Account-based Sales: How to Close More High-value Deals in 2023
Picture this: you sit down at your desk on a Monday morning and open up your sales pipeline. Instead of scrolling through leads to see who is qualified (and who's a total dud), every prospect on your list looks promising.
Really promising. Each prospect is in your target industry, has a healthy budget, and they're stakeholders who can actually sign a check. Sound like a pipe dream?
Good account-based sales reps face this reality every morning.
This strategy is cutthroat, but effective. By eliminating bad (or even mediocre) leads before they get near your sales funnel, you get a full list of highly-qualified leads to go after.
But account-based sales strategies require planning and time, which sales teams don't always have.
So, how do you make it work for you? In this guide, we’ll walk you through what it is, who is a good fit for account-based sales, and how to plan and execute an account-based sales strategy so you can close more high-value deals faster.
What Is Account-Based Sales?
For example—say you sell self-sealing stem bolts. In traditional sales, you might have your marketing team put together a paper about the benefits of self-sealing stem bolts and then target the businesses that download it.
With account-based sales, you'd define your ideal customers, find them in the marketplace, and reach out directly to them to pitch your product.
This strategy helps sales teams sell to customers who need their products and services instead of just cold pitching in bulk.
Take a company like Slack.
When it launched Enterprise Grid in 2017, it specifically targeted companies with between 500 and 500,000 users. The product was also built for organizations that had "teams within teams." Think of marketing strategy teams with separate content and SEO teams that work together.
This ideal customer profile helped the sales team know not to target small companies with under 500 staff. Instead, they targeted organizations with multiple departments that relied on cross-collaboration.
What's the Difference Between Account-based Marketing and Account-based Selling?
An ABM campaign might show targeted ads to people at a specific company, while an ABS campaign might involve sending cold email pitches inviting those people to a call or demo —essentially skipping the "marketing" part and going straight for the deal.
If you're a marketer looking for a new CRM platform, check out this article for a list of the best CRMs for marketers to help you make an informed decision.
Benefits of Account-based Selling: Why Should You Bother?
Account-based sales flips the traditional sales funnel on its head. Instead of gathering leads and slowly moving them down the funnel, it targets accounts individually. Although there aren't as many leads in the pipeline, each lead has a higher value.
This approach has three extremely valuable benefits.
1. Higher ROI
An account-based approach creates higher conversation rates and ROI. Teams with account-based strategies see a 208 percent growth in marketing revenue. Additionally, when sales and marketing teams use an account-based approach, it can improve close rates by up to 67 percent! 😲
Less time spent on crappy leads means more time focused on prospects who are a good fit.
2. Personal Relationships
The more your sales team knows about a prospect, the better chances they have of closing a deal. Going deeper with a smaller amount of leads enables your team to address pain points directly and solve problems on a deeper level.
The more you can show your prospects that you understand their personal problems and how to solve them, the more likely they are to buy from you.
3. Meaningful Metrics
Account-based selling isn't just shooting fish in a barrel and hoping you hit a target. You don't have to worry about metrics like the number of calls or cold emails your team makes, as they're already further into the sales journey.
Account-based sales measures end-of-pipeline metrics like meetings booked, proposals sent, and deals won. Check out Close's simple pipeline dashboard:
This snapshot is a quick and easy look at how your account-based strategy is working. Every account is tracked. Only meaningful metrics (demos, proposals, and win rates) are shown.
How to Build Your Own Account-based Selling Model in 6 Steps
Sold on account-based sales and ready to kick some you-know-what? Then let’s dive in! Use the following steps to build your very own account-based selling model and reap the benefits of a more personalized, meaningful, and (ideally) fruitful sales process.
1. Define Your Target Audience with ICPs and Buyer Personas
Think you know who your target accounts are? Think again.
How well you nail this first step of your account-based sales strategy will determine whether or not it's a success. Even if you think you know who your target customers are, it doesn't qualify them for the time and effort needed for 1-on-1 engagement.
This is where an ideal customer profile (ICP) and/or buyer personas come into play. Essentially, the difference between your ICP and buyer personas is that ICPs are your ideal target company (industry, number of employees, etc.), while buyer personas are your ideal target people (job title, seniority, etc.). You may want to focus on just ICPs, just buyer personas, or a combination of both.
Better yet, look for buyer personas within your ICPs.
ICPs and buyer personas are profiles based on customers you would call a success. No, not just the people who spent money on your product. I'm talking about customers who would immediately answer yes if you called them and asked, "Is our product more valuable to you than what you’re paying for it?"
If you're struggling to find your crème de la crème customers, ask questions like:
- Which customers are our fastest closes? This means they immediately understood the value of your product or service.
- Which customers have stuck around the longest?
- Which customers generate the most revenue?
Once you've got a list of 10 top customers, look for similarities. For example, are they operating in similar industries? Do they serve the same types of customers? Do they have similar funding status or employee numbers?
Join as many dots as you can and start sketching a rough outline of your ICP/buyer persona. Here's an example:
Next, narrow your ICP/persona down to five or ten key attributes. I'm talking about company size, job title, seniority, location, and industry. This will help clarify which target accounts you should focus on (and which ones you shouldn't.)
Finally, get your team on the same page by inputting the ICP/persona criteria to a central point, like your CRM. For example, in Close, sales teams can input this data using custom fields, so when a promising lead enters your pipeline, they are tagged with the right attributes.
2. Align Your Sales and Marketing Teams for an ABM Strategy
Account-based selling digs into every account, making it easier for B2B sales and marketing teams to target them.
Yet even account-based strategies will have several prospects to qualify and rank. Boston Consulting Group experts say this can be done by dividing target accounts into three groups based on importance: strategic, target, and remaining.
Here is how marketing and sales should work together to engage each of these three groups:
Strategic: For the most important key decision makers, marketing and sales both play a significant role. Marketing provides personalized targeting (e.g., tailored ads and email campaigns) while sales times their personalized outreach efforts in sync with marketing campaigns for the maximum 1-2 punch.
Target: Target accounts—which are still important but not as important as strategic—rely more on automated marketing campaigns, then have sales teams get involved after a certain trigger or response. Marketing can track engagement with tailored ad and email campaigns, then once they trigger a certain engagement score, sales can be automatically notified to provide a human touchpoint.
Remaining: For the remaining, who are the least important but still important enough to bother targeting, automation is key. These prospects will be enrolled in social media and email campaigns, then segmented and qualified via your ABM tools, like Close CRM. Once a lead in this bucket is flagged via a certain level of engagement, they get moved up to the "target" bucket, where they are more likely to interact with a rep and turn into an opportunity.
The main takeaway is account-based sales strategies do need marketing support, whether it's with lead generation, buyer personas, or inbound leads.
But the goal for both teams is the same: to engage high-quality leads and spend more time doing it 1-on-1.
3. Build a High-Powered Account-based Sales Team
With other sales strategies, teams are usually set up by geographical territory or industry vertical, but account-based sales requires you to structure teams by (you guessed it!) accounts.
Based on how well you know the sales cycle, consider how many strategic, target, and remaining accounts each team should be assigned. Then, assign one account executive and one sales development representative (SDR) to each group of accounts. As always, try to be fair and give reps an equal chance to compete with each other.
You’ll want to make sure there is ample opportunity, but also enough time for each rep to go deep in building relationships with many key stakeholders within each account.
You can also assign marketing teams to provide support within each of these account groupings, which will encourage sales and marketing to work closer together than they probably ever have before. With motivated account-based marketing and sales teams working in sync, prospects will surely see that your company truly cares about them and their unique pain points.
4. Define How You’ll Use Content in Your ABM Strategy
The foundation of any successful account-based campaign is your content. I'm talking about emails, case studies, or anything your prospects will find valuable.
This Snowflake account-based campaign example shows what a full-throttled account-based assault looks like. Snowflake's teams created an ICP/persona around IT operations managers and business intelligence specialists. Messaging was focused on problems that would only affect them, like data leaks and cloud-based technology. Personalized content such as landing pages, targeted ads, and follow-up conversations were then created based on their ICP.
Once prospects were in Snowflake's net, salespeople chose 100 accounts to take ownership of and turn into paying customers. The strategy worked—Snowflake's average deal size increased by 300 percent.
Here’s what you can take away from Snowflake’s example to use in your ABM content:
- Make your ICPs and targeting as detailed as possible. The closer to their needs, the better. Drawing in leads through content and closing the deal will depend on how well you’ve identified a prospect's needs and pain points.
- Create strong messaging for your target personas and ICPs. The narrower you focus on a smaller group with similar pain points, the stronger your message will hit.
- All content should be delivered in a personalized fashion. Don’t serve any landing pages, ads, etc., without showing your target prospect that it was made just for them.
- Add personalized content to touchpoints like sales emails—throw in reports, webinars, or use cases the prospect may find valuable to get the conversation started.
5. Create an Account-based Selling Outreach Strategy
In the Snowflake example above, the salespeople chose 100 accounts that were qualified through ABM strategies to reach out to and try to convert. You will want to do the same with your strategic prospects and qualified target prospects.
It’s important for the flow from marketing campaigns to sales outreach to flow seamlessly, so you should be aware of what your marketing team has been sending and play off of the content that your prospect has received. This content will vary based on the ICP or buyer persona, so be sure to follow up on it correctly.
Perhaps, for a strategic account, you could reach out directly with a more detailed piece of content, like a report that is tailored especially for their business. Next, you can schedule a sales outreach cadence (phone calls and emails) that addresses the content you or your marketing team has sent and how it addresses their unique pain points.
In every message, make it clear that you have done your research and understand them and their company’s needs. You can also incorporate LinkedIn or other social media platforms into your outreach efforts if it feels appropriate, and use that as another channel to share personalized content.
6. Analyze the Right KPIs and Adjust Your Strategy
Account-based sales will undoubtedly have different results and metrics than traditional sales. Some may look better than others on the surface, but you need to measure for the long term to see the real value that account-based sales creates.
At the beginning of the process are SDR metrics. This is the ratio of touchpoints (calls, emails, LinkedIn messages) to conversations had. Then, the ratio of conversations that turn into a meeting with an AE. Definitely track these metrics and adjust them for greater success, but don’t base your overall success on them.
The real success in account-based sales comes from increasing average contract value (ACV) and lifetime value (LTV). These go up based on the effort you put toward addressing individual pain points and solving them. A Gartner report showed that account-based upsell campaigns created a 75 percent increase in ACV and a 150 percent increase in LTV. Within your targeted accounts, track these metrics for both new customers and upsell opportunities over time.
The last metric to track (but also not base everything on) is your customer acquisition cost (CAC). It’s possible for your CAC to increase with account-based sales, as you're putting more effort into a smaller pool. However, you’ll want to consider this against the increases in LTV. So watch your LTV:CAC ratio over a longer time horizon, and expect it to go up if you’re successfully implementing account-based sales.
In summary, here are the KPIs to track:
- SDR touchpoints to conversation ratio
- SDR conversation to AE meeting ratio
- ACV increases
- LTV increases
- LTV:CAC increases over time
Ideally, you can track all of these metrics in your CRM system, like Close. Set up a custom report or dashboard to track your account-based sales performance and find actionable insights so you can adjust when needed.
Who Should Use Account-based Selling?
An ABS strategy is normally used by companies with dedicated sales teams targeting enterprise organizations or SMBs with bigger budgets.
Account-based sales makes sense for 👇
Sales Teams with a Small (but Promising) Pool of Prospects
Have a handful of prospects you've spent hours researching?
This scenario is the sweet spot for using account-based sales. Instead of casting a wide net, send hyper-personalized emails, focus on 1-to-1 engagement, and use your knowledge of the prospect to book a meeting.
Sales Teams Targeting Enterprise/Large Businesses
Account-based selling isn't like other sales techniques. You must invest time and energy researching prospects to understand their problems and needs. For it to pay off, your target needs to have a budget worth the investment.
But for companies like Starbucks? This selling strategy is probably a waste of time. Sales reps aren't going to spend hours figuring out if you would rather buy a pumpkin-spiced latte or a frappe and follow up with a personalized email strategy.
However, if your sales team is starting to target larger companies or enterprises, the investment is usually worth it because they've got the dollars to spend.
Sales Teams Whose Prospects Have Big Budgets
High-value accounts are also more effective targets for account-based selling.
Obviously, your sales reps can generate a significant amount of revenue from these prospects. But it also means the time they've spent researching and engaging with target accounts is more likely to end in a big reward.
With a small budget, spending 10 hours on the phone and in meetings with a warm lead doesn't make much sense. But with a prospect that could help you meet your quarterly sales goals? Yep, targeting these prospects is what account-based sales is all about.
Best Practices for a High-performing Account-based Sales Strategy
Ready to put this strategy to work and attract more high-value accounts? Before you do, check out these best practices that you can follow to ensure you’re getting the ROI you’re looking for.
1. Always Fully Qualify Your Target Accounts
You need to decide which accounts are worth your time, as this is a more time-intensive sales effort.
Now, we have a ton of free tips and guides available to help you actually find prospects and bring them into your pipeline (like this guide on prospecting). These will help you find prospects, but it takes a little more information to qualify a lead if you're using an account-based sales strategy.
When you find a potential key account, do the following to fully qualify them:
- Verify they match up with your ICP: Take a deeper look at the potential prospect's company. Do they have the budget or funding to buy your product? Does their company's firmographic data, like size and employee numbers, match your ICP? Are their financials in good shape, or would they be sweating even signing a monthly rolling contract? Look at the prospect beyond their LinkedIn profile before adding them to your target list.
- Check their tech: When our SDRs pitch Close to new prospects, we want to know that they're already using (and paying) for some marketing and sales tools. Otherwise, we're probably wasting our time. So take a look at their current tech stack—would be interested in a product like yours? If they're already using products that integrate with yours, that's always a positive sign. A tool like Slintel or Wappalyzer will give you a list of software they're currently using.
- Check their needs: A growing company is always looking for new ways to build on its momentum. Have they recently had a Series B funding round? Or are they talking about expanding on their social media channels? See if you can spot a genuine need for your product in its growth phase.
Even with targeted prospecting, there will be hundreds of potential accounts that fit your ICP. Don't get ahead of yourself and add hundreds of accounts to a list at once—start with a number you can handle, and qualify them.
Once you know what your target accounts should look like, it's time to find them.
2. Segment Your Target Account Lists
Most of the accounts you’re targeting will already check a lot of boxes. Filter them even further by segmenting them into three groups:
🥊Prospects who fit like a glove. They match your ICP, work in the right target industry, and need your product. They may be with a competitor and looking to switch to a product with more features or that can scale as they grow. Make sure enough boxes are ticked with this type of prospect before adding them to your list (so you don't waste time.)
💰Prospects with (big) budgets. This is an important consideration for account-based sales strategies since closing a deal is only worthwhile if the prospect is valuable. Prioritize prospects with recent funding or a history of paying for premium products (and with a high contract value!)
🤝Prospects who could bring in lifetime value. Finding a prospect that matches your ICP is one thing, but customers who stick with your product can add thousands of dollars in recurring revenue. Spend time searching for prospects looking for a long-term solution and, ideally, a partner to help them grow. These prospects are worth their weight in gold—if you play your cards right and build a strong relationship with them, you can turn them into lifetime customers.
Once you have a rough idea of which accounts belong in each segment, it's time to create a target list and start selling.
3. Stay on Top of the Follow-up
Don't waste all of your hard work if your first attempt to reach out to a prospect falls flat.
Ensure every account on your target list gets the attention it deserves. You've spent hours researching and qualifying these prospects, so that time will be wasted if you give up after one phone call or email.
A CRM can really help at this stage of your account-based sales strategy. For example, Close can create automated email sequences to help you stay on top of follow-ups, so no target accounts fall through the cracks.
They're easy to make, thanks to template tags and custom fields. Inside a Close template, ICP attributes you created in step 1 (like the prospect's company name, job title, and industry) will automatically fill in where custom fields are placed. Take a look at this example:
This standard demo follow-up template has been automatically personalized to the target account based on real-time data. The best part about it is, all you have to do is set up an automated sequence in Close—and the CRM will do the rest.
4. Use the Right Account-based Sales Tech
The CRM is an account-based sales team’s best friend. Choosing one with the right tools to support account-based strategies is of extreme importance. At Close, our sales team uses the CRM it sells (obviously) and we also use it to support our own account-based efforts.
Sales reps can filter prospects inside Close to create a target account list.
The AE can then narrow the list to see if any trial users have been assigned to them as a target account. Nick Persico, Director of Sales for Close, describes how this works:
“So, the AE is left with a narrow list of 11 active trials that they’ve talked to this week, have added extra users, and are currently during business hours. Best of all, creating that list took less than 2 minutes."
Our AE can now move that filtered list straight into Close's Power Dialer or an email sequence to follow up with them 1-on-1. By maintaining detailed records for every lead, account-based sales allow us to slice and dice our data so that our sales team stays on top of (and engaged with) every prospect.
Additional tools that can help you with account-based sales include:
- 6sense: An AI-based revenue tool that uncovers buyer behavior patterns and prompts you to engage with the right people at the right time.
- Rollworks: An ABM-specific tool that can help you better identify your ICPs and personas, engage with them, and measure your program’s effectiveness.
- Marketo (acquired by Adobe): This and other sales intelligence tools provide insights that can help you target high-value leads, gain insights into buyer behavior, and engage leads more effectively.
- Folloze: This enables you to create personalized marketing campaigns based on the data, content, and messaging you already have set up, helping you create guided experiences at all stages of the buyer’s journey.
Account-based Sales Increases High-value Deals
Account-based selling isn't for every sales team.
It requires a ton of effort to research prospects, create target lists, and build a strategy that works. But a big investment can result in huge rewards. Your sales team won't be wasting time on unqualified leads, and the prospects in your pipeline don't just need your product—they also have the budget.
The biggest roadblock is time. You need lots of it to build an account-based sales strategy from the ground up. But once you've created ICPs and built a promising target list, it's easier for your sales team to connect with each prospect and close high-value deals.
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