. You don’t know your anti-champion
Your champions should be easy to identify. But do you know who’s advocating for your competitors? Speaking concurrently with champions in every part of the business should make it easier to find out.
Ask each of your champions, “Who are the other vendors your department is working with?” “Is everyone on your team happy with the level of service they’re receiving from these vendors?” “Are there people in your department who have good relationships with these vendors?”
The answers to these questions will tell you who to win over internally, who’s not worth your time, and which vendors you’re competing against.
4. You don’t understand company structure
Account-based selling strategies primarily target large companies with the budgets required to facilitate these types of deal. And large companies likely mean multiple departments with various budgets, stakeholders, and decision makers. To be successful, you need to have a deep understanding of how their company works.
Start by creating an organizational chart, and use it as your North Star throughout the sales process. Ask champions in each department to fill in the details, and build your outreach strategy around their intelligence. Have nothing but champions in the marketing department?
Maintain regular communication with them, but focus your outreach efforts elsewhere -- perhaps the design team and their three anti-champions.
You should also understand how budgets are set. Are requests processed quarterly or annually? Which departments get the largest budgets? Once you find out how the budgets work, you know who and how you need to fight for the money.
Finally, learn which departments are supported by procurement and legal. The larger the deal, the less precedent there will be. So, knowing whose signature you need and when you need it can be a huge help to your champions as you move toward the close.
5. You’re not calendar savvy
Pay close attention to your prospect’s marketing event calendar and hiring roadmap. Each will provide valuable insight into company priorities for the year and when they’re focusing on each.
Don’t ask broad questions like, “What marketing events are you planning for the year?” or “What do you think the hiring priorities are this year?” Instead, ask, “Who should I contact in your HR department to discuss hiring priorities for the year?” or “I’d like to better understand your marketing priorities this year. Will you connect me with the appropriate person?”
Getting a calendar or roadmap for marketing events and hiring goals allows you to tailor a strategic sales approach. And, sometimes, the right timing is all you need to seal the deal.
Account-based selling can bring in impressive revenue, attract highly qualified, low-churn customers, and earn you handsome commission checks. Just make sure you’re taking a direct, purposeful, and strategic approach.
And don’t forget to ensure your executives understand the difference in time and resources it takes to close account-based deals. Alignment there will be key to success.
Originally published Feb 16, 2018 7:30:00 AM, updated June 28 2019