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4 Steps to Start Account-Based Selling Today

Business.com / Technology / Last Modified: February 6, 2018
Image credit: Olivier Le Moal/Shutterstock

Before the actual sales process begins, you need qualified leads. That's the hard part. This article defines account-based selling and outlines four steps to find your leads.

Account-based selling is one of the top B2B sales trends predicted for 2018. If this is something you are considering for your organization, you need to pay attention, because the first phase of account-based selling could make or break your final outcome.

Account-based selling is an approach to sales that can be used by anyone, from startups targeting the smallest of companies to large organizations targeting enterprise-level organizations. This approach helps companies sell into companies, or accounts, not just specific individual leads. For example, you'd be selling to IBM or ABC Dry Cleaners, not just to Dan Jones, senior VP of purchasing at IBM, or Sue Smith, owner of ABC Dry Cleaners.

This is actually an old sales model made new again, due to advanced metrics and other new CRM technology tools. It's a model that can lead to substantial profits and growth, hence the revival as soon as technology was able to make it effective again.

But this model requires some heavy lifting on the lead-generation end to be effective. This is the first phase of account-based sales. Chances are that, for many of the accounts, you'll be going in cold.

Sales efforts need qualified leads. Your account-based sales funnel starts with two to 15 individuals from your targeted companies. This is very different from traditional lead generation, which simply produces one qualified lead per company, regardless of how desirable the company is.

Here are four basic lead-generation steps to make account-based selling work for you. 

1. Create a focused list of target companies.  

This is the hardest and most important part of the process. Start with a list of 10 companies, and try to expand it by 10 to 20 organizations every week. Look for companies that mirror your existing clients, or clients you'd like to have. 

Best tools: LinkedIn, basic internet searches, free searches using your local library's online databases, purchased lists through list brokers, online databases such as ZoomInfo and Data.com, local chamber of commerce directories, or simply asking colleagues for guidance.

2. Find the right people at these companies. 

Now for the nitty-gritty of identifying the right people to target. Start by listing all the departments and titles that may impact your sale. Then, find names of people who fit these criteria. Spend about half an hour on each company to identify names, telephone numbers and email addresses.

Best tools: LinkedIn, ZoomInfo, Data.com and other internet research. You can ask colleagues for connections as well. To start, you'll probably need to call the main switchboard before you get direct dial numbers. A great resource for email addresses is Hunter.io. 

3. Call, inquire and connect. 

Finally, you can begin your calls and start making connections. Plan on spending two to five hours per company, with about eight calls per individual over one to three months. This is not a smile-and-dial process. It's more of a sales recon mission, where your main goal is to gather as much intel as you can and reach as many decision-makers and influencers as possible. Every piece of information is important, and every person you talk to can help you. Don't discount anyone or anything.

If the people you identified in your research don't turn out to be the right influencers or decision-makers, ask them to direct you to who is – even to departments outside their own. When you reach someone who wants to talk further, ask if there is anyone else who should be on the call. In your conversations, learn each individual's role in the purchasing process, and who has final decision-making roles versus high influencer roles. Both decision-makers and influencers are critical to your sale. 

If you are used to calling individuals (e.g., senior VPs of purchasing or dry cleaner owners), account-based calling can be challenging, because your call needs to serve multiple purposes: identifying needs and pain points, learning all the players and their roles, and making sure not to rush the next step without getting everyone on board. 

Best tools: An effective CRM system that allows you to group individuals by accounts and still keep track of your progress reaching each one. There are some free and reasonably priced CRMs on the market. If you don't yet have a CRM or ability to invest, create a robust Excel spreadsheet. For both, keep track of each call, when you send follow-up emails, dates and next steps for each company.

4. Set appointments. 

The final stage of the lead-generation phase of account-based sales is to set an appointment with as many of the influencers and decision-makers as are warranted. Sometimes, you'll start with just one person, but you'll have data from your calls about who the other key players are and what roles they play. Other times, you'll need to coordinate a call between two or three other people at the same time. 

You might be setting the appointments for yourself or for someone else. Either way, set the appointment with enough time to fully prepare.

In the end, your success will depend on your ability to truly penetrate the companies you have targeted. Once the appointment is set, let the selling begin! Treat the qualified lead as gold. You have invested a great deal of time and money.

Account-based selling holds enormous potential. If you follow these four basic steps thoroughly and consistently, you will provide your sales team (even if you are the sales team) with everything they need and more to move sales through the funnel and all the way to the close.


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