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How to Create an Account-Based Sales Strategy in 5 Easy Steps

Follow these five simple steps to create a successful account-based sales machine. PHOTO: Chelsea Francis

Savvy salespeople have been using an account-based approach to win big customers on their own for a long time. But now the strategy is catching on at an organization-wide level.

Organizations today are taking a more targeted, account-based approach that starts with marketing and outbound sales and continues throughout the sales process and onto account management once the prospect becomes a customer.  

For sales, account-based selling factors in different buyer personas at each company, where they are in the customer journey, and what their specific needs are at a given time to ensure a timely and relevant response.

The strategy is obviously more complex than working through the same sales process for every individual prospect, and it gets even more complicated when you have multiple team members working the same account.

Creating an internal structure for account-based sales ensures that everyone on the team knows their role and has the supporting material to do their part. 

To help you build that foundation, here are five simple steps for creating a successful account-based sales machine.

1. Define Your Ideal Company Profile

Before you even begin to think techniques for winning an account, make sure you know what your ideal buyer looks like.

This starts with identifying the pain points and problems your solution solves, figuring out which verticals are most likely to be affected and then looking within these verticals to find the specific companies that will benefit most from your solution.

Make sure your analysis is grounded in reality by using an array of internal and external data and qualitative feedback to answer these questions. Consider talking to sales reps about what they hear from customers and the market, check out historical win rates by account type and use predictive data and analytics to uncover opportunities that may not be on your radar.

With this information, you can create a “Dream 100” list of companies that would be ideal for what you sell.

2. Define Your Ideal Buyer Personas

Now that you have a list of target accounts, it’s time to get to know your buyer personas. A crucial element of account-based sales is reaching out to people within the organization (your champion, your influencer, your decision-maker, etc.) and understanding that each one has different goals and objectives.

Defining your ideal persona means knowing how each of these personas moves through their unique buyer journey.

Start with the status quo for each buyer persona: How is this person getting along without you today? Why is this this not sufficient to meet their goals? Once you’ve identified the problem, figure out how the customer can solve it. Are there other vendors that also address their challenges? Who will your buyer persona need to bring in to make a final decision? Putting yourself in different buyers’ shoes ensures that you know how to address each of their needs as they arise. 

3. Build a Sales Process to Match Each Buyer Journey

An account-based sales structure must have a playbook that aligns with different buyer personas and where they are on their customer journey. Depending on the persona and stage, there are different actions, plays, and exit criteria to push the deal forward.

For example, when a customer is figuring out their solution requirements, the sales team can prep for a call, complete the discovery process, and follow up with an email recap. The exit criteria at this stage are to get your customer champion to agree to a demo.

With an account-based strategy that matches your buyer journey, you have a system in place where team members just need to follow the playbook to put the right peg in the right hole. The goal is to wrap your sales activities around the way the account makes a purchase, rather than sending each account down a one-size-fits-all sales funnel.

4. Provide Content Aligned to Each Stage for Key Personas

Understanding the next best action for each stage of the buyer journey is important, but to make a real impact, sales reps need relevant content to support their case.

From the marketing funnel through the sales pipeline, it’s critical to align content to your buyer’s needs at any given time. This means identifying which content will motivate each buyer persona at a given stage, and making it easy for the sales rep to deliver that material at the perfect time.

Amazon has mastered this technique in e-commerce, immediately providing customers logging on to their site with a variety of product recommendations based on their past browsing and purchase history, and then showing a list of products that other customers bought at the same time at checkout. 

For sales organizations, relevant content for different personas and stages (such as a case study or competitive analysis) should be made readily available through shared folders on a local network or in the cloud. 

5. Measure, Learn, Improve

Although account-based selling requires structure, that doesn’t mean your processes shouldn’t evolve in response to feedback and a changing market environment. In fact, because this approach guides sales reps through a consistent sequence of activities, it provides ample opportunity to measure and improve your strategy.

Make sure you have the tools in place to track the results of different activities at each stage. Plenty of sales acceleration technologies will direct a salesperson through a series of actions, but these tools often fail to deliver insights that managers can use to improve the underlying sales strategy.

Besides the number and size of deals closed, the type of metrics you track will vary depending on your vertical and typical customer. However, I’ve found there are three important elements of an account-based sales strategy that organizations typically don’t measure:

  1. Which sales activity or content has the greatest impact on moving a deal forward?
  2. What sales stage deals are most likely to get stuck?
  3. How effective individual sales reps are at moving deals through each stage?

This data can be used to reveal your best performing assets along with your problem areas to build up effective processes and make changes or provide coaching where it’s necessary.

Getting used to an account-based sales strategy takes time. Even though the benefits can be significant, they don’t come overnight.

Ultimately, you are creating the tools and processes that make it possible for all members of the sales teams, not just the most savvy reps, to leverage the most effective approach to winning deals.

Joshua Pittman is vice president of inside sales at Velocify, a provider of sales automation software. A seasoned inside sales expert with more than 10 years of experience, Joshua specializes in architecting, growing and leading sales organizations within the technology space.


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