For centuries, salespeople have cast a wide net, then worked to convince individuals to exchange money for goods and services. Unfortunately, the one-to-one model no longer works for B2B SaaS in 2024.
According to a 2023 report by Gartner, "the average enterprise B2B buying group consists of 5 to 11 stakeholders" representing "an average of 5 distinct business functions." That means instead of selling to one person, a sales rep has to convince half a dozen people to sign off.
Salespeople focused on closing specific leads are missing the forest for the trees. Account-based selling is both the opposite of—and the solution to—traditional sales strategies.
What is account-based selling?
Account-based selling is inseparable from account based marketing. They both represent a shift from casting a wide net for any fish that will bite, to focusing on a few specific value accounts that require more specialized tools and strategies to capture. Marketing and sales teams need to work closely to identify the accounts and create a personalized experience for each of the stakeholders on the buying committee. Instead of one-to-one, it's team-to-team.
Key differences between account-based selling and traditional sales strategies
While the traditional sales strategy was finding a single lead who has sway over buying decisions, account-based selling takes a more holistic view of the entire purchasing committee. It's not about getting any prospective customer to 100%. Account-based sales teams suss out all the stakeholders involved and try to get everyone engaged and on board at the same time.
Benefits of account-based selling for B2B sales
The Ehrenberg-Bass Institute estimates that only 5% of customers are "in the market" for new services at any given time. This estimate is based on corporations changing their bank or law firm every five years on average. i.e. 20% of customers are in market per year, or 5% a quarter. The figure is likely lower for B2B SaaS where the average contract length is shorter and churn rate is higher.
If most of your ICP isn't in the market right now, carpet-bombing all prospects indiscriminately is a waste of resources.
Account-based selling is about understanding where prospects are in the buyer's journey and positioning your product so you already have a foot in the door when the prospect goes to open it.
While it can increase customer acquisition costs, it often pays off in higher ROI, customer lifetime value and revenue potential. It also means that sales reps are not wasting time cold calling. Instead, they are investing their time in long-term customer relationships and increasing the conversion rate.
Implementing Account-Based Selling in B2B Sales
Account-based selling is inseparable from account based marketing. The entire revenue operation has to be aligned at every stage from identify to close. The ABS team works together to identify the ideal client profile and narrow down the target list. The marketing team gathers account intelligence and figures out where customers are in the buyer journey. Account-based sellers are ready to engage at the moment that prospects come in market. Customer success is also primed to give the prospect the same level of personalized attention at onboarding, ensuring a smooth sales cycle from start to finish.
A. Identifying high-value target accounts and key stakeholders
There are a lot of ways to figure out an initial target account list. The first step of account selection is putting together an ideal client profile. Ideally, you will be looking for larger high-value accounts that will bring enough revenue to justify the high-touch focus.
You may also look at accounts that serve other company goals. Do you want to land a Fortune 500 company for the social proof? Are you looking to break into an industry, or work with a company that will allow you to expand to connected subsidiaries?
Putting together a target account list is part-art, part-science. You should use all the data at your disposal, including firmographics, technographics (what else is in your customer tech stack), behavioral data and intent signals for current customers and closed won deals. You can also analyze closed lost deals for what went wrong.
Once you have your target account list, you have to figure out how the target companies makes purchasing decisions, and who are the stakeholders involved. If you typically sell to the same customer profile, there's a good chance the buying committee will look roughly the same as your target companies. Reviewing past deals is one way to get a framework for all the stakeholders involved.
B. Creating personalized and targeted marketing campaigns
The idea of account-based selling is to surround-sound all the decision makers of an account with the right message, at the right time, through all the right channels.
That might mean:
- Publish personalized content on blogs, LinkedIn, and social media geared toward their unique needs.
- Putting together case studies from existing customers similar in size and business model to strategic accounts.
- Connecting a stakeholder at a prospect company with the person in the same role at a current customer account.
- Hosting webinars or workshops geared to your ideal customer profile or target audience.
- Individualized phone and email messaging for specific stakeholders.
It's important to define all the different buyer personas in your target accounts. A VP of Marketing will have different priorities, job objectives and KPIs to hit than the VP of Sales. The more you can tailor your content to the role, or the individual, the higher the chance your outreach will resonate. This alignment on messaging starts with marketing, all the way down to the AE and Customer Success.
The goal of account based marketing is making sure your product is in the running when the target company identifies a need your product can fill. The account-based selling team's job is then a multi-threaded, omni-channel approach to get all the stakeholders to buy in.
C. Leveraging technology and data for effective account-based selling
Once the target companies are funneled in with ABM, Warmly's sales teams uses third-party intent data to find out who is currently in market and reconciles that information with contact databases. Our SDRs then send personalized outreach and feeds stakeholders into automated email or LinkedIn sequences. The sequences drive prospects to the website, where our Warmly chat bot can engage users, and pull in human salespeople for the warmest leads.
The success of account-based selling hinges on putting all the technological puzzle pieces together to get an accurate image of the target company, then using what you learn to close the sale.
For example, Warmly might find out from a conversation with one of our "champions" at a prospect company that there is another stakeholder we haven't targeted—but who has veto power. That person is added to our account plans.
Warmly's software alerts our salespeople in real-time when someone on our VIP list is visiting our website. A sales rep can then engage with the target stakeholder at the moment they are thinking about us, and tailor their messaging based on what we know about them. If the software has identified that user as the CFO, we can offer testimony from the CFO of a customer company. The next time this stakeholder attends a round-table meeting about whether to buy our product, this highly tailored and impactful interaction will be top of mind.
D. Mutual Action Plan
With the ubiquity of account-based selling also comes specialized tools to make the process easier. Instead of closing deals on a massive email chain that includes every stakeholder, sellers can use a tool like Aligned to pull together collateral and documents in a single workplace. The platform offers full visibility, so buyers and sellers can see who has looked at what. It also informs sellers which stakeholders haven't engaged—i.e. what leads need to be warmed.
Transforming B2B Sales Strategies with Account-Based Selling
Evolution of Customer-led Growth
As a buyer, would you rather talk to a salesperson that may have their own agenda (e.g. to grow their commission), or an existing customer who is already using the product and has no incentive to lie?
At Warmly, we often let our customers speak for us through Deeto.ai. It helps our sales teams identify customers with similar firmographics to the target company and makes it easy to reach out for a referral. Having the prospect jump on a call with the customer is especially powerful. The prospect gets hyper-specific testimony from someone with a similar job title at a similar company—which really drives home your product's usefulness.
The importance of timing for increasing conversion rates
The number one factor in ABS is figuring out everyone who needs to be sold on your product. The second is using all the tools in your arsenal to capitalize on opportunities to connect with those stakeholders. Timing and being able to respond quickly plays a huge part. Just being a subject matter expert in the right place at the right time can sometimes make the deal. Often, it is not about having the best product on the market, but creating a better, more personalized, seamless and timely experience for prospective customers. Another company may be able to solve their problem too, but you were able to get there first.
Building long-term relationships with key accounts for enhanced customer loyalty
Account-based selling does not end when the contract is signed. Everything you learned about the account can continue through ongoing customer relationship management. For example, if you know who the detractors were in the initial buying process, nurturing those contacts can help you get their business again at renewal time. Account-based feedback can also go back into developing other features and use cases that fit the account's needs—which can lead to upselling.
Overcoming Challenges in Account-Based Selling
Addressing resource limitations and scalability issues
Account-based selling works best for large contracts that justify the extended, high-touch sales cycle. It's also difficult to implement for early-stage companies that may not have achieved product-market fit, or don't have a clear picture of their ideal customers.
However, gathering as much account intelligence as possible helps minimize the risk your company will invest in a personalized sales approach for the wrong company.
Predictive analytics can help companies parse data for clues about what accounts to target.
You can also save yourself several steps by using an autonomous sales orchestration platform like Warmly that brings together intent data, behavioral signals, analytics and visitor identification—along with automated chat/email/LinkedIn sequences.
Then once those leads have converted into calls, you can use tools like Fathom, Spiky.ai, Gong, or Attention to analyze call transcriptions to understand the health of your deals, where deals are being blocked, and how best to handle objections.
Managing complex sales cycles and multiple stakeholders
The ABS strategy works well with complex sales cycles or product needs, because your revenue team is taking the time to really understand the account's unique needs and challenges. Having a well-rounded team is crucial to make this successful. An account planning team should include sales reps, sales development representatives, marketers, and customer support. This enables them to understand each of the buying personas, tailor their messaging to the individual, and give the prospect the best possible experience throughout the sales cycle.
Measuring and tracking the success of account-based selling efforts
Given the investment of resources that goes into each account, you ideally want to build long-term relationships that will pay off in revenue over time. Good metrics for gauging the value of account based selling are average contract value (ACV), customer lifetime value (LTV), average deal size and customer retention. Account engagement scores and progression rate can also help marketing teams gauge effectiveness.
At it's core, account-based selling is about giving all the stakeholders in the buying committee the best possible experience at the time that the company could be interested in buying. It's an extremely effective B2B sales strategy that focuses resources on key accounts when they are in market. However, it involves commitment and collaboration across the entire firm, from marketing to customer success and account management.
With the traditional, lead-focused sales process, deals can easily be scuttled if your main contact changes jobs or goes on leave—which is especially dangerous with a long sales cycle. For companies with an ICP that can sustain it, account based selling is a relatively low-risk selling strategy that can generate bigger deals, higher conversion rates, and long-lasting customer loyalty.