Making the Switch to Account-Based Sales

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve probably heard a little (or a lot) about Account-based sales lately. Paired with Account-based marketing, this tactic is poised to take over the world of B2B sales, and is rapidly gaining steam.

Rather than having sales reps chase individual leads as they come in, an Account-based sales (ABS) strategy allows reps to focus on the entire company as a whole. Reps are incentivized to add individual contacts to an account over time, and gain an understanding of the organizational structure and business needs.

Because of this, ABS helps reps sell more effectively to multiple personas across the organization. On average, 5.4 people are involved in today’s B2B purchase decisions, according to CEB. Using an Account-based strategy can help drive up win rates by personally engaging all of the key decision-makers at a company.

Rather than taking our word for it, we interviewed a number of sales and marketing leaders who recently opted for an account-based sales strategy. Learn why you should consider making the switch to ABS, and how it will help drive results for your business.

The Lead-Based Status Quo

There’s a valid reason many sales teams start off with a traditional, Lead-driven sales strategy — it is an easy and effective way to get sales off the ground at a small startup.

A Lead-based organization is driven by marketing engagement, and incentivizes salespeople to quickly identify the indicators of top prospects and close those deals. Because there are always net new Leads to chase, reps learn to exclusively focus on the best names, while ignoring others.

However, your sales team will eventually hit a plateau, according to Evan Robinson, Director of Sales Operations at InsightSquared.

There’s not an infinite number of companies out there that are a good fit to buy your product.

-Evan Robinson, InsightSquared

“Once you reach a certain scale, you eventually fatigue your database,” Robinson explained. “This is especially true for companies with a finite addressable market. Once you’ve called everyone in your database, you have to start over again. There’s not an infinite number of companies out there that are a good fit to buy your product.”

If your company reaches that breaking point and isn’t able to drive net-new Leads consistently, Account-based sales is a more scalable and sustainable way of doing business. It doesn’t require an endless stream of Leads, but rather a smaller number of the right accounts assigned to each rep.

This focus allows sales and marketing to more effectively and personally engage with prospects. Sound familiar? William Wickey of LeadGenius, pointed out that in fact, Account-based sales isn’t a new concept.

“An account based strategy is similar to what is traditionally called ‘enterprise sales,’” he said. “However, enterprise sales has not always been particularly scalable. More companies are switching recently because marketing, sales, and customer success teams are more unified as a single revenue team. There is also more cost-effective technology on the market that makes Account based processes manageable and scalable in a way that they were not in years past.”

Scaling Sales Growth

The problem of a finite addressable market is something that many startups run up against when trying to grow sales past initial scale. James Crane of LeanData explained that this was the exact problem facing their sales team.

“It was a decision pretty much born out of necessity,” he explained. “We have a small sales team with a niche market. We had to figure out who were our best-fit potential customers, who we wanted to talk to inside those companies, and then how to approach them in a coordinated effort as a team with our limited resources.”

However, ABS isn’t just for scaling sales teams. With new technology that enables more personalized and effective sales engagements, even small sales teams can use this strategy. Kevin Conseil of explained that his small startup’s sales and marketing teams decided to create a process from scratch using an Account-based model.

“We decided to start using Account-based sales model as it offers us a great opportunity to engage prospects in a very personalized way,” he noted. “We believe that every prospects should be treated in a very customized way to truly understand their pain points and adapt the sales rep – prospect discussion.”

Conseil said that the choice to build their sales team on an ABS model was a deliberate choice to improve engagement with prospects from the start, and drive better win rates.

Using the Account-based sales model is a win – win for both salespeople and prospects.

-Kevin Conseli,

“Sales reps prefer to fully understand who they are trying to convince instead of shooting in the dark,” he noted. “Customers prefer to talk about their needs to someone who already understands their profile. So using the Account-based sales model is a win – win for both salespeople and prospects.”

The Challenge of Change

While Account-based sales may be effective, it’s also clearly a more complex sales strategy. Changing to ABS requires a massive overhaul in terms of sales operations effort and sales team training, as well as a new alignment with marketing.

Wickey explained that changing to ABS was not as easy as flipping a switch. LeadGenius had to reevaluate their technology stack, shift their team-wide goals, as well as change their workflow.

“Technically-speaking, transitioning legacy tracking into an Account-based model is a challenge,” he said. “Strategically, getting stakeholders from each department to finalize and agree upon a 1000-company target account list can be a challenge. Marketing and Sales ops must work together to maintain the integrity of reporting and projections. Once everyone is on the same page with goals and benchmarks, this problem dissolves.”

This was true for Crane’s team as well. He explained that when they switched to ABS, it wasn’t an easy process.

“It took us some time to decide how best to structure the sales team,” Crane noted. “The reality is we had to let go of some great people. It was painful, but the result was a truly focused team that had complete buy-in on an Account-based strategy. We took that core team, put our heads down and completely rebuilt our entire sales process.”

We took that core team, put our heads down and completely rebuilt our entire sales process.

-James Crane, LeanData

In fact, LeanData opted to Close-Lost almost their entire pipeline, in order to move to an activated account model, Crane explained.

“That means we only engage with accounts that are actively participating with our marketing efforts,” he said. “I know everyone talks about aligning their sales and marketing teams, but we really live it at LeanData. We’re fully aligned.”

A New Sales Strategy

With a new sales process in place, you now have to educate your salesforce and reward new behaviors. The new sales process will now drive the way that sales reps work, and has to reward new behaviors, Robinson explained.

“Reps have to think differently,” he said. “They can no longer rely on a marketing-provided trigger for a phone call. They instead have to use their sales skills. When an Account enters their name, they engage in a sales playbook across that whole account — find the right contacts within an account, find relevant interesting moments about that company, then have a rigidly defined cadence that you use to communicate with them.”

I just have more trust in the process. We’re all on the same page and we’re all working together.

-James Crane, LeanData

As an AE, Crane said switching to Account-based sales hasn’t changed his day-to-day work a large amount. However, he has shifted strategies. He’s learned to focus more intensely on finding the right person at the right company, which isn’t appreciably different from a Lead-based model.

“Now I’m more understanding about losing deals quickly,” he noted. “That’s because I know they’re not really lost. I’ve seen that those deals will come back because I trust our marketing team and our Account Development Reps to lure them back if there really is a legitimate opportunity. I just have more trust in the process. We’re all on the same page and we’re all working together.”

The Account-Based Payoff

While all of this may sound great in theory, does it really work? In fact, every team interviewed for this post said the same thing: yes.

“We have been using this model for about nine months and the results have been phenomenal,” Crane noted.

In fact, LeanData has seen a 200% quarter over quarter-over-quarter growth with half the number of sales reps on the team. The company’s ASP is up, and time to close is down, and Crane attributed this change directly to the Account-based strategy.

Wickey agreed. He said that LeadGenius has seen remarkable results since adopting an ABS playbook.

“MQL to Opportunity conversion rate has steadily increased month over month,” Wickey said. “Our ad spend has been more effective on all platforms since we are targeting a discrete list of accounts instead of leaving the mouth of the funnel wide open. B2B purchases always close faster with organizational buy-in. It’s more effective to concentrate your promotional efforts and align department goals.”

Learn about InsightSquared’s experiencing transitioning to Account-based sales.