Why Account Based Selling is More about Digital Marketing than Sales

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Written by Digital Surgeons,
• 5 min read

Account Based Selling is an old concept that has become very hot lately. There are two reasons why.

The strategic reason is that most B2B marketing and sales executives are under tremendous pressure to drive profitable growth by selling value and solutions across customer silos to penetrate strategic accounts.  

The underlying driver is that Marketing and IT executives —  and the technology vendors that support them — are under severe pressure to justify and monetize their huge investments in customer data, analytics, marketing cloud solutions, CRM platforms, and marketing content in actual sales conversations and meetings.  

As a practical matter, Account Based Selling is the fastest and easiest way to do both.

The problem is that sales and marketing executives are struggling to pull it off.  Account Based Selling has been proven to work on the biggest accounts. But it takes lots of human effort and elbow grease. The holy grail is to find ways to support high-touch Account Based Selling across hundreds of key accounts with less time, investment, and labor.  

Few organizations have accomplished this holy grail. Because getting data, content, people, and technology assets to work together and support human sales conversations in a scalable way requires coordination.  The workflow is more like that of a digital marketing organization than a sales operation.  Wealthy digital marketers have set up these processes to support dynamic e-commerce sites or landing page, while under-funded sales teams struggle with PowerPoint pitch books, manual training, or heroic efforts by channel marketing teams to fake it.

But for most B2B organizations, the money still gets made in sales and service conversations with lips moving. Even if these conversations are crammed into the last third of the modern customer journey. So it’s no surprise that 75% of organizations still don’t have a clear understanding of how to use, integrate, and monetize big data.  Or the vast majority of content does not support the value selling, the customer journey, or motivate customers to buy, according to the Brand Publishing Institute. In fact, over 99% of content is not even used by sales.

Leaders like Cisco, Ricoh, and Janus Capital have figured out that effective account based selling is about transforming how marketing and sales work together and less about a magic software platform. For example, the Cisco SalesConnect program has achieved unprecedented levels of adoption and effectiveness for a sales enablement program.  Now deployed for three years, the app has over 150,000 salespeople and partners regularly accessing content that is fit for customer purpose.  

According to Jim Blum and Bill LePage who pioneered the program, “A successful sales technology deployment starts with creating an amazing user experience that is simple and smart – starting with the customer need and working backward to content creation. The real keys to our success were: 1) Creating feedback loops from salespeople to marketing on content effectiveness 2) Organizing and tagging content to be role based and served to salespeople without a cumbersome search, and 3) Making content delivery mobile first.  Marketing and Sales worked hand-in-hand to clean up outdated content, create new customer specific content and produce a user experience that allowed the app to go viral. If the project becomes about creating an all-encompassing IT platform, sales will lose and your project will fail.”

How to make Account Based Selling actually work:

  • Focus on the four key points of failure that really kill your ability to leverage customer insights, content, platforms, and sales methods into scalable growth;
  • Create sales playbooks that act as critical connective tissue to hold the whole process together. Sales playbooks are the key to targeting, assembling, personalizing and delivering content to support specific selling situations. The discipline of creating a sales playbook is no different than creating a responsive landing page, targeted e-mail, or personalized client website.  The only fundamental difference is marketing owns these technologies and processes;
  • Take five practical actions to double your ability to deliver high touch Account Based Selling across most of your named and strategic accounts with the resources, technology and people you already have.

At the end of the day, the real secret to making this work is for sales teams to act like relationship managers but operate more like digital marketers.  When you look at the fundamentals of delivering personalized and relevant communications to the right customer in context, it’s more like running Amazon.com’s website and less like a traditional sales operation.  Specifically, sales and marketing teams need to do five things well that any digital marketing team is familiar with.

  1. Agree upon and understand key selling events you want to target – including on-cycle, off-cycle and trigger events that lead to productive sales outcomes
  2. Architect and organize your content to support customer personas and their consumer journey
  3. Assemble sales plays that tailor your content to specific selling events – just like inbound marketing landing pages
  4. Leverage existing platforms to deliver content and insights to salespeople that can be used to support their conversations
  5. Define, optimize and own the process just as your e-commerce team does

Our team has put in place connected sales and marketing programs that apply the principles of digital marketing to the act of human selling for years.  

If you want to stop gang tackling your best accounts with expensive channel marketing, sales engineering, field marketing and sales operations staff, and instead start delivering sales playbooks that drive results, give us a call.