12 Sales Plays for Account-Based Everything
For the last year, TOPO analysts have researched Account-Based Everything (ABE) programs across marketing, sales development, and sales. The purpose of this post is to present a number of plays that sales organizations execute today to drive conversion as part of their evolving role in an ABE-driven organization. Before exploring these sales plays, it’s important to understand the Account-Based Everything strategy and how it affects sales’ approach.
Intro to Account-Based Everything
For a deeper understanding of the ABE framework, please read TOPO analyst Tom Scearce’s post on the topic: Account-Based Everything Framework
In a nutshell, ABE is the coordination of personalized marketing, sales development, sales, and customer success efforts to drive engagement with, and conversion of, a targeted set of accounts. The principal focus is on driving the full-lifecycle revenue chain from marketing through sales and customer success/account management. As a by-product, account-based alignment extends across the entire organization, including finance, product development, engineering, and the executive team.
Successful ABE hinges on the the following five key elements:
- Targeted, high-value accounts
- Intelligence-driven programs/campaigns
- Orchestration across marketing, sales, and sales development
- Valuable and personalized buyer experiences
- Coordinated high-effort/frequency outreach
Here’s how these five elements significantly impact the sales approach.
- Targeted high value accounts. In a high-volume, high-velocity environment, sales moves on from accounts at their discretion and waits for opportunities to pour in from demand generation/sales development. In ABE, sales is required to work a limited number of select, highly valuable accounts at any stage in their buying process. This manifests itself, for example, in the move away from BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Time frame) as the key measurement for the handoff between sales development and sales (only 10% of organizations still use BANT according to the 2016 TOPO Sales Development Benchmark Report). If sales gets an opportunity to engage with the right person at the right account, they will make the most of it. An ABE organization will enable sales with plays they can run to gauge need and time frame while adding value early in the buying process.
- Intelligence-driven programs/campaigns. Leveraging account intelligence (e.g., pre-account research, discovery) isn’t new. However, to date, marketing has often left the interpretation of that research and ensuing steps to the salesperson. Instead, marketing can work with sales to create valuable, compelling offers and plays to run.
- Orchestration across marketing, sales, and sales development. In the high-volume, high-velocity model, marketing works separately to generate Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) for sales and moves on to go find more. In ABE, barriers are dropped and marketing is part of the process of turning an account into a customer. For example, mid-sales cycle marketing campaigns are helping lower sales cycle times.
- Valuable and personalized buyer experiences. Every interaction with a target account should be as personalized as possible. For an experienced enterprise account rep, personalization is standard operating procedure. But delivering value and customization should not just be limited to those that are good enough nor should it be solely the responsibility of the individual sales rep. Marketing can design offers and plays that sales can use and easily customize.
- Coordinated high-effort/frequency outreach. The focus in ABE is to dedicate high-value touches against target accounts until they become customers. This does not mean “checking-in-to-see-if-things-have-changed” voicemails and emails, but smart, personalized offers such as company-specific workshops.
The Sales Plays
Now let’s cover high-value, personalized plays that marketing can design for sales reps to leverage in the sales process. Note that these plays do not replace fundamental account-selling methodologies (such as running discovery calls, etc) but instead enhance a solid, fundamentally sound sales process.
The plays are broken up into four categories:
- High-value first meeting
- Customized sales
High-Value, First-Meeting Plays
With a limited number of accounts, sales needs first-meeting plays that allow them to:
- Capture enough interest to encourage a meeting
- Drive enough value so the prospect wants to learn more
Today, many organizations encourage prospects to schedule a demo, but most buyers are not ready for a demo or at least don’t want to spend the time on one. An alternative approach is to create high-value plays that are more likely to elicit buyer participation and engagement. Instead of soliciting buyer participation in a demo, offer something of value such as a custom report presentation with insights relevant to that particular account or their peers. We share examples of these below.
In our research of organizations executing high-value, first-meeting plays, we found many attribute these plays to significant lift in their metrics, including:
- 49% penetration into target accounts in two years
- 26% lift on touch pattern/SQL conversion rate
- 21% of first meetings converting to larger stakeholder meetings
Custom content plays
- Description: Custom content developed specifically for the target account based on account research.
- Example: SDRs for a SaaS company focused on F2000 ecommerce and retail organizations research and create a custom research report using a template developed by marketing. The research report is a giveaway during the outreach process and the call-to-action is a meeting to discuss findings from the report.
- Analysis: The report provides exclusive value during prospecting and the call-to-action is 100% value for the prospect. Using this custom approach, the company was able to drive almost 50% penetration in the F2000 target accounts within two years.
Vertical content plays
- Description: Unique, relevant content designed for a specific vertical or segment of the target market.
- Example: An analytics company focused on the pharma market moved away from SDRs reaching out to schedule a demo to a high value offer. In this case, the company uses its product to create reports focused on a particular drug segment (e.g., diabetes). The report includes research on the specific drug brands for that segment, providing their target accounts relevant, unique insights. As part of their outreach, all advertising (targeted ads, email, etc.) points to the report and the SDR call-to-action is to schedule a meeting so an internal expert can present the report findings, answer questions, and provide insights.
- Analysis: Organizations are often concerned about the resources needed for personalization. Vertical marketing allows organizations to deliver relevance to multiple targets versus one. In this case, the campaign was able to go one step further and provide research on the target account which made the call-to-action offer even more compelling.
Use case plays
- Description: A use case that tells a compelling story beyond the features of a product and often includes a rich, strategic storyline including change management, methodology, process, strategic initiatives, etc.
- Example: A startup focused on the highly competitive adtech market was targeting the top 50 advertisers. It leveraged an extremely compelling use case about a completely different way to measure and optimize adtech spend in all its marketing efforts. All of their marketing and SDR efforts were to expose their target accounts to the use case and to offer to present the story. After a number of these presentations, sales quickly learned that they could leverage the use case in 2-3 meetings with these key prospects, as the initial presentation triggered a follow-up meeting with the larger stakeholder group.
- Analysis: Use case plays featuring a compelling business story (i.e., not about the product/solution) told from a unique point of view are a scalable way to drive initial engagement. Successful use case plays require that the subject of the use case is relevant to the target account. In the example provided above, other top advertisers are going to want to know what their peers are doing. This same use case might not be as compelling to a low-budget advertiser or a non-profit. Unlike other high-value plays, use case plays are often a more realistic option since they are typically identified and created on a regular basis.
With post-discovery plays, sales reps and/or marketing/SDRs personalize content based on the insights gathered during discovery. Post-discovery plays are extremely effective at engaging stakeholders early in the process. It’s still early, but the organizations we have researched attribute post-discovery plays contributing to significant decreases in sales cycle times (15-30% decrease in some cases).
In order for these plays to work, sales reps have to begin the sales process with proper discovery: leveraging questions, insights, and messaging to spur prospects to share their organization’s objectives and challenges.
Examples of post-discovery plays include:
- Semi-custom, high-value content
- On-site workshops
- Outreach campaigns
Semi-custom, high-value content
- Description: Sales inserts insights collected in discovery into a marketing-generated template to create custom content assets.
- Example: A software company selling client-server solutions to local and state governments needed CIOs to authorize IT stakeholders to investigate. However, generally speaking, CIOs didn’t care about this type of solution. To address this, the company created a “Readiness Assessment” (shown below). After asking 4-5 discovery questions, sales was able to customize the template in 5 minutes and create content that generated credibility and urgency across stakeholders.
- Analysis: This play is an easy way to create content without disrupting sales’ current processes. The play was effective and similar to some of the other high-value plays: it drove further conversations with stakeholders who wouldn’t otherwise sign up to hear a pitch or demo.
- Description: Onsite workshops are interactive meetings with multiple stakeholders on a topic relevant to that particular account.
- Example: For years, IT security vendors have been successfully using free security audits delivered in on-site workshops. Another example: a customer experience vendor conducts a half-day workshop where multiple stakeholders are invited to interactively map their current experience process and identify gaps.
- Analysis: This play is primarily leveraged in high ACV (i.e., enterprise) accounts and is an extremely effective way to reach and build trusting relationships with key stakeholders early. Another benefit is that these workshops allow sellers to fill in gaps in their discovery. If executed properly, these workshops may potentially become the most valuable play in an organization’s sales process. As one sales rep said who was initially opposed to the workshops: “It used to take me 12 months to round up all the stakeholders; now I get them in a room within 2- 3 months.” Customer workshops are also being effectively used to drive upsell/cross-sell opportunities.
- Description: A set of campaign touches delivered after sales has run discovery and identified key account insights.
- Example: Assume an organization is targeting complex accounts with multiple stakeholders. Sales will uncover account and stakeholder insights in discovery. Leveraging this intelligence, marketing, SDR, and sales will launch a multi-touch campaign focused on the the account’s current challenges or initiatives. For example, sales learns in discovery that the target account’s main objective for the next two quarters is to drive expansion in EMEA. Armed with this valuable information, a campaign is launched:
- Exec outreach to decision maker to discuss EMEA expansion strategies
- Digital campaign promoting “Framework for EMEA Expansion” whitepaper
- SDR outreach focused on EMEA expansion message
- Analysis: The information a good sales rep gathers directly from the prospect is invaluable. In most cases, it is the responsibility of the sales rep to leverage that knowledge and craft a relevant sales message. However, by pairing this with mid-sales process campaigns, sales can engage with decision makers and other stakeholders more efficiently than through their “brute-force” efforts. These types of campaigns are one of the many reasons that account-based programs are driving higher deal velocity.
Customized Sales Plays
In our research of some of the most successful B2B sales reps, we’ve found that a best practice is to customize every prospect interaction. My favorite example: observing a highly successful sales rep spend an hour carefully crafting a follow-up email after a sales call. This approach is just good selling: crafting the messaging and overall narrative to the buyer and their objectives/challenges.
Unfortunately, many sales reps use the same templates or approach regardless of the buyer. An example of this is the product demo, where reps perform the demo without any adjustments to reflect the buyer’s needs. At TOPO, we call that “demo roulette.”
In an account-based scenario, the sales rep has to make every interaction count. Personalized, valuable experiences are critical. The following three plays are common to most B2B sales processes and can/should be customized to the buyer:
- Champion content
- Description: The most common presentation is the corporate presentation or intro presentation. These are often a templatized presentation of the seller’s company and products. Instead these presentations should be personalized to present what the sales rep knows about the account and then messaged to reflect why their company and solution are the best partner to help.
- Example: Presentation personalization can be executed at scale with the 80%/20% rule (80% template, 20% customized). Marketing creates the deck and the main content but provides slide templates for sales reps to articulate the account’s current challenges and initiatives and to provide an early case for why they can solve these challenges.
- Analysis: The templates have to be set up to allow sales to personalize presentations while preventing them from creating off-brand content or spending too much time creating decks. These templates can also help enforce proper discovery. An inside sales manager from an emerging organization had added two slides to their presentation template: “what we learned” and “how we can help.” He said: “The presence of these two personalized slides forced my reps to spend more time understanding the buyer and their particular use case.”
- Description: As mentioned previously, demos have unfortunately become one-way feature presentations. Instead they should be viewed as an opportunity to show buyers how they will use a solution to solve their problems.
- Example: A couple of years ago, TOPO researched buyers in the the ERP market. When asked what content most helped with their decision, a large number answered “the demo.” Upon further examination, TOPO found that buyers were speaking specifically about highly customized demos not scripted demos. The demo included the prospect’s real data, their business processes, and even simple things like their logo.
- Analysis: The company that highly customized its ERP demos converts their demos to closed business at 50%. (Note: their sales reps rigorously qualify prospects before they are allowed to attend a demo.)
- Description: Champion content is designed specifically for the account’s internal champion – the one who is interested in your solution but must navigate his/her own organization to help advance the deal. For more on champion content tactics, read the TOPO post on the topic.
- Example: A company in the e-learning space created 25 customizable PDFs for its sales reps based on the account and disposition of their stakeholders. This champion content pack covered build vs. buy, requirements, a comparison guide, and ROI. Sales reps can pick and choose relevant content, lightly customize it for the prospect, and then bundle and send.
- Analysis: Champion content is another tactic to drive personalization at scale. In our research, top-performing sales reps typically create their own champion content or have others in the organizations do it for them, which is inefficient and does not scale. Alternatively, many sales reps just send a data sheet and try to overcome barriers to purchase verbally, which does not deliver the value and personalization required to win deals. Enabling sales with champion content solves both issues, allowing sales reps to efficiently deliver content customized to the needs of the stakeholders in a given account.
In most cases, the entire sales process is the sole responsibility of the sales rep. With ABE, everyone, especially marketers, are focused on revenue (versus MQLs, for instance). As a result, silos start to break down and marketing works with sales to identify areas where they can support the sales process. Many of the plays showcased in this post are the result of marketing supporting sales in the sales process. Supporting sales in their path to closing a deal should be part of that process.
The following three plays require marketing support and allow sales to continue to deliver the high-value, customized sales process that is required for ABE success:
- Deal brochures
- Close plans
- Latestage marketing
- Description: Professionally designed overview of a proposed deal that can be sent virtually or printed. These brochures often contain information found in a proposal such as the customer’s key challenges, the proposed solution, the work that has been done up to this point, and proposed lift or ROI.
- Example: Enterprise sales team focused on 6-figure deal sizes provides their buyers with a beautifully designed, printed deal brochure to accompany their proposals. Multiple copies are created for the various stakeholders.
- Analysis: The deal brochure play sounds like it doesn’t scale, but the templates are designed once by marketing and the information in them is what sales should be gathering as part of an effective sales process anyway. The deal brochures allow the sales organization to own how they are represented with other stakeholders and provide the champion with highly stylized content to help gain buy-in internally.
- Description: Professionally designed document that details the mutually agreed upon steps required by both the buyer and the sales rep to close a proposed deal by an agreed-upon date. Examples of steps in this document are buying committee signatures, legal, contract reviews, procurement processes, etc.
- Example: One of the world’s largest enterprise software companies has a two-page template for close plans. The close plan contains a timeline that represents the milestones already achieved and the key milestones going forward to complete the deal.
- Analysis: Close plans are mandatory exercises for all sales reps to ensure deals close in their projected timeframe. In TOPO’s 2015 Sales Benchmark, we found that organizations that leverage close plans report 100% close rate on deals after verbal. In other words, close plans prevent deals from slipping. Stylized close plans are another way to deliver the high value, customized plays required in ABE and are certainly the best practice in enterprise-class deals.
- Description: One of the biggest challenges for sales is that the end of month/quarter is also the buyer’s end of month/quarter. As a result, many buyers enter the “dark stage” and sales has no visibility into activity. To combat the target stage, ABE organizations continue to market to people in the late stages of the buying process.
- Example: Sales team targeting sales operations and sales leaders sends food and drinks to their prospects’ end-of-quarter sales meetings. Another organization calls upon the “bacon play” where they send a pound of bacon to non-responsive accounts toward the end of the quarter.
- Analysis: Frankly, anything is better than the humiliating practice of repeatedly calling and asking to “check in on the paperwork”. These plays won’t eliminate that need but they certainly help considerably as the “check-ins” are often due to a lack of visibility into what is happening on the buyers’ side. Also, many organizations have made late-stage marketing plays automated via applications such as PFL.
Key Takeaways: Sales in an Account-Based Everything World
Hopefully you found value in this overview of Account-Based Everything and examples of personalized plays. Here’s what you should remember, if nothing else, about sales in an Account-Based Everything world:
- Sales will have better opportunities but fewer of them
- BANT is dead; sales must be enabled to engage with the right people within the target accounts wherever they are in the buying process
- Once the buyer is engaged, every play in the sales process must be customized and coordinated
- High-value plays enable early engagement (with multiple stakeholders) and drive real results
- Successful sales reps in ABE have a true execution partner: marketing.
About the author: Craig Rosenberg is the co-founder and Chief Analyst at TOPO.