How to Build an Effective Account-Based Sales Strategy

Craig Rosenberg offers best practices for aligning teams across your organization to target new accounts.

Can you imagine a scenario where a coach never spoke to the football team, the school never told anyone the schedule of games, and the fans never showed up at the stadium to cheer? This kind of siloing seems obviously ridiculous, but too often our sales organizations operate the same way. Instead, what if every part of the organization worked together as a team? That is what an account-based sales strategy is all about.

The rewards of using this strategy can be enormous, but there can also be some major pitfalls in the way of your success too. Jake Reni, senior manager of inside sales at Adobe, had a chance to talk to Craig Rosenberg, co-founder and chief analyst at TOPO, on account-based sales, its benefits, and potential areas for mistakes. Watch the full interview here and read the highlights below.

Craig Rosenberg shares his recommendations for deploying an account-based sales strategy.

What is account-based sales?

Account-based sales (ABS) is a strategy used by sales organizations to collectively target sales accounts in a coordinated effort. Instead of a single salesperson going after a single account, all relevant organizations within the company — from sales to marketing to corporate — come together to develop a unified approach for targeting potential clients. This technique is becoming increasingly popular, particularly in business-to-business (B2B) sales.

“The key to an effective account-based sales strategy is to have every member of the organization working as a team,” Craig says. Every member — from sales development reps and customer success, to product and marketing teams — converges to play an important role within the enterprise.

Without alignment, both on a figurative and literal plane, it’s incredibly difficult to achieve success using this strategy. Much like a football organization must coordinate with each moving part to have a successful program, so too must an organization implementing an account-based sales strategy coordinate and communicate. Because in a silo, it just won’t work.

Avoid the pitfalls of an account-based sales strategy

For an ABS model to operate effectively, everyone in your organization must buy in to the idea and, even after deciding that it is the right course, each arm of the company must know how to interact with the others to achieve success.

1. Agree on a list of targeted accounts

We’ve discussed alignment in terms of everyone in the organization being on board and ready to work as a team to target new accounts. But the teams also must be aligned on which accounts to target. Each team needs to have enthusiasm about who your company is targeting.

“I can’t be sales saying, ‘Um, we’ll try it,’” says Craig. “It has to be sales saying, ‘I have to get here!’ and ‘My guys are going to be ready to go.’” Literal and figurative alignment leads to “must-win” attitudes.

2. Pursue pipeline over leads

Craig points out that sales frequently wants to use account-based sales because they believe it will give them better leads. But this approach unintentionally misses the point of an ABS strategy.

“Account based doesn’t deliver better leads,” says Craig. “It delivers better pipeline. That’s very important.” Through engagement opportunities, an account-based effort will do more for your organization’s sales strategy and greatly affect long-term success.

“We have to be committed to engagement,” says Craig. “We have to be committed to the fact that five conversations with that buyer in our target account list is good. It doesn’t matter if there’s no bite. Right? It’s good.”

A better pipeline of potential customers leads to long-term growth and success. Think about every touchpoint your organization can create for better engagement, and for reaching high-quality leads in your pipeline. Avoid going into account-based marketing for better leads. That can be a mistake.

3. Get sales and marketing on the same team

Some organizations are going to be more sophisticated in how they view engagement, while other companies just want any type of engagement possible. What’s important is not putting marketing in a figurative box as we qualify leads and seek to close deals.

“In the last 12 years we’ve used the waterfall methodology, which says as marketing gets leads, development qualifies the leads, and sales closes the leads,” says Craig. “That thing about the leads? That confined marketing… it basically put us in a box, from a marketing perspective.” This type of thinking, that “marketing is there just to get leads,” creates the very same silos we’re trying to avoid in a team strategy.

Viewing marketing as not just the group putting on an event — but as a valuable contributor to the enterprise — creates a more cohesive team effort. For example, marketing can team up with a salesperson to meet with a client to go over efforts from the previous year or quarter, and offer projections in the months and years to come.

By correlating with marketing, having a plan for how they too are going to help with this account and reach out to a prospective client, you will gain many more insights into how to be more effective.

4. Reflect on lessons learned

Converging all areas of the company to work together on account-based sales is one part of the process. Another often neglected part is circling back with the team to offer up lessons learned and to reflect on individual and team efforts.

Bookend your alignment with open dialogue on the front end and honest reflection on the back end. Doing so guides the organization forward, resolves problems, and gives each team member involved a chance to learn.

Account-based strategies can lead to organizational unity

There will be growing pains, and probably miscommunication along the way, but forging ahead with an ABS strategy will lead to greater organizational unity. With the help from everyone in your enterprise, you will be better equipped to correlate the distribution of assets and resources which, at the end of the day, means better sales.

“The really big thing for me is the concept of orchestration, and orchestration can only happen when we make music, right?” says Craig. “From this is the understanding of harmonious orchestration, and that’s what’s going to make us win together in account-based strategy.”

Read more articles in our series on sales essentials, and, for more information on sales tools that make closing deals a seamless experience, learn about Adobe Sign.