Over time, as the external environment changes, sales organizations adapt their sales approach to match the needs of their prospective clients. They also adopt new sales strategies to improve their results. New technology changes how sales organizations go to market, but sometimes, a traditional approach gives way to a better approach.
There is a true story about a salesperson who was interviewing for a new position. He asked the interviewer if the company would provide him with leads if they hired him. The hiring manager promised him he would have more leads than he could ever call. On his first day on the job, he asked for his leads. His sales manager dropped a phone book on his desk.
Many professional sales organizations and their sales reps have given up the "spray and pray" approach to prospecting for new clients. Your InMail box on LinkedIn may tell a different story, but it’s not the whole picture. Even if you see bad prospecting in your inbox, what you can't see is the outreach of sales and marketing teams who know who their ideal customers are and use a sales approach that is smart, effective, and professional.
Traditional Lead Generation
Once I was asked why I called thousands of companies from the phone book. That was the dominant cold outreach strategy. To add to the horror, I shared that after a sales call, I had to walk into the companies on both sides and across the street from the prospect I had met with. There were lists, but there was no contact information.
The advantage of the traditional approach to lead generation is that you should be able to get a decision-maker on the phone. A meeting was the only way decision-makers could learn about your company and your offerings, so it was easier to get them on the phone. The disadvantage of using traditional lead generation is that without careful targeting, the "spray and pray" approach will annoy prospective clients. It also results in exceedingly low conversation rates for first meetings.
Traditional lead generation’s primary technique is building a list of potential prospects, which could be found anywhere and everywhere. For example, if you were sitting in traffic, you would write down the company name on the truck crawling along next to you. After a first meeting, a salesperson would also write down the names of the neighboring companies.
The Rise of Account-Based Selling
My experience with account-based selling started when I was given responsibility for a sales team. New salespeople would complain that every company already had a supplier. They would ask why they could not pursue companies that didn't buy what we sold. The answer was that it would be a waste of time to meet with companies that were not potential customers.
Here is one way to understand account-based selling. Victoria's Secret had nine people in human resources. I called each one and asked for a meeting. After each of the many phone calls, I sent the person a thank-you card and my business card. Eventually, some stakeholders involved in a decision at Victoria’s Secret shared some information with me. Their suppliers were having serious trouble, and the company was looking to make a change. After I walked into the room for my first meeting with them, one contact handed me a stack of my business cards, as they had received dozens of them.
In account-based selling, the sales force calls on prospective customers that need what they sell. Salespeople contact the people who are responsible for the company’s decisions and results. This is a better sales experience for the company and their stakeholders.
The advantage to the sales force is that they spend their time and energy pursuing the right prospective clients. It also allows the sales team to be known within the company. The disadvantage is that account-based selling often involves competitive displacement sales, meaning you must remove your competitor to win the business. This can be a long and difficult process.
One strategy for this approach is to have different salespeople call on contacts with certain titles based on their ability to create value for them. The subject matter expert will call the person to assess the solution. The account executive will call the leader responsible for the better results they need. A senior leader will call their senior-level counterpart, introducing themselves and working on C-suite level sales.
How Sales Strategies Have Evolved
Account-based selling starts with a target account list instead of a list of “leads” that have no need for or interest in a company’s product. Instead of pursuing companies with little chance of buying, salespeople spend their time developing relationships with businesses that are likely buyers—including those who have already bought from a competitor. The benefits of account-based selling are many, and though the sales cycles may be longer, the deal sizes tend to be much larger.
One advantage of account-based selling in the modern business environment is that it allows sales teams to focus on high-value accounts and customize their outreach efforts to the individual needs of the target customer. This helps to ensure that sales teams reach the right contacts with the right messages at the right time, resulting in more successful conversions. Additionally, with ABS, sales teams can also track customer interactions more effectively to identify opportunities for further engagement and follow-up.
As sales leaders have recognized the value of having a sales team work on large clients, account-based sales have become more popular, especially with enterprise sales. And as cold outreach continues to be automated, a professional approach is necessary for winning deals.
Implementing Account-Based Selling
One of the best ways to implement an account-based selling strategy is by listing ideal target accounts. Once the ideal target accounts are identified, sales teams can create customized outreach plans for each one. This can include personalized emails, targeted ads, and other strategies designed to engage the customer and drive conversions. Additionally, sales teams should monitor customer interactions, identify trends in their industry, and adjust their outreach strategies as needed.
There will be changes in cold outreach. Some of this comes from changes governments have imposed that make it more difficult to communicate with prospective clients. The spray-and-pray strategies will come under fire, especially where there are laws that prevent the sharing of contact information without permission.
Sales is evolving from a series of transactions into a conversation that offers greater value to customers and potential clients. Account-based marketing and selling start with value creation.