Top 4 Account-Based Selling Mistakes to Avoid

Account based selling has huge potential.  But there are also pitfalls.  This post shares four common pitfalls and how to overcome them.

Account-based selling (ABS) approaches are increasingly common.  Most B2B sales organizations put an account-based strategy in place at some point. 

Account-based selling can be really effective.  It ensures reps are targeting the best accounts, which either marketing or sales leadership has identified.  ABS can drive your business forward strategically by going after the best logos.

But, there are lots of ways that account-based selling can fail.  When this happens, it derails your reps, wastes lots of time, and frustrates everyone involved.

Below, we'll look at 4 common pitfalls that can make your account-based selling strategy go down in flames.  And, of course, we'll show you how to avoid them!

The early stages

There's usually a lot of momentum and enthusiasm around account-based selling when a company is first putting it in place.  Sometimes the marketing team will choose the accounts to be targeted.  Other times, it's sales management.  A fun way to assign target accounts is to have a draft.  Marketing or sales leadership chooses a good set of target accounts and then sales managers or reps get to draft the accounts they want.

After that, the accounts get tagged as "target accounts" or "focus accounts" or something along those lines, and get assigned to reps.  Good marketing teams support sales by creating customized content and messaging to send to these accounts to generate interest and awareness.

But after this initial phase is where the trouble usually starts.

1. Target accounts are falling through the cracks

The first thing that frustrates sales managers about account-based selling is general visibility into whether reps are actually digging in or not.  In Salesforce and HubSpot, it's hard to see rep activity by account type.  Managers need to know how much effort reps are spending in their target accounts vs. other accounts.  The basics that we recommend tracking are:

  • Contacts sourced
  • Emails sent
  • Calls made

Break these out by account type (target accounts vs. non-targets) to make sure that reps are doing the basics and not letting their target accounts fall through the cracks.

2. Target accounts aren't being worked hard enough, or in the right way

This one comes down to both activity level, and activity spread.  Activity level shows how much activity is going into each account.  It shows how many calls and emails are being made into each account.  Activity spread shows whether a rep is prospecting widely enough to get into the account. 

When selling into bigger accounts, there are usually lots of good entry points.  For example, when my reps are selling Sales Rep Scorecards, they might get into a big account by targeting one of many sales VPs.  Or they might get in by targeting sales operations.  Or sales enablement.  Or sometimes even marketing.  I want to know that an account is being worked fully enough.  To do this, I recommend looking at

  • Contacts sourced
  • Unique contacts called
  • Unique contacts emailed
  • Calls per contact
  • Emails per contact

Looking at how many different people are being targeted in each account lets you make sure that reps aren't just calling the same couple of people over and over again.  Calls per contact also ensures that each of the contacts that your rep spent time sourcing is getting fully worked.

3.  Can't tell if the account-based selling strategy is working

If your sales team is making a shift to an account-based approach, it's probably because those target accounts are bigger and better targets than just an average company. That means you'll likely be doing larger deals, which may take longer to generate and then work through your process.

But your CEO, board, and other company leaders are going to want to know right away -- is this working?  

This is probably the biggest pitfall where account-based approaches can flame out early.  It can be really hard to show results prior to closing some deals.  Because of that, many companies abandon the approach before there has been time to prove out whether it's working or not.  The spray-and-pray method, or going after smaller companies, is more predictable early on, and drives fast results.  So companies get cold feet about their account-based approach and revert back to what used to work.

What you need to do is set shorter-term milestones that can show whether you are on track with your account-based approach.  These are leading indicators that will tell you if your account-based strategy is likely to pay off over time.  Some milestones to track in your target accounts:

  • Connect rates
  • Demos set
  • Calls per demo
  • Meetings held 
  • Opps created
  • Calls per opp
  • Pipeline created
  • Calls per pipeline $ created
  • Average size of opp created
  • Conversion rate from stage to stage (especially in your early pipeline stages)
  • Closed-funnel close rate
  • ASP

The goal here is to map out your full sales process, and see how your target accounts are progressing through it.  Metrics very high in the funnel like calls per demo, calls per opp and calls per pipeline $ created are efficiency metrics.  They show you if it's more efficient to generate awareness and interest in your target accounts.  You should compare these metrics in your target accounts vs. the same metrics in your non-targets to see whether the efficiency is different.

Metrics further down the funnel will allow you to project what your yield from the account-based approach will be.  Average opp size will let you know if the decision to target specific accounts is going to get you bigger deals.  And measuring stage conversion rates in your early stages, and comparing them to stage conversion rates of non-target accounts can show you whether or not you're likely to get these deals through your pipeline.  These metrics, plus closed-funnel close rates and ASP will allow you to gauge whether your account-based approach will work, even in advance of closing some big deals.

4. Land and Expand makes it hard to compare sales approaches

Another reason that companies abandon account-based selling strategies prematurely is because their target accounts have a different buying pattern than other accounts.  Sometimes, what makes target accounts so attractive is that they have multiple divisions that could be sold to, or they have cross-sell / upsell potential.  In those cases, the account might actually start out with a small deal, but then grow over time as you expand to the other divisions, upgrade them to better versions, or cross-sell more products.

You need to make sure you take this into account when assessing whether the target account strategy is working.  Tracking information on your target accounts that indicate the expansion potential is really helpful so you can estimate the additional revenue you could generate after landing in that account.

For example, Rekener's Sales Rep Scorecard app is sold based on the number of reps that a company is tracking.  In some cases, we sell in to a small team first, and then later expand into more teams or roll out to the entire company.  So we track Number of Sales Reps as a field on our accounts, and this lets us calculate the expansion potential of the customers where we land small.  So, even if I land a 10-seat deal in a company, if they have 500 total sales reps, I know there is 490 seats of expansion potential.

This is particularly important for companies that sell multiple products.  Tracking the expansion potential by product is valuable because you can use this information to calculate the whitespace in your customer accounts.

Rekener helps account-based selling strategies succeed

Rekener's Sales Rep Scorecards give sales teams the visibility they need in order to avoid these 4 account-based selling pitfalls.  The key is being able to track all of your sales activity by account, over time.  This allows sales managers to make sure their reps aren't letting accounts fall through the cracks. 

For instance, below is a list of the target accounts that one of my reps owns.  We score each of the accounts based on factors like the industry, size and sales organization each company has.  Viewing activity data in each account allows me to make sure that high quality accounts aren't falling through the cracks.  I can see that Corvil has a really high account score, and has gotten some emails over the last 2 months, but no calls.  That lets me talk to my rep and make sure we get some dials into this account to generate awareness and interest.

Track sales activity by account so target accounts don't fall through the cracks

Sales Rep Scorecards also helps teams understand their effectiveness in different types of accounts, even with complex sales motions.  It's easy to see the results generated in your different account types, either by rep, by team, or for the sales org as a whole. 

At Rekener, we bucket our accounts based on the size of their sales team.  This allows me to assess the efficiency and conversion rates inside of larger target accounts, compared to smaller accounts.  Over the last 60 days, I can see that our efficiency (calls per demo and calls per opp) is much better in accounts that are in the 201-700 bucket.  I also see that our conversion rate from demo to opp is 100%, compared to 50% in other segments.

Tracking efficiency and conversion metrics by account segment for account-based selling

This type of information can give the sales team confidence that a target account approach is on the right track, even before any deals are closed.

Final Recommendations

If you're thinking about rolling out an account-based selling strategy, a target account strategy, or just planning on focusing on a new market segment, you should think through the 4 pitfalls above.  If you identify these pitfalls ahead of time, and plan out how you're going to address them, your likelihood for success with the new approach will go way up.

If you could use any help tracking activity, efficiency, or results by account or by segment, you should check out Sales Rep Scorecards.  The Sales Rep Scorecards application overcomes a lot of the data issues that you'll encounter in Salesforce and HubSpot CRM.  It allows you to aggregate activity and results by account, and then roll those accounts up to different segments and account types.

This provides the ability to make sure accounts aren't falling through the cracks, that target accounts are being fully worked, and you can get early signal as to whether your account-based strategy is working even if cycle times are long.

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Gregory Keshian

Greg is COO and Co-Founder at Rekener. Greg’s career has been focused on using data to grow recurring revenue businesses. Before joining Rekener, he served as VP of Operations at ZeroTurnaround, where he built its strategy and operations practice, ran customer success and renewals, helped to grow and coach its high-velocity sales organization, and optimize its marketing efforts. Prior to that, he ran the BizOps and marketing functions for the AVOKE call center analytics business, a SaaS company within BBN Technologies. He got his start using data to improve sales and marketing efforts while at AppNeta. Greg is also a member of the Revenue Collective.

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