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How to Survive the Transition to Account-Based Sales Development

Author Sangram Vajre Category Account-Based Marketing

Has hitting reset ever been easy?

In sales, you can have the most productive month of your career, creating pipeline and accruing revenue so far beyond your goals that you think you’ve peaked.

And then your numbers reset to zero when the next month comes. You’re back to square one, and sometimes it’s tough to get yourself going again.

Now, imagine if your higher-ups told you to focus only on 75 best-fit accounts instead of the 700+ accounts you’re accustomed to handling. Sounds like a terrible idea for any company who wants to make money, right?

Strange as it may sound, account-based marketing actually helps deal with some of the stagnation that develops in sales pipelines that come only from lead-based pursuits. In the long run, ABM can provide more consistent revenue streams through relationships with best-fit accounts.

But it’s so counterintuitive. How can any team make that adjustment?

Recently, Stuart English and Ryan Vitello from our sales development team sat down on the #FlipMyFunnel podcast to explain how a player-coach relationship between SDRs and management can get you past the growing pains of switching to account-based marketing and achieving the long-term dividends it offers.

Their approach to tackling some of the early setbacks of ABM is four-pronged.

Growing Pains Are Inevitable

Nothing makes a sales team’s momentum come to a grinding halt like taking an axe to their pipeline and stripping away a huge portion of the reps’ accounts.

But that’s exactly how switching to account-based marketing can seem at the onset. Even if everyone involved starts on a strong foot and has enthusiasm enough to carry past the first shockwaves, flipping the funnel this drastically can be overwhelming.

“How can we expect our customers to be our biggest advocates when we’re not even doing this ourselves?” –Ryan Vitello

You’re going to fail at some point.

And the way you take on that failure — however it manifests — will determine your course of business moving forward.

Ryan put it this way: “I think failures can be looked at in one of two ways. One is you failed, lost miserably, and you go home from that. The second is you’ve failed, but then you’ve learned from it and you pick yourself back up and go.”

So, how do you change the way you think about business and survive the transition to ABM?

Get Your Entire Sales Team Engaged

Your first paradigm shift is a total commitment to team engagement.

It starts at the top. “If the leaders don’t believe in it,” Ryan says, “how are the managers in the trenches going to believe in it?” And it goes all the way to the individual salespeople.

At first, this commitment will be what helps you look beyond the dip in opportunity flow once you implement a target account strategy. You may even think like Ryan. “It made me feel like, ‘Man, my team isn’t doing their jobs correctly,’” he shares.

 “At first, it was tough. People said, ‘I’m not winning anymore.” – Ryan Vitello

If you’re looking for success in terms of vanity metrics, in terms of how well someone can pound numbers and generate leads, Ryan’s first impression is exactly what you’ll come up with.

Fortunately for Terminus, Ryan and the rest of the team were able to shift their collective mindset and look toward the long-term.

But it takes time for a seed to take root and grow. What you sacrifice in the breadth of accounts when you switch to targeting only best-fit accounts, you more than make up for in the depth of engagement with those select clients you’ve chosen to pursue.

If you can get the whole team on board with this idea that you can get better returns down the road, you’re better equipped to get past those growing pains.

In Terminus’ case, Stuart noted more than twice the number of demos he set made it to the “Interest” stage with ABM than with traditional, lead-based sales.

Uncover Your Sales Superpowers

Next, you’ll want to figure out what your team’s sales superpowers are.

A lot of group efforts fall into the trap of having too many cooks in the kitchen. They get a situation like Ryan describes: “Everyone was trying to do everything, but nobody was doing anything well.”

You have to specialize your team members’ roles. As Ryan puts it,”We had to quickly understand what everyone’s superpower was in terms of being a sales professional.”

This goes beyond merely delegating tasks. Think of it this way: you want to figure out how everyone on your team can best adhere to John Maxwell’s 85/10/5 rule.

In other words, Ryan says, “85 percent of your time should be spent doing what you’re best at, 10 percent should be spent perfecting that craft, and then 5 percent should be learning about your weaknesses.”

Some people are masters on the phone and are great at making personal calls that ramp up engagement, while others can pen a phrase so well that theirpersonalized emails see far more returns. Placing your team members in positions to succeed as individuals will help your unit do just that.

 “You have to know your messaging is going to hit home.” –Stuart English

Stuart, for example, has a knack for finding specific reasons to make personal contact — whether through phone calls or face-to-face — with clients based on outreach materials he sends. Instead of “just reaching out” and testing the waters with a prospective account, Stuart opts for more concerted plays for their engagement.

If you can understand the roles each of your team members can play, you’ll be that much closer to surviving and thriving after the shift to ABM.

Restructure Your Compensation Model

Next, you’ll need to change how you look for and give out compensation. But don’t panic — it’s not as scary as it might seem.

Pursuing best-fit accounts emphasizes deep relationships with clients. With that being said, the sheer volume of accounts you’ve turned into opportunities from pounding the numbers in the past will have to go to the chopping block.

Slowing down your sales reps from their sweet spot of several hundred accounts to maybe one hundred target accounts will be daunting at first. Mindset changes always are.

To compensate for the decline in accounts, reconfigure the way you reward your reps for the work they do. Emphasize engagement and quality.

“There has to be a heightened sense of focus in what you’re doing in regards to sales, or even marketing.” – Ryan Vitello

But it will also present them with a challenge: Do more with less.You’ll be going from a volume-based outlook to a focused, targeted approach that delves into relationships with clients and meets their needs personally. Quality over quantity.

That personal focus, if you do it well, drives conversion rates through the roof.

Focus on Leadership

Finally, this shift succeeds or fails with leadership.

Leaders are the ones who can see the big picture.

They have the ability to look at the amount of time reps and managers (and themselves) are spending on things that don’t matter. And believe me, you’d be surprised at how much time we all spend doing things that don’t matter in the long run.

They’re the starting point for making Fit + Intent + Engagement — the foundational formula for successful account-based marketing — foundational to the way your sales team thinks and works.

They can ask the big questions: “What is our go-to-market strategy? Who are the accounts we should target? When do we go after them? What are the most effective ways to engage with them?”

And, ultimately, leaders are the ones whose focus and enthusiasm matters the most. Their position as influencers sets the mood for the rest of the operation.

Parting Wisdom

“Everyone’s seeing, but they’re not necessarily observing.” –Ryan Vitello

Ryan and Stuart are both well-versed in the tools of their trades, and having survived the switch to highly targeted account-based marketing, they both can boil down their advice to simple nuggets of wisdom.

From the management perspective, Ryan has but one key word: Focus.

“Focus on the right people,” he say. “Focus on the right accounts. Focus on the right activities. And if you do that, you’ll ultimately find success. Success is not something you just stumble upon by accident. It’s something you have to be intentional about.”

Stuart, on the other hand, has advice as someone in the trenches of sales every day: “Play to your strengths.”

Focus. Play to your strengths.

One More Thought

The personal approach of best-fit ABM starts in-house.

If you can deepen the relationships between you, your managers, and sales reps, it’ll show. It will show in how each of those players interacts with your clients, and it will show in your revenue numbers.Account-Based Sales Development

Make it personal on all accounts.

To hear the podcast episode this was based off, and many more like it, you can subscribe to the #FlipMyFunnel Podcast. If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.

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