Account Based Sales: How to Close More High-Value Deals in 2023

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?

It's not.

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 g a 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 deals faster.

What Is Account-Based Sales?

Might as well start at the beginning, right? What, exactly, is account based sales?

Account based sales is a strategy that targets individuals or companies directly because they match an ideal customer profile.

Instead of using a fishing net and trying to sell to everyone, account-based sales allow teams to target the right fish with the right bait.

Rather than pulling in a bunch of leads, qualifying them, and then targeting 100 accounts with emails or sales outreach, sales reps select a company based on who they are and what they do, then reaches out to them.

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 marketing strategy teams with separate content and SEO teams that work together, like this:

account based sales grid from slack

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?

Milk and cookies. Bread and butter. Sales and marketing.

The two teams are supposed to work together. But it's essential to understand the differences between ABM and ABS, so they both know when to get out of each other's way.

The major difference between account based marketing and account based sales is focus.

Account-based marketers spend their time filling pipelines with key accounts. These are companies marketers think have a good chance of becoming paying customers based on their needs, employee numbers, budget, and other factors.

On the flip side, account-based sales is more focused. The number one goal (maybe the only goal) is to get a prospect to sign a contract and turn them into a paying customer.

How Do Sales and Marketing Work Together in Account-Based Sales?

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.

strategic and scaled account based sales chart

As you can see, marketing and sales teams are heavily involved in turning strategic accounts into paying customers. There is personalized engagement, targeting key decision makers, and offline efforts like meetings and demos. Target accounts are still important, but more of the sales process is automated using account-based tools (think chatbots and email sequences.)

For the remaining prospects, sales and marketing teams automate as much as possible. Account-based marketing (ABM) tools can automatically qualify leads, segment prospects, and target them through social media and email. If one of these leads is flagged as a promising lead, they'll be moved up the funnel and labeled a target account so they get more attention.

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 is the same: to engage high-quality leads and spend more time doing it 1-on-1.

What Are The Benefits of Account-Based Sales?

Account-based sales flips traditional selling on its head.

Think of a sales funnel. You know what I'm talking about, the diagram every SDR is shown during onboarding:

sales funnel chart

Account-based sales ignores this completely. Instead of gathering tons of leads and slowly moving them down the funnel (and eventually turning a handful into customers), account-based sales targets accounts individually.

traditional marketing vs account based marketing chart

Although there aren't as many "prospects" in the pipeline, the prospects that are there are higher value.

This sales approach has a ton of benefits.

1. It Drives a Higher ROI

One of the biggest problems sales reps face is deciding which leads deserve their time. When your sales pipeline is full of leads that haven't been vetted, the sales rep has a ton of work ahead: cold calls, email pitches, and usually… a whole lotta rejection.

Account-based sales takes a different approach. According to MarketingProfs research, teams with account-based strategies see a 208% growth in marketing revenue. Further research by Marketo and Reachforce found when sales and marketing teams use an account-based approach, it can improve close rates by up to 67%! 😲

The reason is simple. Less time spent on crappy leads means more time focused on prospects who are a good fit for your product or service.  

Better prospect fit = more closed deals and money in your pocket.

2. Building Personal Relationships With Prospects Is Easier

The more your sales team knows about a prospect, the better chances they have of closing a deal.

Not only will you be able to address their pain points and talk about how your product solves them, but you also have insight into how their industry and company operates on a deeper level.

Think about our sales strategy here at Close. Ever wonder why sales professionals prefer our tool? 🤔

It's because we are in their head. We've spent (literally) hundreds of hours researching sales teams to understand what they need and how our tool can help them. We back it up in sales meetings by showing prospects how our CRM helps us bring in more leads and close more deals.

In exchange for that expertise, our prospects start to trust us. That trust helps us build a relationship that ensures they stay a Close customer for the long term.

That’s the power of selecting the right target accounts and building up brand recognition in your customer base.

3. Metrics Actually Measure Sales Cycle and Results

Unlike cold calling or random outreach on LinkedIn, account-based selling isn't just shooting fish in a barrel and hoping you hit a target.

Each account you target is a prospect by default. They fit your ideal customer profile, so you know they've got the need and budget for your product. Using account-based selling means 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:

funnel report image for account based sales guide

This snapshot is a quick and easy look at how well your account-based strategy is working. Every account is tracked. The only results and KPIs that matter are demos, proposals and win rates.

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 when you have 👇

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.

A Sales Team 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.

Prospects With 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.

If one of these scenarios fits your sales goals, here's a step-by-step of how to build out an account-based strategy of your own 👇

6 Steps for Building an Account-Based Sales Strategy To Increase Conversions + Close More Deals

Ready to put this strategy to work and attract more high-value accounts? Here’s how to do it.

1. Define Your Target Audience With ICPs

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, or ICP, comes into play.

ICPs are a profile 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 actually more valuable to you than you're willing to pay more?"

If you're struggling to find your crème de la crème customers, and 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. Here's an example:

What is an Ideal Customer Profile for account based sales

Next, narrow your ICP down to five or ten key attributes. I'm talking about company size, 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 criteria to a central point, like your CRM. For example, in Close, sales teams can input ICPs using Custom Fields, so when a promising lead enters your pipeline, they are tagged with the right attributes.

Pro-tip: If your team is just getting started on ICPs, we've created a simple template to guide you through the process. Grab it for free here!

2. Research Your Target Account

Next, you need to decide which accounts are worth targeting.

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, cross reference it with the ICP you created in step 1:

  • 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.

3. Create a Target Account List

Next, you need to decide which accounts are worth targeting.

Since you built an ICP in the last step, most of the accounts in your pipeline 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.

Here's how we do it at Close.

Our team, headed up by our (awesome) Director of Sales Nick Persico, uses Smart Views in Close to create targeted lists. All prospect context and data are stored here, and whenever a new lead is added, it updates in real-time, so everyone stays on the same page.

SDRs then use Smart Views and Reports to filter target accounts based on ICPs, allowing them to get their creative juices flowing when they build a new list.  

“For example, one of our Account Executives (AE) could use filters in the lead list in Close to see all leads where the current status is ‘Trial’," Nick says.

all leads in close for account based sales

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 shares:

“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."  

The best bit?

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 (and engaged) with every prospect.

4. Outline Your Account-Based Campaign Strategy

Time to create an outreach strategy and start selling.

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.

Take a look at how Snowflake ran a recent account-based campaign. It was a full-throttled assault that involved the company's marketing and sales teams working in sync. The ultimate goal was to increase clicks and conversion rates, but the strategy started with targeting the right accounts.

First, Snowflake's teams created an ICP around IT operations managers and business intelligence specialists. As the targets were so specific, 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.

account based sales example 

Examples of Snowflake's targeted content for its account-based sales strategy. Image source

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%.

So, what can you take away from this example?

Make your ICPs and targeting as detailed as possible. Your marketing team can handle the advertising and content side, but closing the deal will depend on how well you know a prospect's needs and pain points.

Don't be afraid to use elements like sales emails and personalized content to your advantage—add in reports, webinars, or use cases the prospect may find valuable to get the conversation started.

5. Stay On Top of the Follow-up

Finally, 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:

sending emails to target accounts in Close
email in close for account based sales 

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.

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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