If you’re in business-to-business (B2B) sales, odds are you’ve heard the term “account-based selling” more than once. While it is not a new term or sales strategy, salespeople are now facing a challenging landscape that calls for different approaches and new strategies. For companies able to stay afloat, COVID-19 has shifted priorities across the board and placed immense pressure on sales teams’ performance to keep the lights on. 

As we navigate a dramatically fluctuating economy, it is more important than ever for B2B salespeople to employ the notion of “quality over quantity” in the pursuit of new opportunities, and to be empathetic to the many changes potential prospects are experiencing. Account-based selling (ABS) is one way to do just that. 

Here’s a quick rundown on account-based selling to help get your teams up to speed and on board with this strategy as it becomes increasingly important to lead with empathy, optimize workflows, and focus energy on tactics that generate the highest return on investment.

1. What is account-based selling?

Account-based selling is an approach to sales prospecting that prioritizes identifying high-value accounts and implementing a coordinated, cross-functional B2B sales approach to closing those accounts. In this approach, marketing and sales teams work hand in hand to identify target accounts and develop an integrated and personalized plan that thoughtfully leads each account through the sales cycle. In light of the current situation, being thoughtful is more important than ever.

Traditional contact-first lead generation takes the “spray and pray” approach to sales in which SDRs first identify individuals with certain job titles or functions that indicate they might be interested in a product. After SDRs make countless cold calls and send hundreds of emails, the small percentage of leads who respond are passed along to AEs who are then tasked with meeting prospects and closing deals.

lead-level selling pyramid example photo

Account-based selling on the other hand, starts with identification of high-priority accounts. Sales and marketing teams then come together to develop an integrated and personalized strategy to target those accounts and reach out to specific contacts and key decision-makers, who, being more familiar with the product you are trying to sell, are more likely to respond. From there, your team invests in nurturing and expanding awareness of your product with all key decision-makers at a company, before eventually converting larger deals in a more thoughtful manner. 

account-based selling pyramid example photo

Source: Reachforce & Marketo 

2. Why is ABS more effective than other sales strategies in a fluctuating market?

As the economy continues to fluctuate dramatically in response to COVID-19, prospects are not only harder to come by, but less likely to have the budget to invest in your service. It’s important to understand that many companies are seeing tightening–or even completely frozen–budgets. That means sales outreach strategies that prioritize call volume and contact with individual leads are far less likely to result in conversions, and far more likely to seem tone deaf, resulting in missed quotas.

By abandoning a strategy that casts a wide, but less-than-strategic, net and taking a “quality over quantity” approach by utilizing account-based selling, your team is more likely to close deals. Not only are you focused on identifying accounts that have demonstrated interest in your service, you are also incorporating the most important factor in any sales strategy: targeting accounts that currently have the budget to buy.

It’s also important to understand that even if an account has a budget to spend, your contacts at that company may not have the same decision-making power as when you first connected. With tighter budgets, finance teams may now be the primary decision-makers, identifying which investments are absolutely necessary and what services can be cut. That being said, although there may not be opportunity now, when the situation changes your contacts may once again handle these decisions. A “no” right now might be a product of the situation rather than interest in your product, and sometimes reaching out at a different time will yield better results. 

3. How do you know if ABS is appropriate for your teams?

Account-based selling, however, is not the best strategy for every sales team. Before you invest in changing your sales strategy, here are a few key questions your team should consider.

  1. Are the accounts you’re targeting large enough to deliver significant ROI?
  2. Is your sales cycle long enough to justify a coordinated approach?
  3. Do you have the internal resources necessary to target accounts through multiple channels and touchpoints?
  4. Do you have access to the information you need to create personalized strategies for each account you’re targeting? This includes:
    1. The ability to clearly identify ideal customer profile (ICP) accounts;
    2. Access to information to know when accounts are ready and able to buy;
    3. The ability to target multiple stakeholders within an account to increase chances of conversion.
  5. Do you have the analytics and tools to monitor results and adjust course if need be?

For example, our team at Crunchbase has adopted the account-based approach to selling by shifting our sales strategy from high-risk industries that are being heavily impacted by COVID-19, to medium- and low-risk industries that are either less impacted or growing. We’ve used Crunchbase data to identify which industries are still seeing growth, as well as which companies within each industry are being funded so we know if, and when, it’s appropriate to reach out. 

Using this personalized, account-based sales approach, we’re able to assess the impact of the current climate at an industry, company and individual level, and make informed decisions about if an account is ready to be sold to right now. If we conclude that an account is in a position to buy, we then coordinate with our sales and marketing teams to determine how we can reach individual account stakeholders in a respectful and effective way. 

4. How do you coordinate a cross-functional ABS strategy?

An integrated approach takes time and buy-in from not only the sales and marketing teams, but the entire company. Account-based selling requires more resources, time and cross-functional coordination than most teams are used to, therefore it’s important to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Start by getting your sales leadership team on board. From there, encourage sales leaders to connect with company executives to get buy in and determine which teams will need to coordinate on strategy. Each team should then identify DRIs (directly responsible individuals) for each major function of the strategy (think sales, marketing, customer success, customer experience, etc.).

This core group of DRIs will help develop the overarching account-based selling strategy and keep each team on track and in close coordination through execution.

5. What metrics should you use in an ABS strategy?

Sales representatives and marketers are no strangers to metrics. Your account-based selling strategy should incorporate checkpoints and metrics to track success, just as you would any other sales tactic. The best approach is to roll out an account-based approach to a small percentage of your enterprise prospects and identify checkpoints each month to track progress toward your revenue and conversion goals. That way you’ll be able to test the effectiveness of the strategy at each phase and through the entire sales cycle and compare results to the “control variable” or previous approach.

In addition to simple metrics such as tracking your sales team’s outreach success and any changes in progress through the sales cycle, your team should rely on metrics like annual contract value (ACV), customer acquisition cost (CAC) and lifetime value (LTV) to measure progress. Although the heavy investment in personalization of outreach associated with account-based selling will likely drive up how much you invest in each customer on the front-end, increasing CAC, you’ll increase the LTV of a customer with a targeted strategy, resulting in an increase in revenue over time. 

Approaching sales with compassion

Sales is a hard topic to discuss right now, and an even harder job to do. Our teams are struggling with the need to keep up “business as usual” when nothing is “usual.” Given the right tools, the account-based selling model allows sales teams to personalize outreach and avoid insensitive cold calls and targeting companies that may be experiencing layoffs, reduced budgets and grim forecasts.

Our teams are adopting what we’re calling an “opt-in” sales strategy–we’re identifying accounts that appear to be in a place to buy, asking people if they want to be sold to right now and respecting the fact that this situation has presented many unforeseen challenges. We’re approaching sales as if we were sitting on the same side of the table as our prospects. Not every email you send needs to come from the lens of conversion. Reaching out with a thoughtful note that has nothing to do with your product, or even offering up information about how someone can use your company’s free resources, might change someone’s day in an incredibly stressful time.

Now more than ever, each and every interaction that prospects, customers and users have with your team needs to come from a place of empathy and understanding. It’s imperative that we focus on the “human element” as we all balance shifting circumstances with the need to keep moving forward. 

Disclaimer: This post was last updated on April 3, 2020.

Crunchbase as an organization, like many companies across the globe, is still learning and adapting to the situation on a daily, and even minute-by-minute, basis. We hope bringing you along with us in this journey of adaptation will offer guidance, insight and perspective.

We have also compiled a list of resources to help support businesses through COVID-19. Let us know how else we can help by emailing hello@crunchbase.com.

  • Originally published April 3, 2020, updated May 3, 2024