For B2B sales and marketing leaders, it’s been a marvel to watch the industry’s increasing awareness of account-based sales (ABS). Over the past two years, the strategy has spread beyond the ranks of high-growth tech companies and seems poised to invade the mainstream business world as a go-to enterprise strategy for years to come.

In Bridging the Gap: The Ultimate Guide to Account Based Marketing and Selling Alignment, the marketing leadership for three emerging SaaS companies banded together to flesh out this new strategy and prepare our B2B peers to adopt and expand via the ABS approach. The hallmarks of a successful ABS strategy involve the strategic, data-driven coordination of sales and marketing leaders at a new magnitude. 

ABS is a strategic prospecting process that involves simultaneous selling to multiple highly-valued targets at the account level. In 2015 CEB found that, on average, 5.4 people now have to formally sign off on each purchase decision for complex enterprise sales. This means that nurturing and and selling to an account holistically rather than one person is more important now than ever before.

But before going any further, you may be wondering why you should consider account-based selling when your business seems to be doing fine? In short: Lots of money! For example, there is a huge difference between closing a deal worth $500,000 and closing a deal worth $5,000, and employing ABS will make it more likely you’ll successfully sell to larger accounts. It takes more planning, skills, and resources to close these bigger accounts, but not 100 times more. 

For this post, we’re focusing on the sales operations leadership role as it applies to ABS. Using the right data, technology, and training, sales operations leaders can spot strategic advantages, draw up plays, and oversee proper execution of handoffs, protection schemes, and downfield passes. Here’s a look at how that plays out in an organization effectively executing ABS.

Why Sales Operations is the Lynchpin of Account-Based Sales Success 

Clean data should be your number-one goal if you’re trying to effectively use an Account Based Strategy -- or any strategy, for that matter. Salespeople usually try to update records with best practices in mind, but unfortunately, this process isn’t 100% reliable.

There are certain checks you can put in place within the system from a technical point of view to validate and aggregate data such as deduplication tools. But really these tools just correct bad behavior that salespeople have already learned.

The best thing to do is continually encourage best practices and correct any obvious data errors before they happen -- anything to help input your data correctly the first time so you don’t have to go back, make corrections, and be a burden to yourself and to the poor marketer who’s trying to just advertise to these folks.

Data can be your friend or your enemy. Sales and marketing efforts are limited only by the quality of your data.                                                      

Why Sales and Marketing Operations Must Align

There’s another very important role that is often overlooked in sales strategy: Sales operations.

If you view your sales process as an engine, it’s essential to have someone who can assess the engine, and fix it or fine-tune it wherever necessary. This is true on both sides of the marketing and sales processes. Ideally, each department should have at least one mechanic under the hood -- or at least someone who can turn a wrench standing by.

In engineering it is commonly said that “quality drives productivity.” In computer science they say “garbage in, garbage out.” As sales and marketing professionals begin to operate more like scientists, “quality leads equal business success” has become their new mantra. Without high quality data, marketing automation systems limp along and CRMs begin to sap more of your team’s time than they save, so sales and marketing operations must make sure they are in sync.

As the size of sales and marketing databases grow, so too does the need for more complex data analysis. IT teams and external consultancies once analyzed a company’s customer data. With the introduction of business intelligence tools, sales teams now have access to insights that give them a deeper understanding of their activity’s impact.

Every tool in the sales universe offers reporting of some type. The challenge is to gather those insights in the same place and make sense of them. This means having a central repository for sales data that not only gives you a snapshot of where you are today, but a panoramic view of your sales efforts over time. The true goal of business intelligence is to project where you will be this time next year. And, the year after that.

Sales professionals need to be data-fluent, but they’re never going to be data scientists. Visualization and intelligence tools help the non-tech savvy make large chunks of data understandable, digestible, and actionable. Every report must be tied to an action, and sales ops can make sure this data is presented in a coherent way.

Still in its early days as a point of focus in B2B companies, sales-marketing alignment has become the most recent driver of sales operations.

Optimize Sales Operations for Account Based Selling: Where to Start

One of the most effective ways to use data to bridge the sales-marketing gap is lead scoring.

For sales operations leaders who’ve yet to start a full-fledged lead scoring program, this is a perfect place to start augmenting your account based sales strategy.

Lead scoring typically refers to user behavior such as time on site, page views, videos watched, and links clicked. It also deals with firmographics and demographics such as department, job title, company size, location, industry, and revenue.

According to a report, fewer than 25% of new leads are sales-ready. The other 75% are in need of further nurturing. So how do you decide what content to send and when to make the call?

Here are a few examples of data points you can enrich for:

  • Alexa and Quantcast Rank
  • Number Of Employees
  • Company Revenue
  • Physical Location
  • Number Of Divisions and Additional Locations
  • Social Followers
  • Number Of Products Sold
  • Website Plugins And Tools
  • Yelp Reviews
  • Payment Types Accepted

Lead scoring resources are a good place to learn more about scoring and grading leads. You can also supply your reps with tools that further enrich prospect data.

To identify which buying signals make an impact on your sales cycle, start with your highest-performing accounts, and identify what they have in common. Basically, you need to conduct a ‘won sales’ analysis. From there, you can begin enriching your data and leveraging sales ops as a much more pivotal role in your ABS playbook.

Coordinating Account-Based Sales Through Sales Operations

To invoke a common sports metaphor, leading a B2B sales organization can feel like overseeing a professional football offense. In the ABS model, whose strategy is more team-driven, role diverse and predicated upon strategic execution than ever before - the comparison is as apt as it’s ever been.

In the context of ABS, the sales operations leader functions much like a modern-day offensive coordinator. The technology is better, the insights are deeper and the players are faster and stronger than they were 20 years ago, and yet, the battle for competitive advantages remains as tough as ever.                                             

We wrote Bridging the Gap to serve as a playbook for sales and marketing leadership across all levels of B2B organizations. Feel free to check it out and best of luck to your sales organization out there on the gridiron.

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Originally published Jul 28, 2016 6:30:00 AM, updated July 28 2017