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Know When Implementing Account Based Sales Development Isn’t Right For You

7 min read
Mar. 29, 2016

In the recent months, we’ve talked a lot about implementing Account Based Sales Development, and what ABSD is, exactly.

The analysts at TOPO define it as “a concerted effort against a specific set of targeted accounts.” Essentially, an SDR is given a list of accounts aligned with the company’s ideal customer profile (ICP), which they then turn into a specific, multi-touch campaign. Through buyer-centric messaging and personalized outreach, the goal is to convert those accounts into larger revenue contributors.

One of the top sessions at this year’s Rainmaker conference was How to Not F Up ABSD with TOPO’s Kristina McMillan and Mulesoft’s Steven Broudy, and moderated by none other than Salesloft’s own, Sean Kester. The session flew by with tons of insights on how to navigate the new trend of ABSD, and how to, essentially, not f^@% up the process.

But one thing they didn’t touch on, is what Account Based Sales Development isn’t. While everyone has been going ‘round and ‘round on what it is and how you do it, we sat down again with Kristina and Steven to dive into what ABSD isn’t, and who shouldn’t be implementing the approach.

Who shouldn’t be implementing Account Based Sales Development?

There are certain evolutions of organizations where it makes sense to practice ABSD, and others where it doesn’t. “If you are selling to SMB, it doesn’t make sense. The high-volume, high-velocity play is going to be more thoughtful,” shared Kristina.

In SMB selling, buyer-centric messaging is certainly still relevant. But the extra time spent on an account-based model really only makes sense when those accounts are meaningful and significant enough to the organization that it moves the needle and it covers the cost of sale.

You have to think about the impact of the business you’re potentially giving up by doing this type of targeted approach.” – Kristina

Simply put, when implementing Account Based Sales Development, you’re walking away from potentially all prospects outside of your ICP. This is risky for companies that don’t target accounts with a significant enough margin to make up for the accounts lost. Make sure that those potential prospects aren’t going to be the ones that, down the road, you’ll wish you hadn’t neglected because you weren’t the right fit for ABSD.

Another common misconception is that, when you make the shift to ABSD, you believe you have to make the shift entirely across the board. But that’s not necessarily the case.

“When folks make the shift to ABSD, they don’t have to do it completely,” says Kristina. Organizations can have a “ninja team” (or sometimes called a “tiger team”) where these specifically ABSD-trained SDRs are a subset of the overall SDR team, meant to focus solely on key accounts.

“If your entire organization is focused on enterprise, then it might make sense for your entire sales development organization to move that direction. It’s important to think about how it plays into the market that you’re supporting, the different segments, potentially the different verticals. And really, the size of account. You wouldn’t practice ABSD if there was really only one or two potential buyers in that account.” -Kristina

Similarly, if there isn’t a certain level of solution-complexity (or a certain length to your sales cycle) in the same amount of time that you could be implementing Account Based Sales Development, then you could be left transacting too many deals.

“My litmus test of ‘Should we drive ABSD?’ is: can your CEO put a finger on the twenty five accounts that you want to nail this year?” Steven says. “If your CEO can put a finger to these accounts, and you’re just starting out, then that’s possibly the first group your team should go after.” But what you have to think about in the long run is tracking your penetration into these accounts.

If you don’t even have a way to track penetration, then you haven’t really started with square one.” – Steven

Now what is track penetration, you might ask, and what does that actually look like?

“What we have our SDR team do is have a QBR, before the AEs have one. They’re actually having a QBR with their Sales Development Manager and the AE, and saying, ‘Here’s my top twenty five accounts that I’m going to go after this year.’ SDRs are likely to understand the accounts and their account base better than their AEs.” – Steven

The reality is: SDRs spend a lot of time practicing meaningful research to understand their account base. “Where they can prioritize the accounts that they should be going after, and having a QBR with their AE and their manager, they can actually create a hypothesis of what the best accounts to go after are, and let the AE and their management interrogate those accounts,” says Steven.

At this point, if the team comes to a consensus on a specific top twenty five account list, “the SDR and the AE are mutually accountable to the sales organization to successfully gain penetration into those accounts.”

What isn’t Account Based Sales Development?

ABSD may be all about account segmentation, but it isn’t just about exclusivity.

Kristina tells us that “to truly have a thoughtful and effective account-based approach, it involves everyone.” From Marketing, to Sales Development, to Sales — even to Product and Customer Success — every member of the team is involved in the management of the entire customer experience.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you can’t get started in Sales Development and take a lot of the right steps right off of the bat. For instance, you can certainly start with strategies like buyer-centric messaging and personalized outreach. But, to truly give way to an account-based approach, it has to be in every experience that that prospect has with the organization.

With the account-based approach, there is actually a ground swell in sales development.” – Kristina

Account Based Marketing is everywhere, and it’s a really popular trend. But it’s also a more intimidating process to get started — and more expensive.

That’s why we’re seeing a more grass-roots effort in sales development. Implementing Account Based Sales Development, in this case, is at the sales development level, so that when marketing begins to launch account-based campaigns and offers, SDR teams are teed up to do the outreach on those accounts.

But this means that AEs, the reps receiving these accounts, should be just as well-versed in the messaging and targeting that’s taken place on the ground floor. They need to know what the expectations for that handoff, and how to carry it through in a seamless way to provide the best customer experience for each account.

Account Based Sales Development isn’t a show-up-and-throw-up pitch process.

It’s making sure that each account is handled with care, and there is a buyer pain-based messaging that’s used and expanding upon throughout each step. It’s talking about customer stories and diving deeper.

The key aspect of ABSD is this: the outreach never ends. Sure, there’s a rest period with certain contacts that an SDR might be working, but an account is never fully written off from an organization. These are key ICP accounts, and if they fit the mold of your account-based process, they’ll always need continued, methodical attention on every level of the organization.

Want more insights on how to know if an Account Based Sales Development approach is right for your organization? Download our free eBook on The What And Why Of Account-Based Sales Development and explore the methods behind the new sales development trend.