13 Sales Plays for Account-Based Everything

September 02, 2019

Strategic selling with Account-Based Everything can drive engagement and improve conversion of targeted accounts.

The original version of this article, authored by Craig Rosenberg, was published by TOPO, now Gartner.

Account-Based Everything 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 life-cycle revenue chain from marketing through sales and customer success/account management. As a byproduct, account-based alignment extends across the entire organization, including finance, product development, engineering and the executive team.

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Successful Account-Based Everything hinges on the following five key elements.

Targeted, high-value accounts

In a high-volume, high-velocity environment, sales moves on from accounts at their discretion and waits for opportunities from demand generation/sales development.

In Account-Based Everything, 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.

If sales gets an opportunity to engage with the right person at the right account, they will make the most of it. An Account-Based Everything 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 such as pre-account research and discovery isn’t new. However, marketing often leaves 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 for sales and moves on to go find more. In Account-Based Everything, barriers are dropped and marketing is part of the process of turning an account into a customer. For example, mid-sales cycle marketing campaigns help 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 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 easily use and customize.

Coordinated high-effort/high-frequency outreach

The focus in Account-Based Everything is to dedicate high-value touches against target accounts until they become customers. This does not mean "checking-in" voicemails and emails, but smart, personalized offers such as company-specific workshops.

Sales plays

Sales plays are broken up into four categories.

1. 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 demonstration, but most buyers are not ready or 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. Offer something of value such as a custom report presentation with insights relevant to that particular account or their peers.

Our research of organizations executing high-value, first-meeting plays 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/sales qualified lead conversion rate
  • 21% of first meetings converting to larger stakeholder meetings

2. Custom content plays

  • Description: Custom content developed specifically for the target account based on research.
  • Example: Sales development representatives (SDRs) for a SaaS company focused on F2000 e-commerce 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 (CTA) is a meeting to discuss findings from the report.
  • Analysis: The report provides exclusive value during prospecting and the CTA 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.

3. 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 demonstration to a high-value report that includes research on the specific drug brands for that segment, providing their target accounts relevant, unique insights. As part of their outreach, all advertising (e.g., targeted ads, email) points to the report and the SDR CTA is to schedule a meeting so an internal expert can present the report findings, answer questions and provide insights.
  • Analysis: 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 CTA offer even more compelling.

4. 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 and more. 
  • Example: A startup focused on the highly competitive advertising technology 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. All of its marketing and SDR efforts were aimed at exposing target accounts to the use case to present the story. After a number of these presentations, sales quickly learned that they could leverage the use case in two or three 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 told from a unique point of view are a scalable way to drive initial engagement. Successful plays require that the subject of the use case is relevant to the target account. In the example provided above, other top advertisers want to know what their peers are doing. This same use case might not be as compelling to a low-budget advertiser or a nonprofit group. 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.

Post-discovery plays

With post-discovery plays, the company personalizes content based on insights gathered during discovery. Post-discovery plays are extremely effective at engaging stakeholders early in the process. Organizations we have researched attribute post-discovery plays contributing to 15% to 30% decreases in sales cycle times.

For these plays to work, sales reps 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 the following.

1. 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, CIOs often didn’t care about this type of solution. To address this, the company created a “Readiness Assessment” (shown below). After asking four or five discovery questions, sales was able to customize the template in five 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 demonstration.

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2. On-site workshops

  • Description: On-site 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 an extremely effective way to reach and build trusting relationships with key stakeholders early. The workshops allow sellers to fill in gaps in their discovery. If executed properly, these workshops have the potential to become the most valuable play in an organization’s sales process.

3. Outreach campaigns

  • Description: A set of campaign touches delivered after sales has run discovery and identified key account insights.
  • Example: For an organization 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 multitouch campaign focused on 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:
    • Executive outreach to decision maker to discuss EMEA expansion strategies
    • Digital campaign promoting EMEA expansion white paper
    • SDR outreach focused on EMEA expansion message
  • Analysis: The information a good sales rep gathers directly from the prospect is invaluable. By pairing this with mid-sales process campaigns, sales can engage with decision makers and other stakeholders more efficiently. These types of campaigns are one of the many reasons account-based programs are driving higher deal velocity.

Customized sales plays

For some of the most successful B2B sales reps, a best practice is to customize every prospect interaction. Unfortunately, many sales reps use the same templates or approach regardless of the buyer.  

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 be customized to the buyer.

1. Personalized presentations

  • Description: The most common presentation is the corporate introduction template highlighting 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% template, 20% customized rule. 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. 

2. Custom demonstrations

  • Description: Many demonstrations have become one-way feature presentations. Instead they should be viewed as an opportunity to show buyers how they can use a solution to solve their problems.
  • Example: A couple of years ago, TOPO researched buyers in the ERP market. When asked what content most helped with their decision, a large number answered “the demonstration.” Specifically, the buyers were speaking about highly customized demonstrations, that included the prospect’s real data, their business processes and even simple things like their logo.
  • Analysis: The company that highly customized its ERP demonstration converts to closed business at 50%. 

3. Champion content

  • 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 advance the deal. 
  • 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 pick and choose relevant content, lightly customize it for the prospect, then bundle and send.
  • Analysis: Champion content is another tactic to drive personalization at scale. Top-performing sales reps typically create their own champion content or have others 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.

Close plays

In many cases, the entire sales process is the sole responsibility of the sales rep. With Account-Based Everything, everyone, especially marketers, are focused on revenue (versus marketing qualified leads, 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 Account-Based Everything success:

1. Deal brochures

  • 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 six-figure deals provides their buyers with a beautifully 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. 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.

2. Close plans

  • 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. Steps for this document include buying committee signatures, legal, contract reviews and procurement processes.
  • Example: One of the world’s largest enterprise software companies has a two-page template for close plans, which contain a timeline for milestones already achieved and 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 time frame. 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 Account-Based Everything and are certainly the best practice in enterprise-class deals.

3. Late-stage marketing

  • 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 sales reps have no visibility into the buyer's activity. To combat the target stage, Account-Based Everything 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.
  • Analysis: 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 follow ups are often due to a lack of visibility into what is happening on the buyer's side.

Key takeaways: Sales in an Account-Based Everything world

Here are the most important points 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 Account-Based Everything have a true execution partner: marketing.
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